George POLLEXFEN who was initiated into the Golden Dawn in December 1893, taking the Latin motto ‘Festina lente’. In October 1895 he underwent the second-level initiation ceremony and became a member of the GD’s 2nd Order, the level at which you moved beyond reading occult texts and could try some practical magic. In 1893 he gave as his address the bald and not very helpful ‘Sligo’; but it was easy for the GD to get in touch with him, and for me to find out more about him and say WHO DID HE KNOW IN THE GOLDEN DAWN, because he was W B Yeats’ uncle - the brother of W B’s mother.
Anyone who was important in the life of W B Yeats has had plenty of literary coverage, so I won’t be giving a biography of George here, just a list of references. Though I will say that he does illustrate rather neatly a conclusion I have reached about so many GD members: that they were bit-part players in the lives of the more famous.
George’s role in the GD was rather larger than the judgement I’ve just made above implies however, and not just because he aided and abetted W B Yeats as a member. A note by the editors in Yeats’ collected letters says that George was sent the birth details of people who were being mooted as possible members of the GD, so that he could do a horoscope as part of the process of deciding whether they were suitable to be offered initiation into the Order. As all initiates into the GD had to learn some astrology as part of their basic training, this argues a widespread admiration for George’s skills at it, amongst senior GD members who could probably do a good-ish horoscope themselves. One of those would-be members who horoscope was checked out by George Pollexfen was W B Yeats’ artist friend William Thomas Horton.
George may also have been a member of the Theosophical Society (TS). I didn’t find his name in the TS membership register but I might have missed him. He didn’t write for the theosophical magazines but Lucifer in 1893 noted that a “G T Pollexsen” (I’m sure all the family suffered a wide variety of mis-spellings of their name!) had donated 10 shillings to the London-based theosophical group the League of Philosophical Workers, who were trying to raise enough money to rent some rooms. In the mid-1890s a group led by George W Russell and Frederick Dick was given permission by TS in London to form a lodge based in Dublin. I haven’t been able to find a list of its members but George Pollexfen may have been one.
SOURCES in which George Pollexfen appears in books about W B Yeats:
Yeats and Women edited by Deirdre Toomey, 2nd edition Macmillan Press Ltd 1997. Chapter 3: “The Music of Heaven”, by Warwick Gould, based on letters and possibly an interview with GD member Dorothea Butler Hunter so many GD members are mentioned in it. Gould was particularly interested in Dorothea’s memories of the group W B Yeats brought together to use astral travelling to help Yeats get a better idea of the functions of the old Irish gods. The group included Dorothea and her husband Edmund, uncle George Pollexfen, the Mathers and Annie Horniman; as well as some acquaintances of Yeats’ who were not in the GD.
Collected Letters of W B Yeats Volume II 1896-1900 P 665 et seq also has something to say about this group, which Yeats called the Celtic Order, and some more names of the members including Mary Briggs, who was in the GD, and whom Dorothea Hunter seems to have forgotten.
Lady Gregory’s Diaries 1892-1902 edited and with an introduction by James Pethica. Gerrard’s Cross: Colin Smythe 1996. George Pollexfen’s first appearances in the diaries isn’t until rather late in my GD period - p149 July to August 1897, when (footnote126 p149) W B Yeats was staying with his uncle at George’s house at Rosses Point county Sligo. The source for the footnote is the biography of W B Yeats’ father: The Prodigal Father by William M Murphy; p176 says that during 1894/95, uncle George paid W B an allowance of £1 per week while W B struggled to make a living as a writer.
For a reference to George Pollexfen doing a horoscope for a prospective GD member:
W B Yeats and W T Horton: The Record of an Occult Friendship by George Mills Harper. Macmillan Press Ltd 1980.
BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.
Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden.
Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch. They don’t really cover people living in Ireland, however. Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a variety of one-family genealogy websites.
Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.
Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.
Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.
Theosophical Society: membership registers held at the TS headquarters, Gloucester Place, London W1 and covering most of Europe but not, I think, Ireland.
For the donation, which I think is made by George Pollexfen despite the fact that the magazine got his name wrong:
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume XI covering September 1892 to February 1893, editor Annie Besant. London: Theosophical Pubg Soc, 7 Duke Street Adelphi. Volume XI no 66 issued 15 February 1893 P515.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
24 April 2012