When the twenty-three year old W. B. Yeats praised Ruskin's Unto This Last, his father took offence, and ‘we began to quarrel, for he was John Stuart Mill's disciple. Once he threw me against a picture with such violence that I broke the glass with the back of my head’ (Explorations, 417). Some such encounter happens over and over in Yeats's criticism, whose rhetoric is animated by the language of conflict and combat:
[Dowden] has set himself upon the side of academic tradition in that eternal war which it wages on the creative spirit. (1895)(Uncollected Prose, I, p.353)
In no country has this independence of mind, this audacity I had almost said, been attained without controversy, for the men who affirm it seem the enemies of all other interest. (1908)(Exploratins, p.237)
I think that all noble things are the result of warfare; great nations and classes, of warfare are in the visible world, great poetry and philosophy, of invisible warfare, the division of a mind within itself, a victory, the sacrifice of a man to himself. (1910) (Essays and introductions, p.321)
Our first trouble was with the Unionists, but we have had to fight all parties, and are prepared to go on doing so.” (1926)(Uncollected Prose, II, p.463)
Not only in the Yeats family but in Ireland at large, literary opinions become fighting matters. Padraic Colum's father stood trial (in 1907) for ‘shouting, hissing and booing and stamping his feet’ and ‘using obscene language to the annoyance of the audience’ during one of the notorious first performances of Playboy of the Western World (The Abbey Theatre, p. 132). More recently, the publication of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991) inspired public debate and private animosity, with its designation of some Irish writers as ‘English’, its lack of women editors, and its alleged ‘Northern agenda’.