Geoffrey Taylor (1900-56)

[orig. Geoffrey Basil Phibbs; pseud. “R. Fitzurse”]; b. Norfolk, raised Lisheen, [Co.] Sligo; ed. Hailibury [Public. School]; joined Irish Guards; worked various as demonstrator in College of Science, librarian, factory-worker in London, and school-teacher in Cairo; worked with Nancy Nicholson at the Poulk (Hogarth) Press; m. Norah McGuinness in London and had a dg. with her; involved in mènage a trois with Robert Graves and Laura Riding culminating in a double defenestration which made a splash in the press; formed relationship with Graves's wife Nancy Nicholson - and later with Mary Dillwyth, whom he married in 1935; returned to Ireland in 1940;
changed his name to Taylor following his father’s refusal to allow his wife over the threshold, in one account, because he hosted de Valera on the run, in another, and because of the Riding-Graves affair in a third; became Poetry Editor of The Bell in succession to Frank O’Connor; encouraged Northern writers such as Roy McFadden; issued poems, Withering of the Figleaf (1927) - withdrawn for fear of identification with anti-Catholic sentiment; issued as Fitzurse, It Was Not Jones (Hogarth 1928); A Dash of Garlic (1933); also gardening works, e.g. The Victorian Flower Garden (1952); appt. poetry editor for Time & Tide, c.1955;
ed., with John Betjeman, English and Scottish Landscape (London: Muller 1944), a poetry anthol., ill. John Piper [liths.]; ed. Irish Poets of the Nineteenth Century (1951), an anthology which includes short biographical notes; also ed., Irish Poems of Today (1944), from vols. 1-7 of The Bell [as infra]; also ed. with Betjeman, ed., Faber Book of Love Poetry (1957, 1964, 1988); lived in a Georgian house in Tallaght; died of kidney failure [var. heart attack] arising from prescription of mercury for a heart condition mixing with medications supplied by a homeopath. DIW

The Love Life of Geoffrey Basil Phibbs
Robert Graves visited Phibbs in Sligo in 1928 and in 1929 Phibbs went to London where his arrival unbalanced the of Graves mènage involving his wife Nancy Nicholson and Laura Riding. After some bitter wrangling, Graves and Riding moved to Spain while Phibbs set up house with Nancy in Wiltshire - shortly after which Phibbs and Norah McGuinness were divorced. Nancy Nicholson introduced Phibb to Mary Dillwyn and was upset when he began a relationship with her although their relationship was at an end. Phibbs and Mary married in 1935 and in 1940 they returned to Ireland. (Adapted from Wikipedia online - 28.11.2020.)

Ed. Irish Poems Today, chosen from the first seven volumes of “The Bell”, ed. Geoffrey Taylor (Dublin: Irish People’s Publications 1944), 48pp. [contents]; ed., Irish Poets of the Nineteenth Century [The Muses’ Library] (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1951, 1958), viii, 406pp.

Bibliographical details
Irish Poems Today, chosen from the first seven volumes of “The Bell”, ed. Geoffrey Taylor (Dublin: Irish People’s Publications 1944), 48pp. [25 poems]. Editor’s Note: ‘... They form a small, nearly representative, sample of the valid contemporary English poetry by Irish writers. To make an Irish anthology fully representative one should, I think, include work by three other Irish poets whose poems would lend lustre to these pages. I mean Robert Graves, Louis MacNeice, and Austin Clarke. But it has been the policy of The Bell to look rather for poems by young or - at the time when we first printed them little-known poets.’ [&c.]. Includes are Maurice Craig [2 poems]; Maurice Farley [1]; Robert Greacen [1, ‘The Bird’]; John Hewitt [3]; Valentin Iremonger [1]; Sean Jennett [1]; Patrick Kavanagh [1, Kednaminsha]; Freda Laughton [1]; Cecil Day Lews [1, Hornpipe – with ed. acknowledgement that he is not little known]; Donagh MacDonagh [1]; Roy McFadden [1, Plaint of the Working-Man]; Nick Nicholls [1]; Roibeard Ó Farachain [1, Exile Song of Colmcille]; D J O’Sullivan [2]; W R Rodgers 3, Ireland; Poem; The party]; Geoffrey Taylor [1, Boat-haven, Co. Mayo]; Bruce Williamson [1]. [Query title, Irish Poems of Today as per Hyland 224.]

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  • Frank O’Connor, My Father’s Son (1968), pp.77-79 [extract].
  • Donagh MacDonagh, ed. Poems from Ireland (Dublin The Irish Times 1944) [extract].
  • Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature (London: Pluto Press 1998), p.173f. [extract].
  • Stephen Dodd, review article for Irish Independent (16 July 1995), Living/Leisure [extract].
See also Hubert Butler, ‘The Bell, An Anglo-Irish View’; in Escape from The Anthill , foreword by Maurice James Craig (Dublin: Lilliput 1985) [also in Irish Univ. Review, “Sean O’Faolain Special Issue” (Spring 1976), p.66-72; and incidental remarks by Colin Graham [extract].

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Frank O’Connor, My Father’s Son (1968), writes that Phibbs love affairs and literary doings play a large part in the narrative, up to his ‘defection’ to London (p.79); though Robert Graves is not mentioned by name in the account of the menage à trois in Majorca - which is dealt with briefly - O’Connor writes: ‘Phibbs went back to London to say he could not go back, and the Woman poet threw herself out of a third-storey window and was visited in hospital by Phibbs and the poet’s wife, and Phibbs – always attentive to my good advice – set up house with her.’ Also, ‘In protest against his father’s inhuman behaviour in not having invited [his wife] beyond the veranda [of the house, ‘Lisheen’], he changed his name by deed poll to Taylor, much in the spirit in which he defaced books with a rubber stamp ... After this he taught English for a while in Cairo, though this did not last long either’ (p.77). Note: O’Connor regards the changing of the name as a protest against parental non-acceptance of Laura Riding, not Norah McGuinness, as his partner.

Donagh MacDonagh, ed. Poems from Ireland (Dublin The Irish Times 1944), recounts Taylor’s various occupations: ‘private soldier in the Irish Guards, assistant-demonstrator at the College of Science, a librarian in Ireland, a factory-hand in London, school-master in Cairo, partner with Nancy Nicholson in the Poulk Press (Hogarth Press), he is now Poetry Editor of The Bell; lives in a Georgian house at Tallaght and has one daughter; his latest book is English Landscape, in which he collaborated with John Betjeman.’

Stephen Dodd, in a review article for Irish Independent, Living/Leisure (16 July 1995), writes that Phibbs [Taylor] went to the Graves-Riding menage at St Peter’s Sq., London, ironically called by Graves ‘Free Love Corner’, as an admirer of her verse; having stayed in a houseboat in London with his own wife Norah from 1929, moored nr. St Peter’s Sq.; entered affair with Laura; he fled from her, and was pursued by Graves, temporarily banished to his own wife, on her instructions; after his return from France, she three herself from a third story window, enraged by his desertion, and was followed more circumspectly by Graves from a second; while she was in hospital, Phibbs moved into a second houseboat, this time with Graves’s wife Nancy; accused by Graves of disloyalty in connection with Laura, not his own wife’ ‘don’t you have any sense at all of Laura’s holiness?’, he was asked?; Phibbs did not return to the menage.

Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature (London: Pluto Press 1998), p.173f.: ‘[…] Taylor is not coy about the selection criterion: “The test that I have applied to poets is that they must have been Irish by birth, and they must have written [173] poetry with some Irish reference, either historical or topographical” (Irish Poets of the Nineteenth Century 1951, p.vii); Further remarks that Taylor selects Thomas MacDonagh’s observations on ‘the Irish mode’ to assert that ‘there is such a thing as Anglo-Irish poetry in its own right’ (Taylor, p.vii; Smith p.174.); also, ‘Taylor’s authentication of national experience is, however, only the frist part of a dialectical manoeuvre designed to guarantee local inclusion in a larger tradition, a tradition in which the policital significance of Irish literature cannot compete with the cultural significance of the English language in which hat literature is composed.’ (p.174.)

Richard Murphy, The Kick (Granta 2002): ‘Geoffrey Taylor had been poetry editor of The Bell when that monthly magazine was edited by Sean Ó Faoláin in Dublin during the war. I met him in 1952, thanks to Maurice and Trix Craig, in his south county Dublin rose garden, enclosed by an ivied wall the height of two tall men. On a deck chair under a cedar of Lebanon beside a weedless rockery, he read some of the turgid, effortful narrative verse 1 had been writing at Rosroe, and gave me more generous encouragement than the work deserved. / At Christmas 1955, Geoffey and Mary and their two children gave Patricia and me and our dog a warm welcome at their big, dilapidated house full of books. Now, as poetry editor of the Liberal weekly Time & Tide, he was writing thoughtful letters to encourage rather than disappoint men and women who submitted poems that he felt obliged to reject. His own verse had earned him little but rejection slips. He exalted my work and blessed our marriage by including in the Faber Book of Love Poetry, which he edited with John Betjeman (...; p.166.) ‘He had survived the Great War by being just too young to enlist, and the IRA had not torched his ancestral home, as “the family had always been good to the tenants”. If he thought meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, in a family whose land was gained by conquest, he had overcome this, as I had after 1945, by trying to conquer the higher moral peaks of poetry. [...] his library stocked with rare poetry and garden books, bought for half nothing on the Liffey quays during the war, often in Betjeman’s company ... Geoffrey [Taylor]’s first marriage, in his twenties to Norah McGuinness, was based on a similar agreement, fashionable among the bright young things of that period. Norah rebelled against her Protestant family of coal merchants in Derry by becoming an artist [...] The high risk we took in our marital agreement seemed, at first, to sharpen and confirm our love. It may have done the same for Geoffrey and Norah, until the day Norah announced that she was leaving Wicklow to live with David Garnett in England, and would be back in six months. Geoffrey took this in his Anglo-Irish stride, but felt wretched until he received a letter ouf of the blue from a young American poet called Laura Riding, praising one of his poems that had just appeared in the New Statesman [...; 167; for longer extract, see infra] Note that Murphy is a distant cousin of Taylor’s on his mother’s side.

Colin Graham, ‘A pilgrimage through the pages’, review of Peggy O'Brien, Lough Derg [ ...] (2006), in The Irish Times (25 Nov. 2006), Weekend, writes: ‘The Irish “Doing” Lough Derg has been a central physical and psychic experience for generations of Irish people. “A grim jewel in a gloomy and uninviting sheet of water” is how Geoffrey Taylor described Lough Derg in his 1950s travel book The Emerald Isle. / In an otherwise inane, Blarney-filled tour of Ireland, Taylor cannot sentimentalise this Co Donegal place of pilgrimage. Its symbolic importance is too dark and visceral.’

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‘Irish’ poets: ‘The name Irish Poet ought to be kept strictly for poets who have written in the Irish language [though] ‘Mangan is the only possible exception’. (Last sentence in an article on George Darley, in The Irish Statesman, 6 Feb. 1929, [to p.457]).

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Portrait: There is a photo port. of Geoffrey Phibbs [sic], copyright Norah McGuinness, among ills. in Frank O’Connor, My Father’s Son (NY: A. Knopf 1969), pls. after p.114. [Not found in the London edition.]

Namesake: A Geoffrey England Taylor was Thomas MacGreevy’s fellow-recruit to an artillery regiment in World War I, and the dedicatee of MacGreevy’poem “Nocturne”, composed in 1917-18 (viz., ‘To Geoffrey England Taylor, 2nd Lieutenant, RFA, “Died of Wounds”).

Anthony Cronin, ‘The Robert Graves I knew’, deals very briefly with Phibbs (‘once well-known in literary Dublin’; q. source, p.5.)

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