Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Dunsany quote from James Blish?

In his Guest of Honor speech at EasterCon 21 in London in 1970 (audio, with illustrations, here), James Blish gave a supposed quote from Lord Dunsany that I have been otherwise unable to source.  Here what Blish said:
Like all the arts, science fiction adds to our knowledge of reality by formally evoking what Lord Dunsany called "those ghosts whose footsteps across our minds we call emotions." 
Blish's talk was basically his introduction to Harry Harrison's anthology The Light Fantastic: Science Fiction Classics from the Mainstream, published in 1971. But where does the Dunsany quotation come from?  Anyone?  Is it even really a Dunsany quote?

I found a very similar idea in an essay "The Symbolism of Poetry" by William Butler Yeats from 1900, as follows: 
"certain disembodied powers, whose footsteps over our hearts we call emotions" 
Apparently, either Dunsany might have slightly restated Yeats's words somewhere, or Blish might have misattributed the (slightly inaccurate) words to Dunsany rather to Yeats. I'd lean towards the latter.


  1. Yeats might have been restating something Dunsany said. Yeats is said to have founded the Irish Academy of Letters just to keep Dunsany out, so he wouldn't want to acknowledge the source of his remark.

  2. Yeats's comment was published in 1900, several years before he knew Dunsany (who was a mere 22 in 1900). So it doesn't seem likely that it went from Dunsany to Yeats.