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Yeats possibly autistic - expert

Yeats: "No instinct for the personal"

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DUBLIN, Republic of Ireland (Reuters) -- Some of Ireland's finest minds including poet W.B. Yeats and founder of the Irish Republic Eamon de Valera may have been autistic, a leading psychiatrist said on Friday.

Yeats was bullied at school and was described by his teachers as "pedestrian and demoralised" while de Valera's speech was stilted and he had few friends, the psychiatrist, author of a book on the subject, said.

"W.B. Yeats had tremendous difficulties at school," said Michael Fitzgerald, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Dublin's Trinity College.

"He was bullied. He had problems in one-to-one relationships but he was brilliant in a crowd," added Fitzgerald, who believes the poet may have had Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.

"His difficulties can be seen in his relationship with Maud Gonne," Fitzgerald told RTE state radio.

"People couldn't understand why the relationship went on for years and years when she wasn't interested. You can only understand that in terms of Asperger syndrome."

Yeats, a winner of the Nobel for prize for literature and widely regarded as Ireland's greatest poet, met Irish nationalist Maud Gonne in 1889 and developed an almost obsessional love for her, proposing marriage to her many times.

Gonne refused him and destroyed all his love letters to her.

Fitzgerald says Yeats showed classic symptoms of Asperger's, a disorder that causes deficiencies in social and communication skills but does not affect learning or intellect.

"Yeats himself put it best of all when he said 'I have no instinct for the personal'," Fitzgerald said. "He tended to speak in monologues but then he was, I suppose, our most creative poet ever." Fitzgerald has conducted a retrospective diagnosis of several major figures in Irish history -- comparing their biographical notes with observations of his own patients.

He says De Valera, founder of the Irish Republic and its first president, may also have had Asperger's, first described by Viennese physician Hans Asperger in 1944.

"De Valera spoke in a dull, halting manner," Fitzgerald said.

"They (Asperger's sufferers) often have millions of acquaintances, as de Valera had, but very few friends. I've diagnosed over 800 people with it and he fits the model of the person that I would see in my day-to-day practice."

Fitzgerald said he hoped his study would help increase understanding of the condition.

"I'm making a plea for tolerance of people who are slightly eccentric. They may have tremendous talent," he said.

"Where would we be without Yeats' poetry? His legacy will be with us as long as human beings are around."

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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