Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (T. W.) (1857–1920), poet, critic and journalist, was born 1 May 1857 at Glasshouse, near Shinrone, King's County (Offaly), youngest child among three sons and a daughter of Charles Rolleston-Spunner (d. 1887), barrister and county court judge for Tipperary, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Richards, judge and baron of the court of exchequer, Ireland. He attended St Columba's College, Rathfarnham, where he was head boy, and Trinity College Dublin (TCD), graduating with a Master of Arts degree (1878). His literary ambitions first emerged at university, where he won the vice-chancellor's prize for English verse (1876).
In 1879 Rolleston married Edith Caroline (d. 1896), daughter of Reverend William de Burgh of Naas, Co. Kildare. She suffered from rheumatism, and this encouraged the couple to live in Germany (mostly Wiesbaden and Dresden) from 1879 to 1883. During this period Rolleston developed a fascination for German philosophy and literature and began a correspondence with the American poet Walt Whitman, whose work he knew through Edward Dowden (qv). In 1881 Rolleston offered to translate into German, with S. K. Knortz, Whitman's Leaves of grass. This was published as Grashalme in 1889. In that year also he published a biography of the German philosopher Gotthold Lessing, and in 1892 delivered the Taylorian lectures in Oxford on this subject.
In the meantime Rolleston had returned to Ireland and co-founded the Dublin University Review (DUR) with Charles Hubert Oldham (qv) in February 1885. Under their stewardship the DUR was the first to publish (March 1885) W. B. Yeats (qv). The poetry of Katharine Tynan (qv) and the first English translations of Turgenev also appeared in the magazine. Rolleston had a fondness for clubs and at this time was associated with the Contemporary Club – where he became friendly with fellow member Douglas Hyde (qv) – and the Young Ireland Society, where he was vice-president and a disciple of John O'Leary (qv). Rolleston wrote the dedication to O'Leary in Poems and ballads of Young Ireland (1888) and was encouraged by the older man in his editing of The prose writing of Thomas Davis (1890). Under O'Leary's influence he flirted with Fenianism, perhaps even joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) for a time, and was strongly critical of the prominent involvement of catholic clergy in the home rule movement.
After the demise of the DUR in December 1886 he moved to London, but remained involved in Irish literary activity. Although unenthusiastic in his assessment of The wanderings of Oisín (1889), Rolleston was friendly with Yeats and they instigated the Rhymers’ Club (1890). He was a much better critic and organiser than poet, but contributed to The book of the Rhymers’ Club (1892) and The second book of the Rhymers’ Club (1894). His work appeared in a number of contemporary journals and anthologies and he had one collection published, Sea spray (1909); but only ‘The dead at Clonmacnoise’ was admired, and this too has slipped from the canon. He was first secretary of the Irish Literary Society (1892) and attended the foundation of its sister organisation in Dublin, the National Literary Society. These societies were soon riven by a dispute for control between Yeats and Charles Gavan Duffy (qv), centred on the political and literary agenda of the movement. Rolleston at least acquiesced in, if not actively contributed to, Yeats's defeat. They remained on reasonable terms, but Yeats was resentful. Rolleston edited the famous anthology, Treasury of Irish poetry (1900), with the Reverend Stopford Augustus Brooke (qv), whose daughter, Maud, he had married in October 1897. They had four children. Rolleston's first marriage also produced four children, and he was godfather to Robert Graves, whose father, Alfred Perceval Graves (qv), was a friend.
In 1894 he had returned to Dublin, becoming managing director and secretary of the Irish Industries Association (1894–7) and honorary secretary of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland (1898–1908). A central figure in the latter as an organiser, propagandist and critic rather than a practitioner, lecturing regularly and editing the journal of the society, he sought to integrate the arts and crafts revival with other contemporary developments, cooperating with the Congested Districts Board to organise classes. He was a supporter of the co-operative movement of Horace Plunkett (qv), and a member of the Recess Committee. On the foundation of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI), he was employed by Plunkett and T. P. Gill (qv) – when Gill had been editor of the Daily Express Rolleston had been leader writer (1898–1900) – as organiser of lectures (1900–05). In this capacity he managed the Irish historic collection at the St Louis exhibition of 1904, and publicly supported Plunkett in his dispute with the DATI in 1908. Convinced that the development of Irish industry was central to national progress, he believed that the Irish parliamentary party failed to offer a clear practical programme for Irish nationalism. By 1900, however, Rolleston's own nationalism was tempered by a belief in the importance of the imperial connection, and he opposed the pro-Boer stance taken by many Irish nationalists. In later years he published pamphlets urging economic development as a means of quelling Irish demands for home rule.
Rolleston was a sporadic member of the Gaelic League, writing the lyrics for the ‘Deirdre cantata’, which won first prize at the first feis ceoil in Dublin (1897). At one point he suggested the foundation of a separate Gaelic League for protestants, and provoked controversy in 1896 by suggesting that scientific ideas could not be represented in the Irish language. Later, he conceded that he was wrong. In 1909 he settled in London when offered the job of editor of the German language and literature section of the Times Literary Supplement, a position he held until his death. He reinvolved himself in the Irish Literary Society and published a number of volumes based on Irish myth – including the influential Myths and legends of the Celtic race (1911) – and Wagner's Ring cycle. He was a founder of the India Society of London (1910). During the first world war he was librarian for the ministry of information and utilised his knowledge of Irish in the Obscure Languages section of the censor's department.
Like many involved in cultural activities at this time he was satirised by George Moore (qv) in Hail and farewell, but he remained very friendly with Moore, who dedicated the 1920 edition of Esther Waters to him. He died suddenly 5 December 1920 at his home in Hampstead, London. Rolleston's widow donated many of his books to Cork Public Library.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).