The first reference comes not directly from B. but from a comment made by the editor of this Life-and-Letters, B's daughter Candida Lycett Green. Describing a weekend stay at Dunsany Castle in the early 1940s, when Betjeman was acting as a kind of cultural good-will ambassador
(his official title was Press Attache to the British Ambassador), Green says
- He was prepared to listen to the poems of the outrageously conceited Lord Dunsany (to whom JB always referred as 'Lord Insany'), who kept his most recent compositions in his top pocket and brought them out at a moment's notice. He even sent the manuscript of one of Dunsany's novels to Hamish Hamilton. Literary criticism was not all that Dunsany begged of him either. He wanted help with 'an export license for the shotgun cartridges from England; I can neither work nor exist without any sport or exercise,' he wrote (3 November 1942). [p.271; emphasis mine]
This sounds to me more like an isolated writer desperate for some feedback. The general lack of respect for Dunsany's talents and personality pops up again in a mock-letter B sent to tease the wartime censors:
- I write this down / Dunsany-wise, straight off (p. 315, letter of 3 May 1943)
Here the allusion is probably a dig at Dunsany's facility with verse and his disinclination to revise anything he wrote. While Dunsany did write a few genuinely moving poems, his reputation as a poet suffered from his disdain for Modernism (he felt English poetry more or less ended with Tennyson) and his failure to restrain himself and refrain when inspiration failed (in THE YEAR, his verse diary, he is sometimes reduced to versifying about what they listened to on the radio that night: hardly the stuff to form a platform from which to challenge Eliot et al)
The third reference is more elusive yet. In a letter of 28 February 1946, Betjeman comments on a friend's critique of the draft of an essay B. has written by saying
- The remarks of Insany's [i.e., Lord Dunsany] certainly read as though I subscribe to them. The whole point of the paper was to show that I did not. But I will expunge them since they are liable to the interpretation you put on them. (p. 383)
Just what Dunsany's position was seems impossible to recover. I wd suspect it was Dunsany's views on modern poetry, but follow-up remarks indicate that the subject of the piece seems to have been 'the Englishman's approach to Ireland' (cf. the detailed outline on p. 384) and show that B. deleted 'remarks about the nuncio' and also deleted a reference to the idea that 'once a Catholic always a Catholic'.
At least B. seems to have liked Dunsany Castle and enjoyed his visit there:
- In July that summer [?1942] my parents spent the weekend at Dunsany, a great reconstructed mediaeval castle w. a Wyatt-style staircase, swords and helmets, tigerskins and ancestral portraits, set in an undulating park of ancient oaks. JB's favourite place to sleep was in the small attic room decorated w. Celtic art nouveau designs of twisted snakes. [p. 273]
And it's good to know that B. wholly approved of Lady Dunsany, who was a delightful person by all accounts.
- 'Lady Insany [Dunsany], the wife of the present peer, is the best example of unconscious correctness that I have met. She is also a saint. [p. 525; letter of 2 November 1950]*
current reading: JILL by Philip Larkin (1946) and THE MYSTERY OF THE LOST CEZANNE by M.. L. Longworth (2015)
*by 'unconscious correctness' he means instinctive good manners, innate put-you-at-your-ease etiquette
I thought it went without saying, but perhaps I shd emphasize that Dunsany was, of course, quite sane, he cd just afford to indulge his eccentricities. He had a number of strong opinions, such as being opposed to the mutilation of dog's tails, thinking that lampshades were on upside down (he felt they shd channel light up towards the ceiling, not down towards the floor), and a deeply held belief that table salt was dangerously adulterated (when on a visit he insisted his hostess provide him with ground up rock salt). As he got older, these became hobby horses, but nothing more.