Open Book Publishers logo Open Access logo
  • button
  • button
  • button
GO TO...
book cover



Yeats and his Books1

Warwick Gould

© Warwick Gould, CC BY 4.0

Eamonn Cantwell—Yeats scholar, booklover, genial philanthropist —has honoured his alma mater with a great and timely gift, and I count it a privilege and a distinction to have been asked by University College Cork to inaugurate a series of lectures which will annually celebrate that gift. It is no easy thing to assemble a major Yeats collection. A number of the books in the Cantwell benefaction are over a hundred years old and all of them have been prized collectors’ items for generations. The heroic prices Yeats’s books now command put such items beyond the reach of scholars, who need them now as never before. Yeats, of course, is the greatest poet in the English language since Shakespeare (more certainly since Milton), and it is already very late in his reception to be buying books of such beauty and distinction. Nobody in Ireland is buying Yeats with Eamonn Cantwell’s care, shrewdness, and determination to seek the best surviving copies.

There is, however, a further reason for urgency beyond a limited (and depleted) book stock. Scholarly attention has recently turned to what would seem to be a comparatively new subject, the History of the Book. It proves, of course, to be a new way of thinking about a number of older subjects, including, of course, Historical Bibliography. National histories of the book have been essayed in numerous countries around the world.2 Against this background, we seek to understand what Robert Darnton has called the communications circuit between author, publisher, printer, binder, bookseller, reader, and back to author again, through a process of feedback into new writing from the reception of books.3 Far too little is known about the last, mysterious phase whereby reading contributes to new writing, and much can only be gleaned from the patient study of the material forms of the text itself, even down to the histories that surviving copies of books have to tell about their own readership. The study of books themselves, as objects, has taken on a new urgency: even as the books themselves become scarcer, acidify, decay, or are cropped and rebound.

This is why Eamonn Cantwell’s patient fastidiousness and bibliographical curiosity in respect of Yeats are so important. His doctorate from the University of Dublin concerns itself with the reception of Yeats in Ireland, and of course we receive literary texts in a number of forms other than in books—on the stage, or in other oral communities, in newspapers and periodicals or even by manuscript circulation. Yeats himself claimed in ‘Speaking to the Psaltery’ (1902) that he naturally dislike[d] print and paper, but now at last [he understood] why

I have just heard a poem spoken with so delicate a sense of its rhythm, with so perfect a respect for its meaning, that if I were a wise man and could persuade a few people to learn the art I would never open a book of verses again.

This was the origin of his project for the performance of verse by chanting.

Since I was a boy I have always longed to hear poems spoken to a harp, as I imagined Homer to have spoken his, for it is not natural to enjoy an art only when one is by oneself. Whenever one finds a fine verse one wants to read it to somebody, and it would be much less trouble and much pleasanter if we could all listen, friend by friend, lover by beloved (E&I 13–14; CW4 13).

But Homeric memory had been replaced by the book. The performative, oral culture that Yeats sought to encourage had to be based, as he acknowledged, on the pre-existing literate culture.

It has long been asserted by critics who had the privilege of knowing Mrs George Yeats that Yeats thought in terms of books as much as he did in terms of the individual poem, that the unity of his work and many keys to its patterns of meanings, are to be found in the locations and collocations of his poems. Hugh Kenner in 1955 had published an essay entitled ‘The Sacred Book of the Arts’ taking his title from Yeats himself and arguing that the order of the poems in The Tower is an aspect of their meaning. Yeats, he wrote, ‘was an architect, not a decorator; he didn’t accumulate poems, he wrote books’.4 He then extrapolated his argument to the life-arrangement of Poems (149), long known as the ‘Definitive Edition’, which begins with The Wanderings of Oisin of 1889 and ends with Yeats’s epitaph.5 Kenner discerned an authorial structure of ‘progressive revelation’, but when George Yeats complimented him on the essay she also told him that it was not Yeats who was responsible for the order of the Last Poems in that posthumous volume.6

This was crucial, and consistent with her rigorous respect for Yeats’s own poem order and volume arrangement. Donald R. Pearce, who worked with the Yeats manuscripts in 1949, recalls Mrs Yeats’s telling him:

The poems in any one collection are carefully arranged by W. B. to give an effect, you see, of poetic unity to the volume—a little like successive paragraphs in a story. And so when you open one of his volumes, if you’re already familiar with the poems in it, you have an experience somewhat like entering a room full of mirrors; you touch one poem and immediately see reflections of it… there, and there, and there… at different places in the same volume. It was a very serious business with W. B. He worked very hard to get the arrangement exactly right. But, of course, it made things very difficult for the printer; because so often he’d stop the press with, ‘The volume needs a little more color just there!’ And everything had to come to a halt till he found or made the color he wanted. Then things could start up again!7

One could go much further, and say that Yeats thought in terms of books as he wrote. He wrote out fair copies of poems in blank vellum-bound volumes of heavy, hand-made paper and gave them as gifts to Maud Gonne. When Katharine Tynan interviewed him in 1893 she found ‘[p]rominent in the disorder’ of his room a manuscript book, first used on 29 August of that year and already the chief repository for poems eventually published in The Wind Among the Reeds. It was

a book bound like a mediæval missal in cherry-coloured brocade and tarnished gold… ‘What may that fine thing be?’ I ask. He answers with a slight blush, ‘That is my MS. book. A friend [Maud Gonne] brought me the cover from Paris, and I had the book made to fit it’. I inspect the book. It is such thick paper as one finds in éditions de luxe, and, one imagines, must be rather uncomfortable to write upon.8

Composition was for Yeats a chaotic process, and composing poems in such books meant violating or disturbing the order which their sequence of pages implied. After all, a book is a machine which allows for both sequential and hypertextual reading (the latter some of us still refer to as skipping), but beyond the security which its binding conveys to working sheets, it is a machine which works best with settled forms of the text. It is not easy to erase ink from paper. Yet the ruling idea of Yeats’s poems was so frequently the book with its settled arrangement and order that he first divulged the title of The Wind Among the Reeds (1899) to Tynan in this interview, some six years before he completed it, and then had to put up with others plagiarizing it in the interim.

He also reconceived poems in terms of the books and the markets for which they were designed. Thus, early on, he had a strong sense that the American market was financially important, but that he did not wish to remain the hostage of an Irish-American sentimentality unacceptable here in Ireland, or in England. His ‘Dedication to a Book of Stories from the Irish Novelists’ had been consciously aimed at the Irish-American audience for whom his Representative Irish Tales was assembled. He chose to rewrite it for all audiences in 1924–25, the pressures of public life in the new Free State being such as to leave him feeling ‘battered, badgered and destroyed’ (VP 129–30).

He had made a special arrangement of his work for the Macmillan Company of New York specifically to outwit that American piracy of his work which threatened after he had first lectured there in 1903–04 and had created a huge potential audience.9 These two volumes the publishers entitled The Poetical Works of William B. Yeats, and when you look at the Cantwell copies you will see how the ‘name, initial, name’ reformulates Yeats into a plausibly American poet. The presence on the title page of Macmillan & Co., London is a bit of international swaggering of the Macmillan Company of New York. Copyright deposit copies of these volumes, evidently never issued in Britain, are not to be found in the British Library.

Preparing the first of these volumes (1906), Yeats saw too that his own explanatory notes had to be modified for the American audience. Yet, in spite of such pressures in Yeats’s dealings with the major audiences who paid for his books—primarily English, increasingly American—he was insistent about one thing, his Irish identity. In 1896 he threw this imperative to Henry-D. Davray, his French translator.

I want you to understand that I am an Irish poet, looking to my own people for my ultimate best audience & trying to express the things that interest them & which will make them care for the land in which they live (CL2 15, 19 Mar. [1896]).

He was given to steering (though not controlling) his reception in such ways, but this issue could sound simple only when packaged for export. He was at odds with the journalistic and literary establishment here in Ireland. His textual self begins obviously enough with his early collectionsThe Wanderings of Oisin: and Other Poems (1889), The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics (1892) and The Celtic Twilight (1893), but it is multivalent and, famously, shape-changing. Moreover, it has a mysterious companion in his perceived image in the press. Yeats’s struggles with that doppelgänger are intriguing, and result in his creation of different textual identities for different Irish markets. The several Yeatses include the Protestant IRB man, the ‘declassé Protestant Magician’ (Roy Foster’s phrase10), the Mariolatrous mystic, the Connacht man, the Sligo folklorist, the Clare/Galway border man, the eighteenth-century throwback, the national dramaturge, the Free State politician, the Londoner, the Nobel prizewinner. His Irish audience had multiple identities, and the Irish press through which he reached them was at least as fissiparous.

Plate 1. W. T. Horton’s caricature of Yeats among his books and William Blake’s alchemical equipment and astrological grimoires, from The Academy, 59, no. 1418 (8 July 1899), 28. Private collection, London.

When his publisher A. H. Bullen, himself from Clonakilty, tried to sell his books in Dublin in late 1900, it wasn’t easy. Yeats complained that Bullen ‘was amazed to find the hostility to me of the booksellers’.11 Gill, he declared,

seemed to hardly like to speak my name. I am looked upon as hetredox it seems. ‘The Secret Rose’ was strange to say particularly disaproved of, but they spoke with hostility of even ‘The Shadowy Waters’. Russell told me before I saw Bullen that clerical influence was he beleived working against me because of my mysticism.12 He accuses Father Finlay & his jesuits of working behind [D. P.] Moran. Memory of ‘The Countess Cathleen’ dispute accounts for a good deal. Bullen found the protestant booksellers little better & asked me if TCD disliked me. Magee, the College publisher, said ‘What is he doing here Why doesnt he go away & leave us in peace’. He seems to have suspected me of some deep revolutionary design.… must not go near the Constitutional Club, where I have no desire to go.13 This because of my letter about the late queen. Between my politics & my mysticism I shall hardly have my head turned with popularity.14

At this point, Yeats took a literary agent, A. P. Watt, Mr. 10% himself. For many years thereafter, Yeats pointedly instructed his publishers not to send any of his books for review in Ireland.

Such interactions with the market—real or imagined—are particularly noteworthy, and this issue of an author’s sense of his audience is a mysterious but a formative matter. In Yeats’s case, the feedback loop from readers to writer is of profound importance because he was not only a writer but a rewriter, and a rewriter whose rewriting helped him to find new sources of inspiration. Lafcadio Hearn protested in 1901 about revisions to ‘The Host of the Air’:

You have mangled it, maimed it, deformed it, extenuated it—destroyed it totally. …you have really sinned a great sin! Do try to be sorry for it!—reprint the original version,—tell critics to go to perdition, if they don’t like it,—and, above all things, n’y touchez plus!

Even as Yeats assured Hearn that he would restore parts of the poem, he confided, in the immediately following letter that:—

even when one certainly improves ones work, as when one disengages a half hidden meaning or gets rid of a needless inversion, no body who liked the old will like the new. One changes for the sake of new readers, not for the sake of old ones (CL3 101–02).

For the moment, however, I want to stress how the young writer sought to find and to shape his audience, even as he struggled to get published, and I shall do so with reference to a recent discovery. Another private collector here in Ireland once showed me a scruffy treasure, the Minute Book of the Literary Sub-Committee of the Irish Literary Society of London, 1893–1896. Yeats was a member, and the committee had the responsibility of ‘superintend[ing] the Literary Work’ of the Society. Who was involved? How did they go to work, and why? The committee consisted of interested amateurs of Irish Literature, prominent members of the London Irish community such as Francis Fahy of Kinvarra (author of ‘The Ould Plaid Shawl’), journalists such as R. Barry O’Brien, author of lives of Wolfe Tone and Parnell, the bibliographer of Irish poetry, D. J. O’Donoghue, Edward Garnett from the British Museum, the Irish publisher Edmund Downey, the Irish folklorist Eleanor Hull. The rest were Irish writers: Lionel Johnson, Yeats, Stopford Brooke, John Todhunter, T. W. Rolleston, Emily Hickey and Alfred Percival Graves.15

Their ultimate concern was the creation of the taste by which they wanted to be enjoyed. They attempted to build markets for Irish books, which the publishers would then supply at discounted prices, and to that end, the writers sat down with the publishers and journalists. They devised plans for the creation of reading groups, to read Irish writing. It all sounds fashionably recent, but it is not. Nor is there anything new about our preoccupation with the idea that we read too little. Here is Stephen Gwynn, later an Irish Nationalist MP at Westminster and a founder of Maunsel & Co. the Dublin publisher, recalling the Dublin of the 1880s and early 1890s.

The New Irish Library… like every other literary venture in Ireland… had to contend with the reluctance of the Irish people to spend money on print. Newspapers in Ireland are bought, but they are carefully handed from one reader to another, and it is rare to see a man leave one in a tram or train: in this respect, our people are admirably frugal. So far as concerns the purchase of books, we are a nation of asbstainers with a few drunkards: but the bookworm in Ireland is almost invariably an amasser of old books. There was never a harder country for a literary man to make his money out of…. Later, I was to some degree concerned in starting the firm of Maunsel and Company in Ireland and did my utmost to develop the sale of books in Ireland itself. But in my wanderings I reached the town of Ballaghaderreen and in the big shop over which Mr. Dillon still at least nominally presides, I was authorized to interview the manager about setting up a sale of Irish books. One work in particular seemed particularly hopeful, but it cost two shillings. Two shillings! No one would give the like of that for a book in Ballaghaderreen.

Gwynn noticed, however, that a case of expensive pipes in the same shop were selling well at 7/6 each. These were an ‘intelligible expenditure. But that any body should pay two shillings—let alone seven and sixpence—for a book was apparently unthinkable in County Mayo’.16 All this changed (as he conceded in 1926): by then there were ‘more bookshops… in Irish towns, but the good bookshops have gone down in the world’.

One thing is clear. The output of writing in Ireland has increased immensely, and the standard of it has improved out of all comparison: it has gained a rank of its own in the world of letters…

To Gwynn, the ‘men to whom this change is mainly attributable… stood deliberately and consciously apart’ from Parnell’s movement but capitalized on the ‘loneliness and expectancy’ after the ‘ebb of the land war’. The ‘two moving forces were, of course, W. B. Yeats and Douglas Hyde’.17

Moreover, the London manoeuvres had their predictable politics. The reading groups were to be affiliated to the National Home Reading Union. For 2/- per year, one could sign up to a reading circle, receive lists of what to read, and get on with it. The poets, the publishers, the journalists drew up impressive lists of what to read in Irish literature, logrolled for each other, advertised their ideas and tried to co-ordinate a programme of lectures and original nights to accompany the scheme. It was, perhaps inevitably, not a great success. Dissension followed, including a split with the Dublin-based National Literary Society, and Yeats’s famous quarrel with Gavan Duffy who used the occasion to force a Davisite diet onto Irish audiences against all Yeats’s instincts: Roy Foster is excellent on this episode (Life 1, 112–34).

Plates 2a & b. Top boards of Speeches from the Dock, 48th edition and alternative cover emblem, showing Shamrocks, Harp, Shield with Red Hand of Ulster, and Spear, from the 53rd edition. Private collection, London.

Plate 3. Spirit of the Nation, 50th edition of 1876. Private collection, London.

My point is that for Yeats to succeed was to succeed in London, to create an English or an Irish expatriate reading community to buy books, in order to begin to build the reputation at home which might reinvigorate Dublin culture. In London Yeats had to learn to roll literary logs, to lecture, and, in the Irish Literary Society, to create his own audience.18 Until a decent publishing house was established in Dublin, ‘a city which has long published little but school-books and prayer-books’,19 he would have to publish in London and be a literary presence there. He hated the look of Irish books, the livery of The Spirit of the Nation, Speeches from the Dock, or National Ballads, Songs and Poems of Thomas Davis, anything produced by James Duffy, or M. H. Gill, or Sealey, Bryers and Walker (Plates 2a & b, 3). Thus, in ‘The Union of the Gael’, his Presidential speech to a banquet on 13 April, 1898, Yeats deplored the era when ‘No Irish books were read except books of rhetorical or melodramatic journalism, bound in staring green, and covered with shamrocks’.20 The association of such covers with the rhetoric of the ‘harp and pepperpot’ school of Irish literary endeavour was, for Yeats, insufferable, largely because of its freight of Young Ireland images and metaphors.21

Irish literature had fallen into contempt; no educated man ever bought an Irish book; in Dublin Professor Dowden, the one man of letters with an international influence, was accustomed to say that he knew an Irish book by its smell, because he had once seen some books whose binding had been fastened together by rotten glue (Au 200).

On 18 May, 1903, John Quinn wrote to George P. Brett of the Macmillan Company to record Yeats’s view that ‘I prefer my books to be bound in any other colour than green because if one binds an Irish book in green one is thought to have done so on patriotic grounds’ (CL3 361). Yeats continued for many years to hate having green covers on his books, and even after the establishment of the Free State transfigured other emblems of nationalism, the shamrock remained a symbol to be despised.22

In all this London literary work, Yeats was not the dreamy poet with the floppy bow tie, but a working writer interacting with the means by which his work would be produced, marketed, and read. He had been so from the outset, and his books would seem to show that he was always prepared to operate within the fields of two contrary forces. On the one hand he knew how individual was his vision, and how important it was to stamp his own personality, image, livery or symbolic force onto his books as objects as well as onto his texts.

From his own debut, it was Yeats’s own personality and image which were thrust on our attention. Mosada. A Dramatic Poem (1886), reprinted by Sealy, Bryers, and Walker from the Dublin University Review had a ‘Frontispiece Portrait of the Author by J. B. Yeats’ announced on the front cover (Plate 4). While not all young poets have a portrait painter for a father, not all would presume to embellish their first publication with a self-image.23

Plate 4. Review copy of Mosada: A Dramatic Poem (1886) with bookplates, including those of John Quinn (centre, by Jack B. Yeats), Major William van R. Whitall (top), and Milton McC. Gatch (bottom). Courtesy of Maggs Bros., London.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, reporting on the Dublin poets to Coventry Patmore, commented upon a certain ‘young Mr. Yeats’ whose ‘striking verses’ were in the Trinity College journal, and who had been ‘perhaps unduly pushed by Ferguson’.24 Hopkins, who was not predisposed to think well of it, recalled a visit to John Butler Yeats’s studio where, ‘with some emphasis of manner’, JBY had presented him with a copy of the book, no doubt drawing attention to the portrait. Hopkins was impressed, ‘the young man having finely cut intellectual features and his father being a fine draughtsman’ but

[f]or a young man’s pamphlet this was something too much; but you will understand a father’s feeling. Now this Mosada I cannot think highly of, but I was happily not required to praise what presumably I had not then read…’.25

Plate 5. A detail of Yeats’s inscription on the frontispiece page of Quinn’s copy of Mosada. Courtesy of Maggs Bros., London.

Yeats had planned ‘a picture of some incident in the play’ but his ‘father was too much of a portrait painter’ and prevailed. Though Yeats was ‘alarmed at the impudence of putting a portrait in my first book’ his father was ‘full of ancient and modern instances’, as Yeats recorded in 1904 on John Quinn’s copy (Plate 5).26 Since JBY had, in a moment characteristic only in its financial misjudgment, actually paid (or promised to pay) for the printing, Yeats was in no position to protest—not even about the shamrocks in the cover’s border design.27 The portrait is of a somewhat callow-looking and bearded Yeats looking a good deal older than his twenty-one years.28 It was duly noticed by Katharine Tynan who prophesied ‘great things… we to whom he belongs by blood and birth, will watch his career with especial trust and pride’ (Plate 6).29 The image helped to turn the book into a very preliminary auto-icon, perhaps all the more necessary given that it is a Moorish tale of the Spanish Inquisition.

Mosada like all books, was a collaborative venture. Early on, then, Yeats learned that an author has to compromise. He was prepared to compromise or to strike a deal, if it might get him closer to what he wanted. It became a habit of JBY’s to portray his son in his own poems. When John McGrath commented on John Butler Yeats’s portrait of Yeats as the mad ‘King Goll’ which, vigorously rethought as it was engraved to accompany that poem in The Leisure Hour in September 1887 (Plates 7a & b),30 Yeats conceded that it had been ‘done from me & is probably like though it was not intend[ed] as a portrait. Be sure I would never have had myself painted as the mad “King Goll” of my own poem had I thought it was going to turn out the portrait it has. I was merely the cheapest & handiest model to be found’.31

Plate 6. J. B. Yeats’s frontispiece drawing of W. B. Yeats, from Mosada (1886). Courtesy Colin Smythe.

Plate 7a. J. B. Yeats’s pastel portrait of W. B. Yeats as King Goll. Private collection, Ireland. Courtesy Colin Smythe.

Plate 7b. J. B. Yeats’s portrait of W. B. Yeats as King Goll, The Leisure Hour, September 1887. Private collection, London.

Nevertheless, Yeats kept the portrait and on 26 May, 1924 told Olivia Shakespear that it had been painted at the age of twenty when his father had ‘painted me as “King Goll”, quite insane, tearing the strings out [of] a harp, being insane with youth, but looking very desirable—alas no woman noticed it at the time—with dreamy eyes & a great mass of black hair. It hangs in our drawing room now a pathetic memory of a really dreadful time’.32 Nine years later, JBY was still at it, offering an image of Yeats as a Firbolg with an Irish wolf hound, in an illustration for a reprint of ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ in the same journal.33 By then Yeats had established himself enough to have a marketable image.

This was not yet the case when he assembled his first collection in 1889, The Wanderings of Oisin: and Other Poems, Eamonn Cantwell’s copy of which is the cornerstone of the collection we celebrate today. Despite Yeats’s London connexions, that volume was immensely difficult to realize.34 It was in effect a vanity publication, but such was a common and honourable mode of publication in the period, and it was probably Katharine Tynan who suggested Charles Kegan Paul as publisher, and for his Irish sympathies.35 In 1885 Paul had taken her first book at her father’s expense—£ 20 as she tells us—found he could sell it, reprinted it, and took her second book, Shamrocks, at his own (dubiously rewarded) risk.36 He took Yeats’s book on ‘the good old-fashioned method of publishing on half profits’,37 whereby the publisher bears the cost of production (itself a debatable or inflatable entity) and the author makes no money until costs are recovered, at which point profits are shared by author and publisher. In Yeats’s case, Kegan Paul demanded guarantees from subscribers before being prepared even to consider the matter.

The business of publishing by subscription was one which Yeats, O’Leary and others including Tynan knew well from Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland. John O’Leary had found ‘almost all the subscribers’ for The Wanderings of Oisin: and Other Poems, but Yeats too was involved.38 Beyond the drumming up of the initial subscribers, which Yeats began in autumn 1887, there was the difficulty of matching their numbers, commitments and expectations to Charles Kegan Paul’s extremely close appreciation of the likely costs and the likely market. In January 1888 Yeats had sought to impress the Irishness of his work upon the Irish journalist Stephen Gwynn (who was putting his name down for four copies): the title poem was not merely ‘an irish poem’ it was also ‘about my best’ and was to dominate the collection—‘irish a good many of them’—which Yeats even then felt he might ‘modify… indefinately’ (CL1 44). Kegan Paul—in whom Yeats professed to discover a ‘compound of the superciliousness of the man of letters with the oiliness of the tradesman’—thought of lowering the price from the proposed 5/- to 3/6d without bothering too much about the labour this would involve for those organizing the subscription list (CL1 54). When John Todhunter enterprisingly suggesting offering each subscriber two copies of a more cheaply produced book at 2/6d, Yeats saw at once that the arrangement would use up 400 of the 500 to be printed and be ‘a somewhat unceremonious as well as a losing arrangement exausting my whole edition but 100’.39

Yeats’s business acumen was sharp, but he was green enough in every sense to imagine that the unsubscribed copies of his first book were going to sell widely on the open market. He was faced with a dilemma: should he exhaust himself and his supporters’ patience by endeavouring to increase the number of subscribers, or should he cut his losses and the book? ‘Friction with the market’ (in the shape of Kegan Paul, that champion of its values) made Yeats confront artistic priorities.40

perhap[s] I will reduce the size of the book. At any rate 3/6 is likely to be the price. A 5/- book should be over 200 pages. I will decide this week after seeing Keegan Paul. Whatever may be decided on I will submit to O’Leary for his opinion he having got so many names for me. If it comes to lightening the ship I will hardly know what to throw overboard… the Irish poems must all be kept, making the personality of the book—or as few thrown over as may be.41

Yeats as yet was too near to his poems to be a ruthless excluder—but the principle that his books would have their own Irish personality was established.42 There were other, practical difficulties to be addressed. A book of 156 numbered and six preliminary pages, The Wanderings of Oisin: and Other Poems was estimated to cost £30.7.6 to produce. Kegan Paul’s final costs were almost twice that, at £59.15. 2, including ‘fee, advertisements, postage and booksellers’ discount’. 500 quires of the octavo were printed by 12 December 1888, and 300 bound, to be sold at 5/-. There were 208 pledged subscribers, some of whom Yeats had signed up to pay only 3/6d.43 There was yet endless work in dunning those who did not pay their subscriptions (only 146 obliged at once). The subscribers got their copies in January, and the book was actually published in the first fortnight of February 1889.44 While 50 extra quires were bound on 1 February and a similar number on 15 July, only 174 of the 270 copies disposed of had actually been sold by June. Further, only 35 of the 204 copies sold in the first year had been ‘bought on the open market’. In 1890 and 1891 about thirty copies per year were sold (including nineteen in the first year to subscribers) and an increasing number went to purchasers on the open market. The total sold to such buyers, however, did not exceed 75 copies.45

The subscribers Yeats found were Irish sympathizers, and few casual buyers who knew his work through The Dublin University Review, The Irish Monthly, The Irish Fireside, United Ireland or The Gael had not been tapped. Kegan Paul was relying on an ordinary English paying public consisting of those who could lay out about one sixth of a clerk’s weekly wage for a book of poems by an Irishman known in England only through the pages of The Leisure Hour, The Vegetarian and Lucifer. There was no American contract for this book, so readers of The Boston Pilot or The Providence Sunday Journal were left out of account. No doubt Yeats would have liked an American issue, but the decision to publish solely in London meant that he was appealing largely to an English public—to which even the poems of Ferguson were not well known. These poetry buyers would have found Yeats’s subject matter and treatment in ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’ as strange as they would have found his hero’s name unpronounceable.

Yet the book was widely reviewed as friends and logrollers got to work. Rather than temporize about promise, Oscar Wilde openly defied the anticipated charge of logrolling by reviewing it twice and talking about it.46 He boldly identified for The Pall Mall Gazette’s readership the central achievement of the book, Yeats’s Irish ‘largeness of vision’.

Books of poetry by young writers are usually promissory notes that are never met. Now and then, however, one comes across a volume that is so far above the average that one can hardly resist the fascinating temptation of prophesying a fine future for its author. Such a volume Mr. Yeats’s ‘Wanderings of Oisin’ certainly is…. If he has not the grand simplicity of epic treatment, he has at least something of that largeness of vision that belongs to the epical temper. He does not rob of their stature the great heroes of Celtic mythology. He is very naïve, and very primitive, and speaks of his giants with the awe of a child.47

Yeats had been prepared to declare that Irish ‘personality’ from the outset of this book, not entirely without vacillation.48 By 1893 he had no such doubts. Acknowledging to Katharine Tynan the influence of Shelley on his first (abandoned) dramatic poem and his schoolboy reading of Scott and Macaulay, he declared ‘I am going back to Dublin this week… and intend to stay there. I want my work to be as Irish as possible, and I find that here my impressions get blunted’.49

Plates 8a & b. Inscriptions by W. B. Yeats [n.d.] and George Yeats (March, 1949) in Yeats’s working copy of The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889). Images © and courtesy of The Morgan Library, New York. All rights reserved.

In his chosen arrangement, ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’, hitherto unpublished and unknown, dominates the title and the volume. It is placed first in spite of the fact that many of the lyrics rather loosely aggregated in the volume had been written and published before it. It occupies exactly one third of the printed pages. An assertion of boldness and character, the placement of an epic with the defiant penultimate line ‘I will go to the house of the Fenians, be they in flames or at feast’, was an explicit political statement (VP 63v.). He had joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1886, as O’Leary’s protégé.50

Although Yeats put ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’ last in Poems (1899), where it stayed during the life of that popular edition, by 1925 he had returned it to pride of place in his Early Poems and Stories, and had no doubt that it was the poem in which ‘my subject-matter became Irish’.51 This was not how he felt about all the poems in the book, and he inscribed the title page of Quinn’s copy with a rueful echo of Shakespeare’s epitaph: ‘My first book of poems & full of mixed influences “Cursed be he who moves” the worst of these verses to reprint them W B Yeats March 1904’.52 And yet, the proud emphasis with which Yeats uses the word ‘book’ here is not to be lost: this was a book, not (as had been Mosada), an off-print, and as such, his first collection.

Kegan Paul still had 98 unbound copies of The Wanderings of Oisin: and Other Poems, plus a further 19 on which subscriptions had not been paid.53 £2.3.10 was outstanding from subscribers, and he began to ‘threaten [Yeats] with lawyers’. Yeats wrote to O’Leary for help

I want to take the remaining [i.e. unbound] 100 copies out of their hand & get Fisher Unwin to sell them which he will do with ease—There is as it is, some slight sale & a steadily increasing one. The new book [i.e. The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics] will sell the rest of the copies. I want you to lend me £2.10.0 so that I can make the transfer at once.54

Plate 8c. W. B. Yeats’s inscription of March 1904 in John Quinn’s copy of The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889), now Copy 4 in the Berg Collection, New York Public Library. © and courtesy of the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, and the Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations, New York Public Library. All rights reserved.

O’Leary came to the rescue and Unwin duly took over, bound and issued the remainder in late May on a commission contract which put their interest at 10%. The idea had been proposed in late January, a contract issued on 8 February but it was not signed until 25 May. Kegan Paul, sensing that Unwin’s sales drive on the remainder could do him some good too, bound for his own sale 25 of the 98 he was holding and probably procrastinated over the transfer.55 ‘[A]ll expenses connected with the deletion of the previous publisher’s imprint, such as printing & insertion of fresh s, reblocking, or, if necessary, rebinding the bound copies’ were to be borne by Yeats who was to ‘offer no hindrance to such deletion, printing, blocking, or binding’.56 The rebinding alone of the 73 remaining copies cost Yeats £1. 7. 8, but he got a new title, The Wanderings of Oisin. Dramatic Sketches, Ballads & Lyrics. This new array of generic sub-classifications showed Yeats for the first time taking stock of the generic shift from compositional texts (e.g. plays, stories) into new (and effectively discrete) republished contexts. The ‘various legends and lyrics’ of the next volume were already on his mind. Unwin published seventy three copies in May in a gray-green cloth, with T. Fisher Unwin’s device on the upper board, gold lettering spiraled diagonally up the parchment spine, top edge gilt, others were trimmed (Wade 3, p. 23). This ‘handsomer’ binding was in fact the Cameo Series format, designed or approved by Edward Garnett and the Gresham Press, Unwin Brothers, and quite skillfully adapted to Kegan Paul’s sheets (CL1 287). It exactly matches the binding of The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics in the Cantwell Collection.

Working from a copy of the first edition containing corrections Yeats had dictated, Edwin J. Ellis designed and lithographed a sepia frontispiece of Niam in a panel portrait, dominating the colloquy of the aged St Patrick (with mitre and crozier) and Oisin.57 Tipped in with the cancel title, it imposed a symbolic personality on the relaunched book. Yeats cautiously found it ‘charming’ (CL1 28: see Plate 9).

Plate 9. Edwin J. Ellis’s Frontispiece of Niam [sic], St Patrick and Oisin, in The Wanderings of Oisin. Dramatic Sketches. Ballads & Lyrics (1892). Image © private collection, London. All rights reserved.

It was a mark of the success of John Sherman AND Dhoya that T. Fisher Unwin had taken the opportunity to help Yeats out of his financial difficulty with Kegan Paul. Collaborations with other artists followed. John Nettleship supplied the frontispiece for The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics (also in the Cantwell Collection), and Beardsley, whose cover design for The Land of Hearts Desire also functioned as the poster to advertise the book.

In these early books, two forces are endlessly at play, Yeats’s desire for an individual personality for his books and the limitations of the market. As early as 1895 he wanted a collected works, and a uniform edition of all of his books which none of his publishers could afford. Poems (1895) represents his first attempt at uniform size, shape and typography. A fine copy of this elusive book has been secured by Eamonn Cantwell. Poems (1895) is Yeats’s first attempt to deploy work previously published in single volume form into discrete sections of what is envisaged not just as a collection, but as a book-of-books. Its internal subdivisions are accomplished by rendering the titles of individual works, and previous volume-units as sections, bibliographically and typographically indistinguishable from units such as CROSSWAYS and THE ROSE, especially made up for this book. All such units have their own half-titles, with dedications, and epigraphs on the versos, as do the ‘sections’ such as THE COUNTESS CATHLEEN. CROSSWAYS and THE ROSE were to be as enduring as if Yeats had actually published collections with those titles. Their contents were not invariable, but the method remained a fixed one through which Yeats remade collections of poems as units in subsequent textual selves.

The arrangement of Poems (1895) was ultimately determined by the desire to put major work first in chronological array.58 Lyrics were accorded third place after the epic and the dramatic poems. The epic and the lyric collections are dedicated to men, the plays to women. The later lyrics are privileged over earlier ones, with two from the collection which is stylized into THE ROSE pushed back to form part of CROSSWAYS presumably because Yeats felt they belonged in subject and style to an earlier period.59 In that section, some of the poems are dated and the first two, ‘The Song of the Happy Shepherd’ and ‘The Sad Shepherd’ (which Yeats had thought to place in the penultimate and antepenultimate positions respectively) are given the earliest of the affixed dates (1885). The overall order of the section is not however chronological either in terms of composition or of publication: these facts of life yield before the imposition of a created personality.

This emergence from drama into lyric is congruent with the fact that the first seven or eight poems in CROSSWAYS are unwoven from abandoned dramas, collections, or series. ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’ remained in first place as the true Irish beginning of his whole poetic endeavour. Consigning his origins quite literally to Irish by-ways, Yeats named CROSSWAYS for the ‘many pathways’ he had tried in its poems.60 The trunk road was signposted in THE ROSE, ‘the only pathway whereon he can hope to see with his own eyes the Eternal Rose of Beauty and of Peace’ (VP 845–46).

Yeats insisted on approving the paper, and samples of printing, on choosing the page size (crown octavo), on ‘title page & cover design—not a frontispiece’, ‘no headlines, the number of the page to be at the bottom & single commas for quotation marks’, ‘rough edges’ (CL1 434, 436, 439). This was an act of self-definition. TO SOME I HAVE TALKED WITH BY THE FIRE stands in italic to signify the dedication of the whole volume. Other framing poems such as ‘To the Rose upon the Rood of Time’ and ‘To Ireland in the Coming Times’ continue to be printed in italic, while elsewhere italic is used for sung sections of poems or song-lyrics in plays, or for prayers or inwardly spoken thoughts, offering an implicitly linked second level of discourse.61

Though a decisive act of self-formation, Poems (1895) was not a ‘total book’ and it was not a wholly successful self-image. In explicitly ruling out a frontispiece as ‘an external and extrinsic decoration which I would be very glad of, but only if I also had my decorative title page, which I look upon as making an essential part of the book more beautiful’ (CL1 439) he was perhaps rebelling against a self-image proffered by his father. He had initially wanted the book decorated by Fernand Khnopff or Charles Hazlewood Shannon, but eventually chose H. Granville Fell whose work had been exhibited in the autumn of 1894.62 As a former ‘Art student myself’, Yeats declared, he was ‘opinionated and crotchety over this question of design’.63

Later in the nineties the ‘facile meaninglessness’ of Fell’s cover-design began to irritate Yeats, although he had been enthusiastic about it at the start (CL2 357). An early copy had ‘caused quite a flutter of aproval among [Unwin’s] clerks… Fells design… is very admirable. I have chosen for the substance a curious dove-grey (CL1 471, 31 July 1895). However, Yeats did not get the ‘dark colour’ he had originally stipulated, but a buff cloth to match the full vellum of the 25 copy issue printed on Japan vellum.64 Fell gave him a front-and-back design of an aureoled, winged and helmeted angel, presumably St Michael (who appears at the apotheosis of the Countess in ‘The Countess Cathleen’), vanquishing a serpent, all enclosed within a celestial harp-shaped border of thorned roses (Plate 10).

Plate 10. Top board of wraparound covers by H. Granville Fell for W. B. Yeats’s Poems (1895). Private collection, London.

The angel ‘more closely resembled St George and the Dragon’, as the editors of Yeats’s letters have suggested (ibid., n. 4). On 27 January 1895, Yeats had given ‘a firm command’ to Unwin that the cover design for Poems (1895) ‘be not green & have no shamrocks’ (CL1 434). The livery of Poems (1895) is religiose, with its celestial dove, harp and roses. The resultant banal, debased Pre-Raphaelitism extends to the title page, which depicts rather poorly Paracelsus’ mysterious epigraph (‘He who tastes a crust of bread tastes all the stars and all the heavens’: placed on the verso65) by means of a knight receiving Communion. Yeats had made clear his preferences. He had wished to leave the artist free to choose his own expression of Yeats’s themes. This was, no doubt, in line with advanced thinking of the day that ‘the illustrations of a volume should sum up in themselves the printed matter, they should be decorative in character’.66 Yeats came, as he said, to ‘hate that expressionless angel of his’. Worse, perhaps—though Yeats does not say so—Fell had smuggled some weedy shamrocks onto the spine. Before the next edition in 1899, Yeats had ‘abolished’ the cover (CL2 357).

If oeuvre was a destabilizing force, Yeats had also a turbulent time with publishers. He had too many because he did not earn enough for any of them, and none could envisage a Collected Works in Verse and Prose except A. H. Bullen, who eventually gave him the only satisfactory one he had in his life (there is a set in the Cantwell Collection). With such an ambition deferred, he sought other modes of uniformity for his books through some sort of immediately recognizable livery.

Enter a Cork woman, Althea Gyles, estranged from her family in Kilmurry, a family, according to Yeats, ‘so haughty that their neighbours called them the Royal family’.67 Yeats first met her in that Ely Place commune which she shared with George Russell and other Theosophists. Later she slept on a heap of rags in London, had an affair with Yeats’s publisher, Leonard Smithers, and lived from hand to mouth, leaving her rare books with Yeats to prevent them being distrained when the bailiffs forced their way in. She was, however, the genius who invented a symbolic personality for Yeats. Here I want to talk about her first book for him, not yet in Eamonn Cantwell’s collection, The Secret Rose (1897).68

This book shows everything about collaboration and compromise. For a start this collection of Irish stories about ‘the war between spiritual and natural order’ had an arrangement not only chronological but culminative, and the last two stories appeared too heterodox to the publishers, Lawrence and Bullen. A. H. Bullen was, as we have seen, proved right. At proof stage he cut those stories and privately printed them from the same plates in an edition of 110 copies as The Tables of the Law. The Adoration of the Magi (1897) just three months later (the Cantwell collection has a later reprint of these).

For the moment, let us look at Althea Gyles’s cover design (Plate 11), and two of its likely sources. The first of these visual precursors is from the Sacramentary Fleury (Plate 12a) attributed to Nivardus of Milan and wrought for Robert the Pious, King of France (r. 996–1031), perhaps at the behest of the Bishop of Beauvais, who crowned him in 1017.69 If the field of Gyles’s visual sources is, as I suggest, international, then an image of the cover decoration of a Qu’ran (Plate 12b) held in the Library of the Escorial, Spain, was also available to Gyles in a lavishly illustrated reference work in the then British Museum Library.70 Granted the contrast in styles between these two very different examples of mediaeval representations of knot work, the designer in Gyles seems to have focused upon what they have in common. After all, that international fascination with knot work runs from the Copts to the Celts. Icovellavna, or knot work, often showing interlacing and/or ‘endless’ ball patterns, some employing triskelia, are to be found on ancient Celtic Crosses.

Plate 11. Althea Gyles’s wraparound design for The Secret Rose (1897), first state, ribbed cloth. Private collection, London.

Plate 12a. Decorated initial letter from the Sacramentary Fleury, early eleventh century, attributed to Nivardus of Milan, MS. Ludwig v, 1, f. 9. Tempera colours, gold, silver and ink on parchment. Courtesy of the Getty Museum, California.

Plate 12b. Front board of Muley Zidan’s Qu’ran (El Koran, Códikce Árabe Llamado de Muley Cidan, Rey del Marruęcos, Library of the Escorial, Spain). Private collection, London, from a copy of Museo Español de Antigüedades (Madrid, 1872–80, vol. 3 [1874]).

The sacramentary’s early eleventh century decoration and its embellishment shows an initial letter ‘D’ in uncial script, as the incipit of the Mass for Easter Day, its framing columns each spirally bound by climbing vines which intermingle in an arch over a ball-like tangle of vine in a maze of knot work, and forming the uncial ‘D’ for ‘Deus’. Given the subject, we may assume the vines are the triune God, the ‘true vine’, with its two climbing husbandmen intent on harvesting its grapes, or tending its new shoots, some of which are in triskeles. Perhaps its pillars also show the vine spiralling upwards. It grows from twin roots around a fourfold knot which may resemble a Cross. The Arabesque pattern of the Qu’ran codex cover, on the other hand, has its labyrinthine filigree woven around a stylized rose, with two roots seemingly growing not just from the bottom panel of its inner frame, but from each of the four planes which make up that roped-over frame. Taken together, these two designs offer immense potential for Gyles to impose Yeats’s symbolist and occult programme upon the pattern they have in common.

Now, in the story entitled ‘Rosa Alchemica’, the unnamed narrator is being initiated into an occult Order out in Connemara. He sits down to read its rituals before the ceremony. He takes its ancient Ritual MS book from its bronze box. The wrap-around Gyles design for Yeats’s cover may be compared to Yeats’s description of the Order’s Ritual Book found in the following passage from the page proofs of the 1897 edition, the italicized section having been cut by Yeats from the published book:

In the box was a book bound in vellum, and having a rose-tree growing from an armed anatomy, and enclosing the faces of two lovers painted on the one side, to symbolize certainly the coming of beauty out of corruption, and probably much else; and upon the other, the alchemical rose with many spears thrusting against it, but in vain, as was shown by the shattered points of those nearest. The book was written upon vellum…71

This precise symbolism Gyles put onto the top and lower boards of Yeats’s book. She was not a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn, but she turns the Ritual Book of the Order of the Alchemical Rose into Yeats’s personal talisman, or grimoire. (There are, by the way, other fatal books in other stories in The Secret Rose, e.g., the Grimoire of Pope Honorius in ‘The Book of the Great Dhoul and Hanrahan the Red’ and a Hebrew manuscript in ‘The Heart of Spring’, and the splendidly adorned sole copy of the ‘secret book’ Yeats attributes to Joachim of Fiore, the Liber Inducens in Evangelium Æternum, in ‘The Tables of the Law’.)

Althea Gyles’s pillars employ Celtic knot-work, which is evident in both central ball-like interweavings of rose-bush. Nivardus’s two figures have clambered above the central knot of their true vine. In Gyles’s design, the tight interlacing imitates the paths of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, encloses a rose cross, and has the two figures portrayed as lovers, kissing just beneath the crowning blossoms of the tree. There is a great deal more to be said of her symbolism, both esoteric and exoteric: I pause only to add that her Tree of Life growing from the body of the armed knight is also the Tree of Jesse, and that its lovers appear in such of Yeats’s poems as ‘The Two Trees’, and that she may have been drawn to Nivardus’s interpenetrating vines by the motif of the interwoven ash trees which grow from the graves of Tumaus Costello and Oona MacDermott on Insula Trinitatis in Lough Key, at the end of Yeats’s story ‘Of Costello the Proud, of Oona the Daughter of Dermott, and of the Bitter Tongue’ in Yeats’s book of stories (VSR 81).

The symbolism of the spine is also Celtic, and also drawn from ‘Rosa Alchemica’ (‘the […]. overflowing cauldron: Lu, [sic] with his spear dipped in poppy-juice, lest it rush forth hot for battle...’).72 The wreathed poppies cling to a spear plunged in a chalice rather than a cauldron, and such an association might have suggested affinities with the lance and chalice of the Grail legends, at least in the mind of the designer.

Gyles’s design was stamped in gold upon the dark blue73 cloth of the book, which was ribbed cloth in the first issues of the first binding state, although many copies of the first state have smooth cloth.74 It is perhaps an indication of just how satisfied Yeats was with the design that he cut much of the passage just quoted.75 At all events, it would have been otiose in such a resplendently bound volume. Cover designs of such ‘total’ books are part of the text which they enclose,76 and their symbolism divides the readers into esoteric and exoteric groups (though neophytes can become initiates).

With this livery, Althea Gyles established the image or call-sign of Yeats for the next thirty years. You will have seen it on his next two books, The Wind Among the Reeds and Poems both issued in 1899 in time for the first stagings of the Irish Literary Theatre in Dublin, and both in the Cantwell Collection. In another copy of the former Yeats wrote that he had ‘great trouble with the designer’ who had ‘demanded’ it back ‘because the publisher [Elkin Mathews] had not answered a letter of hers. “He is not worthy” she said. She was a strange attractive person who came to nothing through ill health or indolence or both’.77 Despite such difficulties, Yeats was determined to spread his symbolical selves on ‘[t]he blue and the dim and the dark cloths’, ‘enwrought with golden... light’ (VP 176). Alas, that the most personal of her symbolical selves for Yeats had to be omitted from The Wind Among the Reeds partly through Yeats’s diffidence, but principally because Gyles just could never bring herself to finish it and let it go (Plate 13).78

Plate 13. Althea Gyles’s abandoned frontispiece (c.1897) for The Wind Among the Reeds. Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

Plate 14. Althea Gyles’s wraparound design for the vellum-bound 4th edition of The Wind Among the Reeds (London, 1903). Image © private collection, London. All rights reserved.

That determination can be seen in a letter which was written during one of Yeats’s wrangles with Elkin Mathews, to whom he had promised The Wind Among the Reeds. Having finally got Gyles to submit her design to Mathews, Yeats took an instant dislike to a trial version of the binding, with an image in yellow on the reviled green cloth:

First the colour of the cloth wont do. It is a colour I particularly dislike. The colour should be the same dark blue as my ‘Secret Rose’. Secondly the yellow lines wont do. This cover is simply ugly. The lines should be in gold or the cover should be perfectly plain. I thought it was understood that the design was to be in gold. Please get this design printed in gold or abolish it altogeather letting me know what the block has cost. Surely you must see yourself that it is absurd to print a book of verse of any kind of importance with the same kind of common stuff on the cover that you put on a novel.79 What you have to consider is whether you can do the things in gold, increasing the price of the book to 5/- if you like, though I should think this unnecessary. If not print in a perfectly plain blue cover… In either case let me have another proof. I have the strongest objection to designs printed in yellow or any other colour or in anything except gold. The cover you sent me would do neither of us credit…. if you make it a really charming book to look at you will help the book greatly (CL2 279–80, 25 October 1898).

Mathews capitulated but penny-pinched, using some ‘schlagmetal’, ‘Dutch gold’, ‘green gold’ or some other copper alloy which briefly glistered but was not gold, and few if any copies survive in good condition. The decay was well and truly evident by 1902 when in any case, the old block was badly worn. Robert Gregory, Archibald G. B. Russell and other like-minded Oxford students and graduates raised enough promises from existing owners and others for a new block to be made, redrawn from Gyles’s design, but in slightly variant proportions. About 25 new covers were made, some for copies of earlier editions to be rebound, others newly printed for the 1903 4th edition, and were bound in full vellum, with real gold.80 I’ve taken my image from one of these rather than from the Cantwell copy which is gold on blue (Plate 14). At the centre of The Wind Among the Reeds is a complex projection of a hopeless love triangle, the lover, his beloved, and a pale woman whom passion has worn, or Yeats, Maud Gonne, and Olivia Shakespear. Bulked out to sixty-two pages of poems, it has a further forty-six pages of recondite, essay-like notes on the book’s symbolism. Gyles’s rather Japanese design cuts through its extraordinary complexity to get to its central narrative of failure and pain. Based on her reading of one poem, ‘Breasal the Fisherman’, is the elaborate woven net of reeds on the front cover, suggesting perhaps the planned entrapment of the beloved. It is reduced to chaos, tangle and escape on the back, as fire gives way to water. The fire of the front cover is replaced by water on the back, just as one of the central symbolic ‘principles of the mind’, Michael Robartes, is ‘fire reflected in water’.81 The process of reading from the front cover through to the back is thus figured in the boards themselves, while on the spine, a ‘hyssop-heavy sponge’ impaled on a reed from another poem dares us to compare the sufferings of sexual passion with those of Christ on the Cross. Gyles’s frontispiece portrait of Yeats, never finished to her standards or his, was omitted, but its three-petalled Tudor rose and blown fourth petal found their way onto The Shadowy Waters, 1900, also in the Cantwell collection, in stamped gold on blue.

The rose also dominates the second (1899) edition of Poems82 (Plate 15). Yeats had again to nudge a publisher to spend on a cover design, and to nurse Althea Gyles and Unwin through its production, liaising between the wretched and ill designer, the binder, and the publisher in order to get the finest design he had even seen on ‘the best looking book I have ever had’, a ‘perfect’ combination of cloth and gold (CL2 402). The rose petals swirl in clouds rather like incense from the rose on the cross at the centre, which acts as a thurible or censer. Henry Woodd Nevinson had praised the cover as (in John Masefield’s words),

the most beautiful modern cover that [he] had seen… Soon, I was at a book-shop, looking at the… beautiful cover, dark blue, with a design, in gold, of a rose upon a cross spilling petals everywhere. Even now, after more than half a century, many copies still show those drifting golden rose-petals in all their glory and beauty. Ah, when that gold was new, the cover alone seemed well worth the money…83

Plate 15. Althea Gyles’s wraparound design for Poems (1899). Private collection, London.

The lower board image recalls that of The Secret Rose, while the spine is like a new close-up view of the rose-tree on the top board of The Secret Rose, as the imploring hands of the lover reach for the beloved among the birds, branches and roses of the Tree. Yet it is also suggestive of a symbolical narrative which begins with the spine (plucked from a bookshelf) before the top board is revealed.84 The head with half-opened mouth which hangs by a plume of hair is indeed, a severed head, a development of the iconography of the bard Aodh in ‘The Binding of the Hair’, the opening story of The Secret Rose.85

Poems (1899) became Yeats’s most enduring bibliographical self almost by dint of a publisher’s grudge.86 Unwin refused to deal with literary agents, and after Yeats put his affairs into A. P. Watt’s hands in 1900 he was forced to deal with Unwin by himself, and even secured a limited issue of the 4th (1904) edition on full parchment boards (Plate 16), available at 10/6d. Yeats sought new publishers for newer work, but left Poems, The Land of Heart’s Desire and The Countess Cathleen in Unwin’s hands because they made money (Poems at about £35 per year, accounted for nearly half Yeats’s income). Thus it was that these books created a separate publishing category for what he came to call early work.87

These spinal designs and blue-and-gold liveries by Gyles established Yeats’s image across five further titles (The Celtic Twilight, 1902, Poems 1899–1905, Poems Second Series, The Poetical Works of William B. Yeats, The Unicorn from the Stars, and across four publishers (Unwin, Bullen, Ernest Benn and the Macmillan Company, in two hemispheres. After 1913 gold was discontinued and the boards Poems were blind stamped. After 1926, Poems lost even the blind stamped boards. The spine alone remained recognizable, a small but prudent gesture, no doubt to aid sales.88 Finally in 1929 Poems was reissued by Ernest Benn without even a vestige of the Gyles design, in plain blue-green cloth, lettered in gold on the spine, with top edges stained green and trimmed edges, but there was little enterprise in going naked, and within two years the publisher managed to cut the sales of Yeats’s most popular book to one tenth of what they had been. Stripped of its talismanic livery with its increasingly nostalgic appeal, Poems was as effaced as a well-rubbed coin. Yeats was a victim of its success. Its image kept his early work in front of later work, and he increasingly sought a new image.

Plate 16. Althea Gyles’s top board design on a parchment copy of Poems (1904). Courtesy the Rose Library, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.


The fading of Althea Gyles brought Yeats into numerous other relationships with book artists and designers, of which the most difficult was with his sisters in the production of the Dun Emer and Cuala editions. His long association with A. H. Bullen, who remained his mentor and publisher until 1916, was fruitful in all that it taught him about book making and remaking, typography and layout. When finally he went to Macmillan in 1916, he began to work closely with the London poet and artist Thomas Sturge Moore whom he had known since the 1890s, and whose book covers for Yeats eventually become almost a visual encyclopaedia of Yeats’s leading symbols.89

They began to work with William Rothenstein on the problem of putting Rabindranath Tagore’s poems into English in 1912, making Gitanjali made it an extraordinary best-seller for Macmillan & Co., London.90 In 1916, however, with Yeats at the top of his powers, Macmillan took over his books from the near-bankrupt A. H. Bullen. By 10 April of that year, Yeats was revising Responsibilities for Macmillan.91 He was content to leave to Macmillan the date of publication, but wondered if the poems might not be published at the same time as Reveries over Childhood and Youth. Copies of both books are in the Cantwell collection.

The latter volume was already in production with the Macmillan Company in New York. Yeats thought Sturge Moore’s American design for Reveries ‘show[ed] signs of haste’ and wanted it modified for the English edition.92 Sturge Moore’s design for the American edition is crowded with symbols: tower, baby, female figure, mysterious sea and ship, and finger of God dominate, but it is easy to be baffled by the proliferation of human grotesques—men, women, babies—that throng the lower, predella-like, border panel. These Sturge Moore eliminated for the revised design on the top board and spine of the English edition. Simplified and stylized even further—the sea loses its ship, its waves become a pattern of scales—it loses the elaborateness of allegory whilst yet preserving the symbols of tower, woman, and baby in swaddling clutching the finger of God imposed above the tower from out of a halo. As with the cover designs of Althea Gyles, Yeats here is again in charge of the symbolic programme of a book cover which summarized in emblems the currently ruling symbol of his art (Plates 17a & b).

Plate 17a & b. T. Sturge Moore’s designs for the Macmillan (New York) and Macmillan (London) editions of Reveries over Childhood and Youth (1916), © Senate House Library, University of London. All rights reserved.

Plate 18. The American Reveries over Childhood and Youth cover design by Thomas Sturge Moore as adapted and reused on the cloth issue of the Macmillan (New York) edition of Selected Poems (1921). Private collection, London.

Plate 19. Generic design for copies of Yeats’s various American editions, including an alternative design for books with thicker spines by Thomas Sturge Moore, c.1917–18. © Senate House Library, University of London. All rights reserved.

Sturge Moore had been instructed by Yeats to provide a cover design which could be used by the Macmillan Company of New York on all of Yeats’s American editions. He sought a design of ‘great beauty… better suited for my American books in general than the design for “Reveries”’93 Yeats wrote, hoping that Macmillan in London would also use it (though not for all of his books). He concluded that ‘the block should be made in London & that the expense of this will not fall on me’.94

Yeats wanted something which would confer a more general symbolical autograph, even a new identity which would nevertheless provide continuity with the slowly fading icon of his youth provided by Althea Gyles’s designs for The Secret Rose, The Celtic Twilight (1902), Poems, 1899–1905 and Poems: Second Series, as well as that for the much-reprinted Unwin Poems in the UK market, and for The Poetical Works of William B. Yeats and The Unicorn from the Stars and Other Plays in the United States.95 Sturge Moore provided a panelled design of a stylized rose and thorns which was to Yeats a ‘fine grave design’, first used upon both English and American editions of Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1918) and the American edition (but not the English edition) of The Wild Swans at Coole (1919) and upon the paper board issue of the American Selected Poems (1921).96 Sturge Moore had even provided for spines of different thicknesses, offering one spinal design of a single thorned stem, and another of a pair of such stems, although the double-stemmed spine was not used in the end for the thicker volumes, such as the 1921 Selected Poems (Wade 121, Plate 19). The Rose emblem also offered Yeats a way of forestalling anonymous American book designers chosen by the Macmillan Company and whose work he much disliked. The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1912) must stand as the volume most reviled by its author for its cover design. This had been Macmillan New York’s first new collection of Yeats’s poems since 1906, and it was issued in tan paper boards with a green ornamental design which enclosed its title within a helmet absurdly reminiscent of contemporary diving suits. No doubt the designer (who is unknown, but who, from similarities of style, was also responsible for the regrettable cover image on the American 1905 John Lane re-issue of The Wind Among the Reeds) thought he was paying a sincere tribute to the title play, and perhaps to Yeats’s half-forgotten helmets and crowns of his Poems (1895) period. Yeats had so loathed this ‘hateful American copy decorated in my despite’ as he told Robert Bridges, that he inscribed Sturge Moore’s copy ‘The cover is the unaided work of the American publisher. He says it is he believes the kind of cover I like’, branding other copies with similar sentiments (Plate 20).97 By contrast, Sturge Moore’s gold-blocked blue cloth covers on the English editions from Reveries over Childhood and Youth, Responsibilities and Other Poems, Per Amica Silentia Lunae, The Cutting of an Agate and The Wild Swans at Coole afforded some unity of livery, a tonal congruity with the Gyles covers, and some symbolic individuality for the various volumes. I choose but one example, the cover of The Cutting of an Agate (1919), an image noble in its restraint (Plate 21a).98

The design for Responsibilities (1916) offers the chance to watch Sturge Moore at work. Framing, panelling and boxing are a key feature of Sturge Moore’s designs, one learned from the work of Charles Ricketts (Plate 21b).99 A glance at the evolution of the design for Responsibilities is possible, because almost all the documents for that process are in the Sturge Moore Archive, Senate House Library, University of London. Its dominant symbols are the well, tree, and hawk from At the Hawk’s Well (the hawk of course later becoming an important personal symbol for Yeats).100

Plate 20. Design for the top board of The Green Helmet and Other Poems (New York, 1912) by unknown artist. © private collection, London. All rights reserved.

Plate 21a. Top board of The Cutting of an Agate (London, 1919), designed by Thomas Sturge Moore. Private collection, London.

Plate 21b. Top board, Responsibilities (London, 1916) by Thomas Sturge Moore. Private collection, London.

Responsibilities (1916) shows ingenious use of the top board’s double outer gold frame. It breaks the illusion, obtruding into the image it supposedly encloses, in the lower left and upper right hand corners, and providing a perch for the hawk depicted above the ‘[d]ry stones in a well’ and ‘withered tree’ of ‘The Well and the Tree’, a lyric uniquely included as such in this volume, and later published by Yeats only within the play, where it forms the closing lyric, ‘The Man that I Praise’ (VP 780; VPl 413–14) for the folding of the cloth at the end of the play. Responsibilities, however, was published on 2 October 1916, when the play was yet unpublished. As the hawk is not mentioned in the song lyric, I suggest that Sturge Moore must have been present in the audience in Lady Cunard’s drawing-room, when At the Hawk’s Well was first played on 2 April, 1916 (VPI 1315). Or he may have subsequently had sight of the manuscript. Sturge Moore was at the same time designing a table centre for the Yeats family, using the lion of St Mark and similar angular devices (Plate 22a). Both tablecloth and book cover have a common source in a tracing or copy Sturge Moore did in the Bibliothèque Nationale of the eighth-century boards of the Latin Gospels of St Willebrord (d. 739), an important analogue of the Lindisfarne Gospels, as Sturge Moore notes in the illegible pencilled note on the side of the drawing (Plate 22b).

Plate 22a. Table centre design for the Yeats Family by Thomas Sturge Moore, featuring the Lion of St Mark. © Senate House Library, University of London. All rights reserved.

Plate 22b. A Tracing after f. 75 of the Evangéliaire de saint Willibrord (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, B. N. Latin 9389) by Thomas Sturge Moore, with the title RESPONSIBILITIES blocked in on bottom r.h.s. The almost illegible pencilled note reads as far as can be made out ‘From the Latin Gospels at Paris attested to have belonged to St Willibrord who died 739 the oldest of which [?] resemble [?] gospels of Lindisfarne’. The lettering in the original also reads ‘IMAGO LEONII’. © Senate House Library, University of London. All rights reserved.

This is certainly insular work, but Sturge Moore went further, declaring in the note ‘Irish work’. Pencilled in to the bottom right hand of the drawing is the title, ‘RESPONSIBILITIES’. The further development can be traced in the finished design (Plate 21b, above). The finest of course, is the tower reflected in the stream at Ballylee, the most famous image perhaps in all of Yeats’s work (Plate 23a), done from a tiny sepia and white snapshot sent by Yeats and still among Sturge Moore’s papers in the Senate House Library, University of London (Plate 23b). The snapshot offers the tower at Ballylee and the stream beside it, but Sturge Moore’s reconception moves quite a long way from a realistic depiction, particularly in that he gives us so complete a reflection of the tower in the water. I have often wondered whether Sturge Moore, in formulating this idea, and in using such masses of gold not have in mind Yeats’s early passion for the symbolism of ‘fire reflected in water’, which Yeats figures under the persona of Michael Robartes as ‘the pride of the imagination brooding on the greatness of its possessions, or the adoration of the Magi’.101 The volume, of course, opens with the Byzantine ‘sages standing in God’s holy fire | As in the gold mosaic of a wall’ (VP 408), and if my suggestion has any merit, Sturge Moore is reading ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ by the light of Yeats’s older symbolic system. In ‘Blood and the Moon’ (published in The Exile, Spring 1928) Yeats was to ‘declare this tower my symbol’, but arguably Sturge Moore had already done so, with the publication of The Tower on St Valentine’s Day of that year.

One could of course follow through nearly every Sturge Moore design on copies in the Cantwell Collection. The sequence of designs for what became the cover design of The Winding Stair is recoverable, and the track of Sturge Moore’s attempts is a record of both his and Yeats’s changing intentions for the volume. This is collaboration in the deepest sense: Sturge Moore’s dissatisfaction with ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ having provided the seed for the growth of ‘Byzantium’ out of the earlier poem and Yeats, having been told by Lady Gregory that The Winding Stair was a title already used on some other book, wrote to his wife on 27 September [1930] to ask if he should change his planned title to Byzantium, in which case he would ‘send Sturge Moore the new Byzantium poem ‘which will give him a mass of symbols. “Byzantium” would follow up my old “Sailing to Byzantium” which people liked’.102 By 4 October, he wrote to Sturge Moore,

I have decided to call the book ‘Byzantium’. I enclose the poem from which the name is taken, hoping that it may suggest symbolism for the cover. The poem originates from a criticism of yours. You objected to the last verse of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ because a bird made by a goldsmith was just as natural as anything else. That showed me that the idea needed exposition. Gongs were used in the Byzantine churches.103

Sturge Moore’s preliminary sketch is a harvest of symbols from the Byzantium poems, the bird in the tree, the bird in flames, the boy on a dolphin (which seems to have large ears, rather than fins), the moon, the gyre, the dome of Hagia Sophia (Plate 24a). But there was excessive delay it the publication of the book, economic conditions worsened, its name was changed back to The Winding Stair after all, and the publisher’s drive for economy forced the cover design (here best seen in that of the printed dustjacket) to be issued in blind stamping, except for its checker-board spine (Plate 24b).

Plate 23a. The Tower (1928), top board design by Thomas Sturge Moore. © private collection, London. All rights reserved.

Plate 23b. Photograph sent by Yeats to Sturge Moore of Thoor Ballylee, to be used as the basis for the design in Plate 23a. The back is inscribed ‘The cottage at back is my kitchen. The front you will see is over parapet of the old bridge. The other [parapet] was blown up during our civil war. WBY’. © Senate House Library, London. All rights reserved.

Plate 24a. Thomas Sturge Moore’s preliminary sketch for the top board of Byzantium (later The Winding Stair and Other Poems). © Senate House Library, London. All rights reserved.

Plate 24b. Thomas Sturge Moore’s dust jacket for The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933). © private collection, London. All rights reserved.


Sturge Moore’s most elaborate tribute to Yeats’s symbols came in his decoration to H. P. R. Finberg’s translation of Villiers de L’Isle Adam’s Axel (1925), for which Yeats provided a preface. Sturge Moore was a close associate of Finberg’s father, A. J. Finberg the Turner scholar, and Finberg himself was a former Oxford student who had met Yeats while he was living in Oxford. Axel was one of the sacred books of Yeats’s youth, and Sturge Moore designed a new total book as a tribute to Yeats’s love for this play (which he had first seen in Paris in 1894 with Maud Gonne). The result is that Axel comes adorned throughout with Yeats’s leading symbols—Solomon’s seal and lamp, Christ on the cross, with spear or sponge on a reed, the Janus-headed Magi, the lion and the sphinx. Many of these, the rose and thorns, also allude to Sturge Moore’s own previous work for Yeats. If one compares the tower struck by lightning and unicorn bookplate for Mrs Yeats of 1918, which Yeats thought ‘magnificent’, and ‘a masterpiece’104 with the spine of Axel one can see the justifiable pride in these private associations (Plates 25a & b).

Another kind of tribute is effected by the Janus-headed Magi and Sphinx, repeated from the top board in the frontispiece (Plates 26 and 27). These take their source in a pair of attendant gods (c.810–800 BC) from the Temple of Nabu, god of wisdom and writing or learning, at Nimrûd, found in the lower Assyrian Transept of the British Museum, where both Yeats and Sturge Moore had regularly seen them. Sturge Moore’s design for the Janus-headed statues which symbolize the ‘immortality’ of ‘Magi, such as Axel’s tutor’, develop the back-and-front, hair-and-beard balance evident in the profile of this little god of wisdom and writing from the temple of Nabu (Plate 28a).105 Sturge Moore’s Janus, appropriate after 2700 years of writing, has a double-aspect and is ‘four-eyed, two unbaffled by the veiling past, two unduped by the seductive future’.106 The Sphinx is just as evidently based on the colossal winged lions, also found at Nimrûd (Plate 28b). These huge portal deities, ten ton sphinxes also with ‘crowns’ or horned helmets which signify sacred character or supernatural stature in ancient Assyrian art, had been unearthed in the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrûd 1845–51 by Sir Austen Henry Layard (1817–94), husband of Lady Gregory’s close friend Enid Layard, with whom she and Yeats stayed in Venice in 1907. Sturge Moore had no textual authority for these Assyrian sphinxes in Axel itself.107 But in bringing them into his designs, he gestures openly at Yeats’s iconographical source for the ‘brazen winged beast’ of the play Where there is Nothing, ‘[a]fterwards described in my poem “The Second Coming”’, as Yeats indicates in his note to The Resurrection.108

Plate 25a. Proof of design for Book Plate for Mrs Yeats, by Thomas Sturge Moore. © Senate House Library, London. All rights reserved.

Plate 25b. Design for top board and spine of Villiers de L’Isle Adam’s Axel by Thomas Sturge Moore. © Senate House Library, London. All rights reserved.

Plate 26. Top board and spine of published Axel. Image © private collection, London. All rights reserved.

Plate 27. Frontispiece and title page of Villiers de L’Isle Adam’s Axel by Thomas Sturge Moore. © private collection, London. All rights reserved.

Plate 28a (left). Attendant God of Wisdom and Writing from the Temple of Nabu at Nimrûd, c.810–800 BC. British Museum, London. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

Plate 28b. Colossal statue of a winged lion from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC), excavated by Austen Henry Layard c.1845–51. © The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

I shall end with a different kind of tributary book, one occasioned as a tribute to an artist in whom Yeats had placed enormous faith in his project of bringing Byzantine imagery back into contemporary Irish art. In turn, the artist and designer, Norah McGuinness, produced an artist’s book decorated wholly as a tribute to Yeats. Stories of Red Hanrahan and the Secret Rose (1927), a fine copy of which is in the Cantwell Collection.109 The illustrator and decorator is Norah McGuinness (1904–80), painter, illustrator, costume-designer, born in Derry, and married to Geoffrey Phibbs. She went to the Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin, 1921, and was long connected with the Abbey Theatre. She designed costumes and masks for The Only Jealousy of Emer, directed by Lennox Robinson under Yeats’s supervision and presented by the Dublin Drama League at the Abbey on 9 and 10 May, 1926 (in which production McGuinness danced the part of the Woman of the Sidhe).110 In 1969 she designed Waiting for Godot for the Abbey.

On 4 January, 1925, Yeats wrote a letter of introduction to Sir Frederick Macmillan for Norah McGuinness, ‘one of the most promising Irish artists of the younger generation’.111 Sir Frederick replied seeking a Yeats title for her to illustrate, having summoned her and inspected samples of her work on 22 January.112 Yeats parried, replying ‘I don’t want any of my own work done for I have always refused illustrators and would give offence if I made an exception’, but went on to suggest that Macmillan let her illustrate Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly, as he thought it

Le Fanu’s most famous book… and I have often tried to get a copy. It has long been out of print and so I may exagerrate [sic] its merits. I am confident however that it would suit the talent of that particular artist and there has been a revival of interest in Le Fanu of late.113

Gradually the real reason was drawn from Yeats: he had

always objected to having my work illustrated… because I was in dread of having my tales emptied into some very British nursery…. I suggested to Miss McGuinness the other night that she might, if you cared for the idea, illustrate some stories of mine in the style of Byzantine wall-pictures—we spent the evening looking through photographs of Sicilian mosaics and the like, and she went away full of the idea.114 The reason why I want Byzantium is that there was great Byzantine influence upon Ireland.115

Yeats then cited wooden crucifixes in the Byzantine style in Irish private collections, and gestured to what he called a North Connaught tradition of such art down to ‘about 80 years ago’ before suggesting that ‘a little book containing RED HANRAHAN and THE SECRET ROSE stories’ might ‘suit admirably for a first experiment’.116 Sir Frederick’s response to Yeats’s suggestion was to consult Norah McGuinness, before offering Yeats one shilling per copy in royalties. The published price was 10/6d net. Norah McGuinness’s fee was a handsome £100, and she retained ownership of the original drawings.117 No formal agreement through A. P. Watt was made, nor did Yeats stipulate that he must see proof, nor did he express any interest in revising the text of the stories.

Stories of Red Hanrahan and The Secret Rose is thus a second attempt at the ‘total’ or ‘talismanic’ book, in the same tradition as Yeats’s work with the Cork artist Althea Gyles, and it grows directly out of the writing of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, which was, as we shall see, to be fittingly dedicated to Norah McGuinness.118 Yeats preferred to keep himself in the background, and did not directly communicate with Sir Frederick about the volume until 23 August, 1927, when he sent a manuscript of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ to be used as a ‘prelude’ to this Byzantine experiment in integrated book design. He has ‘thought first of doing a preface to explain why I put it there’ but then thought that ‘the dedication to the maker of the pictures’ was ‘a better explanation’.119

Norah McGuinness was, from the outset, anxious about the ‘total’ effect of the book. She tirelessly but unsuccessfully sought a paper of weight and finish rather better than the ‘machine’ finish paper which the printers insisted was necessary to bear the ‘solid’ blacks and fine lines of her designs.120 It was McGuinness who insisted on the basic ‘arrangement of the text and the illustrations’ so that each story was furnished with half-title, two vignettes on the next opening, with initial design on the verso facing the first full recto of text, and a closing design on the final recto of each of the book’s two sections.121 Again, she was careful to the point of obsession about getting her work exactly as she wanted it, and Sir Frederick was patient and accommodating of changes, even when designs had been proofed.122 She also consulted Yeats over such matters as the colour plates and cover designs. As early as 4 May 1927, McGuinness had asked Sir Frederick about the possibility of using gold in the coloured plates, and had been assured that, provided she limited herself to two coloured plates, gold could indeed be used.123 The implication perhaps is that at first she entertained an ambitious plan for the effect of the ‘gold mosaic of a wall’ (VP 408). The two coloured designs do not in fact employ gold.124

McGuinness had requested flat colours, doubtless in search of the finish of frescoes or of dulled, ancient mosaic. This had necessitated reproduction not (as Yeats apparently thought) by the ‘ordinary three colour process’ (which would have resulted in a ‘spotty’ finish), but by ‘separate super-imposed blocks’. Toning down the colours necessitated the return of the originals, but Sir Frederick was quite willing for his printers to continue experimenting.125 At about this time, Yeats, in Dublin, saw the proofs of the coloured plates. He feared that the ‘method’ of colour-reproduction had ‘destroy[ed]’ McGuinness’s ‘excellent’ work.

The effect of your colour designs depends upon the variety of tint in the colour masses. Had you worked for this three colour process you would have had to break up the flat colour with patterns, or in some similar way—I have seen Dulac spend days on a pattern made by the scales of a fish—but your method is different. You work by suggestion not only in your colour but your design. Your hand & finger convention, for instance, would not go with pattern which by its very nature is the opposite of suggestion. A tudor rose, in decoration, for instance, must be completely realized in its convention like a letter of the alphabet.

Yeats went on to suggest that she insist on only the one coloured plate, of the design which became at his suggestion, made also in this letter, the frontispiece. He was more ready to compromise with expense than was necessary, given Sir Frederick’s accommodating attitude to Norah McGuinness. The frontispiece design (with Hanrahan and the hounds, Cathleen the Daughter of Hoolihan and the four women with the four sacred objects, cauldron, whetstone, sword and spear,) ‘need[ed] colour greatly’126 (Plate 29).

On the matter of a suitable cover design, both the publisher and the designer took endless pains, and were not always in agreement. The initial suggestion from Sir Frederick, made on receipt of the front cover design, was for a design in gold on blue boards, the eventual choice.127 By 21 June, four specimen cover colours were sent to the artist with a dummy copy (which McGuinness needed before knowing the dimensions within which she had to work for the spine design); Sir Frederick still preferred the ‘dark purply blue’ cloth.128 Yeats was consulted by Norah McGuinness and on 25 June, Yeats wrote from Thoor Ballylee, about the cover design. He had seen the trial bindings, and wrote to praise McGuinness’s ‘fine design’ which would do ‘a great deal for the success of my book’. He and George Yeats preferred (and got) a binding of ‘the darkest blue… a fine colour in itself’ and one which ‘shows up the gold’ (Plate 30).129 Macmillan tried to economize, with a further weakly expressed try, with

three more pulls of the cover—one in green with gilt side, and one each in green and purple with the side design in blind instead of gilt. We have the idea that the blind is less staring than the gilt one; but we will leave you to decide, as we have no strong feeling either way.130

Plate 29. Frontispiece and title page by Norah McGuinness for Stories of Red Hanrahan and the Secret Rose (1927). Image © private collection, London.
All rights reserved.

Plate 30. Top board design by Norah McGuinness for Stories of Red Hanrahan and the Secret Rose (1927). Image © private collection, London. All rights reserved.

On 13 March 1928 Yeats wrote from Rapallo, ill and conscious of his own delay, but eager to thank her for the ‘great pleasure’ her designs gave him. They were ‘exactly right [in]... their powerful simplicity’, and he ‘like[d] them all’. He ‘especially like[d]’ the designs for ‘The Death of Hanrahan and the vignettes for ‘The Wisdom of the King’, but found the ‘best of all’ to be the two opening vignettes for ‘Proud Costello…’, which ‘made me think of some old carved stone on “Insula Trinitatis”’. These were the two vignettes of the lovers and the two mingled ash trees on Insula Trinitatis in Lough Key (Plate 31). Norah McGuinness had done him ‘a great service’, and the young Michael Yeats had said ‘I like those pictures—they are not too like anything so I can tell myself stories about them’.131

George Russell writing in the Irish Statesman, considered the illustrations irrelevant, but what he had perhaps not seen was that the Byzantine decoration of Stories of Red Hanrahan and The Secret Rose was the imposition of an Irish visual concomitant to Yeats’s new iconography, one announced in the textual changes which introduced Byzantium into ‘Rosa Alchemica’ in Early Poems and Stories (1925).132 The composition of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ completed, Yeats had come back, as it were, from Byzantium to Ireland, and, with Norah McGuinness, now undertook the revisionist task of bringing Byzantium itself back to Ireland. Through the medium of a young artist whose work in the theatre he had admired, he had come to feel that he might inspire a new generation of Irish art and design. Insisting upon that affinity between Byzantine and Celtic art, and sealing that insistence by the deployment of the poem and its dedication, Yeats was determined to demonstrate the living or recently deceased affinities between Byzantine and Celtic Art. It was an old enthusiasm, as ‘Rosicrux’ he had strongly endorsed such a connexion in 1899, in his review entitled ‘High Crosses of Ireland’.133 Moreover, it was to continue: as late as 1932, he added the opening Byzantine frame-tale to ‘The Old Age of Queen Maeve’ (1903) (VP 180).

Plate 31. Final vignette of the two woven ash trees over the graves on Insula Trinitatis, Lough Key, for ‘Proud Costello, MacDermot’s Daughter, and the Bitter Tongue’ in Stories of Red Hanrahan and the Secret Rose (1927). © private collection, London. All rights reserved.


Publishing itself forced renewal onto Yeats. From 1903 he had an established publishing system or cycle—Dun Emer or Cuala edition, trade edition, revised collection and, endlessly deferred but always in prospect, a collected works. Such was the uniform Macmillan edition which began with Later Poems in 1922. ‘You have perfect books at last’ George Yeats said, when she saw the first volumes with their Charles Ricketts binding and unicorn end-paper motif. Yeats himself recalled that

at 17 there is an identity between an authors imagination & paper & book-cover one does not find in later life. I still do not quite seperate Shelley from the green cover, or Blake from the blue covers & brown reproductions of pictures, of the books in which I first read them. I do not separate Rossetti at all from his covers.134

As we can see in Eamonn Cantwell’s copies, Ricketts had chosen green boards! After 1922, Yeats concluded that such symbols as the colour green and the harp (if not the shamrock) had ‘ascended out of sentimentality’, for obvious reasons.135

Lecturing in America, Yeats was once asked what reading he would recommend, and told how Lionel Johnson said that a man should read all books until he was forty, and thereafter be satisfied with six. When asked what were his six, Yeats chose such authors as Balzac and Morris and The Arabian Nights, and when I thought I would offer just six books to introduce Eamonn Cantwell’s library I did not foresee that the books I originally chose would lead into multitudinous pathways. I think with regret of so many other avenues: the books he wrote to keep Dun Emer and Cuala alive, which became not merely collectors’ items nor even coterie publications for friends and critics, but a vital part of his publishing economy, a rolling dress rehearsal for his trade publishing; A Vision ‘for my schoolmates only’, most of all, perhaps, the great story of the Collected Works in Verse and Prose with its obsessive self-portraiture.

My inspiration has been Eamonn Cantwell’s passion for collecting, and his taste. In mentioning some books which eluded him I am offering an unsubtle hint to the Boole Library. We cannot read Yeats in any depth today without study of these unique and precious objects, which bear continuing witness to what it was to read Yeats in his lifetime. No amount of literary theory or post-colonial discourse can help us do that. To examine these books tells us something new every time. Every one of them tells us a story of collaboration: author, agent, publisher, designer, plate manufacturer, publisher’s reader, sub-editor, blurb writer, printer, binder, salesman.

Introducing a bibliography appended to The Works of Max Beerbohm John Lane remarked, ‘It is impossible for one to compile a bibliography of a great man’s works without making it in some sense a biography—and indeed in the minds of not a few people I have found a delusion that the one is identical with the other’.136 Similarly, Yeats’s books are not only central to the biography of the man of whom T. S. Eliot said that his history was the history of his ‘own time’,137 they have a life, or lives, and a contingency of their own. Yeats knew this. His textual field has about it all the contingency that is implied in a remark to Florence Farr in 1914: ‘I have brought my memoirs down to my twentieth year. I will carry them no further… partly because when one begins to write ones books are a sufficient history’.138

1 This first lecture in the Cork Series was delivered on 24 June 2003. Further information may have been gathered since this article was prepared for publication. If you would like to find out if any further information has been discovered that may help your own research, why not write to the author at Quite apart from anything else, feedback is always welcomed.

2 Oxford University Press is publishing a five volume History of the Irish Book under the general editorship of the late Professor Robert Welch and Professor Brian Walker. See Clare Hutton and Patrick Walsh (eds.), The Oxford History of the Irish Book, Vol. V: The Twentieth Century (Oxford: Clarendon, 2011).

3 See Robert Darnton, ‘What is the History of Books?’, in his The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History (London: Faber & Faber, 1990).

4 ‘The Sacred Book of the Arts’, Irish Writing (W. B. Yeats: A Special Number), 31 (Summer 1955), 24–35; also Sewanee Review 64:4 (October-December 1956), 574–90. Also reprinted in Kenner’s Gnomon: Essays on Contemporary Literature (New York, 1958), 9–29 and elsewhere.

5 The arrangement of this edition accords with Yeats’s own preference, though whether he would have sanctioned the order chosen by his editor and his wife for the last poems in that collection is not knowable. It differs radically from that which Yeats himself judged appropriate for what was published after his death as Last Poems and Two Plays (Dublin: Cuala, 1939). See Warwick Gould, ‘W. B. Yeats and the Resurrection of the Author’, The Library 16: 2 (June 1994), 101–34. Both The Tower (1928) and Poems (1949) are in the Cantwell Collection.

6 See Warwick Gould, ‘W. B. Yeats and the Resurrection of the Author’, 108.

7 ‘Hours with the Domestic Sibyl: Remembering George Yeats’, The Southern Review 28:3 (July 1992), 485–501, at p. 500. The memoir is made up of such fully quoted conversations remembered from 1949 and it lacks documentation. Nevertheless, Dr Anthony Roche of University College Dublin, a former student of the late Professor Pearce, tells me that Pearce kept prodigious contemporary written records of such encounters. Their present whereabouts is unknown.

8 The Sketch, 29 November 1893, 256. Maud Gonne’s cover and the notebook itself are described by Carolyn Holdsworth in W. B. Yeats, The Wind Among the Reeds: Manuscript Materials (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1993), 215ff. So heavy is the paper of several of Yeats’s manuscript books that the uneven surface adds to the difficulty of reading his always obscure script.

9 See Warwick Gould, ‘Yeats in the States: Piracy, Copyright and the Shaping of the Canon’, Publishing History, 51: 2002, 61–82.

10 See ‘Protestant Magic: W. B. Yeats and the Spell of Irish History’, in R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History (London: Allen Lane, 1993), 212–32.

11 Censorship by the Dublin firm of Eason & Son (including of their library) was ‘taken for granted, and, far from attracting hostile criticism, was considered one of the proofs that the firm was discharging its moral responsibilities seriously’. See L. M. Cullen, Eason and Son: A History (Dublin: Eason & Son, Ltd., 1989), 246.

12 W. T. Horton’s caricature of WBY (Plate 1) as ‘the Irish poet and mystic’ in the Academy on 8 July 1899 showed Yeats standing on and surrounded by various grimoires, together with copies of his Poems, The Secret Rose, his Blake edition, ‘Rosa Alchemica’, and a wand and halo. The accompanying letterpress pointed out that Horton ‘as joint author with Mr. Yeats of A Book of Images, should know his subject well. He has made his picture both a portrait and criticism. Mr. Yeats’s experiments in necromancy are suggested by the retort and the volume on which he stands, his poetry and mysticism by other books; and there is, in fact, nothing in the drawing that has not special significance’. One thing, however, the artist has not quite realised—Mr. Yeats’s height. The poet is long and willowy (28).

13 George Pollexfen’s club in Sligo, Protestant and Unionist.

14 To Lady Gregory [21 May 1901], CL3 70–73, cf. Au 447–48.

15 A vivid sense of the self-help culture of the London Irish Literary Society can be found in ‘Francis Fahy’s “Ireland in London—Reminiscences” (1921)’ edited by Clare Hutton in Wayne K. Chapman and Warwick Gould (eds.), Yeats’s Collaborations: YA15 233–80.

16 Stephen Gwynn, Experiences of a Literary Man (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1926), 60–61.

17 Ibid., 62.

18 Its first meeting was at 3 Blenheim Rd., 28 December, 1891: see CL1 xv. Yeats glimpsed its possibilities from within the Celtic majority of the Rhymers’ Club, which he and Ernest Rhys had founded in January 1890. See CW7 57; also Karl Beckson, ‘Yeats and the Rhymers’ Club’, Yeats Studies: An International Journal 1 (Bealtaine, 1971), 20–41 at pp. 22, 25. A journal, the Irish Home Reading Magazine was founded in 1894; see CL1 344 and n., 355.

19 So Yeats complained in ‘Dublin Mystics’ (The Bookman May 1895), perennially hoping that a Dublin publisher had been found to advance the ‘imaginative awakening of our time’. See CW9 259–60; UP1 357. While the periodical press in Dublin was vibrant, Yeats, who been involved in The Irish Home Reading Magazine with Sealy, Bryers and Walker in Dublin, was well versed in the costs and returns of such ventures.

20 See Yeats’s speech ‘The Union of the Gael’, in ‘98 Centennial Association of Great Britain and France: Report of Speeches etc [Dublin: Bernard Doyle, 1898], 8–9.

21 Au 203, 219. T. D., A. M., and D. B. Sullivan, Speeches from the Dock, or Protests of Irish Patriotism, containing, with introductory sketches and biographical notices, Speeches delivered in the Dock (Dublin, T. D. Sullivan, 1887) was in its 39th edition. Yeats knew the work well, and even troped on some of the more renowned speeches, e.g. that of Emmet, which is alluded to in ‘September 1913’, a poem which overall responds to Thomas Davis’s ‘The Green above the Red’. The similarly adorned The Spirit of the Nation, was in its fiftieth edition: see WBY’s comments in Mem 65.

22 See below, n. 135.

23 When Elkin Mathews asked Will Rothenstein to provide a portrait drawing of Lionel Johnson for the latter’s Poems (1895), Johnson replied on 24 October 1894 ‘Too great an honour! or shall I say, premature? I should be charmed to sit to you at any time, when you want an excellent model for nothing: but a portrait in my book would be too great a vanity, even for me. Wait till the Laureateship is mine, or—don’t be insulted—the P.R.A. is yours. I am explaining to Mathews that the very portrait itself would blush: which is undesirable for a lithograph by you. Only Academicians’ portraits ought to blush. Seriously, in a first volume of verse, it would be a little absurd: greatly as I should appreciate the honour of immortality from your hands. You must give it to me later’. See Men and Memories: Recollections of William Rothenstein 1872–1900 (London: Faber & Faber, 1931), 157. ‘Enoch Soames’ was more insistent, and Max Beerbohm has Rothenstein fleeing to the country to avoid the commission for a portrait drawing as frontispiece to that ‘dim’ figure’s poems. See Seven Men (London: William Heinemann, Ltd., 1919), 10.

24 These poets included Katharine Tynan—‘a simple brightlooking Biddy with glossy very pretty red hair, a farmer’s daughter in the County Dublin’. See Claude Colleer Abbott (ed.), Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins including his correspondence with Coventry Patmore (London: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 1956), 373–74.

25 Ibid., 374. He had recently found Yeats’s ‘The Two Titans: A Political Poem’, a ‘strained and unworkable allegory about a young man and a sphinx on a rock in the sea (how did they get there? what did they eat? and so on: people think such criticisms very prosaic; but commonsense is never out of place anywhere…) but still containing fine lines and vivid imagery’ (ibid.). William M. Murphy’s account of this episode misquotes Hopkins and conflates ‘The Two Titans’ with Mosada: see Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats (1839–1922) (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1978), 146–47.

26 Wade 1, frontispiece, and pp. 19–20. Quinn’s copy, inscribed March 1904, was most recently sold by Maggs Bros., London, from the collection of Milton McC. Gatch: see Gatch and Ed Maggs, A Little Dust: The Gatch Collection of Yeats (London: Maggs Bros., 2012), and Yeats: The McC. Gatch Collection (London: Maggs Catalogue 1492, 2015). See also below, p. 242 (Smythe).

27 There are twenty-one shamrock medallions in each vertical border, with seven male heads facing seven female heads across a scroll in the top and bottom borders. See above Plate 4 and below pp. 253, 255, Plates 37 and 38 (Smythe).

28 Yeats inscribed another copy on 10 November 1923 ‘The play… had of course no success of any kind. It was my father who insisted on the portrait, as he refused to consider anybody’s diffidence where a portrait is concerned, it was also his insistence that kept me bearded’. (HRHRC).

29 The ‘new singer in Erin’ would ‘take high place among the world’s future singers’ (Irish Monthly XV: 165 [March 1887], 166–8). See also John Kelly, ‘Books and Numberless Dreams: Yeats’s Relations with his Early Publishers’, in A. Norman Jeffares (ed.), Yeats, Sligo and Ireland: Essays to mark the 21st Yeats International Summer School (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1980), 233 (hereafter Kelly, ‘Books’). When Tynan first saw Yeats he had ‘the saddest, most poetical, face I ever saw.… I am the only poet I have ever met whose face does not show something of the divine art. O dear, I wish I was in the least degree poetical-looking’. (Letter to Mrs Pritchard, 30 June 1885, in Apex One, Katherine [sic] Tynan Letters 1884–1885 ([London?], 1973), 23). Most of the 100 copies of the pamphlet were given away. Allen R. Grossman traces the origin of Yeats’s ‘self-image as the overthrown artist, the reed bowed by the wind’ to JBY’s early portraits ‘where the son is exhibited either as a youth too effeminate to be in any sense threatening or as a giant destroyed by his own self-destructive power’. See Poetic Knowledge in the Early Yeats: A Study of The Wind Among the Reeds (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1969), 47–48.

30 The Leisure Hour, 36, September 1887, 637.

31 CL4 939; CL InteLex, 14 [19 January 1892].

32 CL InteLex 4556; L 705. See also YA4 Plate 16; YA8 194. The portrait remains in the Yeats family collection. I am indebted to Colin Smythe and Colin Smythe, Ltd. For this image.

33 The Leisure Hour (1896), 638–39.

34 London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., January 1889; Wade 2.

35 On Charles Kegan Paul see Leslie Howsam, Kegan Paul: A Victorian Imprint: Publishers, Books and Cultural History (London: Kegan Paul International; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998).

36 CL1 24 n., 517. See also Tynan’s Twenty-Five Years: Reminiscences (London: Smith, Elder, 1913), 140. The volume was Louise de la Vallière and Other Poems (1885). Paul also published John Todhunter, the Yeatses’ neighbour in Bedford Park, and a friend of Dr George Coffey, see also John Kelly, ‘Books’, 233.

37 ‘Publishers of Today. Messrs. Kegan Paul, Trench Trübner & Co., Limited’, The Publishers’ Circular and General Record of British and Foreign Literature, 1319 (10 October 1891), 424–26 at p. 426. Redway was opposing the views of the Society of Authors.

38 ‘I Became an Author’, The Listener (4 August 1938), UP2 509. See also Kelly, ‘Books’, 233–39.

39 CL1 58–59. See also Kelly, ‘Books’, 235–37.

40 Such a situation was exactly that commented upon by Henry James, when he alerted Hendrik Anderson to ‘that benefit of friction with the market which is so true a one for solitary artists too much steeped in their mere personal dreams’ (unpublished letter, 25 November 1906, University of Virginia, quoted in Michael Anesko, Friction with the Market (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 6.

41 CL1 59, and Kelly, ‘Books’, 238.

42 This was a key expression of the problem considered by Ian Jack in ‘A Choice of Orders: The Arrangement of “The Poetical Works”’, in Jerome J. McGann (ed.), Textual Criticism and Literary Interpretation (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 127–43, at 138ff.

43 CL1 123. See also Kelly, ‘Books’, 238–39.

44 Publishers’ Circular 52:1234 (15 February 1889), 178, cf. Wade 2, p. 21, which offers ‘January 1889’.

45 More difficulties followed. Yeats took 35 copies ‘although some of these went to subscribers whose contributions he had diverted to his own chronically empty pocket’ says Kelly. Fifty-one review copies were sent out, and the remaining six copies went to five copyright libraries and to a friend (Kelly, ‘Books’, 239, see also CL1 230). The figures upon which Kelly’s excellent summary is based can be found in British Publishers’ Archive on Microfilm: The Archives of Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Henry S. King 1858–1912 (Bishops Stortford: Chadwyck-Healey, 1974), Reel 3 ‘Publication Books’, A6, 337; Reel 10 ‘Commission Book’, 215–16; Reel 17 ‘Print and Paper Books’, D4, 161; Reel 19 ‘Sheet Stock and Binding Book’, E1, 371, Reel 23 ‘Royalty and Commission Accounts’ G3, 429.

46 CL1 126. Talk was ‘worth more than any review’, Yeats recalled (Autobiographies 134). An excellent and subtle log-roller himself, Yeats may even have manufactured a charge against himself of log-rolling in order to do so more effectively: see CL3 589 n. 1; 592–93.

47 Unsigned review, ‘Three New Poets: Yeats, FitzGerald, Le Gallienne’, The Pall Mall Gazette XLIX: 7587 (12 July 1889), 3; reprinted in Richard Ellmann (ed.), The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde (London: W. H. Allen, 1970, 150–51). Yeats’s response was acute. Wilde found ‘populace’ in ‘And a small and a feeble populace stooping with mattock and spade’ (see VP 58) to be ‘infelicitous’ (151). Yeats substituted ‘race’ in Poems (1895) but restored the infinitely stronger, contemptuous ‘populace’ in 1912. Wilde’s second review was ‘Some Literary Notes’, Women’s World 2:17 (March 1889), 277–80.

48 A half-hearted argument privileging Yeats’s ‘English origins’ and claiming that his ‘long poems are [to be] understood as a kind of adjunct to the fundamentally lyric achievement’ has been advanced by Richard J. Finneran in ‘Text and Interpretation in the Poems of W. B. Yeats’, in George Bornstein (ed.), Representing Modernist Texts: Editing as Interpretation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 17–48. It bolsters Finneran’s choice of the overall arrangement of Collected Poems (1933) for his The Poems: A New Edition (London: Macmillan, 1984). He wonders if Yeats’s lists of ‘Irish Poems’ and ‘Arcadian Poems’ (together with his added comment ‘46 pages of poems on non-Irish subjects’) were made ‘with pride or with anguish?’ (29). The lists are to be found in a copy of The Wanderings of Oisin: and Other Poems lost from Yeats’s working library and discovered in a bookshop in the Charing Cross Road, London, by George Yeats who gave it to Thomas Mark in March, 1949, as he was preparing the two-volumes of The Poems for publication in November. That copy is now in The Morgan Library, New York (Plates 8a and 8b).

49 The Sketch, 29 November 1893, 526.

50 This is well before his more active commitment to ‘dangerous hope’ took him into Mark Ryan’s Irish National Alliance (Mem 82 and n.).

51 VP 841. Seeing his own work in bound form gave him the confidence in its own geography to invoke A Midsummer Night’s Dream V:1. 17: ‘All poetry should have a local habitation when at all possible’, declared Yeats in a letter to Katharine Tynan of 21 March 1889 (CL1 157). Like ‘Endymion’, though with an Irish habitation, the poem was ‘a region into which one should wander from the cares of life’. The idea had been derived from ‘a small thicket… at Howth (CL1 135). ‘Endymion’ was to Keats a ‘trial of my… invention’ but his answer to Leigh Hunt’s question ‘why endeavour after a long Poem’ was that ‘the Lovers of Poetry like to have a little Region to wander in [emphasis added] where they may pick and choose, and in which the images are so numerous that many are forgotten and found new in a second Reading; which may be food for a Week’s stroll in the Summer’. See Keats’s letter to Benjamin Bailey, 8 October 1817 in Robert Gittings (ed.), Letters of John Keats: a Selection, 27. Yeats had ‘constantly tested’ his ‘own ambition with Keats’s praise of him who left “great verse unto a little clan”’ (Autobiographies, 120) in his ‘Fragments of an Ode to Maia’ (1818). See also CL3 389.

52 See Plate 8c. Yeats reused the curse from Shakespeare’s epitaph in The Collected Works in Verse and Prose of 1908: see VP 779. The volume is now Copy 4 of The Wanderings of Oisin in the Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

53 See Kelly, ‘Books’ 245–46.

54 CL1 280 [c.15 January 1892]. Unwin had seventy-three unbound quires bound from the original sheets, and made a second issue in May 1892 Wade 3, p. 23. Yeats also received twenty-five bound copies. For full details see CL1 283 n.

55 This led to binding variants (Wade, item 2, p. 23); see also Kelly, ‘Books’ 245.

56 NLI 30654, CL2 637–38.

57 The corrected copy is now in the University of Reading, has the lower edge untrimmed. Copies of the 1892 edition may be found in Reading, the DeLury Collection, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto and in the British Library ( 72). See also Michael J. Sidnell, ‘J. B. Yeats’s Marginalia in The Wanderings of Oisin: and Other PoemsYA13 265–91.

58 For an earlier attempt at a different arrangement which grouped ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’ in a section called ‘Under the Moon’ with The Land of Heart’s Desire, The Countess Kathleen and the undifferentiated lyrics later grouped as THE ROSE, see CL1 411–13. In this arrangement, earlier lyrics (mostly from The Wanderings of Oisin: and Other Poems) were relegated to a section called Crossways.

59 ‘The Ballad of Father O’Hart’ and ‘The Ballad of the Foxhunter’. This was not the only occasion upon which Yeats would shuffle the chronologies of composition or publication in order to achieve consistencies of theme or genre.

60 The Christian pun sometimes claimed is an anachronism: cf. the pensée of 1907 ‘the nobleness of the arts is in the mingling of contraries… its red rose opens at the meeting of the two beams of the cross… [n]o new man has ever plucked that rose’ (E&I 255).

61 Yeats was to develop the habit in such highly articulated volume-sequences as Responsibilities: Poems and a Play (Churchtown, Dundrum: Cuala Press, 1914).

62 The exhibition was at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in September-October 1894 (CL1 462 n.). A puff for Poems (1895) says that Fell’s ‘water colour, “The Virgin Mary’s Toumbler” attracted some attention at Mr. Dent’s “black and white” exhibition last year’ (Bookman VIII:47 [August 1895], 129). Fell’s work appealed to the poet of ‘The Cap and Bells’. See also Allen Grossman, Poetic Knowledge in the Early Yeats: A Study of The Wind Among the Reeds (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1969), 48.

63 CL1 462, 465. Fell responded to The Countess Cathleen.

64 CL1 434. It has darkened in most surviving examples of the 750-copy cloth issue. With its 135 x 200 mm boards (cf. 128 x 198 mm cloth issue), the 25 copy full vellum issue is far more handsome, in all aspects except the spine which is a mere 22 mm across. The spinal design is, as a result, heavily pinched. (The Japan vellum upon which this issue is printed is a good deal less bulky than the ordinary paper of the cloth issue, while the ordinary issue is more fully rounded, measuring 40 mm across. It would seem that Fell designed the top and bottom panel designs with the more spacious dimensions of the vellum issue in mind, but drew the spinal design to a thickness copy of the ordinary paper issue. By September 1896 Yeats wrote that he ‘much prefer[red] the ordinary 6/- edition’ (CL2 53).

65 On the source, see Warwick Gould, ‘Paracelsus in Excelcis’, YA11 176–84.

66 Albert Louis Cotton, ‘The Kelmscott Press and the new Printing’, Contemporary Review 64 (July-December 1898), 221–31 at p. 224.

67 Au 237. Alithea Emma, daughter of the Hon. and Rev. Edward Grey, Bishop of Hereford, married the ‘mad’ George Gyles in 1862. On Althea (b. Margaret Alethea) Gyles, see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.

68 The internal illustrations to the stories were by John Butler Yeats, and Lily Yeats was the model for a number involving female subjects. On the subsequently added copy of the book in the Cantwell Collection, see below, p. 235.

69 This manuscript had been in the collection of the Reverend Walter Sneyd (1809–88), sold at Sotheby’s on 16 December 1903. It is not yet known if Gyles saw the manuscript or a facsimile of this leaf by Lord John Thynne (c.1882) in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The manuscript is now in the Getty Museum, California. See also Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Illuminated Manuscripts, texts prepared by Thomas Kren, Elizabeth C. Teviotdale, Adam S. Cohen, and Kurtis Barstow (London: Thames & Hudson, co-published with the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), 14–15; and Anton von Euw und Joachim M. Plotzek, die Handschriften der Sammlung Ludwig (Köln: Herausgegeben vom Schnütgen-Museum der Stadt Köln etc., 1979), Band 1, 219–22. See also Gould, ‘Byzantine Materiality and Byzantine Vision etc.’, esp. at p. 100 where various versions of this image are reproduced.

70 Museo Español de Antigüedades bajo la direccion del doctor Don Juan de D. de la Rada y Delgado, etc. (Madrid, 1872–80, 3 [1874], pp. 408ff. See also the accompanying analysis by Florencio Janér, ‘El-Koran: códice árabe llamado de Muley Cidan, rey de Marruęcos, conservado en la Biblioteca del Escorial’ 3 (1874): 409–32.

71 Italics added. See VSR 274. Hereafter VSR. The passage has been discussed (but mis-transcribed) in a stimulating account of the 1896 page proofs for The Secret Rose (1897): see Curtis Bradford, Yeats at Work (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1965), 317–28, at p. 324.

72 VSR 139vv.

73 Two copies survive in which the designs, or part of them, are stamped upon dark crimson or reddish brown cloth. One copy is in the D. B. Weldon Library, University of Western Ontario. It has been discussed by Steven Winnett and Beth Miller in ‘Addenda to Wade. Item 21: The Secret Rose’, in The Canadian Association for Irish Studies Newsletter, 5 (November 1974). It has ‘Lawrence & Bullen’ stamped on the spine, in common with copies of the first issue, but there is no design upon the lower board. I am grateful to Beth Miller for supplying further details in letters of 1975. This saturated crimson cloth is redolent of a late nineteenth century Masonic or Rosicrucian manual. See also Virginia Hyde, ‘Variant Covers of The Secret Rose’ YA13 292–95. The second copy is in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, where it is copy PR 5904 53 1897 HRC No 5 (R Y 141). It lacks all plates and also has ‘Lawrence & Bullen’ stamped on the spine. Both copies seem most likely to have been publisher’s trial bindings.

74 Copies 1 and 4 of PR 5904 53 1897 HRC at the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, are respectively the copies inscribed to Arthur Symons and Olivia Shakespear, the latter dated on the day of publication, ‘April Ist, 1897’. Both are bound in ribbed cloth. Lionel Johnson’s copy, also inscribed by Yeats in April, 1897, is now in the Berg Collection, New York Public Library, and also has the design stamped on ribbed cloth.

75 Deirdre Toomey alerted me to this conjecture.

76 See VSR 271–78. On this principle VSR (2nd ed., 1992) includes reproductions of cover-designs and illustrations from the two ‘talismanic’ editions of The Secret Rose: 1897 (with Gyles) and 1927 (with Norah McGuinness). In 1927 Yeats schooled the young Norah McGuinness in Byzantine wall-pictures. His placement of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ before the text and his dedication of the poem to her extend the Byzantine iconography of certain stories first introduced in Early Poems and Stories (1925) by means of allusions to Byzantine artefacts (VSR 278–86). See also Warwick Gould, ‘Byzantine Materiality and Byzantine Vision: “Hammered Gold and Gold Enamelling”’, in Declan J. Foley (ed.), Yeats 150 (Dublin: Lilliput, 2016), 94–137.

77 Vellum-bound copy, private collection, USA. The inscription is Yeats’s, to Kazumi Yano, provided in 1927.

78 See CL2 263, 271.

79 Writing (or not writing) The Speckled Bird, Yeats had invested little pride in the novelist’s trade.

80 See CL3 227, 231–32.

81 Yeats thought it ‘probable that only students of the magical tradition’ would ‘understand’ him (VP 803). One such student, Dorothea Hunter, Soror Deo Date, drafted an answer (which she did not send) to this conundrum for Richard Ellmann, 15 November 1946, to the effect that his ‘cabbalistic emphasis on the action of the pairs of opposites in all life’ was at the back of his thinking, and that ‘fire reflected in water’ would be represented by two triangles (one inverted) superimposed to form ‘the seal of Solomon i.e. a sign of power’. See also Warwick Gould, ‘“The Music of Heaven”: Dorothea Hunter’, in Deirdre Toomey (ed.), Yeats and Women (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1997), 73–134 at pp. 117–18 and nn. 175, 182. By refining the ‘actual personages’ of his Secret Rose stories to ‘principles of the mind’, Yeats seems to have found what amounts to an avatar to the later Mask theories: much later the Fool in Abbey productions of The Hour-Glass in wore a mask by Edward Gordon Craig that made him ‘seem less a human being than a principle of the mind’ (VPl 645).

82 This time too, Yeats was happy to have a new portrait by his father for the new edition of his Poems in 1899. The pencil drawing was reproduced in subsequent editions of Poems. Signed and dated, 28 January 1899, 23 x 19.5 cm (coll. MBY). It would take several lectures to discuss textual change and rearrangement in this and the subsequent issues that kept this book in print until 1928.

83 John Masefield, So Long to Learn: Chapters of an Autobiography (London: William Heinemann, 1952), 125–28. On the friendship between Nevinson and Masefield which Yeats fostered, see also Ronald Schuchard, ‘“An Attendant Lord”: H. W. Nevinson’s Friendship with W. B. Yeats’, YA7 90–130, at 94–95.

84 Dora Sigerson, Illustrated London News, 22 July 1899 (in Yeats’s Cuttings Book, NLI).

85 Gyles subsequently planned but never finished a book plate for WBY for which she suggested a ‘hanging head’ motif (Visions Notebook, 25 November 1899, Private). On Yeats’s continuing interest in severed heads (as in The King of the Great Clock Tower and A Full Moon in March), see Genevieve Brennan, ‘“The Binding of the Hair” and Yeats’s Reading of Eugene O’Curry’, YA5 214–23.

86 In mid-1998 Maggs Bros. sold a copy of the 1899 text bound presumably to Unwin’s specification in a rather overstretched 1895 case. I am grateful to Edward Maggs and to Colin Smythe for a sight of it.

87 Yeats’s habit of revising texts on actual copies of his books therefore led to several instances of bifurcated textual stemmae as revisions made in the Unwin copies were not always incorporated in Bullen’s volumes. See e.g., CL3 58 no. 1.

88 Gone also are the frontispiece and the rubric of title and half title. The title page imprint with its ‘T. FISHER UNWIN LIMITED’ underscored by ‘(ERNEST BENN LIMITED)’ bears witness to new management.

89 A number of images of Sturge Moore’s original designs for Yeats’s books, held in the Thomas Sturge Moore Papers in the Senate House Library of the University of London have been published in previous Yeats Annuals. See, e.g., YA4 Plates 9–15 (illustrating the article by Pamela M. Baker and Helen M. Young, ‘W. B. Yeats Material in the University of London’), 175–80; YA18 Plates 11–12, 19–20; YA19 Plate 25.

90 See Warwick Gould, ‘W. B. Yeats on the Road to St. Martin’s Street’, in Elizabeth James (ed.), Macmillan: A Publishing Tradition (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 192–217. Macmillan had rejected Yeats in 1900, despite his being urged upon them by Stephen Gwynn, who had been retained them in 1898 to foster connexions with younger writers. The reasons lay in Yeats’s anti-Boer War politics. One of the firm’s readers who pronounced against him was John Morley, the former Chief Secretary for Ireland who had lost his Newcastle seat when Maud Gonne campaigned against him, citing his failure to honour pledges of amnesty for Irish prisoners in Portland Jail. See Warwick Gould, ‘“Playing at Treason with Miss Maud Gonne”: Yeats and his Publishers in 1900’, in Ian Willison, Warwick Gould and Warren Chernaik (eds.), Modernist Writers and the Marketplace (London: Macmillan, 1996), 36–80.

91 The Letters of W. B. Yeats, ed. Allan Wade (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954), 612. ‘I send under a separate cover the contents of my new book of verse. It contains one book published by my sister “Responsibilities” <with a play> & part of the contents of another. Neither of the books has ever been sent for review. I have much more verse written since but am keeping this book to make a small book for my sister sometime next winter’ (British Library Add. MS. 55003 f. 26). The letter was sent on by Watt to Sir Frederick Macmillan and is stamped F.M. dated Sunday, April 30 [1916].

92 B.L. Add. MS. 55003 f. 26. Unlike their London counterparts, the American editions of Reveries and Responsibilities are not bound in cloth, with gold blocking. Instead, the Sturge Moore designs were printed in black on blue-grey paper, glued to buff cloth in the case of Reveries, on blue-grey paper boards with a buff linen spine in the case of Responsibilities.

93 Nevertheless, Macmillan, New York did use the Reveries design on the cloth issue of Selected Poems (1921). See Plate 18.

94 B.L. Add. MS. 55003 f. 26.

95 Wade, Bibliography, items 65, 71, 73.

96 Ibid., items 120–21, 130, 128. The cloth issue of Selected Poems uses the rejected Sturge Moore design made for the American edition of Reveries. Only the book title itself has been changed. Wade implies that the cloth issue came first, which might suggest that Yeats decided to restore the Rose design on the paper issue, but evidence is scanty.

97 See, e.g., L 596. The presentation copy to Sturge Moore is inscribed ‘December 1912’ and is in the Sterling Library, University of London. Similar inscriptions showing how Yeats amusedly reviled the design can be found in other presentation copies, e.g., Allan Wade’s, John Masefield’s, and Lady Gregory’s. See CM 20–21.

98 The design may be found in YA19 Plate 25, p. 375.

99 The design for the top board and of the later Four Plays for Dancers (1921) offers a more severe example.

100 See Ronald Schuchard, ‘Hawk and Butterfly: The Double Vision of The Wild Swans at Coole’ YA10 111–34. See also LTSM 132 for Yeats’s letter of 6 July [1925] commissioning a book label design for use when signing books with what had become his signature motto, ‘For wisdom is a butterfly | And not a gloomy bird of prey’ (VP 337–38 and 827) where Yeats speaks of his ring, with its hawk and butterfly, in the Notes to ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, very much on his mind when writing to Sturge Moore about The Tower.

101 From the Notes to The Wind Among the Reeds: see VP 803.

102 CL InteLex 5389.

103 Ibid. 5390.

104 Ursula Bridge (ed.), W. B. Yeats and T. Sturge Moore, Their Correspondence 1901–1937 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953), 31–35, 54, 91.

105 One of the pair of limestone statues of attendant gods dedicated to Nabu by Adad-Nirari III and Sammuramat (BM.118888–89). Nabu was the god of learning, in the temple of Ezida at Calah. Sammuramat was probably the original of the legendary Semiramis. They came to the Museum in 1856. In Yeats’s time and Sturge Moore’s, both little gods stood at the lower end of the Assyrian transept on the way to the old readers’ tea room, adjacent to the monolithic wingèd lion temple doorway guardians. Their collation perhaps suggested to Sturge Moore their combination into his Janus figure.

106 Axel, 12–13.

107 British Museum curators comment that a pair of guardian figures that flanked one of the entrances into the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC). Lamassu, or stone mythological guardians ‘sculpted in relief or in the round, were often placed at gateways to ancient Mesopotamian palaces, to protect them from demonic forces. This winged lion has five legs so that when viewed from the front it is standing firm, and when viewed from the side it appears to be striding forward against any evil. It wears ropes like other protective spirits. Between the legs is inscribed the ‘Standard Inscription’ of Ashurnasirpal which is repeated over many of his reliefs. It records the king’s titles, ancestry and achievements…. [Layard] suggested that these composite creatures embodied the strength of the lion, the swiftness of birds indicated by the wings, and the intelligence of the human head’. ( The arrival of the monoliths in 1850–52 caused immense public interest among classes not accustomed to visit the British Museum. Layard’s discoveries fired the minds of those who built the Nineveh Court in the Crystal Palace. Less remarked, however, is the impact on poets and designers. ‘The Burden of Nineveh’, for instance, finds Dante Gabriel Rossetti leaving the Grecian galleries and seeing a ‘wingèd beast from Nineveh’ being hoisted into the building. See the illustration in the Illustrated London News, 28 February, 1852 (184).

108 See The Variorum Edition of the Plays of W. B. Yeats, edited by Russell K. Alspach, assisted by Catharine C. Alspach (London: Macmillan & Co., 1966), 932, 1102, 1099; VP 402.

109 My account of it is drawn from my Appendix on ‘The Illustrations and Cover Designs’, in The Secret Rose: Stories by W. B. Yeats: A Variorum Edition, 278ff.

110 Liam Miller, The Noble Drama of W. B. Yeats (Dublin: The Dolmen Press, 1977), 246–47. Norah McGuinness’s own memories of the occasion, on which a droll remark by Yeats about her gold body paint led to her poor performance, are vividly retold in her ‘Young Painter and Elderly Genius’ in W. B. Yeats, 1865–1965: A Centenary Tribute, Supplement to the Irish Times, 10 June, 1965, vi. See also Miller, op. cit., 247–48 and Plate xxiii.

111 B.L. Add. MS. 55003 f. 85.

112 B.L. Add. MSS. 55613 f. 600; 55614 ff. 258–59.

113 B.L. Add. MS. 55003 f. 87; see also f. 130.

114 The books included O[rmonde] M[addock] Dalton’s Byzantine Art and Archaeology (Oxford: Clarendon, 1911), a copy of which is preserved in Yeats’s Library. A paper slip marks the opening of 210–11, which is illustrated by carved ivory book-covers, heavily compartmentalized; while a further slip marks the opening of 404–05, which includes a photograph of mosaics in the Martorana, Palermo. Many of Dalton’s photographs of Byzantine mosaic decorations include architectural details such as the arch, usually of the apse or narthex of ecclesiastical buildings. McGuinness’s illustrations are characterized by the employment of a curvilinear device—typically an arch or a hill—whereby this architectural feature seems absorbed into her drawing. In Josef Strygowski’s Origin of Christian Church Art (Oxford: Clarendon, 1923), Yeats and McGuinness would have found a whole chapter on ‘Hiberno-Saxon Art in the Time of Bede’ stressing the ‘individuality’ of Celtic ecclesiastical art as well as its dependence on Byzantine tradition (233). Other books available for consultation in Yeats’s collection of Byzantine and Celtic Art studies included W. G. Holmes, The Age of Justinian and Theodora: A History of the Sixth Century (London: G. Bell, 1912), which is not illustrated with reproductions of mosaics; Margaret Stokes Handbook and Guide to Irish Antiquities Collection. Early Christian Art in Ireland. National Museum of Science and Art, Dublin (Dublin: HMSO, 1911). See Edward O’Shea, A Descriptive Catalog of W. B. Yeats’s Library (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985), items 461, 903, and 2009.

115 On 8 September, 1931, in ‘An Irish Programme’, a BBC broadcast from Belfast, Yeats commented further on ‘Sailing to Byzantium’: ‘When Irishmen were illuminating the Book of Kells [in the eighth century] and making the jewelled croziers in the National Museum, Byzantium was the centre of European civilization and the source of its spiritual philosophy, so I symbolise the search for the spiritual life by a journey to that city. The passage is quoted in A. Norman Jeffares (ed.), Yeats’s Poems (London: Macmillan, 1989), 576.

116 B.L. Add. MS. 55003 ff. 95–96. He also suggested as alternatives either The Celtic Twilight (‘better known but not so suitable for illustration’) or a book made up from that volume, together with the next two sections of Early Poems and Stories, ‘The Secret Rose’ (1897) and ‘Stories of Red Hanrahan’. Yeats does not seem to have entertained the idea that the section headed ‘Rosa Alchemica’ and including ‘The Tables of the Law’ and ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ should be included in this ‘first experiment’. The implication is that after so much rearrangement of his text, he had come to see each of these sections as discrete entities, and had ceased to view the three last-named stories as a part of an entity called The Secret Rose. However, the ‘experimental’ nature of the project should also be emphasized.

117 B.L. Add. MSS. 55645 f. 482; 20 December, 1926; 55646 ff. 28, 222, 30 December, 1926 and 6 January, 1927. Many of the drawings remained in her collection until the end of her life. They are now in a private collection in Dublin. I remain grateful to the late Norah McGuinness who, in 1975, wrote to me about her work with Yeats, and provided through Anne Yeats copies of some of her original drawings for Stories of Red Hanrahan and The Secret Rose.

118 The two typescripts of the poem are dated 26 September, 1926, and it was published first in August 1927, when the Cuala Press October Blast (finished in the first week of June, 1927), was finally published. Yeats submitted copy to Macmillan for Stories of Red Hanrahan and The Secret Rose on 23 August, 1927 (B.L. Add. MS. 55003 f. 99).

119 B.L. Add. MS. 55003 f. 99. Norah McGuinness’s letters to Macmillan have been preserved in the firm’s archive, and were presented to the British Library at the end of 2004. They are at present unavailable.

120 B.L. Add. MSS. 55646 ff. 437, 643, 13, 20 January 1927; 55647 f. 86, 24 January 1927; 55653 f. 428, 1 June 1927; 55654 f. 528, 27 June 1927.

121 B.L. Add. MSS. 55653 f. 614, 8 June 1927; also 55654 ff. 132, 204; 13, 15 June 1927.

122 B.L. Add. MSS. 55653 ff. 428, 614, 1, 8 June 1927 55656 f. 355, 28 July 1927.

123 B.L. Add. MS. 55652 f. 83.

124 They were submitted on 24 June 1927 (B.L. Add. MS. 55654 f. 528, 27 June 1927).

125 B.L. Add. MS. 55656 f. 292, 27 July 1927.

126 Sligo County Library [n.d.].

127 B.L. Add. MS. 55653 f. 428, 1 June 1927. After the first issue, some copies were bound in red cloth, with the design in blue on the front cover, and the design and lettering in blue on the spine. See Wade, item 157, pp. 159–61.

128 B.L. Add MS. 55654 f. 385.

129 Sligo County Library, June 25 1927.

130 B.L. Add. MS. 55658 ff. 98–99, 7 September 1927.

131 Sligo County Library, March 13 [1928]. Yeats’s last comment of course alludes to the ending of ‘Proud Costello, MacDermot’s Daughter, and the Bitter Tongue’: see VSR 81, Myth (2005) 137.

132 See VSR 128 (lines 48–49).

133 In the Dublin Daily Express (28 January, 1899), 3. See John P. Frayne and Colton Johnson (eds.), Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats Volume II: Reviews, Articles and Other Miscellaneous Prose 1897–1939 (London: Macmillan Press, 1975), 142–45. (‘Rosicrux’ was a transparent pseudonym in the Dublin of the late nineties). His ‘passion for the mystic rose... [had] saddened my friends’ Yeats wrote, before proposing Behmenist and Blakean interpretations of the ground plan of a mediæval Irish monastery which he (and Margaret Stokes) read as a ‘mystical symbol’. Praising her interpretation of Irish antiquities by means of Byzantine studies, he yet hoped that some future scholar ‘as well as visionary... having mastered the mysticism of the middle ages’ would ‘tell us how much of it is reflected in the crosses and illuminated missals of this country’ (ibid., 144–45).

134 B.L. Add. MS 58091 f. 190, cf. L 691. Lady Gregory recalled how the Gyles designs dominated her bookcase ‘filled… with Yeats bounty from end to end’. The ‘earlier volumes shine and glitter through the glass; golden designs, by a genius, of leaves and birds and the mystic rose’. (Coole by Lady Gregory, completed from the manuscript and edited by Colin Smythe with a foreword by Edward Malins [Dublin: Dolmen, 1971], 39).

135 ‘I walked along the south side of the Dublin quays a couple of years ago; looked at the funnels of certain Dublin steamers and found that something incredible had happened; I had not shuddered with disgust though they were painted green on patriotic grounds; that deep olive seemed beautiful. I hurried to the Parnell Monument and looked at the harp. Yes, that too was transfigured; it was a most beautiful symbol; it had ascended out of sentimentality, out of insincere rhetoric, out of mob emotion. When I reached home I took from the mantelpiece a bronze medal of myself and studied the little shamrock the American medallist [Theodore Spicer-Simson, 1922] had put after the date. But there had been no transformation; the disgust that will always keep me from printing that portrait in any book of mine, or forgiving its creator, had increased, as though the ascent of the other symbols left the shamrock the more alone with its associations of drink and jocularity (‘Ireland, 1921–31’, The Spectator, 30 January 1932; UP2 486–87). The medal is reproduced as frontispiece of Oliver St. John Gogarty’s William Butler Yeats: A Memoir (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1963).

136 London: John Lane, The Bodley Head; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1896, 163.

137 ‘The Poetry of W. B. Yeats’, the first annual Yeats Lecture, delivered to the Friends of the Irish Academy at the Abbey Theatre, June 1940, and reprinted in Purpose (xii:3–4, July-December 1940), 115–27 at 127.

138 W. B. Yeats to Florence Emery, 4 October [1914] (private collection).