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

Three Letters from Yeats to the Anarchist, Augustin Hamon1

Deirdre Toomey

© Deirdre Toomey, CC BY 4.0

On about 9 February 1899 Yeats wrote to Synge from his hotel in the Boulevard Raspail to admit that he had forgotten both the name and the address of the man at whose house he was to speak that night (CL2 358). This vagueness is not uncharacteristic.

By a Venn diagram of those who knew both Yeats and Synge in Paris, the editors of that volume fixed on Augustin Frederic Adolphe Hamon (1862–1945) a well-known Anarchist and editor of the anarchist journal l’Humanité nouvelle: Revue internationale, which he had founded in 1897. A translation of ‘The Man Who Dreamed of Fairyland’ had appeared there in September 1899 (the translation was probably by Hamon but no translator’s name is given). Hamon later, with his wife Henriette, became Shaw’s official translator, despite, according to Miron Grindea, being not at all confident of his English; however, Shaw overruled Hamon’s protests saying, ‘the dramatic liveliness of the reports you gave of some the Socialist Congresses [1897] had satisfied me… I saw in you the man to undertake the French version of my plays’ (‘G.B.S. and France’ [Adam International: London, July 1956] p. 2). Further, the Flemish writer Robert de Smet insisted that Hamon could not even ask for directions in the street in English (‘G.B.S and France’, p. 3). Indeed, in the letters which follow it is evident that Hamon relied on Jerrold’s help with Yeats’s letters. Hamon, was a passionate defender of Shaw in the French press and Shaw had chosen Hamon and his wife Henriette partly because of their political position Hamon. Hamon had been part of the large exodus of French and Belgian anarchists who moved to England after 1894 when extremely hostile legislation against those who were believed to have Anarchist connections ‘les lois scélérates’ had been passed in France after the assassination of the President of France, by an Italian anarchist in 1894. Hamon’s interest in Yeats is more of an enigma, although Anarchists and other radicals had been interested in Irish Nationalism, particularly in its physical force side for some time and Hamon would have been told by Synge of Yeats’s part in the 1898 celebrations and of his membership of the IRB. In John Millington Synge and the Irish Theatre, Synge’s friend Maurice Bourgeois recalled that Synge ‘sometimes mentioned… M. Augustin Hamon’ (London: Constable, 1913) p. 46. Whether Synge knew of Yeats’s move to the pro-Dynamiting INA in 1895 is unknown, but this would have been of great interest to Anarchists. Synge probably met Hamon at a café, possibly the Café Harcourt, much frequented by expatriate Irish. Hamon also regularly attended Maud Gonne’s Paris salons.

Yeats was very interested in the concept of ‘spiritual anarchy’, as exemplified in Where there is Nothing’ (1902).2 By contrast, Hamon was a very practical anarchist, concerned with workers’ rights and Trade Unionism. He eventually became a socialist.

In 1899–1900, Hamon evidently sought some contribution to his journal from Yeats, and the following correspondence traces the background to Yeats’s eventual appearances in l’Humanité nouvelle.

The Yeats/Hamon file emerged as a result of the diligence of Ron Heisler, a scholar and a renowned collector of Socialist pamphlets, in the archives of the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam. The Institute holds 181 cases of Hamon’s wide-ranging correspondence. Undated letters to Hamon were carefully dated by receipt, in accord with the well-known Anarchist slogan ‘Anarchy is Order’. Thus, our editorial decision to propose Augustin Hamon’s house as the forgotten venue for his speech in February 1899 for volume II (1997) of the Collected Letters has at last been justified by the discovery of these three letters in Hamon’s archive. I have chosen to offer both sides of the correspondence, because of the involvement—on Hamon’s side—of an unusual middleman, Laurence Jerrold (1873–1918) who was the Conservative Daily Telegraph’s Paris correspondent. He had also published a signed translation, ‘Innisfree’, in Le magazine internationale, 6, May 1896.3 The issue is lost, and so the translation cannot be checked against ‘l’Ile d’Innisfree’, one of Yeats’s ‘Poèmes’, in the December, 1899 number of to l’Humanite Nouvelle (the others were ‘La Rose du Monde’, ‘Chanson’ (‘Impetuous Heart, be still’) and ‘Le Vent’ (‘The wind blows over the gates of the day’ [sic, cf., VPl 210]). Jerrold also contributed a brief account of Beltaine as ‘le Theatre littéraire’ to l’Humanite Nouvelle in July 1899, and the journal also published ‘l’homme qui connuit en songe le pays des fees’ in its September, 1899 number (Wade, p. 433). None of these translations was signed, but it is clear that Jerrold, if less prolific that (say) Henry-D. Davray among Yeats’s early French enthusiasts, is likely to have translated the poems sent at Hamon’s invitation as editor. What is certain, however, in the correspondence between Yeats and Hamon (who had difficulties in understanding either or both the English language and Yeats’s hand), is that Jerrold plays a decisive rôle, as will be seen in the transcriptions below. Hamon kept up his Irish links and lectured to Irish Literary Society on 23rd November 1915, presumably on Shaw on whom he had written a monograph George Bernard Shaw: The Moliere of the Twentieth Century (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1915.)

Yeats’s first letter was written from Woburn Buildings Euston Road is of March 1899 and is undated except by ‘Saturday’. A recipient—Hamon or perhaps Laurence Jerrold—dates its receipt 5/3/99.

à rendre

[blue pencil, unknown hand, across top left corner]

18 Woburn Buildings
Euston Road.

Saturday [‘5/3/99’ added in blue pencil, unknown hand]

My dear Monsieur <deleted letter> Hamon:

I will send you copies of the poems you so kindly asked for in a few days. I have hitherto been unable to do so & am still unable, as my only copies are now with the printer who is printing a new edition.

Yours sinly

W B Yeats.

Yeats’s text is in black ink on a bifolium, on the inner recto of which, in purple ink, appear a note from Jerrold to Hamon on the matter of the translations. Yeats’s second letter follows this fragment, on letterhead paper.

21 mai 99
[Blue pencil, unknown hand]

à retourner | avec traduction | je ne peux pas lire

Nassau Hotel,
[printed rubric letterhead]


M y Dear Monsieur Hamon: I <enclose> send some poems at last. I have procrastinated from day to day. At first I had no copy of my book & then I <ha> was absorbed in the preparation for the performance of my play ‘The Countess Cathleen’. The play is to be produced tonight & there is likely to be a riot as the ultramontane organ has denounced me for heresy & blasphemy.4 < illegible deletion, c.6 words >

Yr sinly

W B Yeats

Please turn over

[on verso]

I left this unposted amid the <illeg> bother of The Irish Literary Theatre! My ‘The Countess Cathleen’ a play in verse has had a great triumph in Dublin. I <enclose> send some papers which may interest you.5

A page follows, in which Jerrold has translated this letter into French, presumably for Hamon. Yeats’s third letter succeeds it.

Woburn Buildings
Euston Road.

Yeats [pencil, unknown hand]

7 Juin 1900

[blue pencil, unknown hand]


My dear Monsieur Hamon: I have made a search & I find that I have not a single photograph of myself left. They are all rather bad& I am not sorry to have seen the last of them. There is a good portrait—not a photograph—at the beginning of the edition of my collected poems published by Fisher Unwin in 1899; & henceforth I am inclined to be known by that.6

I am very sorry not to be able to comply with your request.

I am yours very sincerely

WB Yeats

It is not known why Hamon had sought a photograph of Yeats: l’Humanité Nouvelle did not normally reproduce photographs. By 1899 Yeats had had few sittings for studio portrait photographs. The M. Glover portrait of 1889 or before, and the Frederick Hollyer photograph of 1893 or before, were well out of date.7 O’Donnell dates the Elliot & Fry (Dublin) photograph to c.1899: it may be the one against which WBY had taken a decided view. Yeats’s very favourable judgement of the ‘highly emblematic portrait photograph taken by Chancellor of Dublin in November 1902 (see YA3 plate 6) might be thought to reflect some relief at such a suitable replacement image—he delightedly announced that it was ‘“the first good photograph” of him and was “really very good”’.8 Although the Chancellor photograph gives prominence to WBY’s emblematic floppy tie and his lock of hair, it is very clear that Yeats routinely preferred portrait drawings or paintings to photographs as his self-image (Plate 44).9

Plate 43. John Butler Yeats’s frontispiece portrait of W. B. Yeats, in Poems (2nd ed., London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1899). Private collection, London.

Plate 44. The Elliott & Fry image of W. B. Yeats, said to be of 1899. Private collection, London.

1 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 VPl 933. On that theme in Yeats’s work from the three early stories intended as a concluding triptych for The Secret Rose (‘Rosa Alchemica’, The Tables of the Law, and ‘The Adoration of the Magi’) through such plays as ‘Where there is Nothing’ and ‘The Unicorn from the Stars’, see ‘Yeats: A Noble Antinomianism’, Chapter 9 of Warwick Gould and Marjorie Reeves, Joachim of Fiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon, 2001, revised and enlarged edition), 221–98 (pp. 273ff).

3 I am grateful for the assistance of Yeats’s bibliographer, Dr Colin Smythe, as to the particular issue, which had eluded Wade, cf. Wade, 433. Were it to surface for comparison with the 1899 version, and the versions to prove non-identical, it might merely be the case that Jerrold had chosen to revise the earlier version.

4 Frank Hugh O’Donnell, a political enemy, had denounced the play in the Freeman’s Journal on 1 April 1899 and a further attack was rejected by the journal. Nothing daunted, O’Donnell wrote a savage pamphlet attacking the play Souls for Gold! A Pseudo-Celtic Drama in Dublin, widely distributed in Dublin. As a consequence, the Daily Nation published an aggressive leader endorsing theological objections to the play on 6 May. ‘Ultramontane’ in this context refers to those Catholics who defer to the supreme authority of the Pope. It was commonly used in Ireland to refer to the more rigid forms of Catholicism. See CL2 407ff. and Appendix, 669–80.

5 There were some disturbances during the performance mainly from students from the Royal University (later University College, Dublin) this culminated in a letter deploring the irreligious aspects of the play. James Joyce refused to sign this letter. Yeats thought that this response indicated that the new Irish Literary Theatre was a powerful force in Ireland. It is possible that he wrote this letter shortly after 8 May 1898 and delayed posting for a while as he collected reviews from the Dublin papers as Hamon did not receive it till 21 May.

6 The frontispiece for Poems is by his father and is dated by John Butler Yeats 1899 (Plate 43).

7 The American Monthly Review of Reviews was to use the Hollyer image as late as December 1901. See William H. O’Donnell’s revised checklist of studio portrait photographs, YA8 196ff., and also see L, facing p. 146.

8 O’Donnell, ‘Portraits of W. B. Yeats: This Picture in the Mind’s Eye’, YA3 81–103 at p. 87.

9 See the CL InteLex correspondence over the selection of self-images for CWVP (1908), as well as O’Donnell, ibid., 87.