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An Afterword: The Macmillan Archive and Editorial Policy1

Warwick Gould

© Warwick Gould, CC BY 4.0

It was to be expected that the Macmillan Archive would contain the historiography as well as the history of that firm: such is implicit in the nature of an archive as rich and comprehensive as this one. The notes for and drafts of Charles Morgan’s The House of Macmillan (1843–1943), published in the centenary year show that Morgan utterly relied on Yeats’s reader Thomas Mark (later a director of the firm), to do his devilling—the Archive, then being housed in the basement of the firm’s premises in St Martin’s Street.2 With his unrivalled knowledge of the Archive, Mark very much preferred to be the self-effacing backroom scholar who could sift for Morgan a century of inner house history. What is surprising is that for large swathes of Morgan’s book, the actual drafting is in the neat and unmistakeable hand of Mark himself.

These drafts are also found in typescript, and it is scarcely too much to say that Mark emerges as the ghost author. This gives an especial salience to Morgan’s account of Yeats, which is concentrated in the chapter entitled ‘Growing Younger’. Amid much else on Yeats, Morgan records that

…Yeats was delighted rather than annoyed by queries. He would sit down, pore over the doubtful line, seek and seek in his memory for a clue to the meaning that either his youthful ardour or some ancient misprint had clouded. But sometimes he himself was not available. His most esoteric work, A Vision, was full of conundrums which might or might not be intentional and were the harder to solve because Yeats was seriously ill in Majorca while the book was going through the press. “I don’t expect many people to understand it”, Yeats said. “In fact, I know only one man who will understand it all, and he is a doctor in Scotland”.3

If one turns to Mark’s pencilled draft of before 1943 one finds:

He was extremely pleased with the attention we gave to the production of his works, especially as regards the one-volume Collected Poems and Collected Plays. Nobody had looked after his proof for him before, and he was not at all good at correcting them himself. Spelling and punctuation had always, he admitted, been mysteries to him, and his handwriting often presented enigmas, so that there were many places where the text of his verse or prose as it stood was not, we felt sure, what he had originally intended. It might have been thought impudent to make such suggestions to the greatest living poet, but W.B.Y. was by no means offended—in fact he was delighted. When we went through the whole of his works for a projected complete edition (all seen and revised by Yeats, but held up by the war), he gave every such point the most careful attention, explaining his meaning where he thought it might have been missed, and writing to say, ‘For the first time there will be a satisfactory text of my work, thanks to your watchfulness and patience’.4

His most esoteric work, A Vision, was packed with difficulties and conundrums, which were all the harder to solve because Yeats was seriously ill in Majorca while the book was going through the press (and I have always imagined that in the end he sent the wrong set of proofs to the printers for press as final). I saw him at one stage, however, and said that I was not very comfortable because so much of the book was quite beyond me. He laughed and said, ‘Oh, I don’t expect many people to understand it at all. In fact I only know one man who will really understand it, and he is a doctor in Scotland’. (emphasis added)

After Mark was dead, and while I was still working on what became the 1981 first edition of VSR, this story of the wrong proofs for A Vision had been communicated to me by Mark’s protégé Tim Farmiloe, though it was not until nearly ten years later that I unearthed Mark’s written testimony as above. Mr Farmiloe, now long retired, had worked with Mrs Yeats from 1958, and filled Mark’s shoes when he retired, and oversaw the inauguration of the Collected Works. Naturally I told other Yeats editors (including Professor Harper) about the existence of these papers when they came to the British Library to work on the Archive.

The consequences of this discovery were of course for the editors of A Vision to think through and, if possible, to reconcile with the emerging and, by the time of CW14, very definitely ‘established series policy’ (CW14 li). The relegation of George Yeats’s and Thomas Mark’s corrections to the endnotes and an appendix (as Harper and Paul have done, and as McDowell notes above, passim, but see e.g., pp. 389, 396) is ‘[i]n keeping with established series policy’ as indicated at CW14, li.

The formulation of that inconsistently applied policy is obscure. While it defies the evidence of the full Macmillan and Scribner Archives, it derives from Richard J. Finneran’s calamitously untrue assertion of 1983 that ‘[Yeats] had not long been in his temporary resting place at Roquebrune before the process began of—not to put too fine a point on it—corrupting the texts which he had worked so hard to perfect’,5 an assertion which underlies The Poems: A New Edition (New York, 1983; London, 1984). Since that edition, the editorial value of archival evidence in the establishment of copy-texts had been vigorously contested. By 1994 a bibliography of the first ten years of a public controversy was available to the General Editors.6

Yet, it was certainly the case, as Colin McDowell hints, that some editors chafed under a ‘series policy’ which threw aside the surviving evidence of Mrs Yeats, Harold Macmillan, Thomas Mark and anyone else working with Yeats in the 1930s and after as posthumous textual ‘corrupti[on]’. In attempting to provide a rationale for the subsequent editorial practices of a Collected Works as a ‘series invested in the authorial intentions of WBY’ (CW14 xlix), this ‘series policy’ (which broadly applies only to those of Yeats’s works which would have appeared in the ill-fated Edition de Luxe, the Coole Edition, and the Dublin Edition), is handed down to editors. While there is the notably defiant exception of CW3, Autobiographies (1999) where William H. O’Donnell and Douglas Archibald were used the 1955 Autobiographies as copy-text, by 2002 the ‘series policy’ had hardened into a few unexplained (and certainly unjustifiable) ex cathedra pronouncements.7

A good example may be found in the editorial matter of CW4, Early Essays.

We have correlated our edition against the posthumous changes introduced into Essays and Introductions (1961) by George Yeats and Lovat Dickson, and earlier8 Thomas Mark, but have not followed their readings as they lack Yeats’s own authority and occasionally introduce new errors of their own. We have not accepted the weak argument of posthumous revision. (CW4 324).

This is not merely inexplicably unreferenced; it is also demonstrably incorrect. Yeats’s own authority included numerous statements of delegation and his working practices show innumerable acts of delegated revision and emendation.9 The implication that ‘posthumous revision’ by his widow and executrix and his trusted publisher’s readers can somehow be evacuated of all authority is rendered all the more scandalous by Mark’s memory that Yeats himself sent the wrong proofs of A Vision as passed for press. If that was the case, does it not compel a fundamentally different kind of consideration of all textual work on the ‘editions after 1937’ through to 1962? If so, it challenges the editorial horizon of the ‘series policy’.

No one who has worked in the BL Macmillan Archive as a whole could but be impressed by the weight of the evidence which survives. Not all editors bothered—as I did—to interview Harold Macmillan, nor to seek out papers then in the Macmillan family’s hands (and now in the British Library). Connie Hood certainly went to Basingstoke to review the Yeats papers gradually being assembled there by Mr Sydney Jacobs and Mr Derek Mirfin and others in the firm in the 1970s and 1980s. But under the ‘series policy’, the witness value of these papers has simply been elbowed out and editors given elbow room to re-determine texts themselves.

Once one concedes the actuality of contemporary and later in-house witnesses to an author’s delegated textual processes (such as Thomas Mark and Tim Farmiloe), one is compelled to review all the work that Mark, Watt, Rache Lovat Dickson and George Yeats and others did towards the satisfactory presentation of Yeats’s texts, and to admit it into the editorial horizon in which copy-texts are determined. If one consigns the evidence of the Edition de Luxe, Coole and Dublin Edition papers to the desert wastes of tabulated appendices, an editor can—even without intending to do so—puzzle or delude most of the readers most of the time. And yet the Archive remains, however, a silent and compelling rebuke to that dictated (but never justified) ‘series policy’, perversely and inconsistently applied as it is to some texts but not others, and, ultimately, based as it is upon editorial theory so obtusely inappropriate to Yeats and the publishing processes of his era that it is not even wrong.

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 The existence of these still uncatalogued notes was first announced in Warwick Gould, ‘W. B. Yeats and the Resurrection of the Author’, in The Library, 16:2 (June 1994), 101-34 at pp. 115–16. They should be referred to as BL Uncat., 75 (d).

3 Charles Morgan’s The House of Macmillan (1843–1943) (London: Macmillan, 1943), 223.

4 Macmillan archive, Dep. 8910, The British Library., unpag. As Colin McDowell notes, this letter is missing from the Macmillan Archive and so from the CL InteLex edition. It was a private letter addressed to Thomas Mark, and was enclosed with a covering note sent by Yeats to Harold Macmillan from Riversdale on 8 September 1932: ‘I would be very much obliged if you would give the enclosed letter to the admirable scholar who is assisting in the correction of the proofs of my new collected edition. It is partly a letter of thanks and partly an explanation of certain metrical tricks of mine which have puzzled him’. (CL InteLex 5731; TLS BL 55003 f 136) and marked by Macmillans ‘To Mr Mark’. The letter was later shown to the late Jon Stallworthy in 1959 by Thomas Mark. See VSR xxii-xxiii and Gould, ‘W. B. Yeats and the Resurrection of the Author’, 115–16 and nn. It is to be presumed that the words Mark quotes here (also used, as above; see n. 2) and also by Morgan, are from that letter.

5 Richard J. Finneran, Editing Yeats’s Poems (London: Macmillan, 1983), 30; Editing Yeats’s Poems: A Reconsideration (London: Macmillan, 1990), 39.

6 See Warwick Gould, ‘W. B. Yeats and the Resurrection of the Author’, in The Library, 101–34 at pp. 133–34. The initial review referred in ‘The Editor Takes Possession’, TLS, 29 June 1984.

7 ‘The volume called “Mythologies” I need not see again. Your reader can complete the revision better than I could’. So wrote Yeats to Harold Macmillan on 5 July, 1932 (CL InteLex 5692, M2005, xxii). In the light of such statements by Yeats himself, the ‘series policy’ was so radically inappropriate to Mythologies, that my co-editor Deirdre Toomey and I had no option but to withdraw our edition after its submission in 2002, and to publish it outside the series in 2005.

8 In fact, Thomas Mark most certainly did work on Essays and Introductions (1961) and was later ‘called out of retirement’ to work on the 1962 A Vision. See Gould, ‘W. B. Yeats and the Resurrection of the Author’, 110 n. 40.

9 See, for example, above nn. 3 and 6.