Happy Birthday W. B. Yeats (1865–1939)

Frontispiece portrait of W. B. Yeats  by John Butler Yeats in Mosada: A Dramatic Poem (Dublin, 1886) / Yeats PR5904 .M67 1886, superv'd
Frontispiece portrait of W. B. Yeats by John Butler Yeats in Mosada: A Dramatic Poem (Dublin, 1886) / Yeats PR5904 .M67 1886, superv’d

The Rare Book Collection joins in the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats by posting this portrait of him from Mosada: A Dramatic Poem, his first separately published work.  The drama had appeared in the June 1886 issue of the Dublin University Review; the twelve-page pamphlet in wrappers, a reprint by Sealy, Bryers, and Walker, followed in October. As William Michael Murphy notes in his book Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats (1839-1922), it was W.B’s father, a painter, who “insisted on including as [the pamphlet’s] frontispiece a pencil portrait by himself of the author, preferring this to ‘a picture of some incident in the play,’ as had been planned at first. In the sketch Willie wears a fuzzy beard, which his father had urged him to grow.

“The volume had little sale. Papa and Willie gave copies away liberally. One reached the hands of an English Roman Catholic priest who had recently come to Dublin, Gerard Manley Hopkins.” (p. 146) As Murphy recounts, the great poet politely refrained from expressing his negative opinion of the work to the elder Yeats.

The RBC’s copy of Mosada is one of three identified by bibliographer Allan Wade as bound with a thicker paper, unlined. While we cannot boast a provenance for our copy that includes Gerard Manley Hopkins, former owners known to us are New York editor and noted folk art collector Cyril I. Nelson and renowned British bookman Anthony Hobson.

This first separate publication is one of the rarest items in the RBC’s extensive Yeats Collection, a gift of the Hanes Foundation as the University Library’s five millionth volume. The RBC continues to add to the Yeats Collection as opportunities present themselves.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from UNC’s Rare Book Collection

Across the Western world today, the legendary deeds of Saint Patrick, the fifth-century “Apostle of Ireland,” are celebrated by the Irish and the Irish-at-heart. Pictured here is a page from The Rhymed Life of St. Patrick that describes one of the Saint’s most legendary acts, the banishment of Ireland’s snakes.

Katharine Tynan, The Rhymed Life of St. Patrick (London, 1907) / Yeats PR4790.H3 R59 1907 / Hanes Foundation for the Study of the Origin and Development of the Book

The Rhymed Life of St. Patrick, by the Irish poet and novelist Katharine Tynan, is a work from 1907. During the early twentieth century, Irish writers and poets wanted to present an Irish identity that was void of British influence. The growing interest in Irish language and culture at that time, as seen in The Rhymed Life of St. Patrick, fueled what would become known as the Irish Literary Renaissance. It was Tynan’s contemporary (and one-time suitor) W.B. Yeats, who came to lead the movement.

The Rare Book Collection has a substantial W.B. Yeats collection, acquired as the University Library’s five millionth volume through the generosity of the Hanes Family Foundation. The RBC also has many works from other Irish Literary Renaissance writers like Tynan, John Millington Synge, and Sean O’Casey.

Outstanding Irish purchases of late will be on display at our Recent Acquisitions Evening on March 31. Until then, we wish you a safe and pleasant Saint Patrick’s Day!

In Memoriam: Seamus Heaney (April 13, 1939−August 30, 2013)

Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney passed away this morning in Dublin after an extended illness. The RBC and UNC mourn the loss of this great poet, who delivered the University commencement address at Chapel Hill on May 12, 1996.

While the man Heaney has left this world, his remarkable literary achievement lives on at the Rare Book Collection, where the Henry C. Pearson Collection of Seamus Heaney resides. North Carolina native Pearson (UNC B.A., 1935) sought to form as complete a collection of Heaney’s printed works as possible. This rich trove today includes more than 1,200 cataloged items, reflecting the poet’s extraordinary productivity.

There is much deep wisdom to be found in Heaney’s writings. But let us end with just one example, from his Chapel Hill address. Here, Heaney uses his memory of an altered fact in a childhood story—an imagined spade substituting for the real, humble, wooden spoon—to emphasize the necessity of personal truth in living a life.

Typescript of Heaney's commencement address
From the typescript of Heaney’s commencement address

“I want to avoid preaching at you but I do want to convince you that the true and durable path into and through experience involves being true to the actual givens of your own lives. True to your own solitude, your own secret knowledge. Because oddly enough, it is that intimate, deeply personal knowledge that links us most vitally to reality and keeps us most reliably connected to one another. Calling a spade a spade may be a bit reductive at times but calling a wooden spoon a wooden spoon is the beginning of wisdom, and you will be sure to keep going in life on a far steadier psychic keel and with far more radiant individuality if you navigate by that principle.”

It was a great honor for UNC to hear Seamus Heaney in person in 1996, as it is a great honor for Wilson Library to preserve his words in our special collections in perpetuity.

Happy Bloomsday; Happy Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day. It is also Bloomsday, that being a commemoration of the events of the great James Joyce novel Ulysses, which took place on June 16, 1904, in Dublin. The Rare Book Collection is enthusiastically celebrating both by posting here a serendipitous recent acquisition.  The RBC is pleased to hold now the first publication of Joyce’s novel Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, in all its serial installments in the Modernist periodical the Egoist. In Portrait, Joyce introduces the character Stephen Dedalus, who reappears in his later masterpiece Ulysses. Ulysses protagonist Leopold Bloom might fairly be seen as a father figure to Stephen. 

William A. Whitaker Fund
William A. Whitaker Fund
William A. Whitaker Fund
William A. Whitaker Fund


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man debuted in the February 2nd 1914 issue of the Egoist, in the company of an editorial on “Men, Machines and Progress,” an article on Irish playwright J. M. Synge, and poems by H. D.  It finished in the September 1st 1915 issue, which also included a piece on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, the French sculptor who had been friends with Ezra Pound and had just died tragically in World War I.

The Egoist set acquired by the RBC has 48 issues: volume 1 number 1 to volume 3 number 12, in the publisher’s original blue half-leather binding. It is in remarkably clean and stable condition for a publication usually found in a fragile state.

This marvelous survival joins many splendid Joyce volumes donated to UNC-Chapel Hill by Mary M. Patton and James R. Patton (A.B. 1948). These include the famous first edition of Ulysses (1922)—number 20 of the first 100 copies printed on Dutch handmade paper—as well as the first book edition of Portrait of an Artist as Young Man (1916), inscribed by Joyce.

More than just a mere rarity, the Egoist periodical gives us the broad, Modernist context for Joyce’s novel, intellectually amplifying the author’s opening quotation from the Roman writer Ovid on turning the mind to arts unknown.

Calling All Playboys: June 16

In the RBC’s outstanding W. B. Yeats Collection—given by the Hanes Foundation as UNC-Chapel Hill’s five millionth volume—there are extensive materials relating to the Irish playwright J. M. Synge. Among these are first, early, and theater editions of the plays he wrote for Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, including the controversial Playboy of the Western World.

That drama is about one Christy Mahon, a young man who flees home after killing his father with a loy (or shovel). He finds refuge in a Mayo village, where the locals laud him as a romantic hero for the story of his patricide—until his father shows up.

J. R. Synge from The Abbey Row (Dublin, 1907). Hanes Foundation. /  PR5532.P53 A3 1907
Yeats PR5532.P53 A3 1907 / J. M. Synge, “I Don’t Care a Rap,” from The Abbey Row (Dublin, 1907). Hanes Foundation.

The Yeats Collection is rich in ephemeral items related to The Playboy of the Western World and the riots it inspired. The Abbey Row is one example of a satirical account that features caricatures of Synge, Yeats, and others.

This coming Sunday, June 16th, at 2 p.m, Wilson Library’s own Emily Kader will be speaking about a comedic adaptation of Synge’s acclaimed work, Tennessee Playboy, at the Triad Stage in Greensboro, North Carolina. For more information on the performances, which begin tonight, June 14th, and Ms. Kader’s talk, see the Triad’s website.

Do introduce yourself to Emily if you’ve read this blog post and are at the event!