One hundred years ago on Easter Monday (April 24, 1916), members of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army occupied the General Post Office in Dublin. Upwards of 2,000 Irish men and women participated in the Rising.
On the first day of the insurrection, Pádraic Pearse read aloud the Proclamation of the Republic, which stated, “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.”
After six days of fighting against the British Army, the leaders of the Rising surrendered. The seven signatories of the Proclamation, along with nine others who participated in leading the rebellion, were executed.
W. B. Yeats began writing “Easter, 1916” during the last of the executions. According to George Mayhew, the final drafts were completed while Yeats stayed in France with his long-time muse, Maud Gonne, and her daughter Iseult. Gonne’s estranged husband, John MacBride, was one of the executed leaders of the Rising. His death prompted Yeats to propose marriage for the second time to Gonne and then to her daughter; both women rejected him.
Easter, 1916 was privately printed by Clement Shorter in a run of 25 copies for distribution among Yeats’s friends, likely in October or November of 1916. The copy above, held at the University of North Carolina, is numbered 19.
In the poem Yeats struggles with the personal and political complexities of the Rising, and the difficulties of grappling with these within a memorial poem. Gonne wrote to Yeats: “No, I don’t like your poem, it isn’t worthy of you & above all isn’t worthy of the subject.” Today it is the most remembered and read poem of the Easter Rising, particularly for Yeats’s refrain, “A terrible beauty is born.”
“Easter 1916” wasn’t distributed widely until it was printed in The New Statesman October 23, 1920, and then in Yeats’s 1921 volume of poetry, Michael Robartes and the Dancer. The 1916 version reveals its differences upon comparison to the 1921 version.
The eight issues that comprise the full print run of The Savoy magazine are part of the RBC’s William Butler Yeats Collection. Yeats contributed poems, stories, and essays to the short-lived periodical, prompted by his friendship with the magazine’s editor, Arthur Symons. Through his association with The Savoy and with Symons, Yeats developed an interest in the Symbolist poetry of Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé, and others—a connection sometimes overlooked in evaluating Yeats’s long career as a poet.
The Savoy made its debut in 1896, a transitional moment in British letters when the aesthetically driven Decadent movement rebranded itself as the avant-garde Symbolist movement. Symons, a jobbing writer remembered now mostly for his literary criticism, provides an explicit link between decadence and Symbolism: in 1893, before his work on The Savoy, Symons authored a manifesto “The Decadent Movement in Literature,” defining the key features and leading writers of “art for art’s sake”; in 1899, two years after the close of The Savoy, Symons expanded the essay to a book-length work, retitling it The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
Symons’s partner in shaping the aesthetic and artistic parameters of The Savoy was illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. Beardsley had previously worked as art editor and designer for Elkin Mathews and John Lane’s The Yellow Book—to which Symons also contributed—but he was asked to resign after Oscar Wilde’s conviction for gross indecency colored Beardsley’s past association with Wilde as scandalous. Mathews and Lane’s squeamishness was not shared by the publisher of The Savoy, Leonard Smithers. Smithers, whose publishing ventures included erotic texts as well as literature, encouraged Beardsley and Symons’s artistic productions.
In addition to the full print run of The Savoy, the RBC holds printing proofs of Beardsley’s designs for The Savoy, annotated with Smithers’s notes on production. These proofs have appeared previously on the RBC blog, following a lecture by collector Mark Samuels Lasner that discussed their status as true proofs—not later reproductions of Beardsley’s artwork.
While Beardsley’s designs for The Yellow Book had featured bold contrasts of white and black, for The Savoy Beardsley developed a style incorporating the use of texture and fine detail. Beardsley’s cover art, in particular, reflects the richer designs of his illustrations for The Rape of the Lock and Lysistrata. Beardsley’s drawings, prized now for their artistic excellence, are often reproduced divorced from their original contexts; the RBC’s proofs of Beardsley’s designs for The Savoy remind us that Beardsley was a working artist, and above all an illustrator of texts.
In addition to the proofs of Beardsley’s drawings, the RBC also holds three drafts written by Arthur Symons related to the short story “The Childhood of Lucy Newcombe,” which appeared in the final number of The Savoy. Symons wrote three stories about Lucy Newcombe, a fictionalized character drawn from the life of Edith Catherine Robichaud: born Edith Catherine Broadbent; called Ryllis Llewellyn Hacon during her first marriage.
Robichaud, an artist’s model and escort under the names “Amaryllis” and “Muriel,” was Symons’s mistress. Her past, steeped in mystery and intrigue, becomes in Symons’s stories a psychological character study. Symons planned to turn the series into a novel, a project he clung to even after the close of the magazine. Symons wrote to novelist Thomas Hardy for advice on the novel, citing Jude the Obscure as one of his influences, but Hardy discouraged Symons from seeking a publisher. Hardy warned Symons that his risqué choice of a sex worker for a protagonist would ruin his reputation.
Despite her scandalous past, the real Lucy Newcombe went on to become an incredibly successful society matron: she married William Llewellyn Hacon, became a great patron of the arts, and joined the women’s suffrage movement. Even after ending her career as an artist’s model, Robichaud sat for several prominent painters, including Charles Condor, whose 1896 painting of Robichaud “The Shore at Dornach, Highlands” hangs in the Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museum.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!