Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

How Well Do You Know Your Irish Fairies?

March 14th, 2018

With St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) just around the corner, grocery stores and pubs are suddenly awash in four-leaf clovers, leprechauns, and other trappings of the commercial elements of the holiday.  But why fixate on leprechauns when the world of Irish fairy folk is so much broader?  How well do you know your Irish fairies?

Frontispiece and title page of W. B. Yeats' Irish Fairy and Folk Tales (1893), an editon of his 1888 Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, with 12 illustsrations by James Torrance.
Title page and frontispiece from Yeats’s Irish Fairy and Folk Tales (1893), an illustrated edition of his earlier Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888). Yeats, W. B. Irish Fairy and Folk Tales. London: Walter Scott, Ltd, [1893]. Call #: Yeats Y191. Click to enlarge.

The Irish poet W. B. Yeats wrote more than once about Ireland’s different varieties of fairies. In 1888, when Yeats was in his early twenties, he edited a volume titled Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, which collected stories and poems by a variety of writers on the supernatural elements of Irish folklore. In organizing the book, he assembled its pieces under several headings, including “Ghosts,” “Giants,” and “Saints, Priests.” However, he accorded fairies a place of particular honor (as is their due in Irish folklore) by beginning the anthology with them and including several short section prefaces detailing their ways. When a few years later Yeats published the anthology Irish Fairy Tales (1892) for T. Fisher Unwin’s “Children’s Library Series,” he penned  an appendix offering a “Classification of Irish Fairies.”

It would be a mistake to confuse one’s Leprechauns with one’s Merrows, since fairies — or the “gentry” as they prefer to be called — are easily offended. Thus in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we share a shortened version of Yeats’s classification below.

Yeats begins his schema by dividing Irish fairydom into two classes: the sociable (or “Trooping Fairies,” as he named them in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry) and the solitary. Of these two varieties, he writes, “The first are in the main kindly, and the second are full of uncharitableness.”

The Sociable Fairies “go about in troops, and quarrel, and make love, much as men and women do.”  They are subdivided into two main types:

  1. The Sheoques (in Irish, Sidheog, “a little fairy”): Sheoques are land fairies, whom Yeats describes as “the spirits that haunt the sacred thornbushes and green raths.” While Sheoques are on the whole good, they have one “most malicious habit”: “They steal children and leave a withered fairy, a thousand or maybe two thousand years old, instead.”  If this isn’t enough to inspire terror in Yeats’s child readers, he continues nonchalantly, “Now and then one hears of some real injury being done a person by the land fairies, but then it is nearly always deserved.  They are said to have killed two people in the last six months in the County Down district where I am now staying.  But then these persons had torn up thorn bushes belonging to the Sheoques.” I suspect Yeats’s proviso comes as little comfort to anyone who counts yardwork or landscaping among their chores!
  2. The Merrows (in Irish, Moruadh, “a sea maid)”: These are water fairies. Yeats writes that Thomas Croker, the author of Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825), suggests that “[t]he men among them […] have green teeth, green hair, pigs’ eyes, and red noses; but their women are beautiful and prefer handsome fishermen to their green-haired lovers.” Yeats, himself, is more skeptical and comments that he has never “heard tell of this grotesque appearance of the male Merrows” and judges it “probably a merely local Munster tradition.”

Title page for W. B. Yeats' Irish Fairy Tales (1892), with frontispiece illustration by Yeats's brother, Jack B. Yeats.

What type of fairy is that?: Title page for W. B. Yeats’ Irish Fairy Tales (1892), with frontispiece illustration by Yeats’s brother, Jack B. Yeats. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1892.  Call #: Yeats Y194.  Click image to enlarge.

Yeats next delineates nine subcategories of Solitary Fairies, whom he characterizes as “nearly all gloomy and terrible in some way”:

  1. The Lepricaun (in Irish, Leith bhrogan, “the one shoe maker”): Of this staple of St. Patrick’s Day, Yeats writes, “This creature is seen sitting under a hedge mending a shoe, and one who catches him can make him deliver up his crocks of gold, for he is a miser of great wealth; but if you take your eyes off him the creature vanishes like smoke.” Don’t expect to find him in outfitted in green, though. Yeats notes that according to McAnally, author of Irish Wonders (1888), the leprechaun wears “a red coat with seven buttons in each row, and a cocked-hat, on the point of which he sometimes spins like a top.”  One wonders if Yeats’s leprechaun might also be responsible for other types of mischief, such as the fact that Yeats spells his name “Lepracaun in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888) but “Lepricaun in Irish Fairy Tales (1892).
  2. The Cleuricaun (in Irish, Clobltair-cean): Yeats notes that some writers “consider this to be another name for the Lepricaun, given him when he has laid aside his shoe-making at night and goes on the spree.” These fairies’ enthusiasms include “robbing wine-cellars” and “riding sheep and shepherds’ dogs.”
  3. The Gonconer or Ganconagh (in Irish, Gean-canogh, i.e. love-talker):  A “creature of the Lepricaun type” who, unlike his industrious cobbler brethren, is idle. Yeats notes he “appears in lonely valleys, always with a pipe in his mouth, and spends his time in making love to shepherdesses and milkmaids.”

[Would Yeats have concurred that modern St. Patrick’s Day celebrants perhaps possesses a touch of the Clericaun and Gonconer in their (admittedly sociable) revelry?]

  1. The Far Darrig (in Irish, Fear Dearg, i.e. red man): This fairy is “the practical joker of the other world” whom Yeats deems a “lubberly wretch.” Like the Pooka (below), “he presides over evil dreams.”
  2. The Pooka (in Irish, Púca, “a word derived by some from poc, a he-goat)”: Yeats notes that this fairy usually takes the shape of “a horse, a bull, a goat, eagle, or ass” and “most likely never appeared in human form.” He is of the “family of the nightmare” and “[h]is delight is to get a rider, whom he rushes with through ditches and rivers and over mountains, and shakes off in the gray of morning.”
  3. The Dullahan: This fairy must be a relative of the headless horseman who appears in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Yeats explains that he “has no head, or carries it under his arm,” and can be seen “driving a black coach called coach-a-bower (Ir. Coite-bodhar), drawn by headless horses.” If you hear his carriage rumble by, keep your door closed, for if you open it “a basin of blood is thrown in your face.”  As one might guess from such an unwelcome greeting, the Dullahan is “an omen of death to the houses where it pauses.”
  4. The Leanhaun Shee (in Irish, Leanhaunsidhe, i.e. fairy mistress ): Yeats writes, “This spirit seeks the love of men. If they refuse, she is their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding one to take their place. Her lovers waste away, for she lives on their life.” He also refers to her as the “Gaelic muse” and asserts that many of the Gaelic poets have had a Leanhaun Shee, “for she gives inspiration to her slaves.”
  5. The Far Gorta (man of hunger): An emaciated fairy who “goes through the land in famine time, begging and bring good luck to the giver.”
  6. The Banshee (in Irish, Bean-sidhe, i.e. fairy woman): In addition to the Leprechaun, the Banshee is perhaps the other Irish fairy who will be familiar to American audiences. Yeats notes that like the Far Gorta (and unlike the other solitary fairies), the Banshee possesses a “generally good disposition.”  He suggests that perhaps she isn’t really a solitary fairy after all, “but a sociable fairy grown solitary through much sorrow.” The Banshee wails over the impending the death of “a member of some old Irish family.”  Yeats observes, “Sometimes she is an enemy of the house and screams with triumph, but more often a friend.”  In Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, Yeats remarks that the “keen [caoine], the funeral cry of the peasantry, is said to be an imitation of her cry.” If more than one Banshee arrives to wail, it is a sign the dying person “must have been very holy or very brave.”

Yeats closes his taxonomy by alluding to other varieties of fairies “of which too little is known to give them each a separate mention.” Among these are the Bo men fairies of County Down, whom Yeats suggests are “Scotch fairies imported by Scotch settlers.”  This last detail offers us some hope of encountering Irish fairies on American shores, for its seems that, like us, fairy folk can travel.

To read Yeats’s “Classification of Irish Fairies” in full click here to access the appendix in PDF form or visit Spencer Research Library’s reading room to explore further writings on the topic by Yeats, Lady Wilde, Thomas Crocker, Douglas Hyde, and others in Spencer’s Irish Collections.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Throwback Thursday: Snyder Book Collecting Contest Edition

February 8th, 2018

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Bibliophiles rejoice! It’s that time of year when KU students have the opportunity to translate their passion for collecting books into cold hard cash by entering the Snyder Book Collecting Contest.

Photograph of Elizabeth Snyder and Betty Ann Bush examining Bush's book collection at the Snyder Book Collecting Contest, 1969

Elizabeth M. Snyder (left) and Betty Ann Bush (right)
examining Bush’s winning collection, 1969.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 32/40 1969 Negatives:
University of Kansas Libraries: Book Contests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

This week’s photo looks back to the 1969 competition and features Betty Ann Bush (right) with her winning collection, “Writings from the Black Revolution.” Also pictured is Elizabeth M. Snyder, who founded in the contest in 1957 to recognize and cultivate student interest in books and book collecting. At the time of the 1969 contest, first place garnered $100.

Earn your place in KU history by entering your collection in this year’s competition! Winners of the 2018 (62nd Annual) Snyder Book Collecting Contest will be selected in both graduate and undergraduate divisions, with the following awards:

First Prize: $600
Second Prize: $400
Honorable Mention: $100

Each winner will also receive a gift card in the following amounts from contest co-sponsor Jayhawk Ink, a division of KU Bookstore:

First Prize: $100
Second Prize: $50
Honorable Mention: $25

The first place winners in each division are eligible for the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, which awards a top prize of $2,500.

Start scanning your shelves since entries to the Snyder Book Collecting Contest are due by 11:59pm on Sunday, February 25, 2018.

To learn more about the contest and how to enter, please visit the contest page on the KU Libraries website. There you will find the contest rules, a handy FAQ, as well as selected essays, bibliographies, and a sample collection to help you on your way.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

New Finding Aids Available, Part III

December 12th, 2017

Is the cold weather encouraging you to stay indoors? Why not dive into a new research project using one of the recently processed collections at Spencer Research Library? Today we share with you a list of finding aids published between May 2017 and November 2017.  Finding aids are inventories or guide documents that assist researchers in navigating collections of manuscripts, organizational records, personal papers, photographs, and audio visual materials. You can learn more about finding aids in an earlier Finding Aids 101 post, and you can search the library’s finding aids here. As you begin your research, remember that Spencer Library will be closed for the holidays from December 23-January 1. However, if your New Year’s resolution is to conduct more archival research, you’re in luck since Spencer Library re-opens on January 2nd!

Enjoy a few images from three of these recently processed collections, and then scroll down for the full list of new finding aids.

Photograph of an opening showing an autograph and photo of Count Basie in vol. 1 of the Chesterman C. Linley jazz scrapbooks

Chesterman C. Linley with Count Basie at the at the Panhandle Christmas Party, with Count Basie’s signature below (left) and Bobby Brookmeyer, Clark Terry, Carmell Jones (top right) and Marilyn Maye (bottom right) in a jazz scrapbook from the Chesterman C. Linley Scrapbooks. Call #: RH MS EK5, Vol. 1. Click image to enlarge.

Velum binding with tawed skin ties for a volume containing two manuscripts by Mlle de Lubert Beginning of "Les evenements comiques conte", one of two literary manuscripts by Mlle de Lubert bound together in a volume.

Volume containing two literary manuscripts by Mademoiselle de Lubert, “Les événements comiques conte” (above) and “Chélidonide histoire grecque,” approximately 1740-1760. Call #: MS B182. Click images to enlarge.

Image of a color postcards of Frazier Hall (1909) and a general view of campus (1910), University of Kansas

Postcards of Frazier (i.e. Fraser) Hall (1909) and a general view of campus (1910), University of Kansas, from the Miller Family Postcard Collection. Call #: PP 581. Click Image to enlarge.

New Finding aids

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian
and
Marcella Huggard
Head of Manuscripts Processing

Collection Snapshot: Late for Dinner?

November 29th, 2017

It’s that time of year when dinner parties and invitations of all sorts abound, so we thought it might be interesting to turn to a nineteenth-century etiquette book to explore its advice on the age-old question of when to arrive for dinner.

Stamped cloth binding of Etiquette for Gentlemen (1841 edition)  Title page of Etiquette for Gentlemen

Stamped cloth binding and title page of  and title page of Etiquette for Gentlemen: With Hints on the Art of Conversation. London: Tilt and Bogue, 1841. Call #: A445. Click images to enlarge.

Of the numerous etiquette books in Spencer Research Library’s collections, Etiquette for Gentlemen: With Hints on the Art of Conversation offers particularly unyielding guidance.  Its anonymous author advises:

If you accept [a dinner invitation], you arrive at the house rigourously at the hour specified. It is equally inconvenient to be too late and to be too early.  If you fall into the latter error, you find every thing in disorder; the master of the house is in his dressing-room; the lady is still in the pantry; the fire not yet lighted in the parlour.  If by accident or thoughtlessness you arrive too soon, you may pretend that you called to inquire the exact hour at which they dine, having mislaid the note, and then retire to walk for an appetite. If you are too late, the evil is still greater, and indeed almost without remedy.  Your delay spoils the dinner and destroys the appetite and temper of the guests; and you yourself are so much embarrassed at the inconvenience you have occasioned, that you commit a thousand errors at table.  If you do not reach the house until dinner is served, you had better retire to a restaurateur’s, and thence send an apology, and not interrupt the harmony of the courses by awkward excuses and cold acceptances.

Passage on arriving at the appointed time for dinner in Etiquette for Gentlemen

Arrival etiquette in Etiquette for Gentlemen: With Hints on the Art of Conversation. London: Tilt and Bogue, 1841. Call #: A445. Click image to enlarge.

Etiquette for Gentlemen appears to have been first published in 1838, and the library holds the 1841 edition. The book’s advice, however, is hardly new as its preface confesses:  “It is […] scarcely possible that anything original should be found in a brochure like the present: almost all that it contains must have fallen under the notice of every gentleman who has been in the habit of frequenting good society.”  As with many etiquette books, the volume’s directives will strike modern readers as by turns sensible, humorous, odd, ill-conceived, and offensive. The volume itself is small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand (and certainly one’s pocket) for ready consultation whenever the need might arise. Although, isn’t it perhaps impolite to pause a social interaction in order to consult one’s etiquette book?!

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

How *Do* You Spell That?: Adventures in Spelling Reform

October 18th, 2017

The relationship between the pronunciation of English and its system of spelling (or orthography) is inconsistent at best. Cough and through or great and meat appear as though they should rhyme, but (alas!) do not. Other words are spelled identically, but are pronounced differently according to their meaning, for example, “bow and arrow” vs. “Congratulations! Take a bow.

Within the American context, Noah Webster is perhaps the figure best known for tackling spelling reform. At the end of his Dissertations on the English Language (1789), he includes an essay addressing this topic. In it, he appeals to national pride (in both the positive and negative senses of that phrase) and asks his readers a rather leading question:

…ought the Americans to retain these faults [in English spelling] which produce innumerable inconveniencies in the acquisition and use of the language, or ought they at once to reform these abuses, and introduce order and regularity into the orthography of the AMERICAN TONGUE?

The revolutionary sentiment of America’s recent War of Independence, it seems, animated Webster’s thinking on orthography as well.

Image of the first page of Noah Webster's "Appendix: An Essay on the Necessity, Advantages, and Praticability of Reforming the Mode of Spelling, and of Rendering the Orthography of Words Correspondent to the Pronunciation"

Laying out a revolution in an appendix: Noah Webster’s essay on spelling reform in his Dissertations on the English Language: with Notes, Historical and Critical, to Which Is Added, by Way of Appendix, an Essay on a Reformed Mode of Spelling, with Dr. Franklin’s Arguments on That Subject. Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Company, 1789. Call #: C1514. Click image to enlarge.

Webster’s  essay continues by proposing a series of relatively radical alterations. He advocates for 1) the omission of all superfluous or silent letters (changing bread to bred, give to giv, built to bilt, and so on),  2) the replacement of characters with vague or indeterminate sounds by characters with more clearly-defined ones (changing laugh to laf and key to kee), and 3) making a “trifling” alteration to a character in order to help differentiate between sounds (such as adding a “small stroke” across “th” to distinguish between the sounds in “thorn” and “mother”).

Image of a passage outlining Webster's second proposed reform to orthography

Machine vs. Masheen: a passage outlining the second of Noah Webster’s three proposed reforms to American orthography from page 395 of his Dissertations on the English Language […]. Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Company, 1789. Call #: C1514

Although Webster did not ultimately adopt all of these proposals in his subsequent (and immensely popular) grammars and dictionaries, he did aid in establishing several changes that are still with us today. Americans now write of the defense of honor, but for the British, or even our Canadian neighbors (to them, neighbours!), it remains the defence of honour.  This national differentiation through orthography was something that Webster considered to be a point in favor of his proposed changes. Webster also argued that his reforms would “facilitate the learning of the language” for both children and non-native speakers alike. They would make it, he asserted in a memorable phrase, “as difficult to spell wrong, as it is now to spell right” (emphasis Webster’s).

Leap ahead 60 years and the Fonetic Advocat  (Phonetic Advocate) adopts an even more radical approach to spelling reform than that of Noah Webster. Published in “Sinsinati” (Cincinnati) in the mid-nineteenth century, the periodical announces in the phonetic spelling of its banner that it is “devoted to education by means of the spelling reform to literature, science and art.”

First page of the Fonetic Advocat for 15 May 1850, with its text in the English Phonotypic Alphabet.

Sound it out?  The front page of the Fonetic Advocat. Vol. II, No. 20 (May 15, 1850). Call #: MS P286C:1.
Click image to enlarge.

Its publisher, E. Longley, was the director of the American Phonetic Society. Longley championed the use of the English Phonotypic Alphabet, which had recently been developed in England by Isaac Pitman and Alexander John Ellis.  This phonetic alphabet predates and differs from the International Phonetic Alphabet now used by linguists to specify the sounds of spoken language.  Try your hand at reading Longley’s front-page proclamation. If you get stuck, click here to consult the phonetic alphabet chart included on the periodical’s next page.

The issue of the Fonetic Advocat shown above bears an interesting provenance. It once passed through the hands of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, yet another figure interested in spelling reform. Shaw was so concerned with the subject that he left a bequest to explore the establishment of an alternate phonetic alphabet. Interestingly, Shaw’s manuscript notation at the bottom the front page does not address the issue of phonetic spelling itself, but rather the typeface used for it. He writes, “This type, if ‘justified’ by [William] Morris, and the mutton quads [large spacing type] between the sentences taken out, would make a page of medieval beauty, far superior to any modern psalter.”

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian
(Adapted from the Summer 2017 exhibition Histories of the English Language).