Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Yeats at KC Irish Fest

September 8th, 2015

The Irish collections from Special Collections at Spencer Library were represented at the Kansas City Irish Fest this past Labor Day weekend. We were asked by Irish Fest organizers to exhibit some items from our W. B. Yeats Collection to celebrate the sesquicentennial of his birth. Featured here are a few of the items selected by Special Collections Librarian Elspeth Healey.


Whitney Baker and Elspeth Healey at KC Irish Fest


Letter from W. B. Yeats to A. H. Bullen. March 28, [1909].

In this letter, we see Yeats’s generosity to other writers as he encourages his publisher, A. H. Bullen, to read the manuscript of a young poet that he had met in London. “There may be some fire in the flax,” he comments to Bullen. Though the letter’s dateline does not include a year, Yeats’s opening reference to the death of Irish writer J. M. Synge fixes the date as 1909. Just two years earlier, Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World had sparked audience protests when it was first performed at the Abbey Theatre. Some nationalist viewers objected the play’s language and what they saw as its unflattering portrayal of Irish peasant society.


Letter from W. B. Yeats to A. H. Bullen. March 28, [1909]. Special Collections, call number MS 25 Wa 2.57. Click image to enlarge.


Yeats, W. B. “Tom O’ Roughley,” typescript with manuscript emendations. ca. 1918.

This typescript copy of “Tom O’Roughley” is signed and revised in manuscript by Yeats, with additional markings in pencil by the printer. It appeared in Nine Poems (1918), a collection printed privately by Yeats’s friend Clement Shorter. Shorter also printed for private circulation the first edition of Yeats’s poem “Easter 1916.” The “Tom O’Roughley” of this poem shares much with the figure of the “fool” outlined by Yeats in Phase 28 of A Vision (1925, 1937). There Yeats writes, “his thoughts are an aimless reverie; his acts are aimless like his thoughts, and it is in his aimlessness that he finds joy.”


Yeats, W. B. “Tom O’ Roughley,” typescript with manuscript emendations. ca. 1918. Special Collections, call number MS 25 Wd.1.3 Tom O’Roughley. Click image to enlarge.


A Broadside. Dundrum, Ireland: E.C. Yeats, The Cuala Press. No. 9, Second Year (February 1910)

W. B. Yeats’s sisters Susan (Lily) and Elizabeth (Lolly) founded Cuala Industries in 1908, following an earlier printing and craft venture, Dun Emer Industries. Lily produced embroidery, and Lolly oversaw the Cuala Press, which brought out titles by primarily Irish writers, including many by W. B. Yeats himself. Below is an issue of A Broadside, a series that featured both contemporary and traditional poems and ballads. Each issue was printed in folio format—a single sheet folded once—and was illustrated with hand-colored woodcuts by Yeats’s brother, the artist Jack B. Yeats, who also edited the first series (1908-1915).

YeatsY339_No9Year2 _Page_1

A Broadside. Dundrum, Ireland: E.C. Yeats, The Cuala Press. No. 9, Second Year (February 1910). Special Collections, call number Yeats Y339, No. 9, Year 2. Click image to enlarge.


Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Here’s my book. It’s sort of terrible!

October 13th, 2014

It takes at least a little bit of ego to write and publish a book.  Publication is, after all, a means of saying, “Attention, world; I have something to share!”  But it is not unusual, especially with the passage of time, to see a writer exhibit (or at least feign) a little shame at the product of his or her own mind.  For today’s post, we share three self-deprecating presentation inscriptions by three different writers: William Butler Yeats, Max Douglas, and William Rose Benét.  Recorded on the pages of copies of their works held at the Spencer Research Library, these inscriptions, with their varying degrees of chagrin, offer a change of pace from the more pedestrian, “with compliments of the author.”

1. Ignorant Boy: William Butler Yeats

The poet William Butler Yeats, later in life, famously revised the poems of his youth, so it’s probably safe to take him at his word when, in inscribing this copy of The Works of William Blake (1893),  he expresses a wish to “correct every page.”  Spencer’s copy comes from the library of P. S. O’Hegarty, an Irish nationalist and civil servant, whose daughter, Gráinne, was married to Yeats’s son, Michael.  As O’Hegarty’s penciled-in note indicates, the “Dear P. I. A. L.”  to whom Yeats inscribes the volume  is none other than Maud Gonne, the actress and activist for Irish independence who captivated Yeats for decades. (Click on the image below for a full page view of the inscription, including O’Hegarty’s note). Yeats was in his late twenties when he co-edited with the poet and illustrator Edwin John Ellis this three volume collection of Blake’s works.  His inscription to Gonne, however, seems to have been added much later.   Following some initial remarks about the scarcity of the edition and the circumstances under which it was published, Yeats warns Gonne,

Keep the book out of my sight. Ellis was a wild man & I a most ignorant boy & I long to correct every page. We did however persuade people that Blake knew what he was talking about if we did not. Something we did know however, though, I shall die without discovering why “The number of Outhoon is 2002”.

W. B. Yeats inscription to P. I. A. L. (Maud Gonne) in The Works of William Blake (1893)

Title page and frontispiece of The Works of William Blake, edited by Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats

Blame it on youth: W. B. Yeats’s inscription to Maud Gonne (P. I. A. L.) in the first volume of Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats’s edition of The Works of William Blake; Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical. 3. Vols [Large paper edition]. London: B. Quaritch, 1893. Call #: Yeats Y149. Click images to enlarge.

One wonders if Yeats knew that the errors he wished to correct had spilled over into his inscription:  he tells Gonne that 50 copies of the larger paper edition were produced, but in actuality it was 150.  At least this error works in his favor: the rarer the book, the truer the love?

2. The Standards of Youth:  Max Douglas

During his short life, the promising young, Lawrence poet Max Douglas published only one chapbook, Bottom Land: Poems (1968). However, John Martin, editor and publisher of the Black Sparrow Press, had been contemplating publishing a collection by Douglas when the poet died unexpectedly at the age of twenty-one. This presentation copy addressed to Martin, resides alongside the books of Max Douglas’s library, which were donated to the Spencer Research Library by the poet’s father in 1982. In his typed presentation note, Douglas writes,

For John Martin: in response to his interest & kind encouragement, & wth the understanding that this is a book i hv now chosen all but to disown.

Image of typed inscription to John Martin, with Max Douglas's signature, dated '69

Max Douglas’s typed inscription and signature in his chapbook, Bottom Land: Poems. [Saint Joseph, Mo.: St. Joe Press, c1968]. Call #: Douglas C14. Click image to enlarge.

One hopes that Douglas’s dismissal of his Bottom Land was simply the impatience of a poet whose attention was trained on the future.  Though a Black Sparrow Press edition of Douglas’s work never materialized, his later poems did see publication in book form.  Edited by Christopher Wienert and Andrea Wyatt, Douglas’s Collected Poems appeared posthumously in 1978.

3. Dueling Self-Deprecations: William Rose Benét and George Hartmann

There are, of course, many reasons why one might belittle his or her own book.  As the case of the critic and poet William Rose Benét (1886-1950) shows, a self-deprecating note might serve to elevate the work of another.  In inscribing a copy of his collection of essays Wild Goslings (1927) for the designer of the volume’s dust jacket, Benét writes:

To George Hartmann who has contributed the only really interesting and entertaining integer to this book, and I really can’t tell you how profoundly I mean that. To George Hartmann, hell, he’s a real artist! William Rose Benét, January 1927.

Hartmann, clearly not one to take a compliment lying down, responds with a self-effacing quip of his own.  Writing on the back of the dust jacket that is tipped-in to Spencer’s copy, he offers a brief explanatory rejoinder: “Bill [i.e. William Rose Benét]  means this jacket – it’s a lie! GH.”

Dust jacket designed by George Hartmann for Benet's Wild Goslings (1927) Inscriptions by Hartmann (left) and Benet (right)  in William Rose Benet's Wild Goslings (1927)

 Tipped in dust jacket (left) and Benét and Hartmann’s inscriptions (right) in Spencer’s copy of William Rose Benét’s Wild Goslings: A Selection of Fugitive Pieces. New York: George H. Doran, [1927]. Call Number: B11618. Click images to enlarge.

Fear not, though, some writers manage to remain untouched by even the pretense of modesty, as critic and editor H. L. Mencken demonstrates.  His inscription in one of Spencer’s copies of his In Defense of Women pithily proclaims: “Dear George: Read this and you will learn. HLM.”

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian




First Impressions

November 9th, 2013

Setting type may not be as easy as it looks, but it is good fun! Throughout October intrepid students in the History of the Book (English 520 / History 500) made several trips to the press room in Spencer’s basement to execute a printing project using the library’s historic presses. Reading about printing during the hand press era offers some insight, but it is easy for the process to remain shrouded in mystery until you try it out yourself. As you stand in front of a case of type, the logistical considerations involved in producing a book–such as format, imposition, line length, and style and size of type–quickly take on a new reality.

Students hand-inking the type using a brayer. Photograph of student lowering the frisket, October 2013

Photograph of printing on a hand press, Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Image of the History of the Book class printing in the Spencer Research Library's basement, October 2013.

Students from The History of the Book  (ENGL 520 / HIST 500) operate the press with
the assistance of printer Tim O’Brien (in the blue apron and striped shirt).

Since Spencer houses wonderful Irish Collections, we elected to print W. B. Yeats’s poem “The Wild Swans at Coole,” which has an appropriately autumnal theme. Each student set two lines of the poem, picking type, letter by letter, from the case and depositing it in a composing stick held in the opposite hand. (If you are right-handed, you would hold the composing stick in your left hand and pick with the right.) The set lines were then transferred to a tray called a “galley” for assembly as a page.  Wooden furniture and metal quoins were used to lock the composed pages into a metal chase, which was then positioned in the press.

As an early proof of the poem quickly revealed, setting type is a skill that requires practice and concentration.  Some speculate that the caution to “mind one’s p’s and q’s” originates in printing, since these two pieces of type are easily confused.  In examining our proof, it seems it was our b’s and d’s that needed minding.  Though excessive errors could lead to docked wages in an eighteenth-century print shop, for us, making (and correcting) mistakes was an instructive part of the process.

Image of an initial proof of the poem lying on a case of type.

“If at first you don’t succeed…”:  proofing and correcting our mistakes.

The project was printed in “folio” format, each printed sheet folded once to create two leaves (or four pages). First, the class printed the “outer forme” (containing the title page and the colophon). Then, after some drying time, we “perfected” the sheets by printing the “inner forme” (containing the poem’s text) on the verso.

Title page and colophon locked in the chase

Outer Forme: the title page and colophon locked in the chase.  Wooden “furniture” and
metal “quoins” provide the pressure needed to keep everything wedged tightly in place.

In the early days, printing usually involved two pressmen–one to insert the paper and work the press, and the second to ink the type. Under the guidance of printer Tim O’Brien, the students each took a turn at both roles.  As the class discovered, there is definitely a genuine satisfaction that comes from operating a hand press.  Of course, the best part is that it produces such wonderfully tangible mementos!

Image of the completed leaflet (copies folded and unfolded): The Wild Swans at Coole Image of the printed text of the poem "The Image of the printed text of Yeats's poem, "The Wild Swans at Coole."

Ta-dah! The finished product. To read the full text of “The Wild Swans at Coole” click the image on the right to enlarge.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Representing the Countess: Constance Markievicz in the Poetry of Eva Gore-Booth & W. B. Yeats

April 25th, 2013

This week’s post comes from undergraduate public services student Meaghan Moody, who during this last week of National Poetry Month examines poetic depictions of Irish nationalist Countess Constance Markievicz.

On Monday, April 24th, 1916, Irish nationalists seized strategic infrastructure in Dublin to expel the British and establish an independent Irish Republic. Among these insurgents was Constance Markievicz (1868-1927), who served as second in command under Michael Mallin of the Citizen Army force in St. Stephen’s Green.  Markievicz was sentenced to death for her involvement in what became known as the “Easter Rising,” but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison based solely upon her sex. Markievicz is remembered and celebrated for her fearlessness, her intrepid nature, and her radical military dress. In the image below, you can see her in her full military regalia.

Image of Constance Markievicz excized from the Tatler, Nov. 28, 1917.

“A Rebel Leader” (Constance Markievicz) [image excised from the Tatler, Nov. 28, 1917]. Call Number: O’Hegarty Q38.

While conducting research for my English 530 course, Irish Renaissance Literature, I came across two strikingly similar depictions of the Countess by two Irish writers with diverging political beliefs. W.B. Yeats, a cultural nationalist, and Eva Gore-Booth, a pacifist suffragist and Constance’s sister, both fundamentally condemned the Rising and its resulting violence. They both also depict Markievicz and her subsequent imprisonment in their poetry.

W.B. Yeats knew Markievicz in her youth. He preferred his memory of her innocent beauty and rejected her involvement in politics.

Cover of  Yeat's Michael Robartes and the Dancer  Image of Yeats's poem "On A Political Prisoner"

Cover and “On A Political Prisoner” from W. B. Yeats’s Michael Robartes and the Dancer. Churchtown, Dundrum: The Cuala Press, 1920. Call Number: Yeats Y45. Click images to enlarge.

Eva Gore-Booth, too, disapproved of her sister’s involvement, but, unlike Yeats, depicted Constance as an ethereal, spiritual being, as seen in this poem that she sent the imprisoned Constance for Christmas.

Image of Cover of Eva f Gore-Booth's Broken Glory  Image of Eva Gore-Booth's poem "To Constance--In Prison"

Cover and “To Constance–In Prison” from Eva Gore-Booth’s Broken Glory. Dublin; London: Maunsel, 1918. Call Number: B11104. Click images to enlarge.

In her prison letters, Markievicz reflected on herself as a poetical inspiration, remarking, “I love being in poetry and feel so important!”

Though she recognized her sister’s aversion to violence, Markievicz took pride in the role she played in the Easter Rising and felt a sense of honor in her subsequent incarceration. She wrote to Eva, “Don’t worry about me. I am quite happy. It is in nobody’s power to make me unhappy. I am not afraid, either of the future or of myself.”

Meaghan Moody
Public Services Student Assistant

Source consulted: Weihman, Lisa. “Doing My Bit for Ireland: Transgressing Gender in the Easter Rising.”  Éire-Ireland 39.3&4 (2004) 228-249.