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William Butler Yeats Collection

Collection Number
SC 294

Scope Note

The William Butler Yeats Microfilmed Manuscripts Collection, originally reproduced on thirty-four (34) reels of 16mm microfilm, includes manuscripts, correspondence, documents, printed materials, memorabilia, music, drawings, sketches, still pictures and portraits of William Butler Yeats, his family, and his friends. Some of these materials are copies of copies. The collection spans the years 1775 to 1973. The bulk of the collection dates from 1880 to 1939.

Microfilmed in Ireland in 1975 and 1976, the collection includes images of papers located at that time in the family home, Cliff House, Dalkey, Ireland, and Yeats papers in the National Library of Ireland, Dublin.

Reformatting the microfilm onto archival paper in 1986 and processing the paper copy according to modern archival standards has brought both physical and intellectual control to the collection. Not until the completion of this project could the scope and contents be fully assessed.

Of particular interest to scholars are the unpublished works of William Butler Yeats, his many drafts and revisions of both published and unpublished works, and the correspondence files. The collection is arranged in three interrelated subgroups: I. Papers of William Butler Yeats; II. Papers of Yeats Family Members; and III. Papers of Friends and Associates of William Butler Yeats.

The largest segment (approximately two-thirds) of the total collection consists of correspondence, often including drafts of works and accentuated with sketches. These published and unpublished letters present unusual insights into the correspondents' personal views of history, philosophy and society. An extensive index of correspondents is included with this guide.

Among the more than 900 correspondents are: Dendy and Paterson, Annie Horniman, Lady Gregory, Macmillan & Co., Ezra Pound, John T. Quinn, Lennox Robinson, Margot Ruddock, George W. Russell, Olivia Shakespear, George B. Shaw, A.P. Watt & Sons, Whitney & Moore (Keller), Sidney W. Wright, Mrs. William Butler Yeats (Bertha Georgie Hyde-Lees), John Butler Yeats, Susan Mary (Lily) Yeats, Elizabeth Corbet (Lollie) Yeats, and Matthew Yeats.

The second largest segment of the collection consists of the works of William Butler Yeats. In addition to individual manuscripts, one finds diaries and journals containing drafts and revisions of his works. Often adding notes at various times, WBY, as well as his father, would turn notebooks around and write from back to front. This has created additional complications in identifying the original order of a manuscript book.

Records of Yeats' many activities can be found in materials relating to the Golden Dawn, Abbey Theatre and Irish Senate.

Of particular note are the voluminous materials relating to the occult, automatic writing, astrology, and sleeps. As precursors to A Vision (1925) and (1937), they form a valuable resource for future study.

Correspondence forms the bulk of the family papers. Of special interest are the family histories and memorabilia found in Lily's scrapbooks, documents and correspondence relating to the Thomastown lands, sketches by John Butler Yeats and his son, Jack, as well as the published and many unpublished works of John Butler Yeats.

The rituals and documents relating to the Golden Dawn form the bulk of the papers relating to Yeats' friends and associates. This third subgroup includes some of the works written by WBY's friends, some drafts or page proofs for publication by the Cuala Press, and some sent perhaps for valued criticism. Correspondence filed in this subgroup is to and from persons outside the family.

The collection is multi-lingual. Although primarily English, one finds manuscripts in French, German, Latin, Irish, Welsh, Danish, Greek, Sanskrit, hieroglyphics, and Semitic languages, including Ethiopic writing and Hebrew.

Many notes left by scholars working with the Yeats manuscripts in the family home were microfilmed. These have been retained with their related papers and are referred to as Collection Notes. Notes having no apparent relationship to surrounding documents are retained in a separate file for future use by scholars. Notes by Curtis B. Bradford, David R. Clark, Richard Ellmann, Richard J. Finneran, William H. O'Donnell, William M. Murphy, and M.J. Sidnell, and the R. O. Dougan catalogue listings,(1) provide documentation for many manuscripts. Descriptive notes from NLI, as well as their corresponding manuscript collection numbers, have been retained.

Trying to assess the total number of leaves of a document on the microfilm has been difficult. To be as consistent as possible, the total number of pages recorded for any given document reflects the total number of frames used to capture it on microfilm. Consequently, there will be inconsistencies between the microfilmed manuscript and the original in documenting total pages, i.e., an ALS originally written on the verso and recto of two leaves will be documented as an ALS, 4pp. Such a letter, with cross-hatching on one page, will appear as follows: ALS, 4pp.(1X).

While not exhaustive, the collection is estimated to contain approximately ninety percent of all extant manuscripts of William Butler Yeats. Since 1976, additional papers documented on the microfilm have been deposited with the National Library of Ireland and similar institutions. Some papers remain with Senator Yeats and his family. Some have been sold to private collectors, and sadly, some are lost. This collection provides a means for scholars to pursue their research using a major corpus of Yeats manuscripts unavailable elsewhere to the public.

1. Trinity College (Dublin). Library. W. B. Yeats manuscripts and printed books exhibited in the Library of Trinity College. Comp. by R.O. Dougan. Dublin: Folcroft, 1956, 1970.

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