seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats, Educator & Publisher

Elizabeth Corbet Yeats, known as Lolly, Anglo-Irish educator and publisher, dies on January 16, 1940. She works as an art teacher and publishes several books on art and is a founder of Dun Emer Press which publishes several works by her brother, W. B. Yeats. She is the first commercial printer in Ireland to work exclusively with hand presses.

Yeats is born at 23 Fitzroy Road, London, on March 11, 1868. She is the daughter of the Irish artist John Butler Yeats and Susan Yeats (née Pollexfen). She is sister to W. B., Jack and Susan Mary “Lily” Yeats. From the age of four she lives in Merville, Sligo, at the home of her grandfather William Pollexfen. In November 1874 her family moves to 14 Edith Villas, West Kensington, London. Her governess is Martha Jowitt from 1876 until 1879 before the family moves to Bedford Park, Chiswick, in 1878.

Yeats returns to Howth, County Dublin, in 1881. She enrolls, with her sister Susan, in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1883 and takes classes at the Royal Dublin Society.

The family moves to Eardley Crescent, South Kensington, London, in 1886. While there Yeats starts to write fiction and publishes a homemade magazine, The Pleiades, with six friends, contributing “Story without a plot” to the Christmas 1888 issue. In addition, she publishes “Scamp and three friends” in The Vegetarian.

Yeats also attends the Chiswick School of Art with her sister Susan and brother Jack Butler Yeats, learning “Freehand drawing in all its branches, practical Geometry and perspective, pottery and tile painting, design for decorative purposes.”

In the 1890s Yeats lives at 3 Blenheim Road, Bedford Park, London, and trains as a kindergarten teacher at the Froebel College in Bedford, Bedfordshire. She undertakes her teaching practice at the Bedford Park High School. In 1892, when her training is completed, she teaches as a visiting art mistress at the Froebel Society, Chiswick High School and the Central Foundation School.

Yeats earns a good income from lecturing and publication of four popular painting manuals: Brushwork (1896), Brushwork Studies of Flowers, Fruits and Animals (1898), Brushwork Copy Book (1899), and Elementary Brushwork Studies (1900).

Yeats trains and works as an art teacher and is a member of William Morris‘s circle in London before her family returns to Dublin in 1900. She writes and creates the artwork for Elementary Brush-Work Studies (1900), an educational book that teaches young children the technique of painting flowers and plants using her simple method. At the suggestion of Emery Walker, who works with Morris on the Kelmscott Press, she studies printing with the Women’s Printing Society in London.

In Dublin, Yeats accepts the invitation to join Evelyn Gleeson to form the Dun Emer Guild along with Lily, who is an embroiderer. She manages the Dun Emer Press from 1902 with a printing press acquired from a provincial newspaper. The Press is located at Runnymede, the house of Evelyn Gleeson. This is set up with the intention of training young women in bookbinding and printing as well as embroidery and weaving. In 1903 she starts printing and Dun Emer’s first book is W. B. Yeats’s In the Seven Woods (1903).

Despite being a gifted printer, the costings exceed the quality of work that Yeats produces with the result that the press is often at risk financially. Eleven books, decorated with pastels by George William Russell, appear under the Dun Emer imprint produced from a first-floor room. She has several disagreements with her brother William over his directions as literary editor. She also dislikes Evelyn Gleeson. In October 1906 she travels to New York to advertise her products but publishes Dun Emer’s last book, William’s Discoveries (1907), in late November when she returns to Dublin.

After many years of strained relations between the Yeats sisters and Evelyn Gleeson, their business relationship is finally ended. Subsequently, in 1908, Lolly and her brother William start the Cuala Press, publishing over 70 books including 48 by the poet. Yeats manages the press while her sister Lily controls the embroidery section. Cuala continues to be a family strain. Their father, John Butler Yeats, has to castigate his son William for sending overtly critical letters to his sisters about the press. However, Cuala produces magnificent books: W. B. Yeats’ The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910) and a series of Broadsides (published 1908–15, with illustrations from Jack Yeats).

Yeats works with Cuala Press until just before her death in Dublin on January 16, 1940, after a diagnosis of high blood pressure and heart trouble.

(Pictured: “Elizabeth Corbet Yeats” by Jack Butler Yeats, oil on canvas, circa 1899, National Gallery of Ireland)


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Founding of the Irish Literary Society

The Irish Literary Society is formally founded at the Caledonian Hotel, The Strand, London on May 12, 1892, with Sir Charles Gavan Duffy as President and Evelyn Gleeson as its first secretary. Among its founders are William Butler Yeats, T. W. Rolleston, Francis Fahy and Douglas Hyde as well as other leaders of the Irish literary revival. The Society succeeds the Southwark Irish Literary Club.

Stopford Brooke gives the inaugural lecture to the Society on “The Need and Use of Getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue.” The lecture is published by Bloomsbury House on March 11, 1893, its delivery delayed to allow for the start of the National Literary Society in Ireland. Although the business of the ILS has always been conducted in English, the Society is influential in nurturing the revival of the Irish language by programming language classes even before the Gaelic League was formed in 1893. It also sponsored the Petrie Collection of Irish Music and twelve-volume Irish library of history and literature published between 1893 and 1904.

A Book of Irish Verse, designed to publicise the new societies, is published in 1895, edited by Yeats and dedicated “To the Members of the National Literary Society of Dublin and the Irish Literary Society of London.” It features poetry by Rolleston, Hyde, Katharine Tynan, Lionel Johnson, George William Russell (Æ) and several others, with notes and an introduction by Yeats. In addition, the Society brings Irish actors to London in 1903 and 1904 to present plays by Lady Gregory, Yeats and others.

By 1910 the Society has grown to comprise nearly 400 members and helps to bring into existence the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). The Society develops a proposal for a New Irish Library, a series of books to honor Irish culture, with Rolleston and Douglas Hyde as editors.

Its objects are ‘to afford a centre of social and literary intercourse for persons of Irish nationality, and to promote the study of the Irish language, Irish history, literature, music, and art.’ Honorary membership is originally available for those of other nationalities, today full membership is available to all.

Arthur Conan Doyle, of Irish descent, and with a keen interest in Ireland, chaired the Irish Literary Society’s dinner on February 13, 1897. He spoke on ‘The Irish Brigade.’

(From: The website of the Irish Literary Society, Cumman Éireannach na liteardhachta, irishlitsoc.org)