Yeats items from the John Stacpoole Irish collection

Yeats items from the John Stacpoole Irish collection. Yeats items from the John Stacpoole Irish collection

Auckland architect, architectural historian and author John Stacpoole has collected books pertaining to the history, geography, art and literature of Ireland for more than sixty years. Although John was born in New Zealand and has lived in Auckland all his life, he has always had an affinity with the Emerald Isle because of the Stacpoole family's Irish roots. In 2005 he donated his collection, comprising some 800 books, to the Library. His generosity is all the more remarkable in that he had already given the library a large collection of books relating to the English novelist Anthony Powell.

Ranging in time from the seventeenth century to the present day, the Irish volumes include rare first editions of such renowned authors as Edmund Burke, Maria Edgeworth, Somerville and Ross, John Millington Synge, Oliver St John Gogarty, James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Ireland's most famous poet, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), is well represented.

In his youth, Yeats initially intended to become a painter, like his father, John Butler Yeats, and his younger brother, Jack. By the late 1880s, however, he had dedicated himself wholly to literature. The Countess Kathleen, a play in verse, was one of the early works that helped to make his reputation. Based on an old Irish legend, and also inspired by Yeats's love for the actress and political activist Maud Gonne, it imagines Satan collecting souls in Ireland during a period of famine. The Countess sacrifices her own soul to save the rest of the population. The version shown here is the modest, but very rare and much sought-after, first edition of 1892.

Yeats was particular about the appearance of his books. He obviously approved of his friend Althea Gyles's cover design for his collected Poems (1899) because he retained it for the 1906 and 1909 ‘updatings’.

Stories of Red Hanrahan is a prose work, containing six tales about a fictional character loosely based on the eighteenth-century peasant poet Eoghan Ruadh O'Sullivan. It is shown here in the 1904 edition published by the Dun Emer Press, a small hand-printing company run by Yeats's sister Elizabeth (1868-1940, generally known by her nickname ‘Lolly’). With Yeats as general editor, the Dun Emer Press specialised in works of the Irish renaissance. ‘Lolly’ was part of William Morris's circle in the 1890s and learned to print from this master.

Yeats wrote several volumes of autobiography. The Trembling of the Veil, which covers the years 1887-1897, is generally considered his finest work in this genre. Signed by the author, the version shown here is No. 172 in the 1922 subscription edition of 1000 copies.

Related resources: Rare books collection

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