Saturday, February 28, 2004

These are the Yeats I know, I know... These are the Yeats I know

Of course, you've heard of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, but what about the rest of his artist family?

I went to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College yesterday as all good tourists named Kelly should. The book is on display in the Old Library, which was built in 1732.

Aside from the Book of Kells, the Old Library is home to The Long Room (not that long, really, just 65 metres). Right now the Long Room is playing host to a fascinating, if undercurated, exhibit called "Irish Genius: The Yeats Family & the Cuala Press."

Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, W.B.'s sisters Elizabeth Corbett Yeats and Lily Yeats, along with Evelyn Gleeson, the daughter of an Irish doctor, established the Cuala Press (originally the Dun Emer Press) in 1902 [Bartleby entry]. Cuala was the most important literary publishing house in Dublin in the first half of the twentieth century, publishing Yeats, Joyce, Gogarty, Synge and many others.

Elizabeth Corbett, originally an art teacher, was in charge of the printing, while her sister Lily did the embroidery and Evelyn did the weaving for the press. Brother John (Jack) Yeats, a painter of some repute, did much of the illustration. Jack's wife Mary Cotterham-Yeats, who he met at Art College, made the designed for Lily's embroidery. William Butler was on the masthead as literary advisor. Cuala also sometimes employed "lithographer, engraver, master printer and typographic designer" Sir Emery Walker.

Cuala certainly succeeded in its objective "to find work for Irish Hands in the making of beautiful things." I leaned heavily on the glass cases, wishing to reach in and touch some of the more gorgeous items on display.

I particularly love the long and windy colophons -- scribal notes -- that E.C. put in red ink at the end of all the books Cuala published. An example:
Here ends 'Certain Noble Plays of Japan:' From the Manuscripts of Ernest Fenollosa, chosen and finished by Ezra Pound. Printed and Published by Elizabeth Corbett Years at the Cuala Press, Churchtown, Dundrum, in the county of Dublin, Ireland. Finished on the Twentieth Day of July, In the eyar of the Sinn Fein rising, Nineteen Hundred and Sixteen.
Another one, at the end of W.B. Yeats' "In the Seven Woods," notes that the book was published in "The Year of the Big Wind, Nineteen Hundred and Three." (Joyce parodied Cuala's wordy colophons in the first chapter of Ulysses.)

(For those interested in typography, Cuala used Caslon type, a classic 18th Century typeface.)

The Book of Kells was wonderful too, needless to say. I did, however, end up spending more time perusing the exhibit about the Cuala Press. The two together were a one-two Irish bookmaking knockout.

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