Private Press Books at St John’s College

The Cuala Press

Another non-English private press represented at St John’s College is the Irish Cuala Press, which was the only private press entirely run by women – or at least early private press. Trained at the Woman’s Printing Society in London, Elizabeth Yeats, sister of William Butler Yeats, opened the press in 1908 together with her sister Susan and their friend Evelyn Gleeson. They employed local girls and even trained some of them as printers. The Cuala Press was associated with the Irish Arts & Crafts movement but also played an important role in the Celtic Revival. Irish materials were used as a matter of principle and the books published were the works of contemporary Celtic Revival writers. Having said that, of the 70 editions printed, 48 were works of William Butler Yeats.

St John’s College holds six Cuala Press volumes, all containing works by William Butler Yeats or his father, the artist, John Butler Yeats. The books were donated to St John’s by the lawyer and Yeats scholar Joseph Hassett in 2014. Two volumes will be presented here.

St John’s earliest Cuala Press volume is William Butler Yeats’s Reveries over Childhood and Youth published in 2 volumes in 1915. The first volume contains the text. Its title page has a woodcut designed by Yeats’s friend, the artist and poet, Thomas Sturge Moore. It appears that William himself once owned our copy, as it comes with his autograph inscription and the date February 15, 1920 on the title-page.

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W.B. Yeats, Reveries over Childhood and Youth (Churchtown, Dundrum: The Cuala Press, 1915) Shelfmark: Hassett 3&4

The second volume consists of four loose leaves: a coloured reproduction of Memory Harbour with a brief description of the painting, and reproductions of a drawing of Mrs Yeats by her husband and that of a watercolour self-portrait of John B. Yeats himself.

St John’s copy of the Further Letters of John Butler Yeats, printed in 1920, includes a longer autograph note of William remembering his father.

‘My father wrote to me his thoughts of the moment’s interest, asking his questions of mine or comments on my past letters. Sometimes he would not write for some weeks and then he would perhaps write several letters in one day. His interest never grew weary and his last words were “Remember you have promised me a sitting in the morning.” He died in his sleep. W.B. Yeats Feb 24 1922.’

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Further Letters of John Butler Yeats: Selected by Lennox Robinson (Churchtown, Dundrum: The Cuala Press, 1920) Shelfmark: Hassett 2

For some reason, the pages of this volume have never been opened. Unfortunately, we do not know this volumes provenance history between William’s ownership and its donation to the College.

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