A.L. Burt’s 1898 edition of Irish Fairy and Folk Tales 2017-11-02T19:57:06+00:00

A.L.Burt’s 1898 Edition of Irish Fairy and Folk Tales
‘Edited by W.B.Yeats’

 Colin Smythe

Published in Warwick Gould & Edna Longley (editors), Yeats Annual 12, (London: Macmillan), 1996, pp.  248-52, with subsequent corrections.

A tale of some embarrassment to me as a publisher.


titlespreadsmlIn 1988, I was about to issue a reprint of our edition of W.B.Yeats’s two collections of Irish fairy tales, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888) and Irish Fairy Tales (1892), that we had first published in 1973 under the title Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland.[1] At about this time, as a result of my bibliographical work on W.B.Yeats, when I first held a copy of the book in my hands, I discovered that the text of A.L.Burt’s edition of Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, published in New York in about 1898 under the title of Irish Fairy and Folk Tales, contained a number of stories that had not appeared in earlier editions of the book. I did not know then whether or not these had been included with Yeats’s agreement or at his behest, so I decided to add the five stories to our next printing, which appeared that year. To my embarrassment, I subsequently noticed that there was another story – the first in Burt’s edition – which I had missed, I suppose, purely because of its position as the first story in the book:  how else could I have missed it? I therefore added it to our 1992 printing.                                                                                                                                                                                                    spinessml

  This omission was all the more puzzling to me for the following reason: Burt’s edition was first mentioned inthe second edition of Allan Wade’s Bibliography of the Writings of W.B.Yeats[2] (which I am presently revising, and was originally contracted to Oxford University Press[3] where it is listed as no. 212A. The entry states that ‘Except for the addition of The Fate of the Children of Lir at the beginning, and the deletion of the dedication, the contents are the same as No.212’: I had added the stories missed by Wade, but missed the only one referred to in the entry. Wade (1958) also stated that 212A was published in 1902, but there was an earlier edition published not later than 1898, judging from the title page which gives an address that he left in that year. Here is a brief description:


19 x 12.7 cm.; pp. xvi, 416, followed by 2 pp. of advertisements.
Copies exist both in red-brown cloth and in green cloth, with pictorial design in pink, black and yellow on front cover and on spine; white endpapers; all edges trimmed.
The contents are in the main the same as the 1888 edition, but the dedication page and notes have been deleted, and the six unsigned stories added.
Yeats’s contributions, however, apart from the removal of the notes, remain unchanged. There are full-page line illustrations facing the title-page and pp. 60, 88, 120, 196, 210, 318, as well as numerous smaller ones.
The 1902 reprint, described in the 1958 and 1968 editions of the Bibliography as being the first printing, has the bottom two lines of the title page changed to ‘A. L. BURT COMPANY, | PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK.’
The insertions are as follows:
‘The Fate of the Children of Lir’ (pp. 1-9): the first story in the collection, before Yeats’s note on the Trooping Fairies.
‘The Black Horse’ (pp. 57-64): printed between Letitia Maclintock’s ‘A Donegal Fairy’ and Yeats’s note on Changelings.
‘Morraha’ (pp. 80-93): printed between Yeats’s ‘The Stolen Child’ and his note on the Merrow.
‘The Greek Princess and the Young Gardener’ (pp. 113-124): printed between T. Crofton Croker’s ‘Flory Cantillon’s Funeral’ and Yeats’s note on the Solitary Fairies.
‘Smallhead and the King’s Sons’ (pp. 194-209): printed between ‘The Fate of Frank M’Kenna’ and Yeats’s note on Witches and Fairy Doctors.
‘The Leaching of Kayn’s Leg’ (pp. 301-321): printed between ‘King O’Toole and his Goose’ and Lady Wilde’s ‘The Demon Cat’.

    owlwithwolfcobaltclothsmlAs the result of being given a paperback called Celtic Fairy Tales, a modern reprint[4] of two collections called Celtic Fairy Tales and More Celtic Fairy Tales, selected and edited by Joseph Jacobs, both illustrated by John D. Batten and first published by David Nutt in 1892 and 1894, I found the source of the six stories, and can therefore conclude that Burt’s edition was published without Scott’s knowledge or permission. All but one (that on the title page)[5] of the illustrations in it, and the six stories they illustrate, had been taken from More Celtic Fairy Tales.

    In October 1893, Walter Scott issued an illustrated edition with twelve pictures by James Torrance and called it Irish Fairy and Folk Tales, thereby avoiding confusion between it and the unillustrated 1888 edition. The new edition was published in America in 1895 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, who imported English sheets and bound them in the USA. At this time, if a book had not been produced in the USA it was not protected in the United States and could be published by anyone,[6] unless it was officially first published in the United States, with two copies being delivered to the Library of Congress (hence the later importance of John Quinn to Yeats, Lady Gregory, and J.M.Synge, for example, when he published limited editions of their works to obtain US copyright protection for them before they were published in Britain).

    The fact that the source of none of the stories and their attendant illustrations is acknowledged in the Burt edition, and that Burt’s name appears nowhere in Yeats’s correspondence, would confirm the supposition that this was a work put together by Burt who, seeing the success of the Scribner import, decided to issue a similar edition himself. Of course, Yeats had been paid a flat fee for the work, and so had no financial interest in what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic, and Scott would have seen no reason to mention it to Yeats even had he known about it. Scribners, too, knowing the terms of the US copyright acts, would not have thought the matter worth mentioning.

    To improve the saleability of his book as an independent publication, however, Burt inserted the stories and their illustrations at almost random positions in the text, with little thought for the subject-matter of the sections in which they were placed, although it must be said that he never put a story in the middle of any group of stories: they were always just before a section or subsection.fairygreenclothsml

    While Yeats’s text of Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry could easily be reset, it was not possible for Burt to use James Torrance’s paintings had he wanted to, because they could not be adequately reproduced without the originals: they were halftone reproductions of paintings, while Batten’s were line-drawings that could easily be copied.

    Burt therefore took Yeats’s collection as being the most likely to sell to the American Irish market, used the title of the Scott/Scribner illustrated edition, added six stories and sixteen illustrations from Jacobs’ book, and as a final flourish put a picture of two old voyeurs and a languishing lady on the title page. He must have thought it an unbeatable combination, and the strategically-placed stories and their illustrations certainly give the book the impression of being ‘profusely illustrated’.

fairyroseclothsmlThe sources for the tales given below are quoted from Jacobs’ notes at the end of the volume, and are as follows.

‘The Fate of the Children of Lir’: ‘Abridged from the text and translation published by the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language in 1883. This merely follows the text and version given by Professor O’Curry in Atlantis, iv.’

‘The Black Horse’: ‘From J.F.Campbell’s manuscript collection now deposited at the Advocate’s Library in Edinburgh (MS.53, vol. xi). Collected in Gaelic, February 14, 1862, by Hector MacLean, from Roderick MacNeill, in the island of Menglay: MacNeill learnt the story about 1840 from a Barra man.’

In the Trooping Fairies section: about an enchanted horse who finally regains his human shape.’Morraha’: ‘The second story in Mr W. Larminie’s West Irish Folk-tales, pp.10-30. The framework was collected from P.McGrale of Achill Island, Co.Mayo. The story itself was from Terence Davis of Rendyle, Co.Galway.

There is evidently confusion in the introductory portion between Niall’s mother and wife.’
In the Changelings section: it is a tale within a tale, principally about card-games, the loser’s penalty, and the story of the recovery of a king’s children stolen by an ogre.
‘The Greek Princess and the Young Gardener’: Kenny, Fireside Stories of Ireland, Dublin:
M’Glashan & Gill, 1870, pp. 47-56.owlwithwolfpaleblueclothsml

In the Merrow (woman of the sea) section.
‘Smallhead and the King’s Sons’: Mr. Curtin’s ‘Hero Tales of Ireland’, contributed to the New
York Sun.

In the section on Ghosts. ‘The Leaching of Kayn’s Leg’: MacInnes, Folk-Tales from Argyleshire, vii, combined with Campbell of Tiree’s version.

In the Saints and Priests section: although there are references to churches and masses, not one saint or priest is mentioned in the story.


[1] First published, with a foreword by Kathleen Raine, in 1973. In the 1977 printing we added a list of Yeats’s sources that had been compiled by Mary Helen Thuente. The edition was temporarily licensed to Pan whose edition was published in 1979 and reprinted in 1981 and 1984.

Since Yeats’s works came out of copyright (temporarily), the two works have been published in a single volume by the Slaney Press (a division of Reed International) under the highly original title The Book of Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland.

[2]  The second edition was published by Rupert Hart-Davis in 1958. Allan Wade had died on 12 July 1955, so the rest of the work was principally carried out by Hart-Davis himself. The entry remained unchanged in the third edition (1968), edited by Russell K. Alspach.

[3]   Oxford took over the Soho Bibliography Series, of which Wade’s bibliography had been the first volume, after Rupert Hart-Davis retired and his eponymous company was sold to Granada (later bought by Collins, now HarperCollins).

[4]  Published in 1994 by Senate, an imprint of Studio Editions Ltd., London, who somehow claim copyright on it. It is difficult to see on what they base their claim. According to the blurb of this edition, the stories had been ‘rewritten to appeal to the widest possible audience’, but I find no evidence of any rewriting: as far as can be seen it is a straight facsimile reprint.

[5]  The illustration appears to be signed H.J.Farr.

[6]  Under the 1891 US International Copyright Act, ‘copyright protection was granted to authors of such foreign countries as gave copyright protection to citizens of the United States on substantially the same terms as similar rights were granted to its own citizens’. However, until ratification of the Geneva Convention in 1961, works by Americans first published in the USA were in general not protected in the UK, although some secured it through being published in Canada within fourteen days of US publication (P.F.Carter-Ruck and E.P.Skone James, Copyright, Modern Law and Practice, London: Faber & Faber, 1965).

British authors were automatically protected in Britain wherever in the world they were first published, so to protect their dramatic works in the USA it was essential in the 1890s for works to be first published there if they were to gain protection under US law.

To protect the US printing industry, after ratification of the Convention there was still a restriction that one could not import more than 2,000 copies of a book produced abroad. If one did, then copyright protection was lost. J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings suffered this fate, so that for a while, until agreement was reached, there were two paperback editions on sale, one of which had on the back cover a statement over a facsimile of Tolkien’s signature stating that this was the only licensed edition and those who believed in authors receiving royalties for their work should buy this, not any other edition.

7   A facsimile of Burt’s edition was published by Dorset Press, New York, in 1986.