‘W.B.Yeats, Austin Spare and Eight Poems by W.B.Yeats (Wade 114) ‘ 2018-01-22T18:08:04+00:00

‘W.B.Yeats, Austin Spare and Eight Poems by W.B.Yeats (Wade 114) ’

 Colin Smythe

A slightly different version of this essay was first published in the twelfth issue of Yeats Annual (London: Macmillan, 1996, pp. 253-63).  The subsequent discovery of a letter from W.B.Yeats to Harold Munro dated March 26 [?1916] indicates that Yeats had agreed to Spare issuing 240 copies, not 200. The Poetry Bookshop received their 200 which they had de-stapled and sewn with black woolly thread, while the balance were kept by Spare as out-of-series copies, however the large proportion of stapled copies – 40% – of those that I have seen or have had described to me, would still indicate that Spare had printed many more than Yeats believed, which he disposed of for his own benefit.

The poems – ‘The Dawn’, ‘On Woman’, ‘The Fisherman’, ‘The Hawk’, ‘Memory’, ‘The Thorn Tree’, ‘The Phoenix’, and ‘There is a Queen in China’ – were first published in the February 1916 issue of Poetry (Chicago), and later in the first issue of Form, officially published in April 1916. The first issue of Form had been planned for February publication, but it was delayed and as the poems had to be published in Britain at the same time as Poetry to secure US copyright, they were published prior to the first number’s issue, and in a manner that gave Yeats not a little cause for heartburn. That its production was subject to a number of complications can be adduced by the following bibliographical description:

EIGHT | POEMS | BY | W B YEATS | Transcribed by | Edward Pay | Published by | “FORM” | At The Morland Press Ltd. | 190 Ebury Street London S.W. [The whole title page printed in red.] [a]. Japan-Vellum copies (with no watermark) 28.5 x 19.8 cm.;
[b]. Dutch handmade paper copies (made by F.J.Head & Co., with their initials and unicorn watermark), 30.5 x 21.0 cm., numbered 1-8;
[c]. Italian handmade paper copies (watermark with ‘A.D.1470’ and figure reading a large sheet of paper, maker not given), 28.8 x 21.6 cm., numbered 9-130;
[a], 20 pp., [b] and [c], 24 pp., all pages unnumbered.
[a] comprises the title page in red, verso blank, pp. [1-2]; text, the titles of the poems and the initial letters to each stanza printed red, the rest black, pp. [3-19]; the words ‘LONDON | January | 1916 | E.P.’ in red, p. [20].
[b] and [c] have an additional outer sheet wrapped round to create a 24 page book, so that the pagination now comprises a silhouette of a nude figure by Austin Spare in red, verso blank, pp. [1-2], the inner pages as before, pp.[3-22], followed by a blank page, verso printed red with profile of a head facing right and in [b] the words ‘THIS EDITION | is printed on | Hand-Made Paper | manufactured by | F.J.HEAD & CO. | 21 Gt.Russell St. | LONDON W.C.’, while in [c] the words ‘Manufactured by’ are missing, pp. [21-22].
At the bottom of the title page there is normally a slip attached which appears, according to Wade, in two forms – typed and printed. The former states

This edition is an exact facsimile of certain pages in the quarterly periodical, FORM.
The responsibility for the caligraphy [sic] and design rests entirely with the proprietors of FORM.

The latter

This Edition is a facsimile of certain pages in the quarterly periodical “FORM.”
The responsibility for the caligraphy [sic] and design rests entirely with the Proprietors of “FORM.”

In spite of Wade’s statement (in every edition of the Bibliography), I have not yet seen a copy with the typed label,[1] but should they exist, it is most probable that they were sold before those having the printed slip and would be exceptionally rare. It has been suggested that the typed version is as a result of insufficient copies of the printed version being produced, and that the shortfall was made up by typing a quantity, but for the reasons given below, I think this unlikely.

Eight Poems was issued in cream card covers, lettered in black on front cover ‘POEMS | BY | W · B · YEATS | [design of ten dots arranged to form an inverted triangle], and sewn with black woollen thread. The inside covers of most copies of all three versions are printed in black as follows:

Of this Edition only 200 copies are available
for sale of which this is No. [handwritten]

Dutch Hand-made                    (8 copies) 4/-
Italian Hand-made               (122 copies) 3/-
Jap-Vellum                            (70 copies) 2/6

Sole Agents:-
The Poetry Book Shop
35 Devonshire Street
Theobalds Road
London, W.C

All three Dutch hand-made paper copies known to me are signed by Yeats and dated by him April 17 1916. The Columbia University copy has the 4/- price crossed out, and ‘signed by author 21/-’ written in. Some copies printed on other papers also have this or a similar correction.

     On the inside back cover is printed:

“Memory,” line  six should  read
“mountain hare.”
“Thorn Tree,”  second  page, two
lines from the bottom should end

“Old men’s blame.”

Some copies of each issue have no printing on the inside covers, and these are stapled rather than sewn. Some have the Errata notice but have no printing on the inside front cover.

     The British Museum copy is evidently an advance copy, for it was received on 15 February 1916, produced and lodged to synchronize with the magazine publication of the poems in America. It is printed on Japan vellum, and lacks both the outer four page sheet and the printing on the inside surface of the cover.

     Some time in January or early February 1916, Yeats wrote an undated letter to Austin Osman Spare, co-editor [2] of Form, from Stone Cottage in Sussex, which he was sharing with Ezra Pound for the winter:

Dear Spare
I thank you very much for the “EIGHT POEMS”, so admirably transcribed by Mr Pay. It was very gallant of you to put so fine a title page to a little pamphlet published for copyright necessities. I have found two errors which are I almost conclude irremediable. I only draw your attention to them, because, one of the titles in red not being added makes me see an unlikely chance that the pages are not unalterable yet.
MEMORY line six should red [sic] “mountain hare
                   (it is printed wrongly “here”)
THORN TREE second page, two lines from the bottom should end “old men’s blame,”  “old” has been omitted.
The faults may have been in my type-script. So please dont think me fussy in the matter. Only the first error is very injurious, and I dare say a clever reader will notice what is wrong. I only feel tagic [sic] about errors in my books.
W B Yeats
Mr Watt tells me that I am to have another copy or two. I shall be glad to have them.[3]

The copy Yeats had been sent was printed on Japan vellum and therefore lacked Spare’s nude figure, and it would appear that the first Yeats knew of the illustration was when he was sent and saw it on a Dutch hand-made paper copy on which the missing title and initial letter to ‘There is a Queen in Sheba’ and the missing word in ‘The Thorn Tree’ had been inserted, but that did not, as yet, have the errata printed on the inside back cover, or the limitation notice on the inside front cover.  The British Library Japan vellum copyright receipt copy is similarly corrected, so it is probable that Yeats was sent the illustrated copy at this time or soon after, when Spare had not yet been restricted to 200 copies.

     While Yeats was prepared to write a tactful letter to Spare, doubtless to ensure that the corrections he wanted were carried out, his private view of the production was very different, and his accumulating annoyance began to have public outlet when, in his 26 March letter to Lady Gregory, he wrote:

 A man has issued, by mistake he says, by design I suspect, a pirated edition of some of my recent poems. He had proposed to make technical publication as his magazine Form was delayed and the poems were coming out in America. I got in a rage and limited him to 50 copies. He wrote this would ruin him and that he had not enough to eat. I did [not] believe [him] and told Watt who was acting for me to be firm. Then Ricketts[4] said he would pay any loss the man was under. I gave way at once, not wishing to have Ricketts pay, and now Ricketts says he misunderstood the situation. I feel I have rather injured Cuala, which should have all my first editions, and myself because the pirated edition is pretentious and has a vulgar drawing (which Ricketts had not seen).[5]

  In one of John Quinn’s copies, printed on Dutch handmade paper,[6] Yeats wrote:

I think this picture vulgar. I had no responsibility for the pamphlet, which was issued by ‘Form’ to whom I gave eight poems free. These[7] delays made ‘technical publication’ necessary to secure my copyright and pamphlets like this are what they call ‘technical publication.’ If you want to reproduce a poem you should print it not write it, and if you do WRITE it you should not break your lines. W.B.Yeats. April 2, 1916.

  While Yeats received his first corrected copy in the second half of February, or at the latest in the first week of March, Harold Monro of the Poetry Bookshop received the edition about six weeks later, for he wrote to Spare on Wednesday 12 April:

Thank you for your two letters Aprill [sic] 3rd and April 6th. I received the 200 copies of Yeats’ Poems on Monday [presumably 10 April]. I am fixing up the whole   matter with Squire.[8] There are two troublesome points. One of them is that I am sure that an edition of this kind should not be bound with wire, but with thread.  Squire absolutely agrees with this, and I am proposing to have the whole dition [sic] threaded. The second is that Yeats tells me he stipulated for a notice to be put in to the effect that he was not responsible for the format and style of the book. He has asked me to promise to insert a notice. I have therefore arranged the wording with Squire and am having a slip printed.
With regard to Form I am very sorry that you have to adopt the policy of only allowing those who pay the full subscription to have copies. I have now sent you cash for one subscription and asked you to enter another one for us. I should now like to apply for one more, making two for the Poetry Bookshop for which I enclose cash.

This letter, and Yeats’s dated signature on the Dutch paper copies, tends to confirm Allan Wade’s belief that the publication date of Eight Poems was in April, presumably around the 17th. As to the periodical itself, Howard S.Mott Inc., in its catalog no.210, listed a copy of Form with a John Lane review slip, requesting that no notices appear before 28 June, and while there is no absolute proof that Lane’s review slip came from Lane with the issue – this is the only mention I know of Lane’s connection with it – an entry in Charles Ricketts’ diary for Saturday 24 June 1916[9] reads ‘First copy of Form’, so this would indicate that it was published in the last week of June. Too, as Ricketts got the Yeats poems for Spare to publish, it is likely he would receive a complimentary copy promptly, as soon as it arrived from the printers.

     Yeats inscribed two copies of Eight Poems belonging to Lady Gregory, both now in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. In one, a Dutch handmade paper copy with the inside front cover blank and slightly wider than usual, he wrote: 

I am not responsible for this pretentious publication. It is a blunder or a piracy by the Magazine “Form” which had then to make technical publication for reasons of copyright.[10]

In the other, on Italian handmade paper and without a slip on the title page, he wrote:

These 8 poems were in pamphlets to secure an English copyright. The edition which was not the format publication I intended but this elaborate pamphlet caused a quarrel between me and Form. I thought it an injury to Cuala. WBY

In the Buhler sale there was a copy on Italian handmade paper, inscribed by Yeats on the front cover:

I gave these poems to the designer at the request of Charles Ricketts, R.A. W.B.Yeats June 1935. I don’t like the work. The red woman is a brute.

In an out-of-series copy on Dutch paper signed by Yeats (now in Penn State University) he wrote in more forgiving mood, however:

This work was brought out without my leave, & through a misunderstanding. It is not a form of publication or decoration that I would have chosen.

And in a Japan vellum copy in his own library, he wrote:

This pamphlet was brought out by a magazine called ‘Form’ to save my copyright as the poems were being published in America & the magazine was delayed.

In another copy given by Mrs Yeats to the Library of Trinity College, Dublin on the occasion of an exhibition of the poet’s books in 1956, he had written:

I am not responsible for this foolish picture or anything else in this book but the writing. A foolish or intrepid young man got them to publish a pamphlet of poems to secure the copyright for me as his magazine was postponed and my poems were coming out in America. I then found he had got this book printed instead of binding up a few sheets and so making ‘technical publication’. I got in a rage and took steps to stop him and he wrote that I would ruin him and a friend interceded. So now the book is out worse luck. W B Yeats.

     From Monro’s letter to Spare it is reasonable to assume that he made absolutely sure that all the 200 numbered copies he received had the wire staples removed, were then sewn and had the printed label stuck to the title page. All sewn copies I have seen have the staple marks, and I would guess that wool was used as a means to mask the holes, but in most cases the thread has suffered much from the passage of time. However, the high number of unnumbered, disclaimerless, stapled copies indicates that many more copies were produced, of which the Poetry Bookshop – and Yeats – knew nothing.  These copies must be regarded as out-of-series, produced as they were without Yeats’s permission.

     As the 1911 (and subsequent) British copyright acts stated that the British Museum (alone of the six copyright receipt libraries) has to receive a copy of every work on the best paper, finished and coloured as the best copies and in the best binding,[11] it is probable that the 70 (or more) Japan vellum copies were the earliest printed, and may have been the only copies originally planned and extant in mid February, with the Italian and Dutch handmade paper copies being produced as an afterthought as part of the money-making exercise. Of course, Spare may well have known nothing of the precise terms of the Act, and merely understood that he had to have a copy delivered to the British Museum Library by a particular date in order to protect Yeats’s copyright.

     Regardless of the copyright requirement, it would appear that Yeats’s view is correct: Spare only handed over 200 copies to the Poetry Bookshop, but had undoubtedly produced more copies of each type which, however, he could not sell to the Poetry Bookshop because of the poet’s limitation, even had he thought of doing so. The temptation not to destroy the extra copies and to sell them off quietly obviously proved too great, and once the 200 copies had sold out, it would have been easy to dispose of his extras, merely by supplying anyone who asked him if he had any copies left: the few shillings arriving from such transactions would have gone straight into his pocket.

     Although it is doubtful that Yeats would have been interested in bibliographical pedantry, he would certainly have been outraged had he known the full extent of Spare’s sales of ‘out-of-series’ copies, as he already felt guilty that these poems had not had their first non-periodical publication in a book issued by the Cuala Press. Regardless of how much he knew, or suspected, it is very obvious that the matter irritated Yeats for the rest of his life, whenever he saw copies of the offending publication.

     To consider publication dates: the copies were first issued to protect copyright, the poems having to be published first in the UK as everything hinged on the date they were received by the British Museum Library. Yeats must have received his first copy before that sent there, as the latter contains the requested corrections, but with the exception of the advance copies that he presumably sent to John Quinn and possibly Lady Gregory, and those mentioned below, no one else appears to have been sent a copy until the Poetry Bookshop stock had been sewn and the labels stuck in. Regardless of the dates that Yeats received his advance copies, it would seem that the official publication date must have been a few days after Monday 17 April, the date Yeats signed the Dutch paper copies. If these copies had been sent to Yeats for signature with a quantity of sewn copies for his own use (including nos. 114, 118, 121 and maybe 122), this would indicate that the labels had not arrived by that date and were only stuck into the Dutch paper copies once Monro had got them back from Yeats.

     As to the ‘pamphlet’ itself, only the sewn and numbered copies are truly ‘in series’ and all others, including the copyright copies and those sent initially to Yeats, are advance and/or out of series. From those known numbered copies, it would also appear that all had a printed slip inserted, except a block of sewn copies probably given to Yeats by the Poetry Bookshop before the labels arrived from the printers, who gave them out of family and friends, including no. 114 belonging to Lily Yeats, no. 118 to P.S.O’Hegarty, no. 121 to Oliver St John Gogarty, and no. 122 (now in the British Library).

     With regard to the question of the date of those with typed labels, I consider it unlikely that the printers produced too few labels – every printer worth his salt normally printing a number of ‘overs’, but as copies would appear to have been sent to Yeats before Monro got the printed slips, he may well have sent out a few with the basic text typed in to comply with the poet’s requirements, possibly for review (although none are known). It is possible that the copies mentioned above were sent to a Dublin bookseller, from whom they were bought, but as they would certainly have had a ‘responsibility’ slip inserted, I consider the latter scenario unlikely.

     The numbered copies checked and used as the basis for the conclusions given in this article are nos. 2, 3, 34, 199 (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre), 6 (Columbia University), 21 (University of Colorado, Boulder), 26 (P & B. Rowan, Belfast), 31 (Bernard Quaritch), 43 (Clark Memorial Library), 50 (University of Florida, Gainesville), 59 (Mills Memorial Library, MacMaster University), 64 (Wellesley College), 66 (ex-University of East Anglia, seen on eBay), 67 (Library of Congress), 78 (Beinecke), 79 (SUNYAB), 87 (Princeton), 114 (Anne Yeats), 118 and 189 (Kenneth Spencer Research Library, Univ. of Kansas) 121 and 178 (Colby College), 122 (British Library), 139 (Wesleyan), 145 (University of California, San Diego), 151 (University of Massachesetts, Amherst), 152 (Huntingdon), 155 (McCabe Library Swarthmore), 165 (Oberlin), 170 (Cornell), 185 (Harvard), 186 (Olin Library, Mills College) and 192 (Michigan State University, East Lansing). All are sewn and all but three (114, 121, 122) have labels, and all the labels are printed.  

     I know of the following out-of-series copies: eight on Dutch (unicorn watermarked) paper (including those inscribed to Quinn and Lady Gregory); nine on Italian (AD 1470 watermarked paper), and six on Japan vellum. All but one of these have been stapled only, the single exception may have been one of a very few extras sewn in case any copies got damaged and needed replacing. Limitation notices appear in four of the unnumbered Dutch copies and four of the nine unnumbered Italian copies, while none of the unnumbered Japanese vellum copies have the notice. None of the out-of-series copies have labels. It can be assumed that Spare quietly sold off all these copies as and when he could.

     The fact that some of the unnumbered copies have been printed on the inside front cover can be accounted for by the normal system of printers always printing a few more copies – ‘overs’ – than required.

     To end: the second issue of Form (April 1917)[12] contained the following apology on the inside front cover:

It is a matter of great regret to the editors of Form that a confusion of responsibilities led to a misunderstanding of the exact conditions of Mr. Yeats’ copyright in his poems published in the first number, and to the consequent infringement of American copyright in them held by the magazine POETRY, published monthly in Chicago. POETRY, which printed these poems in February, 1916, owned the American serial rights, and Form, being an international quarterly, could not legally sell its first issue in America except through arrangement with the editor of POETRY. This necessary consent was not obtained. The editors and publishers of Form feel that the forbearance of the editors of POETRY in not exercising their rights under the law of copyright evinced good feeling and kindness of the highest order, of which we are thoroughly recognisant.

     Perhaps the last words should be left to Ricketts, whose diary entry about his copy of Form partly quoted above, continues, laconically, ‘The literary contributions are better than the artistic’.


[1] One completer of my questionnaire indicated that his library’s copy had a typed label, but as he included a photocopy, I saw that it was, in fact, printed.

[2] Form’s other editor was Francis Marsden

[3] I am indebted to John Kelly for the copy of this letter and that from Harold Monro.

[4] Charles Ricketts (1866-1931), artist and connoisseur, friend of Charles Shannon, had just declined the position of Director of the National Gallery, London.

[5] Allan Wade (ed.) The Letters of W. B. Yeats (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954), p. 609.

[6] Lot 11592 in the sale of John Quinn’s library in 1923-24. There were over 12,000 lots, which realised $226,351,85 – a poor price as $111,000 of this came from his Joseph Conrad collection, contained in 230 lots. Sadly, the entry in the sale catalogue merely states that it is one of 8 copies on Dutch paper, so it is impossible to know whether it was numbered or not, while the date of the inscription makes it particularly interesting. I have been unable to ascertain its present whereabouts, but one must assume that it must be unnumbered and stapled, having been inscribed to Quinn at much the same time as the main consignment was delivered to the Poetry Bookshop.

[7] Probably ‘Their delays’. The transcriptions in the Quinn catalogue of Yeats’s inscriptions are not always accurate. For example, Yeats rarely used full stops in his signature, yet they appear in every one given.
[8] J[ohn] C[ollings] Squire (1884-1958) was Literary Editor of the New Statesman at the time. In 1919 he established the London Mercury, in which much of Yeats’s later work was to appear.
[9] British Library, Ricketts & Shannon papers, 58107.

[10] This wording is echoed in his inscription on another copy, now in the possession of Professor G.M.Harper: ‘I have had nothing to do with the publication of this pretentious pamphlet’.

[11] Section 15 of the 1911 Copyright Act [1 & 2 Geo.5, Ch.46] was not repealed by the 1956 Act [4 & 5 Eliz.2, Ch.74] or the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 [Ch.48], and remains in force.

[12] In spite of describing itself as ‘A Quarterly of the Arts’, this was only the second issue, appearing a year after the first.


I am most grateful to the following owners for permission to quote the inscriptions in their copies of Eight Poems:

The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of the New York Public Library (Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations); Anne Yeats; The Library of Trinity College, Dublin; The Library of Pennsylvania State University; and Professor George Mills Harper.

I am most grateful to the following for completing my questionnaire:

an anonymous member of staff (Poetry/Rare Books Collection, SUNYAB Library), Peter Berg and Mildred Jackson (Michigan State University Library, East Lansing), John Bidwell (Clark Library, UCLA), Anthony Bliss (Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley), J. P. Chalmers (HRHRC), Cathy Cherbosque (Huntingdon Library), Linda Claassen (Mandeville Dept of Special Collections, University of California, San Diego), Lynne Farrington (Cornell University Library,  Edward Fuller (Special Collections Librarian, McCabe Library, Swarthmore College), Lisa Gedigian (F. W. Olin Library, Mills College), Vincent Giroud (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University), Rick Gekowski, Warwick Gould (Royal Holloway & Bedford New College, University of London), Charles E.Greene (Princeton University Libraries), Terry Halladay (Wm. Reese & Co., New Haven, CT), Professor George Mills Harper, Carmen R. Hurff (University of Florida Libraries, Gainesville), John D.Kendall (Head, Special Collections, University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Patience-Anne W. Lenk (Colby College Library), Charles Mann (Chief, Rare Books & Special Collections, Pennsylvania State University Libraries, University Park), Linda M. Matthews (Head, Special Collections, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University, Atlanta, GA), William L.Mitchells for Alexandra Mason (Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas), Alice Morgan (Special Collections, University of Colorado Libraries, Boulder, CO), Megan Mulder (Wake Forest University Library, Winston-Salem, NC), Timothy D.Murray (University of Delaware Library, Newark), Milton McG. Gatch, Robert K.O’Neill (Burns Librarian, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA), Ruth R.Rogers (Special Collections Librarian, Wellesley College), Donald W. Rude (Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX), Dina B.Schoonmaker (Head, Special Collections, Oberlin College Library), Rob Shields (Library of Congress), Roger Eliot Stoddard (Curator of Rare Books, Harvard College Library), Elizabeth A. Swaim (Wesleyan University Library), and Cynthia Wall (Newberry Library, Chicago).