General Editors of the Coole Edition: T.R.Henn CBE and Colin Smythe
With a Foreword by Jon Stallworthy
While the editing of Sir William Gregory's Autobiography was largely a matter of shortening the manuscript, Mr. Gregory's Letter-Box was a much greater editorial effort, for Lady Gregory had to create linking passages for the letters, filling in the social and historical background.
Mr. Gregory's experience in the post was unequalled: he held it for eighteen years and saw Viceroys and Chief Secretaries come and go. Not for nothing was he said to be the real ruler of Ireland. He served under five Viceroys – Lords Whitworth, Talbot, Wellesley, Anglesey, and Northumberland — and seven Chief Secretaries, the most important being Robert Peel (later Prime Minister), Charles Grant, Henry Goulburn and William Lamb (later Lord Melbourne, and Prime Minister).
Little more than a decade before Mr. Gregory's appointment, Ireland had lost its Parliament, and he had to carry out policies decided upon by a government who found it difficult to understand the Irish situation, and had no sympathy with the Roman Catholic majority of the population. Thus Mr. Gregory's term of office was dominated by the Napoleonic War, periodic disturbances, famines, the visit of King George IV, teaching his various superiors 'the ropes', and maintaining as smooth government as possible during the mounting campaign for Catholic Emancipation. The Letter-Box therefore supplies anyone interested in the period with a fascinating and valuable insight into an important epoch of Irish history.
Mr. Gregory's Letter-Box was first published in 1898 in a small edition which has been out of print for well over half a century. This volume has additional material intended for inclusion in a later edition which Lady Gregory kept in her copy of the book, as well as an extensive biographical index, doubling as notes for the text.