Synge and the Ireland of His Time, by William Butler Yeats

Preface

At times during Synge’s last illness, Lady Gregory and I would speak of his work and always find some pleasure in the thought that unlike ourselves, who had made our experiments in public, he would leave to the world nothing to be wished away — nothing that was not beautiful or powerful in itself, or necessary as an expression of his life and thought. When he died we were in much anxiety, for a letter written before his last illness, and printed in the selection of his poems published at the Cuala Press, had shown that he was anxious about the fate of his manuscripts and scattered writings. On the evening of the night he died he had asked that I might come to him the next day; and my diary of the days following his death shows how great was our anxiety. Presently however, all seemed to have come right, for the Executors sent me the following letter that had been found among his papers, and promised to carry out his wishes.

‘Dear Yeats,

‘This is only to go to you if anything should go wrong with me under the operation or after it. I am a little bothered about my ‘papers.’ I have a certain amount of verse that I think would be worth preserving, possibly also the 1st and 3rd acts of ‘Deirdre,’ and then I have a lot of Kerry and Wicklow articles that would go together into a book. The other early stuff I wrote I have kept as a sort of curiosity, but I am anxious that it should not get into print. I wonder could you get someone — say . . . who is now in Dublin to go through them for you and do whatever you and Lady Gregory think desirable. It is rather a hard thing to ask you but I do not want my good things destroyed or my bad things printed rashly — especially a morbid thing about a mad fiddler in Paris which I hate. Do what you can — Good luck.

‘J.M. Synge’

In the summer of 1909, the Executors sent me a large bundle of papers, cuttings from newspapers and magazines, manuscript and typewritten prose and verse, put together and annotated by Synge himself before his last illness. I spent a portion of each day for weeks reading and rereading early dramatic writing, poems, essays, and so forth, and with the exception of ninety pages which have been published without my consent, made consulting Lady Gregory from time to time the Selection of his work published by Messrs. Maunsel. It is because of these ninety pages, that neither Lady Gregory’s name nor mine appears in any of the books, and that the Introduction which I now publish, was withdrawn by me after it had been advertised by the publishers. Before the publication of the books the Executors discovered a scrap of paper with a sentence by J.M. Synge saying that Selections might be taken from his Essays on the Congested Districts. I do not know if this was written before his letter to me, which made no mention of them, or contained his final directions. The matter is unimportant, for the publishers decided to ignore my offer to select as well as my original decision to reject, and for this act of theirs they have given me no reasons except reasons of convenience, which neither Lady Gregory nor I could accept.

W.B. Yeats.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:50