The Irish Collections in Wilson Library
W. B. Yeats (ca. 1906).
William Butler Yeats CollectionThe Yeats Collection was donated to the Rare Book Collection at UNC in 1999 by the Hanes Foundation of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was given as the five-millionth "volume" added to the holdings of the University Library. This collection originally belonged to the late George M. Harper, for many years chair of the English Department at UNC and later Professor of English at Florida State University. At the time of its acquisition, Harper's collection of Yeats was perhaps the largest in private hands. In one stroke, its arrival in Chapel Hill placed the University Library among the major repositories of the Irish poet's published writings in North America. The collection today contains an estimated 4,600 items, of which about 1,250 are by or about Yeats himself. While many of these are first editions of Yeats's own books or works to which he contributed, there are also very extensive holdings of later lifetime editions as well as a wealth of bibliographical variants and copies with unique features, including limited editions, signed or inscribed copies, and special-paper copies. Many of these items are relatively commonplace; others are exceedingly scarce. The collection contains, for example, a copy of Yeats's first book, Mosada (1886), one of the rarest and most sought-after first editions in modern literature. The UNC copy is one of only about two dozen known to have survived and but one of three bound in heavy (rather than thin) paper wrappers. Among other rarities in the collection are Yeats's The Land of Heart's Desire (1894), Poems (1895; one of twenty-five copies of the limited issue), Tables of the Law (1897), Poems Written in Discouragement (1913), The Hour Glass (1914), and Nine Poems (1914). Perhaps the scarcest book in the collection is the first edition of Yeats's On the Boiler (1938), believed to have survived in only four copies, this one acquired by Professor Harper from the poet's son, Michael.
W. B. Yeats's The Winding Stair (1931) and Poems (1895).
Checklist nos. 12 and 6. The collection also contains more than 400 issues of periodicals with contributions by or material about Yeats. These include nineteen issues of the Dublin University Review from between 1885 and 1887, which contain many of the poet's earliest published writings. There are nearly complete holdings of The Beltaine, Samhain, and The Arrow, three periodicals related to the Abbey Theatre and edited by Yeats. The collection has an abundance of other journals to which he contributed, notably The Bookman, The Dial, The Dome, The Green Sheaf, The London Mercury, Lucifer, The Savoy, and The Shanachie. As Yeats was rarely satisfied with his writings and continually revised them, the periodical versions often contain texts different (sometimes substantially) from those in subsequent book editions. Since 1999, the RBC has made very extensive additions to the collection, including most of the great rarities that had eluded Professor Harper. From Harper himself we later acquired an abundance of material that enhances the scholar's understanding of the context in which Yeats wrote, including collections of the writings of his close literary friends and associates, such as Lady Augusta Gregory, George Moore, George Russell (AE), John Millington Synge, and Katharine Tynan. Professor Harper also donated an extensive collection of books related to the history of the occult arts and practices, subjects important to Yeats and to the study of his writings. The RBC intends to continue developing this splendid acquisition, filling in gaps among the primary materials and adding the best in contemporary Yeats scholarship. Access to the collection is provided through the University Library's online catalog.
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