GREGORY, Augusta, Lady

Cuchulain of Muirthemne: The Story of the Red Branch of Ulster arranged and put into English by Lady Gregory. With a Preface by W. B. Yeats.

Published: London: John Murray

Date: 1902

first edition 8vo. xx, 360, [2 (advts.)], [1 (printer's slug)]pp., blue cloth decoratively blocked and lettered in white, endpapers lightly foxed, very good to nice copy.

Inscribed on front endpaper from the author "For 'John Eglinton'/ le meas mor -/ A. Gregory -/ Ap 1902".

WADE Yeats Bibliography, 256. In 1900, largely through Douglas Hyde's agitation to have Irish included in the curriculum, a Commission was appointed to investigate secondary education in Ireland. In its submission to the Commission Trinity came out against language and literature with Robert Atkinson, Trinity's authority on Celtic Studies testifying that the old literature of Ireland was isolated, "almost intolerably low in tone - I do not mean naughty, but low" and lacking in idealism and imagination. The Gaelic League was furious and approached Yeats to make an English translation which would reveal the poetry and dignity of the Irish epics. Yeats, through pressure of work was unable to do so and Lady Gregory offered to do the translation. Yeats hesitated, "seeing nothing in her past to fit her for the work" but he became enthusiastic when he saw a sample of her prose style, more enthusiastic than he was over anything else she ever did. Her two resulting books Cuchulain of Muirthemne and Gods and Fighting Men had an immense influence on Yeats for it was in Cuchulain of Muirthemne that he found the material for most of his early plays. Cuchulain of Muirthemne was the first rendering of Irish mythological history in an Irish idiom as Lady Gregory used the Anglo-Irish dialect of Kiltartan - actual peasant speech. "I have told the whole story in plain and simple words, in the same way my old nurse Mary Sheridan used to be telling stories from the Irish long ago and I a child at Roxborough". Of Cuchulain of Muirthemne Yeats wrote to Robert Bridges, "My friend Lady Gregory has made the most lovely translation, putting the old prose and verse, not into pedantic, 'hedge-school-master' style of her predecessors but into a musical caressing English which never goes far from the idiom of the people she knows well". Yeats contributed three pages of notes and a long and glowing preface to the book claiming it "the best that has come out of Ireland in my time" and her work would make it unnecessary for anyone "except now and then for a scientific purpose" to consult another text. In her dedication Lady Gregory stated her aim to be popularism, not scholarship and believed that her translation would be a first step towards going to the "fuller versions of the best scholars, and then to the manuscripts themselves". Cuchulain of Muirthemne and Gods and Fighting Men were very successful and went through several further editions before 1934. Maud Gonne said they were "a real joy to people like myself who were unable to read the old Irish texts and records". Synge told Yeats that he had found in Cuchulain of Muirthemne the dialect he had been trying to master and wrote to Lady Gregory, "Your 'Cuchulain of Muirthemne' is part of my daily bread". While books inscribed by Lady Gregory do turn up copies of her books inscribed to other writers of the Irish Literary Revival circles have effectively disappeared from commerce. W. K. Magee, who wrote under the pseudonym 'John Eglinton', was a highly regarded member of the Revival circle and the only one of its members to concentrate on the essay form. His centrality in Revival circles at that period is underlined by the fact that when the Yeats sisters established the Dun Emer (later Cuala) Press in 1903 the first authors decided upon for publication were W.B. Yeats, A.E., Douglas Hyde, John Eglinton and Lady Gregory (in that order). This is a wonderful association copy, inscribed in Irish "le meas mor" (ie. "with great esteem"), of what is probably her most important work.


Offered by P & B Rowan