[Lady] Augusta Gregory: Commentary & Quotations
W. B. Yeats (1): Yeats wrote of Lady Gregory at their first meeting as a plainly dressed woman of forty-five, without obvious good looks, except the charm that comes from strength, intelligence and kindness; according to him her motto was from Aristotle, To thing like a wise man, but to express oneself like the common people. ( “Dramatis Personae, Autobiographies, pp.388-91).
W. B. Yeats (3): Like so many Irish women of the upper classes, who reacted against the licence, the religious lassitude of the immediate past, they were  evangelical Protestants, and set out to convert their neighbourhood. Few remember how much of this movement was a genuine enthusiasm [; ...] Were I a better man and a more ignorant I had liked such a life. But that missionary would have met no sympathy at Roxborough, except, it may be, amongst those boisterous brothers or from one studious girl [...] But the born student of the great literature of the world cannot proselytise, and Augusta Persse, as Lady Gregory was then named, walked and discusse[d] Shakespeare with a man but little steadier than her brothers, a scholar of Trinity, in later years a famous botanist, a friendship ended by her alarmed mother. Was it earlier or later that she established a little shop  upon the estate and herself sold there that she might compel the shopkeepers to bring down their exorbitant prices? Other well-born women of that time, Ruskin’s Rose amongst them, did the same [...] a phrase of Aristotle’s had become her motto: To think like a wise man, but to express oneself like the common people. (Autobiographies, 1955, 393-95.)
W. B. Yeats (5): Yeats gave his reaction to a rent reduction ordered by the courts in Upon a House Shaken by the Land Agitation, the prose-draft of the text being set out with an explanation in his diary entry for 7 August 1910, with the explanation: One feels that when all must make their living they will live not for lifes sake but the works and all be the poorer ... this house has enriched my soul out of measure because here life moves within restrain through gracious forms. Here there has been no compelled labour, no poverty thwarted impulse. (See A. N. Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, p.93.)
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W. B. Yeats (7): Beautiful Lofty Things (in New Poems), remembering her courageous response to threat of assassination: I told him that nightly from six to seven I sat at this table / The blinds drawn up; Lady Gregory recorded the incident mentioned in her Journal, 11 April 1922).
W. B. Yeats (8): Yeats added an additional paragraph to his Celtic Element in Literature (1897; rev. 1902): I could have written this essay with much more precision and much better illustrated my meaning if I had waited until Lady Gregory had finished her book of legends, Cuchulain of Muirthemne, a book to set beside Morte dArthur and the Mabinogion. (Essays & Introductions, pp.187-88).
W. B. Yeats (9): Preface to Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902): We Irish should keep these personages much in our hearts, for they lived in the places where we ride and go marketing, and sometimes they have met one another on the hills that cast their shadows upon our doors at evening. If we will but tell these stories to our children the Land will begin again to be a Holy Land, as it was before men gave their hearts to Greece and Rome and Judea. When I was a child I had only to climb the hill behind the house to see long, blue, ragged hills flowing along the southern horizon. What beauty was lost to me, what depth of emotion is still perhaps lacking in me, because nobody told me, not even the merchant captains who knew everything, that Cruachan of the Enchantments lay behind those long, blue, ragged hills. (Quoted in Lawrence Osborne, Dreaming Shamrocks: The Use of Being Irish, in The Village Voice, 3 June 2008; available online - accessed 29.03.2011.) For full text of Yeatss introductions to Cuchulain of Muirthemne and Gods and Fighting Men, go to Ricorso Library, Classics Irish Texts - W. B. Yeats, [infra].)
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W. B. Yeats (11): In those first years of the theatre we all helped one another with plots, ideas, and dialogue, but certainly I was the most indebted as I had no mastery of speech that purported to be of real life. [The Pot of Broth] may be more Lady Gregorys than mine. (Notes on A Pot of Broth, Variorum Edn., p.254; cited in Una Kealy, The Return of Radical Innocence in the Plays of W. B. Yeats [UUC MA 1999], p.36.)
W. B. Yeats (13): I long for quiet, long ago I used to find it at Coole. It was part of the genius of that house. Lady Gregory never rebelled like other Irish women I have known who consumed themselves and their friends; in spire of Scripture she put the new wine into old bottles. (Letters to Dorothy Wellesley, 1940; 1964, p.68.)
W. B. Yeats (15): Yeats wrote of Lady Gregorys family, the Perrses of Roxborough: ‘They had all the necessities of life on the mountain or within the walls of their demesne, exporting quantities of game, ruling their tenants, as had their fathers before, with a despotic benevolence, were admired, or perhaps loved, for the Irish people, however lawless, respect a rule founded upon some visible supremacy. (Autobiographies, 1955, p.393.) Note that Yeats dedicated The Shadowy Waters to Lady Gregory (1900).
George Moore: Moore comments on Lady Gregory, in Hail and Farewell, to the effect that she had in her youth been a Protestant proselytiser, an assertion that led to the threat of legal action (Vale, 1947 ed., pp.122-31, 145-47 (Cited in A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats, A New Biography, 1988, p.198, and New Commentary, 1984, p.100.) Moore dismissed her on the grounds that she had never been for [him] a very real person (Hail and Farewell, Heinemann 1947, p.123; quoted in Anne Fogarty, Introduction, Irish University Review [Lady Gregory Special Issue], Spring/Summer 2004, p.ix.) He also described her as being without a mother, or father, or sisters, or brothers, sans attaché (Vale, New York 1920, p.184; cited in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.84.)
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James Joyce (1) - review of Lady Gregorys Poets and Dreamers, in Daily Express, Dublin, 26 March 1903: [...] Lady Gregory has truly set forth the old age of her country. In her new work she has left legends and heroic youth far behind, and has explored in a land almost fabulous in its sorrow and senility. [...] These stories appeal to some feeling which is certainly not the feeling of wonder which is the beginning of all speculation. The story-tellers are old, and their imagination is not the imagination of childhood. The story-teller preserves the strange machinery of fairyland, but his mind is feeble and sleepy. He begins one story and wanders from it into another story, and none of the stories has any satisfying imaginative wholeness, none of them like Sir John Dawes poem that cried tink at the close. [viz., Ben Jonson, Epicoene, II.ii.] (Critical Writings, Viking Press, 1957, p.103.)
James Joyce (2) - lampoon: There was an old lady named Gregory, / Who cried: Come all poets in beggary. / But she found her imprudence, / When hundreds of students / Cried: were all in that noble category [cat-eg-ory]. (Quoted in Eugene Sheehy [memoir], in Ulick OConnor, ed., The Joyce We Knew, Cork: Mercier Press, 1969, p.27.)
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Stanislaus Joyce [on the review James Joyce wrote of her Dreamers in 1903]: Lady Gregory had little reason, it seems to me, to take offence at the review, for there is no direct criticism in it of her part in the traditional Irish droolery; on the contrary, the reviewer, as far as his literary conscience allows him, seems to be disposed to praise slight merits and even to be hampered by the wish, in spite of his principles, to shift the blame from the writer to  the subject [...] I have never met or even seen Lady Gregory, yet in spite of what she had done for Jim, I conceived an unreasoning antipathy for her. I imagined her to have been one of those awfully clever girls who in late middle age become awfully tiresome women [...] I was also secretly happy that Jim had not met Maud Gonne in Paris. I took Maud Gonne to be the youth of Lady Gregory. (My Brothers Keeper, 1958, pp.221-22.)
Mary Colum: Colum wrote, With all her faults and snobbery, she was a great woman, a real leader, one of those who woke up Ireland from the somnolence and lassitude it was too prone to fall into. It is very doubtful that Yeats could have produced as much work as he did without her help. It is almost certain that, but for Lady Gregory, the Irish national theatre would have remained a dream, or ended in being that failure that so many hopeful undertakings in Ireland became. (Life and the Dream, London: Macmillan 1947, pp 125-27; cited in Taura Napier, The Mosaic “I: Mary Colum and Modern Irish Autobiography, in Irish University Review, 28, 1, Spring/Summer 1998, pp.53.)
Valentin Iremonger, reviewing Lady Gregory: A Literary Portrait, by Elizabeth Coxhead, in Catholic Herald (30 June 1961): Had this remarkable Anglo-Irish lady done nothing other than befriend and encourage Yeats, her place in literary history was assured. But she was much more than the patron of a genius. / Hers was the indomitable will that made the Abbey Theatre survive its threatened extinction repeatedly up to the mid-twenties. And finding that the theatre needed plays, she sat down and wrote them. She probably would have been a writer anyhow but her part in the building of the Abbey gave her life and work purpose and direction. Many of her plays, as Miss Coxhead rightly points out, have the authentic touch of genius and it is a pity that the exigencies of the contemporary theatre and the decline of the repertory theatre militate against their more frequent performance. (Available online; accessed 13.07.2014.)
Denis Donoghue, Yeats [Fontanta Modern Masters] (London: Collins 1971): [T]here was Lady Gregory, a commanding person, Anglo-Irish gentry but deeply devoted to ‘the people. Yeats saw in her the possibility of gaining the best of both worlds; knowing the texture of common life without abandoning the pride of station which Lady Gregory represented. Her work in Irish folklore was crucial in this way because lore was, in Yeatss phrase, ‘the book of the people. The feelings and beliefs assembled in Lady Gregorys Cuchulain of Muirthemne, Gods and Fighting Men, and Visions an Beliefs in the West of Ireland were indisputably Irish, and they came from a source deeper than any Church: they were made by men and women who, having nothing to lose, had nothing to fear. The stories were hospitable to miracle, the occult, and magic, they seemed to promise a revelation, if only their energy could be gathered, and Yeats hoped to gather some of it in his plays of Cuchulain. […] In 1886 he appealed ‘to those young men clustered here and there throughout our land, whom the emotion of Patriotism has lifted into that world of selfless passion in which heroic deeds are possible and heroic poetry credible. If ‘great nations blossom above, as he wrote in a late poem, they blossom in people like Lady Gregory, not only in men of great power. Lady Gregorys strength was her pride, nourished by contact with ancestral feeling, memories, visions, customs transmitted like songs and stories. She was also, in the moral sense, a leader. (p.26.)
Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972), on the Hiberno-English literary dialect introduced by Douglas Hyde: Later to be named Kiltartan, from the locality near Coole where Lady Gregory collected folklore, the dialect became a self-conscious prose poetry in her plays and in those of Synge. George Moore, who could not abide Lady Gregory, said in Hail and Farewell, that the idiom “consisted of no more than a dozen turns of speech dropped into the pages of English so ordinary as to “appear in any newspaper without attracting  attention. It was clever and malicious, as Moore usually was. When yeats, who could not abide Moore, turned to writing his own autobiography, he claimed for the style, “Gaelic in idiom and Tudor in vocabulary, a high place indeed. (p.31-32.)
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Joep Leerssen, Táin and Táin: The Mythical Past and the Anglo-Irish, in History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Literature, ed. Joris Duytschaever & Geert Lernout [IASIL Conference of 9 April 1986; Costerus Ser. Vol. 71] (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1988), pp.19-45; 32ff.: Leerssen offers a word in vindication of Lady Gregory of whom a patronising tone is often heard though her version of the Táin Bó Cuailnge was the first time that the Ulster cycle as a whole was made accessible to the broader reading public; there would be little exaggeration in the contention that we owe the entire Ulster cycle - as a literary rather than philological material - to [her]; which makes her achievement equal in importance to that of Charlotte Brooke, a hundred years previously. Furthermore we can read Cuchulain of Muirthemne side by side with its original (as edited and trans. by Cecile ORahilly), we cannot but be struck by the deftness, completeness, elegance and fidelity of Lady Gregorys translation; Leerssen is dismissive of Standish OGradys version which he compares for inaccuracy with the image of the Morte DArthur of Malory [sic] in Tennysons Idylls of the Kings; cites the common view of her sexless translation as prudish, and quotes her letter to Yeats regarding the version of the original (do thócbáil a nmochta & a [mn]áe dó/exposing all their shame and nakedness to him): It was to shock Cuchulains modesty it was done, as we know by his hiding his face, & the partial undressing was enough for that. Priests might legitimately say the other called up an indecent picture. (Quoted in Murphy, pref. to Lady Gregory, intro. p.8-9.) [Cont.]
Maureen Hawkins, Ascendancy, Nationalism, Feminist Nationalism and stagecraft in Lady Gregorys revision of Kincora, in Irish Writers and Politics , ed. Komesu & Sekine, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1989) [on the Anglo-Irish literary revivalists]: ‘They turned to cultural hegemony to retain their socio-political position within a changing [society] which, influenced by the tenets of Romantic nationalism, increasingly defined its identity in cultural terms. By teaching the anglicised middle-class native Catholics the language, history and culture of Ireland on which the Romantic nationalist claim to Irish nationhood rested, as well as by expressing that claim in art and politics, they not only asserted their right to inclusion within an Irish nation from which the Romantic nationalist definition excluded them on the grounds of natal language, ethnic origin, class and religion, but also asserted their right to continue to lead the nation. (p.94.)
Douglas Sealy, review of James Pethica, ed., Lady Gregorys Diaries, in The Irish Times (15 July 1996), Weekend, p.10: quotes Lady Gregory: I should be content to have Jack Yeats and Douglas Hyde here for six months of the year, but a few weeks of their wives makes me hide in the woods! I have felt the same with AE and his wife ... - and infers that she displayed a recurrent pattern of antipathy to women. also quotes her account of a trip with AE and Yeats: I took the two poets across the lake to the cromlech & there they sat until they saw a purple clad Druid appear (which she did not). Lady Gregory described George Moore as looking like a boiled ghost.
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Colm Tóibín, Lady Gregorys Toothbrush (Lilliput Press 2002), speaking of the threatened confiscation of tenantss cattle: the cattle raid of Coole did not take place [...] The cold, ruthless tone in her letters to Yeats and Robert [Gregory] about the tenants was not because she was a landlords daughter who could not shake of this tone. She held Coole for Robert. It was his heritage and his inheritance. No matter how she changed in other areas, she remained steadfast in this. It was her duty and she believed in doing her duty more than anything. She merely invented other duties, and when these seemed to conflict with her primary duty, her tone grew steely. (p.52.)
Lionel Pilkington, ‘The Beginnings of the Irish National Theatre Project (2000): [...] the Irish Literary Theatre functioned as a means by which the social and political leadership role of a section of the southern Irish landlord class could find expression as champions of modernization rather than stand out as colonial anachronisms and remain vulnerable to the now much expanded, increasingly confident, and predominantly Roman Catholic, Irish electorate. In these respects, therefore, the national theatre project should be seen not exclusively as a nationalist one: a conciliatory or assimilative cultural project designed to affirm a leadership role for a minority elite in Irish society and culture at a time when the political and economic supports for this role were fast disappearing. (In Eamonn Jordan, ed., Theatre Stuff, Dublin: Carysfort Press 2000, p.31; quoted in Una Kealy, George Fitzmaurice, PhD Diss., UU 2005.)
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Ideals in Ireland (1901) - Introduction: My object in collecting them is to show to those who look beyond politics and horse, in what direction though is moving in Ireland. (rep. in Mark Storey, ed., Poetry and Ireland since 1800: A Source Book, 1988, p.138.)
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Cuchulain of Muirthemne: The History of the Men of the Red Branch of Ulster, arranged and put into English by Lady Gregory, with a Preface by W. B. Yeats ; rep. [with Gods and Fighting Men ] as The Complete Irish Mythology (London: The Slaney Press [Reed Consumer Books] 1995), Notes: I am not enough of a scholar to read the old manuscripts from which these stories are taken, but the Irish text of the greater number has been printed either in Irische Texte, or the Revue Celtique, or by [Eugene] OCurry, in Atlantis and elsewhere, and I have worked from this text, with the help of the translations given. In some cases, as in the greater part of The War for the Bull of Cuailgne, the Irish text has not yet been printed, and I have had to work by comparing and piecing together various translations. / I have had to put a connecting sentence of my own here and there, and I have condensed many passages, and I have sometimes tried to give the meaning of a formula that has lost its old meaning. Thus I have exchanged for the grotesque accounts of Cuchulains distortion - which no doubt merely meant that in time of great strain or danger he had more than human strength - the more simple formula that his appearance changed to the appearance of a god. In the same way, I have left out Levarchams distortion, which was the recognized way of saying she was a swift messenger. / As to the date of the stories, I cannot do better than quote from Mr Alfred Nutts Cuchulain, the Irish Achilles [... &c.] (p.544.)
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Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland  in The Complete Irish Mythology (London: The Slaney Press [Reed Consumer Books] 1995): Notes, I: The Apology: The Irish text of a great number of the stories in this book has been published, and from this text I have worked, making my own translations as far as my scholarship goes, and when it fails, taking the meaning given by better scholars. In some cases the Irish text has not been printed, and I have had to work my comparing and piecing together various translations. I have had to put a connecting sentence of my own here and there, and I have fused different versions together, and condensed many passages, and I have left out many, using the choice that is a perpetual refusing, in trying to get some clear outline of the doings of the heroes. / I have found it more natural to tell the stories in the manner of the thatched houses, where I have heard so many legends of Finn and his friends, and Oisin and Patrick, and the Ever-Living Ones, and the Country of the Young, rather than in the manner of the slated houses, where I have not heard them. [Goes on to speak of Prof. Robert Atkinson (TCD) who famously condemned ancient Irish literature as
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The Spreading of the News (1904): Character comes in, and why it is so I cannot explain, but as soon as one creates a character, he begins to put out little feet of his own and take his own way / The idea of this play first came to me a tragedy. I kept seeing as in a picture people sitting by the roadside, and a girl passing to the market, her head hanging, the heads of others turned towards her, because of some sudden story that had arisen out of a chance words, and had snatched away her good name. / But comedy not tragedy was wanted at our theatre to put beside the high poetic work ... and I let laughter have its way with the little play. I was delayed in beginning it for a while, because I could only think of Bartley Fallon as dull-witted or silly or ignorant, and the handcuffs seemed too harsh a punishment. But one day by the sea at Duras a melancholy man who was telling me about the crosses he had gone through at home same - But Im thinking if I went to America, its long ago today Id be dead. And its a great expense for a poor man to be buried in America. Bartley was born again at the moment, and, far from harshness, I felt I was providing him with a happy old age in giving him the lasting glory of that great and crowning misfortune. (Preface to Seven Short Plays.) Note her account of same in letter to Wilfrid Scawen Blunt: [T]he audience laugh so much at Spreading of the News that they lost about half the dialogue. I mustnt be so amusing again!; and cf Blunts comments on Lady Gregory in The Land War in Ireland (1912): [she] has surrounded herself with people of her class from Ireland, so that there is no longer room for me in her house., above, under under Blunt, Rx.].
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Our Irish Theatre (1913): A few days after that I was back in Coole, and Mr. Yeats came over from Mr. Martyns home, Tillyra, and we wrote a formal letter to send out. We neither of us write a very clear hand, but a friend had must given me a Remington typewriter and I was learning to use it, and I wrote out the letter with its help. That typewriter has done a great deal of work since that  day, making it easy for the printers to read my plays and translations, and Mr. Yeatss plays and essays, and soemtimes his poems. I have used it also for many, many hundreds of letters that have had to be written about theatre business in each of these last fifteen years,. It has gone with me very often up and down to Dublin and back again, and it went with me even to American last year that I might write my letters home [... &c.]; Our statement - it seems now a little pompous - began: // We propose to have performed in Dublin in the spring of every year certain Celtic and Irisfh plays, which whatever be their degree of excellence will be written with a high ambition, and so to build up a Celtic [all/and] Irish school of dramatic literature. We hope to find in Ireland an uncorrupted and imaginative audience trained to listen by its passion for oratory, and believe that our desire to bring upon the stage the deeper thoughts and emotions of Ireland will ensure for us a tolerant welcome, and that freedom to experiment which is not found in theatres of England, and without which no new movement in art or literature can succeed. We will show that Ireland is not the home of buffoonery and of easy sentiment, as it has been represented, but the home of an ancient idealism. We are confident of the support of all Irish people, who are weary of misrepresentation, in carrying out a work that is outside all the political questions that divide us. / I think the word Celtic was put in for the sake of Fiona MacLeod whose plays however we never acted, though we used to amuse ourselves by thinking of rhe call for author that might follow one, and the possible appearance of William Sharp in place of the beautiful woman he had given her out to be, for even then we had little doubt they were one and the same person. (Our Irish Theatre : A Chapter of Autobiography by Lady Gregory, foreword by Roger McHugh, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1972, p.20; further under Douglas Hyde.) [Manifesto also quoted in Hugh Kenner, A Colder Eye, 1983, p.47.]
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The Arabi affair: That was the end of my essay in politics, for though Ireland is always with me, and I first feared and then became reconciled to, and now hope to see an even greater independence than, Home Rule, my saying has been long, I am fighting for it, but preparing for it. And that has been my purpose in my work for establishing a national Theatre, and for the revival of the language, and in making better known the heroic tales of Ireland. For whatever political indignation or energy was born with me may have run its course in that Egyptian year and worn itself out; or it may be that I saw too mudh of the inside, the tangled webs of diplomacy, the driving forces behind politicians. (Seventy Years 1852-1922, ed. Colin Smythe, Gerrards Cross 1974, p.54; cited in Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995pp.86-87.)
Profit in marriage: If I had not married I should not have learned the quick enrichment of sentences that one gets in conversation; had I not been widowed I should not have found the detachment of mind, the leisure for observation necessary to give insight into character, to express and interpret it. Loneliness made me rich - full, as Bacon says. (Quoted in biographical notice on Lady Gregory, in Cóilín D. Owens & Joan N. Radner, Irish Drama 1900-1980 (Washington: Cath. UP. 1990), pp.123-13.
Absolute power: On the signing of the limited liability contract of the Abbey Theatre Company in Sept. 1905, Lady Gregory noted that the effect was to disenfranchise the actors and hence to confer absolute power on the directors, Yeats, Lady Gregory and Synge. (Gregory to Quinn, I Nov. 1905 [NY Public Library]; cited in James Pethica, ‘“A Young Mans Ghost: Lady Gregory and J. M. Synge, in Irish University Review, 34, 1, Spring/Summer 2004), p.13.)
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