In 1979, in a preface to a new edition of Yeats: The Man and the Masks, Richard Ellmann wrote about 46 Palmerston Road in Rathmines in Dublin, where George Yeats lived between her husband's death in 1939 and her own death almost thirty years later. Mrs Yeats lived, Ellmann wrote, among the dead poet's papers. 'There in the bookcases was his working library, often heavily annotated, and in cabinets and file cases were all his manuscripts, arranged with care . . . She was very good at turning up at once some early draft of a poem or play or prose work, or a letter Yeats had received or written.' When Ellmann came to Dublin in 1946 to work on his book, 'she produced an old suitcase and filled it with manuscripts that I wanted to examine. At the beginning she was anxious about one of them, the unpublished first draft of Yeats's autobiography, and asked me to return it speedily . . . I was able to allay her disquiet by returning the manuscript on time.' She had, Ellmann wrote, provided Yeats with 'a tranquil house, she understood his poems, and she liked him as a man'. Now she oversaw the poet's legacy with canniness and care.
LRB 20 February 2003 | PDF Download