In New York on April 30, 1921, as the liner Aquitania sailed up the bay from quarantine, the tenor John McCormack, one of the most celebrated singers of the time, showed himself before the recording instruments of the media. The role he was performing approximated what his fellow Irishman William Butler Yeats was to call (in “Among School Children”) “a smiling public man.” A space of foggy air and wooden decking separated him from the battery of cameras.
Then, though, the cameras moved in closer and the singer began to speak.
The reporters took down his words. They turned out to be Irish words.
New York Tribune, 1 May 1921, page 12
Along with the celebrated singer, a celebrated newspaper publisher was on board the ship, and so was a celebrated Hollywood producer. We’re willing to believe they were because the story tells us so in indirect discourse. We don’t need the publisher’s or the producer’s actual words to bear witness. And as to the singer, in 1921 all the cameras had to be silent.
In my post of September 9, 2018, I reproduce an image from Virginia Woolf’s photo album captioned, in writing that looks like Woolf’s, “Lytton Strachey & Yeats at Ottoline Morrell’s.” However, the man identified as Yeats doesn’t much resemble Yeats in other images.
And he isn’t. The photograph, taken by Lady Ottoline in June 1923, shows Woolf between Strachey and the Cambridge historian Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, another member of the Bloomsbury Group.
Photoshopped by me, a 1920 photograph of William Butler Yeats holding a copy of his edition of Blake is now up at Hell’s Printing Press: The Blog of the Blake Archive and Blake Quarterly, with some information about the history of the image. Click
I have heard that hysterical women say
They are sick of the palette and the fiddle-bow,
Of poets that are always gay,
For everybody knows or should know
That if nothing drastic is done
Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out,
Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in
Until the town lie beaten flat.
2. Wyndham Lewis, a contemporary of Mr. Yeats who views himself as a destructive mechanism, charges his palette.
3. Ascending in the mechanism, Mr. Yeats takes the long view.
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.