Preface to John Butler Yeats, Early Memories: Some Chapters of Autobiography (1923)

  • William H. O’Donnell
Part of the The Collected Edition of the Works of W. B. Yeats book series (CWWBY)


My father died in New York on February 2nd, 1922, at the end of his eighty-second † year. He died after a few hours’ † illness brought on, as it seemed, by a long walk in the cold of a New York winter. He awoke in the middle of the night to find his friends Mrs Foster and Mr John Quinn sitting beside his bed and after a few words of pleasure at the sight said to Mrs Foster, † ‘Remember you have promised me a sitting in the morning.’ These were his last words for he dropped off to sleep and died in his sleep.1 He had gone to America some ten or twelve years before to be near my eldest sister who had an exhibition of embroidery there, and though she left after a few months he stayed on.2 ‘At last,’ he said, † ‘I have found a place where people do not eat too much at dinner to talk afterwards.’ As he grew infirm his family and his friends constantly begged him to return, but, though he promised as constantly and would even fix the day of sailing, he would always ask for a few weeks more. He lived in a little French hotel in 29th Street where there is a café and night after night sat there, sketch book in hand, surrounded by his friends, painters and writers for the most part, who came to hear his conversation.3


29th Street Full Expression Remote Past Early Memory Middle Life 
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  1. 1.
    Mrs Jeanne Robert Foster (1879–1970), an American journalist and poet, was a friend of John Butler Yeats (JBY) in New York. From 1921 she was the companion of John Quinn (1870–1924), an American lawyer and patron. Both she and Quinn were tireless supporters of JBY. She reported JBY’s words, spoken to her on the evening of 1 Feb 1922, in a letter to W. B. Yeats dated 5 Feb: ‘You’ll surely come to sit in the morning, won’t you?’ (L7WBY 407). JBY died on the morning of 3 Feb; see William M. Murphy, Prodigal Father: The Life of fohn Butler Yeats (1839–1922) (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978) pp. 537–8.Google Scholar
  2. Ireland until 1923; see W. B. Yeats to John Quinn, 3 Nov 1923, excerpted in B. L. Reid, The Man from New York: John Quinn and his Friends (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968) p. 584.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Micheal Yeats 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • William H. O’Donnell
    • 1
  1. 1.MemphisUSA

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