McGowan’s Code: Deciphering John Masefield and Jack B. Yeats

  • Philip W. Errington
Part of the Yeats Annual book series (YA)


LADY GREGORY REPORTS that W. B. Yeats once told John Masefield ‘You’ll be a popular poet—you’ll be riding in your carriage and pass me in the gutter’.1 In later life, however, Masefield was sought out by those who wanted to discuss not his own work, but that of Yeats.2 It is not this later period of Masefield’s life I wish to discuss, however (nor indeed his connections with W. B. Yeats) but the friendship between Masefield and Jack B. Yeats that proved particularly productive for Masefield in a more relaxed and flippant vein. In contrast to Masefield’s connections to WBY, the friendship with Jack Yeats was the friendship of escapism and the desperately juvenile which enabled a release upon which both men thrived. The collaborative productions between Jack Yeats and Masefield, in addition to a substantial correspondence and holidays spent together suggest that the two were particularly close.


Collaborative Production Secret Code Bodleian Library Code Breaking Literary Representative 
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  1. 1.
    Daniel J. Murphy (ed.), Lady Gregorys Journals Volume One (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1987), p. 385. I am grateful to the Society of Authors as literary representative of the Estate of John Masefield, to the Bodleian Library, and the Houghton Library, Harvard University for permission to reproduce Plate 10.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The example of Daniel Hoffman’s visit in 1961 is cited by Alison Lurie in ‘Opening the Box of Delights’, The New York Review of Books, 21 December 1995, 48–53.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    John Masefield, New Chum (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1944), p. 186.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    Jack B. Yeats, A Little Fleet (London: Elkin Mathews, 1909), p. [6].Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    John Masefield, ‘Glossary’, Salt-Water Ballads (London: Grant Richards, 1902), p.109.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Muriel Spark reports that Lord Alfred Douglas claimed the poem was ‘ninetenths sheer filth’ and that Masefield exceeded the ‘wicked licentiousness’ of Marlowe. See Muriel Spark, John Masefield (London: Hutchinson, 1991), pp. 4–5.Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    First printed in Ernest Marriott, Jack B. Yeats: being a true and impartial view of his pictorial and dramatic art (London: Elkin Mathews, 1911) and also reproduced in T. G. Rosenthal, The Art of Jack B. Yeats (London: André Deutsch, 1993), p. 3.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    Hilary Pyle, Jack B. Yeats (London: André Deutsch, 1989), p. 96.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Liam Miller, The Dun Emer Press, Later The Cuala Press (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1973, p. 120. ‘A View of Pirate Island’ includes ‘McGowan’s Garden’ and ‘McGowan’s House’.Google Scholar
  10. 25.
    Judith Masefield has herself mentioned that one of the toys her father built for her was a soap box with ‘a mast with sails that furled, and correct rigging’. See her ‘Introduction’ to Corliss Lamont, Remembering John Masefield, (London: Kaye and Ward, 1972), p. 10.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip W. Errington

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