FARR, FLORENCE

Rare Autograph Letter Signed by Florence Farr, a Muse of W.B. Yeats

Item #20127


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FARR, FLORENCE - Rare Autograph Letter Signed by Florence Farr, a Muse of W.B. Yeats
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FARR, FLORENCE - Rare Autograph Letter Signed by Florence Farr, a Muse of W.B. Yeats

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FARR, FLORENCE. (1860-1917). British actress, playwright, producer, mystic, feminist, mistress of George Bernard Shaw, and longtime collaborator of W.B. Yeats on the half-spoken, half-sung performance of poetry. ALS. (“Florence Farr”). 1½pp. 4to. New York City, (Feb. 27, 1907). To CORNELIUS WEYGANDT (1871-1957), an influential University of Pennsylvania professor of literature and writer on American culture.

 

“Mr. Yeats has written me a letter of introduction to you. I am giving a lecture and recitals in The States. Recitals of poetry of all kinds and a lecture on the music of speech. I have been to Bryn Mawr & the secretary told me they had never expressed so much enthusiasm before. My fee for lecture including expenses to Philadelphia would be 75 dollars. I am getting 200 dollars for recitals in New York. I shall be in New York till the middle of March when I go to Boston & I may go to Toronto & Chicago if I can fit in the dates they offer me to make one journey of it in the beginning of April. Mr. John Quinn 31 Nassau Street New York City is doing my business for me and his address will always find me…”

 

Farr began her career as an actress and won the adoration of both George Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) after playing the Priestess Amaryllis in John Todhunter’s A Sicilian Idyll. She became Shaw’s mistress, who endeavored to make her the ideal actress for his plays, and an influential muse and collaborator of Yeats, who shared her interest in the occult.

 

In 1902, Yeats published an essay entitled “Speaking to the Psaltery,” an ancient stringed instrument, in which he stated “I have always known that there was something I disliked about singing, and I naturally dislike print and paper, but now at last I understand why, for I have found something better. I have just heard a poem spoken with so delicate a sense of its rhythm, with so perfect a respect for its meaning, that if I were a wise man and could persuade a few people to learn the art I would never open a book of verses again. A friend, who was here a few minutes ago, [presumably Farr] has sat with a beautiful stringed instrument upon her knee, her fingers passing over the strings, and has spoken to me some verses from Shelley’s Skylark and Sir Ector’s lamentation over the dead Launcelot out of the Morte d’Arthur and some of my own poems. Wherever the rhythm was most delicate, wherever the emotion was most ecstatic, her art was the most beautiful, and yet, although she sometimes spoke to a little tune, it was never singing, as we sing to-day, never anything but speech… I cannot tell what changes this new art is to go through, or to what greatness or littleness of fortune; but I can imagine little stories in prose with their dialogues in metre going pleasantly to the strings. I am not certain that I shall not see some Order naming itself from the Golden Violet of the Troubadours or the like, and having among its members none but well-taught and well-mannered speakers who will keep the new art from disrepute.”

 

Thus began Yeats’ efforts to “revive the oral tradition of chanting and musical speech in… what amounts to a lost literary movement central to the development of poetry in the early twentieth century,” (“Review: Ronald Schuchard, The Last Minstrels: Yeats and the Revival of the Bardic Arts,” Modern Philology, Thuente). Yeats’ collaborator in this endeavor was Farr, with whom the poet experimented with this new art form for many years, “To Yeats and Farr, the psaltery was at once an instrument and a symbol of evocation, and the living voice of the poet-reciter an expression of the emotion and ecstasy of vision,” (ibid.).

 

Thoroughly Bohemian, Farr was inducted into the Isis-Urania Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult organization, begun by Yeats in 1890. However, her interest in the occult, magic, divination, spiritualism and Theosophy, far surpassed that of Yeats who mocked her interest in Egyptology in his play Caesar and Cleopatra.Farr’s role as “praemonstratrix” of the temple eventually led to a schism within the order. She went on to write and produce a number of plays before moving to Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) to teach at a Tamil school for women. After her death in Sri Lanka from breast cancer at age 56, Yeats memorialized her in his poem “All Soul’s Night” which reads, in part, “On Florence Emery [her married name, though divorced] I call the next, / Who finding the first wrinkles on a face / Admired and beautiful, / And by the foreknowledge of the future vexed; / Diminished beauty, multiplied commonplace; / Preferred to teach a school / Away from neighbor or friend, / Among dark skins, permit foul years to wear  / Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.”

 

John Quinn (1870-1924) was an Irish-American attorney and one of the greatest art, rare book and manuscript collectors of the 20th century. A chief organizer of the famous 1913 Armory Show in New York City, his collection was sold in a series of memorable auctions beginning in 1927.

 

Weygandt was a professor of English literature at the University of Pennsylvania from 1897 to 1952 with a special interest in poetry especially that of the Celtic Revival, penning several works on the subject and maintaining a correspondence with some of its leading members. Yeats’ February 13, 1907 letter of introduction to Weygandt is published in The Collected Letters of W.B. Yeats, Volume IV, 1905-1907. Our letter is a response to Weygandt’s invitation to Farr to perform in Philadelphia which he extended after hearing her perform in Bryn Mawr.

 

Accompanied by two identical offprints with reviews (by Yeats and others) of Farr’s “The Chorus of Classical Plays to the Music of a Psaltery,” a third, different version, and another offprint entitled “The Art of Rhapsody” that includes blurb from G.K. Chesterton.

 

Lightly folded and in very good condition; with the original envelope. Uncommon.

 

 

 

Item #20127  


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