They Asked For A Paper–Irish Poets at the ABL

Borrowing its title from a collection of essays by C. S. Lewis, this series, They Asked For A Paper,”  highlights interesting items from the Armstrong Browning Library’s collection and suggests topics for further research.

By Melinda Creech
Manuscripts Specialist, Armstrong Browning Library

March 15-17, 2017, Baylor will be hosting the 23rd Annual Beall Poetry Festival, featuring Catriona O’Reilly, Margaret Mills Harper, Adrian Rice, Micheal O’Siadhail, and a poetry panel, moderated by Chloe Honum. The festival this year has a decidedly Irish tenor, featuring three Irish poets and an American Yeats scholar, who teaches at the University of Limerick, as the festival’s guests. The festival will also end on St. Patrick’s Day.

However, visits by poets to the Baylor campus were not exclusive to the twenty-first century. Dr. A. J. Armstrong, head of the English Department at Baylor for 40 years, from 1912-1952, made a conscious effort to invite famous literary men and women to speak at Baylor, including many poets, such as Robert Frost, Vachel Lindsay, Amy Lowell, Carl Sandburg, and William Butler Yeats.

The Beall Poetry Festival has invited Irish poets in the past, most notably Seamus Heaney, who spoke here in 2013, shortly before his death. Dr. Armstrong, early in the twentieth century also invited Irish poets to speak at Baylor University.

Padraic Colum

Padraic Colum (1881-1972), Irish poet, novelist, dramatist, biographer, playwright, children’s author and collector of folklore, was one of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival. He visited Baylor University on January 23, 1929, giving a lecture on the musical, oral quality of poetry and leaving a manuscript copy of lines from his poem, “An Old Woman of the Roads.”

Padraic Colum. Lines from “An Old Woman of the Roads.” Autograph manuscript signed.

Och! but I’m weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there’s never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!


Lennox Robinson

Esmé Stuart Lennox Robinson (1886-1958), an Irish dramatist, poet and theatre producer and director who was involved with the Abbey Theatre, visited Baylor February 11, 1932. The Abbey Irish Players performed at Baylor on February 20, 1932. These telegrams from the Robinsons’s agent accept the engagement and inform of their arrival:

Telegram from M. C. Turner to Dr. A. J. Armstrong, accepting an invitation to speak at Baylor University.

Telegram from M. C. Turner to Dr. A. J. Armstrong, informing him of the Robinsons’s arrival the following day via the Texas Special train.


George William Russell (AE)

George William Russell (AE) (1867-1935), an Irish writer, editor, critic, poet, artistic painter and Irish nationalist, spoke at Baylor on December 11, 1930. A manuscript copy of his poem, “Outcast,” is now in the collection at the Armstrong Browning Library.

George William Russell. “Outcast.” Autograph manuscript signed.

Sometimes when alone
at the dark close of day
Men meet an outlawed majesty
and hurry away.

They come to the lighted house,
They talk to their dear,
They crucify the mystery
with words of good cheer

When love and life are over
And light at an end
on the outcast majesty
They lean as a friend.


William Butler Yeats, holding a volume of William Blake’s Poetical Sketches. Yeats edited an edition of Blake’s collected works in 1893.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), one of the greatest poets in the twentieth century, was the first Irishman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923.

Yeats lectured and read his poetry at Baylor on April 16, 1920. The Lariat, Baylor’s student newspaper, reports that he recounted several literary men who had influenced his life, remarking that “A number of those friends were slaves to intoxicants and their best poems … were written while they were somewhat in the state of sadness or dissipation. Yeats stated that he did not believe men had to lead a dissipated life to be great, but that it had somewhat of an influence over him.”

Letter from George Yeats to Mrs. A. J. Armstrong, 21 April 1920.

This is a transcription of a letter from George Yeats, William Butler Yeats’s wife, to Mrs. A. J. Armstrong. In the letter  George Yeats describes how much she and Willy enjoyed their visit to Baylor. The letter was probably transcribed by Lois Smith Douglas in preparation for her biography of Dr. A. J. Armstrong, Through Heaven’s Back Door. The whereabouts of the original letter is unknown.

The Armstrong Browning Library also has letters, archives, manuscripts, and books from many Irish poets from the nineteenth century, including George Darley, Aubrey de Vere, William Allingham, Lady Jane Wilde, Katharine Tynan, Richard D’Alton Williams, and Lizzie Mary Little.

Armstrong’s Stars: William Butler Yeats

“Armstrong’s Stars” is a collaboration between the Armstrong Browning Library and Baylor’s Texas Collection. Once a month we feature a story about a celebrity that Dr. A.J. Armstrong brought to Baylor. These stories highlight an interesting part of Baylor’s history and include collection materials housed in both the Armstrong Browning Library and the Texas Collection.

This month’s story was contributed by Baylor graduate (BA ’14) and Sigma Tau Delta member Rebecca Hans.   

Yeats Photo in Lariat

Photograph of William Butler Yeats appearing in the April 8, 1920, issue of The Lariat (The Texas Collection)

On April 16, 1920, at five o’clock in the evening, poet William Butler Yeats shared about his life and influences and read his work in front of a packed house of Baylor students, faculty, and community. The evening, part of the university’s Diamond Jubilee celebration, had been eagerly anticipated in four Baylor Lariat articles articulating not only W.B. Yeats’s notability and talent, but also the hard work of Dr. A.J. Armstrong for orchestrating the visit. The Lariat especially emphasized the singularity of the event, urging students not to miss the unique opportunity.

The first news regarding the event was an April 1st issue of the Baylor Lariat. The piece announced W.B. Yeats’s lecture and described him as a poet “considered by all competent critics the foremost English man of letters now living.” The lecture would be titled “Friends in my Youth” and was already expected to be “a great day in Baylor history” (“William Butler Yeats” 7).

These early Lariat articles advertising Yeats’s appearance are particularly interesting from a modern perspective. In 1920, Yeats had not yet achieved the irrefutable eminence associated with his name today but was instead described as a brilliant poet on the rise. Many of the great works for which Yeats is known today had yet to be written; even “The Second Coming,” one of his most famous works, may have been unknown to the Waco audiences. Regardless, the literary community thought highly of Yeats. He was so respected even in 1920 that the Lariat accurately prophesied that his “name and work will take place in the front rank of the poetry that passes from this generation to posterity” (“W.B Yeats Secured for Friday, 16th” 1).

When the official invitation appeared advertising the “First Big Guns of Baylor Diamond Jubilee,” Former President William Howard Taft and the poet William Butler Yeats both shared the advertisement. Although President Taft’s portion was presented in a grander style, Yeats’s portion was given equal importance. The invitation emphasized Yeats’s appearance as an important event for anyone interested in “world affairs,” not just a night out for poetry enthusiasts. These instructions were heeded, and long before Yeats took the stage, a varied collection of people paid fifty cents to fill Carroll Chapel to capacity (“William Butler Yeats Delivers Fine Lecture” 1; “Yeats Friday, 5 O’Clock” 2).

Yeats Invitation

Announcement of appearances by William Butler Yeats and William Howard Taft (The Texas Collection)

The poet laureate of Texas, Judd Mortimer Lewis, also came to Waco specifically for the event, and introduced W.B. Yeats to the crowd himself. Yeats began the lecture, “Friends in my Youth,” with details of his childhood, specifically the influence of his father, an artist. The larger part of the talk, however, focused on his mentors and other literary men who had profoundly influenced his growth as a man and poet. Of these influences Yeats mentioned Arthur Symons, Francis Thompson, and William Ernest Henly, and read examples of their work aloud to the Waco audience. To the delight of the crowd, Yeats read aloud from his own work for the concluding half hour, “a treat to lovers of poetry” (“William Butler Yeats Delivers Fine Lecture” 1).

Although the bulk of Lariat coverage focused on Yeats himself, the writers did credit Dr. Armstrong’s work bringing influential speakers to the campus: “The policy of Dr. Armstrong in bringing men to Baylor is to get men who have a world-wide reputation” (“W.B Yeats Secured for Friday, 16th” 1). In a letter to the University President, Samuel Palmer Brooks, Dr. Armstrong reflected on the events of the previous year and described in further detail what the Lariat titled “his policy”:

My primary purpose is not to make money but to give the students an opportunity to come in contact with world forces and world geniuses. I believe it is one thing they will remember longer than anything else connected with their school days. I consider these attractions all of the highest type and I think my English Department is gaining launch for itself abroad.

Today, Baylor University features visits from world-renowned thinkers, writers, and speakers who also share their work and experiences with the university and community. The English Department especially has preserved Dr. A.J. Armstrong’s tradition through events such as the Beall Poetry Festival, an annual event bringing internationally acclaimed poets to Waco. Many modern students can speak with a similar satisfaction as those of 1920, although many may wish they had been present to witness “the biggest literary man that has yet spoken in Carroll Chapel,” as William Butler Yeats shared his story and his art (“W.B Yeats Secured for Friday, 16th” 1).

Works Cited

Armstrong, A.J. to Samuel Palmer Brooks, 4 April 1921, Andrew Joseph Armstrong Papers, Accession #0449, Box 1, Folder 1, Texas Collection, Baylor University.  MS.

First Big Guns of Baylor Diamond Jubilee, Invitation. The Texas Collection, Baylor University Libraries, Waco. Print.

“W.B Yeats Secured for Friday, 16th.” The Lariat 8 Apr. 1920: 1. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

“William Butler Yeats.” The Lariat 1 Apr. 1920: 7. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

“William Butler Yeats Delivers Fine Lecture.” The Lariat 22 Apr. 1920: 1. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

“Yeats Friday, 5 O’Clock.” The Lariat 15 Apr. 1920: 2. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.