A Medical Marvel

UCD Library Special Collections has just completed the cataloguing of a major new W. B. Yeats Collection that it received as a donation in 2015. The interest of the collection stems not only for its contents, but also from the story of how it was gathered together and how it reached UCD Library.

From the 1930’s onwards, Dr John Satchell Rake practised medicine in the small Oxfordshire village of Shenington but he also had passion for the arts and literature. Whilst studying in London in the 1920’s he was, according to his son, involved more with the artistic set than the medical fraternity and it was at this time that his interest in W.B. Yeats started. He amassed the collection of Yeats over the whole of his life and transferred it to his son Mark as a birthday present after retirement. Dr John Satchell Rake met with Yeats on several occasions both at Oxford and in London, and his study of his work led him to correspond with Yeats himself and with Allan Wade, who wrote the definitive bibliography of Yeats’s work.

The donor, Dr Mark Rake was his third child and second son, born just before the war in 1939. He grew up in the country and went to Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire. Mark qualified as a doctor in 1963 and trained at Guy’s and King’s Hospitals where he was involved in the care of the first liver transplant patients in the UK. Mark also spent a period in the war torn Nigeria and Biafra working for Save the Children. He became a consultant in general medicine and gastroenterology in Canterbury in 1973, where he remained till retirement in 2002. He was the Secretary of the Canterbury Festival and in the latter years was Dean of the Kent Institute of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Kent.

Dr Mark Rake and Evelyn Flanagan

Dr Mark Rake with Special Collections Librarian, Evelyn Flanagan May 2015.

Although Mark had four children he, and they, felt that this collection of Yeats materials was important enough to be put into the public domain so that people other than immediate family could access it. Therefore in February 2015, Dr Mark Rake donated the Yeats collection to UCD, returning it, as he said, “to a major university in the land of Yeats’ birth”.

'The Hour Glass'

Signed copy of Yeats’ ‘The Hour Glass’.

The backbone of the collection is Yeats first editions, many signed by the author and some very rare. The Dundrum based Cuala Press, run by the Yeats sisters, was the initial publisher of most of W. B. Yeats’s poetry collections. Cuala was quite a family affair, also publishing works by Jack B. Yeats and the paterfamilias, John B. Yeats. The Hour Glass is a good example of an early Cuala Press imprint; Worldcat lists only four copies extant in public institutions.

Some letters between Yeats and J.M. Hone, an early biographer, forms part of the collection. ‘I shall be greatly pleased and flattered if you write the work about me, you speak of‘, remarks Yeats – the book may indeed have praised him highly but only to a very select few: Hone explains in another letter that most copies of the book were destroyed by fire during the 1916 Insurrection.

Much is known of the (mostly unrequited) love affair between Yeats and Maud Gonne. Gonne’s copy of The Celtic Twilight would indicate that by 1893 their relationship had a least reached the stage where he considered himself as her ‘friend’.

'The Celtic Twilight'

‘The Celtic Twilight’ with dedication to Maud Gonne from Yeats.

The John Satchell Rake Yeats Collection is a wonderful addition to our Anglo-Irish collections and is now open for consultation by students, staff and scholars.

  • This post was researched and written by Eugene Roche, Assistant Librarian, UCD Special Collections.

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