After the funeral, Irish-American lawyer John Quinn, 51, and his assistant [and mistress] Mrs. Jeanne Foster, 42, have come back here, to the Lower East Side boarding house where the Irish painter, John Butler [“JB”] Yeats lived for most of the past 15 years that he has been in New York City.
Father of Quinn’s good friend, Irish poet William Butler Yeats, 56, JB died two days ago, age 82, feisty and painting right up until the end. His unfinished self-portrait, which was a commission from Quinn, hangs here in his bedroom.
Self-portrait [unfinished] by JB Yeats
The old man had come to New York with his daughter for a holiday visit and just decided to stay, despite constant entreaties from his family to come home to Ireland. As he explained to them, a friend had told him that
In Dublin it is hopeless insolvency. Here it is hopeful insolvency.”
Quinn has kept an eye on him, and, as JB became more unwell in the past year, had taken care of him with help from Jeanne. Willie Yeats would sell his original manuscripts to Quinn but tell him to use the money to pay for his Dad’s upkeep.
JB was quite active—going out for breakfasts, coming to Quinn’s for Sunday lunch, staying up late talking to friends—up until a week or so ago. He had gone to a poetry reading out in Brooklyn, and, confused, took the wrong subway and ended up walking too long in the cold winter air. Since then his cough had worsened, and his health had generally gone downhill.
Now Quinn and Foster are surveying the room, filled with the life of this old artist. Yeats and his sisters will let them know if their Dad is to buried in Ireland in the spring, or laid to rest here sooner. Jeanne has suggested a spot in her family plot in the Adirondacks.
In the meantime, they will have to go through the papers and the pictures to determine what to throw out and what to send back to Ireland. Willie wants his sisters’ Cuala Press to bring out a volume of their father’s correspondence.
On an easel in a corner of the room is another of his unfinished works, a drawing of Jeanne. JB’s last words to her as she left him on Thursday night were,
Remember you have promised me a sitting in the morning.”
Jeanne Robert Foster by JB Yeats
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and also in print and e-book formats on Amazon. For more information, email me at email@example.com.
Due to the horrible winter weather, we have had to postpone our celebration of the 148th birthday of my fellow Pittsburgher Gertrude Stein to Thursday, February 17, at 7 pm, at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill. You can register for this free event, or sign up to watch it via Zoom, here.
At the end of the month I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses at the Osher Lifelong Learning program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.