English Market for Irish Writing (United Irishman, 1904)

1.365. The United Irishman: A National Weekly Review, No.269, Vol.11 (Dublin), 23 April, 1904, 3.

A Letter from Thomas MacDonagh in The United Irishman, 23rd of April, 1904.

In The United Irishman for the 2nd of April, 1904, in a piece entitled ‘Irish Books and Irish Publishers’, James Connolly asked why the books by Irish authors he had seen for sale in London should not be published in Dublin rather than in England, laying much of the blame for this state of affairs at the door of Irish publishers. This set off a discussion in The United Irishman which ran throughout April and on into May, both by way of editorial comment – which pointed the question back at Irish authors themselves – and by way of contributions from others. In the edition of April the 23rd, under the heading of ‘Irish Books and English Publishers’, Thomas MacDonagh gave voice to a number of counter-arguments which have a bearing on the nature of the English audience for Irish writing, though Haines, having at least come to Ireland, is perhaps not entirely typical of the readership at issue here:


¶¶Mr. Connolly has done well in opening the question of Irish books published out of Ireland: it is certainly a pity that the chief of those who write English books on Irish subjects should go to London for publishers. “Why,” he is asked, “cannot those books be published in Dublin?” And answers, “Ask the Irish publishers,” to which you add, “And the Irish authors.” What of the readers, the book-buying public?
¶¶Before turning to the purely practical side it is well to consider sentiment. The patriot author does not wish to pander to the tastes of English readers; but in Ireland there is no demand for his books. It is my opinion that if there is to come a market for books in this country it will be for works in Irish; at present few people buy books produced at home, and books published here do not easily get a sale elsewhere. There are exceptions: there are a very few authors who, having boldly trusted, have not been disappointed in their English-reading fellow-countrymen. But there are exceptions, a very few, and is it not as well thus? And will not the reading of these books diminish with the growth of the Gaelic League?
¶¶Of Mr. Yeats, Mr. Russell, and Mr. Standish O’Grady, Alfred Nutt lately wrote: “In so far as they are popular in Ireland, that popularity is a reflex of English opinion”; and he has “a great deal of experience to justify him in doubting that the genius of Mr. Yeats is recognised in the provinces in Ireland.” Mr. Nutt disclaims anti-Irish feelings in what he has written — a disclaimer from him unnecessary. I, who have published only in Ireland, offered contributions to no paper but yours, may be acquitted of want of patriotism in stating my belief that he who “sells his wit” in London and spends the price in Ireland is not the worse patriot.
¶¶Is it not sound economy to accept foreign money for native product? What Irish manufacturer, having made cloth, refuses to allow its being made into clothes in England? What farmer thinks it unpatriotic to sell his corn or cattle to an English miller or butcher? I can hear a hundred angry objections to this reasoning — why not have the tailoring and the milling and the butchering at home, the market in England? And then we are back to the “authors who have compromised with their consciences by getting the printing done in Ireland.”
¶¶The nobility of self-sacrifice is a high nobility, but high only when it serves a worthy cause. You pay a sum of money to have a book published in Ireland. If the book sells, a larger sum comes to you from the pockets of Irish people; if the book does not sell, you have purchased so much paper printed over with your own work. In either case, if you will, you aid Irish printing and Irish paper-making. Were it not better done to import money into the country by selling your work? You spread Irish thought a little, perhaps; but where, after all, is the nobility of self-sacrifice? If you want to make sacrifices, give your money to the Gaelic League or to an Irish industrial association.
¶¶I think that it would be a very good thing to have in Dublin a flourishing book market, to have books in many languages published there. I merely insist that books are published in England because the demand is there; and I contend that an author is not false to his country in selling to a London publisher books for which Irish publishers will not pay. With those to whom the publication of books is a recreation, I am not in this concerned. No personal reasons have urged me to write this: I have found the publishers of my small ventures to be honourable and helpful and patient; I have not sought gain from my publications; but I do not wish to be thought unpatriotic if, in the future, I publish a book in England or America, and I think there are many with me.

Thomas MacDonagh