James H. Cousins (1873-1956)

[James Henry Sproul[e] Cousins, occas. pseud ‘Mac Oisín’;] b. Belfast, of Methodist family and of Huguenot descent; worked as office boy, clerk, and sec. to the Daniel Dixon, Lord Mayor of Belfast [1st Bart.]; moved to Dublin in the 1897 and encouraged George Roberts to do likewise as representative of a Belfast firm; became a theosophist, vegetarian, and playwright; met the Fay brothers, 1901; acted in Irish National Theatre Soc.. appearing in Yeats’s Cathleen ni Houlihan has Henry Sproule; author of plays, viz. The Sleep of The King (1902), The Racing Lug ([Anc. Concert Rooms 1902) - sometimes compared to Riders to the Sea, and The Sword of Dermot (1903); left Yeats’s theatre with the majority after Yeats quashed [‘squelched’ acc. Finneran] the production of his comedy Sold as ill-written (‘too much Cousins’);
Cousins recorded psychic experiments for William Fletcher Barrett, co-fndr. of the Society for Psychical Research an Prof. of Physics at TCD; m. Margaret [Gretta] Cousins (née Gillespie), c.1904 [q.v.]; James Joyce stays in their home at the Bungalow, Dromard Terrace, Sandymount, in summer 1904, before moving into Gogarty’s Martello Tower, the opening setting of Ulysses; his theosophical publications later satirised as the ‘table book of Cousins’ in Joyce’s verse-broadside Gas from a Burner, chiefly an attack on the publisher Roberts; reputedly the model for Joyce’s Little Chandler in Dubliners; worked as asst. master of English at Harcourt Street School from 1905; co-fnd. with his wife, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, et al., fnd. with her husband, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, et al., the Irish Women’s Franchise League, 1908;
became a fnd.-editor of Irish Citizen (1912), handing over to Francis Sheehy-Skeffington on the Cousins’ departure for Liverpool, 1913, and India, on tickets paid by Annie Besant, 1915; took name of Jayaram on conversion to Hinduism; believed in the shared sensibilities of Celtic and Oriental peoples; associated with Tagore, Gandhi and yogi-nationalist [Sri] Aurobindo Ghose, as well as classical dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale and painter Abdur Rahman Chughtail; visited Pondicherry to meet the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, 1920; co-founded the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC); he was an influential pedagogue and literary critic in India during his long sojourn; stayed on with his wife for the remainder of their lives excepting a year spent as an English professor at Keio University (Tokyo) and another lecturing in New York; issued a joint autobiography with Margaret Cousins, published by Kalashetra (1950) . PI DBIV DIB DIL APPL OCIL

[ top ]

  • Ben Madighan and Other Poems (Belfast: Marcus Ward [1894]);
  • The Legend of the Blemished King (Dublin: Doyle 1897), 93pp.;
  • The Voice of One (London: T. Fisher Unwin 1900);
  • The Quest (Dublin: Maunsel 1906), 54pp.;
  • The Awakening and Other Sonnets (Dublin: Maunsel [1907]);
  • The Bell-Branch (Dublin: Maunsel 1908), 47pp.;
  • Etain the Beloved and Other Poems (Dublin: Maunsel 1912);
  • Straight and Crooked (London: Grant Richards 1915);
  • The Garland of Life (Madras, Ganesh 1917);
  • Moulted Feathers (Madras: Ganesh 1919);
  • Sea-change (Madras: Ganesh 1920);
  • Forest Meditations and Other Poems (Asia (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House 1925);
  • Above the Rainbow and Other Poems (Madras: Ganesh 1926);
  • The Girdle (Madras Puck/Ganesh 1929);
  • The Wandering Harp: Selected Poems (NY: Roerich Museum Press 1932);
  • A Bardic Pilgrimage: Second Selection of the Poetry of James H. Cousins (NY: Roerich Museum Press 1934);
  • The Oracle and Other Poems (Madras: Ganesh 1938);
  • Collected Poems (1940)
  • Reflections Before Sunset (Adyra, Madras: Kalakshetra 1946).
  • The King’s Wife (Madras: Ganesh 1919);
  • The Sword of Dermot (Madras: Shama’s Publishing House 1927);
  • The Hound of Uladh, Two Plays in Verse (Adyar, Madras: Kalakshetra 1942);
  • ‘The Racing Lug’, printed in United Irishman (5 July 1902), and Do. rep. in Robert Hogan & James Kilroy, eds., Lost Plays of the Irish Literary Renaissance (Delaware: Proscenium Press [Univ. of Delaware] 1970);
  • The Sleep of the King: One-act Poetic Drama, and The Sword of Dermot: A Three-act Tragedy, intro. William A Dumbleton [Irish Drama Ser., Vol. 8] (Chicago: De Paul UP [1973]).
  • The Wisdom of the West [Mythological Series] (London: Theosophical Publishing Society 1912) [cited in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, Gill & Macmillan 1975, p.65];
  • The Bases of Theosophy (Madras, Benares & Chicago: Theosophical Publishing House 1913);
  • New Ways in English Literature (Madras: Ganesh [1917]), and Do. rev. edn.] (1919);
  • The Renaissance in India [Madras: Ganesh 1918];
  • Footsteps of Freedom (Madras: Ganesh 1919);
  • Modern English Poetry (Madras: Ganesh 1921);
  • The Cultural Unity of Asia (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House 1922);
  • Surya-Gita (Madras: Ganesh 1922);
  • Work and Worship: Essays on Culture and Creative Art (Madras: Ganesh 1922);
  • The New Japan, Impressions and Reflections (Madras: Ganesh 1923) [on Japanese psychology];
  • Heathen Essays (Madras: Ganesh 1925);
  • The Philosophy of Beauty (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House 1925);
  • Samasdarsana ... A Study of Indian Psychology (Madras: Ganesh 1925);
  • A Study in Synthesis (Madra: Ganesh 1934); Collected Poems 1894-1940 [Adyar, Madras: Kalakshetra 1940);
  • The Faith of the Artist (Adyar, Madras: Kalakshetra 1941);
  • The Aesthetic Necessity of Life (Kitadistan, Allahabad: Madras University 1944);
  • We Two Together, with Margaret Cousins (Madras: Ganesh [1950]), autobiography.
Other titles: The King’s Wife (1919) A Tibetan Banner (1926); The Work Promethean (1970).

[ top ]

  • John Hewitt, ‘James H. Cousins’, Irish Press (21 July 1973), p.10;
  • Terence Brown, Northern Voices: Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), p.64-68;
  • William Dumbleton, James Cousins (Twayne Publishing 1980);
  • Dilip Kumar Chatterjee, James Henry Cousins: A Study of His Works in the Light of Theosophical Movement (South Asia Books 1994), 183pp.
  • C. N. Mangala, A Wandering Harp: James H. Cousins - A Study (B.R. Publishing 1995)
  • David Burleigh, ‘We Together, James & Margaret Cousins & India’, in Causeway (Autumn 1995), pp.33-35.
[ top ]
  • Alan Denson, James Cousins and Margaret E. Cousins: A Bibliography (Kendal: Denson 1967). and Do. [rep. edn.] (De Paul) with short intro. by the William H. Dumbleton (ed.).
See also Purnima Bose, ‘The Colonial and Post-colonial Encounters’ (Diss.; Texas, 1993); Tadhg Foley & Maureen O’Connor, eds., Ireland and India: Colonies, Culture and Empire (Dublin: Irish Academic Press 2006) [espec. essays by Selina Guinness and Joseph Lennon]; Kate O’Malley, Ireland, India and Empire: Indo-Irish Radical Connections, 1919-64 (Manchester UP 2009), 224pp.

[ top ]

John Wilson Foster, ‘The Islandman: The Teller and the Tale’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture (Dublin: IAP 2009): ‘[...] the Ulster playwright and theosophist James Cousins, and his wife Gretta, were staying in Ventry in the August of that year (dated variously as 1908 and 1909 by the Cousins - it was in fact 1909). Cousins was later edged out of the Irish Dramatic Revival by Yeats and he and his wife emigrated in 1915 to India where they stayed until their deaths. In 1950 they published in Madras a joint autobiography of alternating chapters, We Two Together, which includes a chpater by Cousins that recalls in detail the drowning of Eileen Nicholls. Miss Nicholls was staying in the same lodgings as Cousins, who [25] had known of her as a considerable figure in the Gaelic League. She had headed to the Blaskets, like Synge before her, to get as far away as possible from English civilization and the English tongue. Synge was the last visitor to occupy the bed above Thady Kevane’s shop in Ventry that Cousins now occupied, waiting for his wife to arrive. Miss Nicholls then left for Great Blasket, shouting Beannact libh [leat in Cousins’s account] to the Cousinses. This is the farewell that Miss Ivors shouts to the gathering in James Joyce’s story “The Dead” and in Cousins’s telling, Miss Nicholls resembles Miss Ivors (Joyce’s rendering of one of the Sheehy sisters). Gretta Cousins from Roscommon – whose Christian name Joyce probably borrowed for his character Gretta Conroy in ’The Dead’ – had arrived and improvised a suffragette meeting outside the church where Miss Nicholls had that day attended mass as a “pious Catholic” (Cousin’s phrase) but had nevertheless scandalized the local mass-goers by seating herself on the men’s side of the church. / The next day the tragedy occurs as the Cousinses are being rowed to the island to visit Miss Nicholls by arrangement. Cousins recalls: “With one of those conspiracies of fate that are called coincidences, a neighbouring priest had come on a casual visit to the island, and had given great service to the locating of the body of Miss Nicolls [sic] and performing such rites of the Church as were possible under the circumstances.”’ There is a wake for Miss Nicholls in the home of the King. The priest leaves with wires for the press from Cousins. A wake for the boy is held in the O Crohan home, but Tomás O Crohan is unidentified by Cousins and clearly unknown to him.’ [Foster here cites the portents which the Cousins record as having anticipated Miss Nicholl’s death in the view of locals.] ‘The mysticism of the Literary Revival, the suffragette movement, the folk belief in the spirit world, patriotic Irish Catholicism, the Gaelic League and cultural nationalism: all converge in one day’s event on Great Blasket and Tomas O Crohan might appear to us as its silent president. This is not to speak of the symbolism of a fruitless attempt by a cultural nationalist to save an islander, and an islander to save a cultural nationalist, and the loss of both.’ (pp.25-26.) In a footnote, Foster records his meeting with the author of a bilingual book on Miss Nicholl (Micheal Ó Dubhshlaine, Oigbhean Uasal o Phriomhchathair Eireann, Conradh na Gaeilge, 1992) and another (A Dark Day on the Blaskets: The Drowning of Domhnall Ó Criomthain and Eibhlín Nic Niocaill on the Blasket Islands, 2003). In the latter she is called Eveleen Nicolls. (n.16; p.29.)

“The Quest”

They said: ‘She dwelleth in some place apart,
Immortal Truth, within whose eyes
Who looks may find the secret of the skies
And healing for life’s smart!’

I sought Her in loud caverns underground, -
On heights where lightnings flashed and fell;
I scaled high Heaven; I stormed the gates of Hell,
But Her I never found

Till thro’ the tumults of my Quest
I caught A whisper: ‘Here, within thy heart,
I dwell; for I am thou: behold, thou art
The Seeker - and the Sought.’


When I from life’s unrest had earned the grace
Of utter ease beside a quiet stream;
When all that was had mingled in a dream
To eyes awakened out of time and place;
Then in the cup of one great moment’s space
Was crushed the living wine from things that seem;
I drank the joy of very Beauty’s gleam,
And saw God’s glory face to shining face.

Almost my brow was chastened to the ground,
But for an inner Voice that said: ‘Arise!
Wisdom is wisdom only to the wise:
Thou art thyself the Royal thou hast crowned:
In Beauty thine own beauty thou hast found,
And thou hast looked on God with God’s own eyes.’

Both in The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse, ed Nicholson & Lee (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1917) [available in Poetry Archive - online; accessed 25.12.2009].

High and Low

He stumbled home from Clifden fair
With drunken song, and cheeks aglow.
Yet there was something in his air
That told of kingship long ago.
I sighed — and inly cried
With grief that one so high should fall so low.

He snatched a flower and sniffed its scent,
And waved it toward the sunset sky.
Some old sweet rapture through him went
And kindled in his bloodshot eye.
I turned — and inly burned
With joy that one so low should rise so high.


D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); Ben Madigan and Other Poems (Belfast 1894); The Legend of the Blemished King (Dublin 1897), The Voice of One (London 1900); The Quest (Dublin 1907), poems, The Bell Branch, poems (1908), and The Awakening and Other Sonnets (Dublin 1908). NOTE, [Cathach Bks. 12, lists The Quest (Dublin 1906).]

Brian Cleeve & Anne Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985); died in India having gone as English teacher in 1913, after teaching at Harcourt Street High. Autobiog with Margaret E. Cousins, We Two Together (1950); also Collected Poems 1894-1940 (Madras 1950). Dublin Book of Irish Verse, ‘The Coming of Niamh’; ‘The Bell-branch’; ‘Behind the Pough’; ‘The Awakening’.

[ top ]

Seamus Deane, ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry 1991), has variant: TWilliam J. Feeney, ed., he Sleep of the King, and The Sword of Dermot, ed. , Vol. 3 [Irish Drama Series] (Chicago 1973) [chk.]

Brian M Walker, et al., eds, Faces of Ireland (Belfast: Appletree Press 1992), pp.36-37, contains short passage from The Racing Lug, from Robert Hogan and James Kilroy, eds., Lost Plays of the Irish Renaissance (Calif.: Dixon 1970, pp.42-43). Note ref. to Collected Poems, 1950 [sic.]

[ top ]

Belfast Public Library holds poetry collections, Above the Rainbow; The Awakening; The Bell-branch; Ben Madighan; Etain the Beloved; The Hound of Uladh, play; The King’s Wife, play; Legend of the Blemished King; The Quest; Straight and Crooked; Tibetan Banner; The Voice of One; A Wandering Harp, selected poems (1932); Wisdom of the West (1912).

[ top ]

A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats, A New Biography (London: Hutchinson 1988), Yeats blocked two plays by James Cousins, Solf, and The Sword of Dermot, regarding them as having no originality; in June a reading committee was formed, but split when Cousins offered Sold again. (Jeffares, 1988, p.138).

Cf. Noyes?: Characterised by Terence Brown as ‘an Irish Alfred Noyes, whose occasional attraction is a pleasing painterly exoticism, mediated in rhythms of mellifluous banality.’ (Northern Voices, 1975, p.67). Bibl. includes Denson, and the first edns., Etain the Beloved and Other Poems (Dublin: Maunsel & Co. 1912); The Quest (Dublin: Maunsel & Co. 1906); The Bell Branch (Dublin: Maunsel & Co. 1908).

[ top ]

James Joyce (I): Richard Ellmann writes, ‘He [Joyce] accepted the invitation of Gretta Cousins, the wife of the Theosophical poetaster James Cousins, to come and use her piano in the mornings but preferred to hire one.’ (James Joyce [1959], 1965 Edn., p.157).

James Joyce (2): ‘On June 15 the Mckernans, with whom he had his room, encouraged him to leave until he could pay his rent, and he went to his friends James and Gretta Cousins and asked them to take him in. They hospitably turned over the spare room in their tiny house on the seas’s edge at Ballsbridge. After dinner on June 15 the Espositos came to call [...]’ (Ibid.., p.161.)

[ top ]

James Joyce (3): For Joyce, Cousins was synonymous with amateur writer. When, in Rome, his literary ambitions began to fall away from him, he wrote: ‘I have come to the conclusion that it is about time I made up my mind whether I am to become a wrier or a patient Cousins. I foresee that I shall have to do other work as well but to continue as I am at present would certainly mean my mental extinction. [...]’ (Letter to Stanislaus, Feb. 1907; quoted in Richard Ellmann, op. cit., p.249, ftn.)

[ top ]

James Joyce (4):The ‘table-book of Cousins’ in Joyce’s Gas from a Burner is probably James Cousin’s Etain the Beloved and Other Poems (Maunsel 1912).

Tomás Ó Criomthain [Thomas O’Crohan]: The Cousins gave a detailed account of the drowning of Eileen [sic] Nicholls and O Crohan’s son in We Two Together (1950), arising from their coincidental presence in Ventry during August in 1909 when it occurred [see further under Tomás Ó Criomthain, infra].

[ top ]