Stanislaus Joyce - A Portrait of the Artist

[Source: Stanislaus Joyce, The Complete Dublin Diary of Stanislaus Joyce, ed. George H. Healey (Dublin: Anna Livia Press 1994), pp.1-4; prev. published as Do. (Cornell UP 1971), and first published as The Dublin Diary of Stanislaus Joyce (Cornell UP; London: Faber & Faber 1962). I have not preserved all of Healey’s notes - most of which convey marginal additions in the manuscript - in the following.]

Jim’s character is unsettled; it is developing. New influences are coming over him daily, he is beginning new practices. He has come home drunk three or four times within the last month (on one occasion he came home sick and dirty-looking on Sunday morning, having been out all night) and he is engaged at present in sampling wines and liqueurs and at procuring for himself the means of living. He has or seems to have taken a liking for conviviality, even with those whose jealousy and ill-will towards himself he well knows, staying with them a whole night long dancing and singing and making speeches and laughing and reciting, and revelling in the same manner all the way home. To say what is really his character, one must go beneath much that is passing in these influences and habits and see what it is in them that his mind really affects; one must compare what he is with what he was, one must analyse, one must judge him by his moments of exaltation, not by his hours of abasement. [1] {1}
 His intellect is precise and subtle, but not comprehensive. He is no student. His artistic sympathy and judgment are such as would be expected in one of his kind of intellect - if he were not more than a critic, I believe, he would be as good a critic of what interests him as any using English today. His literary talent seems to be very great indeed, both in prose and in verse. [2]   He has, as Yeats says, a power of very delicate spiritual writing and whether he writes in sorrow or is young and virginal, or whether (as in “He travels after the wintry sun”) he writes of what he has seen, the form is always either strong, expressive, graceful or engaging, and his imagination open-eyed and classic. His “epiphanies” - his prose pieces (which I almost prefer to his lyrics) and his dialogues - are again subtle. He has put himself into these with singular courage, singular memory, and scientific minuteness; he has proved himself capable of taking very great pains to create a very little thing of prose or verse. The keen observation and satanic irony of his character are precisely, but not fully, expressed. Whether he will ever build up anything broad - a drama, an esthetic treatise - I cannot say. His genius is not literary and he will probably run through many of the smaller forms of literary artistic expression. He has made living his end in life, and in the light of this magnificent importance of living, everything else is like a rushlight in the sun. And so he is more interested in the sampling of {2} liqueurs, the devising of dinners, the care of dress, and whoring, than to know if the one-act play - “the dwarf-drama” he calls it - is an artistic possibility.
  Jim is a genius of character. When I say “genius”, I say just the least little bit in the world more than I believe; yet remembering his youth and that I sleep with him, I say it. Scientists have been called great scientists because they have measured the distances of the unseen stars, and yet scientists who have watched the movements in matter scarcely perceptible to the mechanically aided senses have been esteemed as great; and Jim is, perhaps, a genius though his mind is minutely analytic. He has, above all, a proud, wilful, vicious selfishness, out of which by times now he writes a poem or an epiphany, now commits the meannesses of whim and appetite, which was at first protestant egoism, and had, perhaps, some desperateness in it, but which is now well-rooted - or developed? - in his nature, a very Yggdrasill. He has extraordinary moral courage - courage so great that I have hopes that he will one day become the Rousseau of Ireland. Rousseau, indeed, might be accused of cherishing the secret hope of turning away the anger of disapproving readers by confessing unto them, but Jim cannot be suspected of this. His great passion is a fierce scorn of what he calls the “rabblement” - a tiger-like, insatiable hatred. He has a distinguished appearance and bearing and many graces: a musical singing and especially speaking voice (a tenor), a good undeveloped talent in music, and witty conversation. He has a distressing habit of saying quietly to those with whom he is familiar the most {3} shocking things about himself and others, and, moreover, of selecting the most shocking times, saying them, not because they are shocking merely, but because they are true. They are such things that even knowing him well as I do, I do not believe it is beyond his power to shock me or Gogarty with all his obscene rhymes. His manner however is generally very engaging and courteous with strangers, but, though he dislikes greatly to be rude, I think there is little courtesy in his nature. As he sits on the hearth-rug, his arms embracing his knees, his head thrown a little back, his hair brushed up straight off his forehead, his long face red as an Indian’s in the reflexion of the fire, there is a look of cruelty in his face. Not that he is not gentle at times, for he can be kind, and one is not surprised to find simpleness in him. (He is always simple and open with those that are so with him.) But few people will love him, I think, in spite of his graces and his genius, and whosoever exchanges kindnesses with him is likely to get the worst of the bargain. (This is coloured too highly, like a penny cartoon.)


[13 August 1904]
My life has been modelled on Jim’s example, yet when I am accused, by my unprepossessing Uncle John or by, Gogarty, of imitating Jim, I can truthfully deny the charge. It was not mere aping as they imply, I trust I am too clever and my mind too old for that. It was more an appreciation in Jim of what I myself really admire and wish for most. But it is terrible to have a cleverer elder brother, I get small credit for originality. I follow Jim in nearly all matters of opinion, but not all. Jim, I think, has even taken a few opinions from me. In some things, however, I have never followed him. In drinking, for instance, in whoring, in speaking broadly, in being frank without reserve with others, in attempting to write verse or prose or fiction, in manner, in ambitions, and not always in friendships. I think I may safely say I do not like Jim. I perceive that he regards {50} me as quite commonplace and uninteresting - he makes no attempt at disguise - and though I follow him fully in this matter of opinion, I cannot be expected to like it. It is a matter beyond the power of either of us to help. He treats me badly, too, in his manner, and I resent it. I shall try to remember the articles of the creed which I have gathered from Jim’s life - the individual life that has influenced me most. He has ceased to believe in Catholicism for many years. It is of little use to say that a man rejects Catholicism because he wishes to lead the life of a libertine. This is not the last word that can be said. Libertinism will, doubt it not, be clever in its own defence. To me one is as likely to be near the truth as the other. There is need of a more subtle criticism, a more scientific understanding, a more satisfactory conviction than is given by such a wholesale begging of the question. Begging questions is a habit with Catholicism. Jim wants to live. Life is his creed. He boasts of his power to live, and says, in his pseudo-medical phraseology, that it comes from his highly specialized central nervous system. He talks much of the syphilitic contagion in Europe, is at present writing a series of studies in it in Dublin, tracing practically everything to it. The drift of his talk seems to be that the contagion is congenital and incurable and responsible for all manias, and being so, that it is useless to try to avoid it. He even seems to invite you to delight in the manias and to humour each to the top of its bent. In this I do not follow him except to accept his theory of the contagion, which he adduces on medical authority. Even this I do slowly, for I have the idea that the influence of heredity is somewhat overstated. Yet I am rapidly becoming a valetudinarian on the point. I see symptoms {51} in every turn I take. It seems to me that my central nervous system is wretched, and I take every precaution my half-knowledge suggests to revive it. In his love of life I find something experimental, something aesthetical. He is an artist first. He has too much talent to be anything else. If he was not an artist first, his talent would trouble him constantly like semen. For the things that go to make up life, glory, politics, women (I exclude whores), family wealth, he has no care. He seems to be deceiving himself on this point and it gives his manner a certain untrustworthiness and unpleasantness. His nature is naturally antagonistic to morality. Morality bores and irritates him. He tries to live on a principle of impulse. The justification of his conduct is the genuineness of the impulse. The Principle is itself an impulse, not a conviction. He is a polytheist. What pleases him for the moment is his god for the moment. He demands an absolute freedom to do as he pleases. He wants the freedom to do wrong whether he uses it or no, and for fear he should be deceiving himself by any back thought he is vindicating his right to ruin himself. He accepts no constraint, not even self-constraint, and regards a forced growth, however admirable in itself, as an impossible satisfaction. This kind of life is naturally highly unsatisfactory and his conduct bristles with contradictions. For instance, he practises exercises for the voice regularly; he works at his novel nearly every day saying that he wants to get his hand into such training that style will be as easy to him as singing. The inconsistency might itself be called an impulse but that he mentions both practices as proofs of the power to do regular work that is still in him. Above all, he has spoken with admiration of Ibsen as a “self-made man” - {52} partly of course for the pleasure of using this formula of commonplaceness of so singular a man [3] I find much to puzzle me and to trouble me in the antinomy between the Exercise Monopoly and idea of systematically improving myself - by becoming a scientific humanist (laws which I loathe but which seem my only hope) and the Principle of Simple Impulse, which pleases me greatly and which seems to me to be the right First Principle in regarding life because the most natural. (”Natural” suggests a private judgment of my own on life. I think the art of life should imitate nature.) I live in a state of intimate and constant dissatisfaction because this Principle seems logically unpracticable. In the love of Philosophy I have not followed Jim, I forestalled him. I even tried, between sixteen and seventeen, to write a Philosophy (I suppose it would have been called a Metaphysic), but having written about nine pages of it and finding that my interpretation of life was a little too simple to be interesting, I burnt the leaves. To say that any course of action is irrational is enough to condemn it in my eyes, but unfortunately not enough to make me dislike it. Indeed, saying that it is rational seems perilously like saying it is commonplace. Mediocrity is a poor relative of mine that “I can’t abear”. The golden mean is as abhorrent to me as to Jim. It will be obvious that whatever method there is in Jim’s life is highly unscientific, yet in theory he approves only of the scientific method. About science he knows “damn all’,” and if he has the same blood {53} in him that I have he should dislike it. I call it a lack of vigilant reticence in him that he is ever-ready to admit the legitimacy of the scientist’s raids outside his frontiers. The word “scientific” is always a word of praise in his mouth. I, too, admire the scientific method, but I see that it existed and was practised long before science became so churlish as it is now. On one point allied to this I differ with him altogether. He wishes to take every advantage of scientific inventions, while I have an unconquerable prejudice against artifice - outside special appliances and instruments. Bicycles, motor-cars, motor-trams and all that, seem to me wanton necessities, the pampering of an artificial want. As for such sensual aids as Herbert Spencer’s ear-caps, they seem to me most revoltingly mean and undignified. And to Jim, too, I have forced him to admit. Even from an inventor’s point of view, I am sure they are wretched, for there is a great disproportion between the end effected and the means taken.
  Jim boasts - for he often boasts now - of being modern. He calls himself a socialist but attaches himself to no school of socialism. He marks the uprooting of feudal principles. Besides this, and that subtle egoism which he calls the modern mind, he proclaims all kinds of anti-Christian ideals - selfishness, licentiousness, pitilessness. What he calls the domestic virtues are words of contempt in his mouth. He does not recognise such a thing as gratitude. He says it reminds him of a fellow lending you an overcoat on a wet night and asking fora receipt. (Gratitude is, after all, such an uncomfortable sentiment - thanks with a grudge at the {54} back of it.) As he lives on borrowing and favours, and as people never fail to treat him in their manners as a genius while he treats them as fools, he has availed himself of plenty of opportunity of showing ingratitude. It is, of course, impossible for him to carry out his ideas consistently, but he does the best he can. [4] He says that no man has so much hope for the future as he has, but as he is the worst liar I know, and as he is rapidly acquiring a drunkard’s mind, he seems so far as his own possible progeny is concerned to have precious little care for it. Catholicism he has appreciated, rejected and opposed, and liked again when it had lost its power over him; and towards Pappie, who, too, represents feudalism to him, his mind works perversely. But his sense of filial honour, as of all honour, is quite humoursome. What is more to the point is this: why should Jim proclaim his own selfishness, and be angry at the selfishness of others toward him? I am so far with Jim in all this that his idea of modernity is probably a corollary of my theory of genius being a new biological species. I have many theories. And, moreover, I find something stodgy and intrinsically unsatisfying in morality.
  Many things he has expressed I remember, for they seemed to me to be just while they seemed to suit me. His contempt, for instance, for enthusing, for strenuousness, for flirting and sentimentality, which he says he leaves to clerks. (He walks out at night with Miss Barnacle, and kisses her, while she calls him “my love”, though he is not a clerk.) He has said that what women admire most in {55} men is moral courage, and that people are unhappy because they cannot express themselves, and these things I recollect and at times consider, and though they seem small, they affect me greatly. This is Jim’s religion - his faith is probably a little different - so far as I can draw up its articles. The experiment of his life has, I think, less personal interest now than formerly, though he is still capable of holding judgment on himself with a purity of intention altogether beyond my power. Yet should he discover that his interest was mainly experimental, he would consider it an unpardonable self-deception to try to infuse into it a personal anxiety. He is in great danger of himself. I see the way his conduct prevaricates to an unsatisfied mind. He has not the command of himself he once had. He has been in the power of his friends lately, and has needed to be rescued by Cosgrave’s instrumentality from them. A year ago he would have rescued himself. He has always read these notes, for there was always much in them about him, and if I was calling them anything I would call them “My journal in imitation of Jim”, but I think his influence on me is becoming less than it was. August 1904. (pp.49-56.)


Jim has a face like a scientist. Not an old fumbler like Huxley or Tyndall, but like one of those young foreigners - like Finsen or Marconi. [...] {57}


[On a review of a title in the Pseudonym Library:] My brother wrote “After all a pseudonym library has its advantages; to acknowledge bad literature by signature is, in a manner, to persevere in evil.” When a year later his own first stories were published, he yield to a suggestion (not mine) and used a pseudonym, “Stephen Daedalus” [sic], but then bitterly regretted the self-concealment. He did not feel that he had perpetrated bad literature of which he ought to be ashamed. He had taken the name from the central figure of the novel Stephen Hero, which he had already begun to write. Against that name I had protested in vain; but it was, perhaps, his use of the name as a pseudonym that decided him finally on its adoption. He wished to make up for a momentary weakness; in fact, in order further to identify himself with his hero, he announceed his intention of appending to the end of the novel the signature, Stephanus Daedalus pinxit. (p.239.)


1. SJ has written the word “rubbish” across this paragraph.
2. MS note: “He is not an artist he says. He is interesting himself in politics - in which he says [he has] original ideas. He says he does not care for art or music though he admits he can judge them. He lives on the excitement of incident.”
3. MS note: “He reconciles this impulsiveness with an exalted opinion of Philosophy. He upholds Aristotle against his friends, and boasts himself an Aristotelian.”
4. MS note: “In fact he is trying to commit the sin against the Holy Ghost for the purpose of getting outside the utmost tint of Catholicism.”

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