James Joyce, “A Portrait of the Artist” [The 1904 Portrait].

Source: Richard Ellmann, A. Walton Litz & John Whittier Ferguson, eds., Poems and Shorter Writings (London: Faber & Faber 1991), “A Portrait of the Artist” (1904), pp.211-18. The pagination in this edition is given in bow brackets.

Previously printed in 1] Robert Scholes & Richard Kain, eds., The Workshop of Daedalus (Northwestern UP 1965), pp.60-74 [with Intro. Note, pp.56-59] - corresponding to pp.1-15 of the typescript commissioned by Stanislaus Joyce in 1928 and now in Cornell University Library, with corrections from the MS held in the Lockwood Library of Buffalo University. 2] Hélène Cixous, The Exile of James Joyce, trans. by Sally Purcell [prev. as l’Exil de James Joyce, 1972] (London: Calder 1976), pp.206-12. The pagination in this edition is given in square brackets below.

Note: The text as given below is taken from Hélène Cixous (op. cit.), who seems to refer to the ‘decayed MS’ as her source- at least in Sally Purcell’s translation - suggesting that she copied the original at Buffalo University’s Lockwood Library. More likely, however, she copied the version given in Scholes & Kain, The Workshop of Daedalus, Northwestern UP 1965, pp.56-74 [available online]. Therein the condition of the pages is described as ‘flaked’ (p.56.)

There is a small variant between the readings of an obscured passage as given in Poems and Shorter Works (2002), and in Cixous - as follows:

A philosophy of reconcilement […] possible […] as eve […] The […] of the […] at lef […] ber […] lit up with dolphin lights but the lights in the chambers of the heart were unextinguished, nay, burning as for espousal.

This is identical with the treatment of the text in Scholes & Kain (1965), p.65, corresponding to ‘end p.9, two lines here disintegrated by flaking paper' in the typescript (idem). By comparison, PSW gives ‘[possible …] as eve[…] Th[…] of the […] at lef[…] ber […]’ - noting that two lines of Joyce’s MS are largely obscured by flaking paper and that the partial reconstructions are from Stanislaus’s transcript made around the time of his brother’s own copy. Stanislaus produced a type-script in late 1927 or early 1928 when Joyce requested it for presentation to Sylvia Beach. See also James Joyce Archive, Vol. 7, NY: Garland 1978, pp.70-105.

The features of infancy are not commonly reproduced in the adolescent portrait for, so capricious are we, that we cannot or will not conceive the past in any other than its iron memorial aspect. Yet the past assuredly implies a fluid succession of presents, the development of an entity of which our actual present is a phase only. Our world, again, recognises its acquaintance chiefly by the characters of beard and inches and is, for the most part, estranged from those of its members who seek through some art, by some process of the mind as yet untabulated, to liberate from the personalised lumps of matter that which is their individualising rhythm, the first or formal relation of their parts. But for such as these a portrait is not an identificative paper but rather the curve of an emotion.

Use of reason is by popular judgment antedated by some seven years and so it is not easy to set down the exact age at which the natural sensibility of the subject of this portrait awoke to the ideas of eternal damnation, the necessity of penitence and the efficacy of prayer. His training had early developed a very lively sense of spiritual obligations [206] at the expense of what is called ‘common sense.’ He ran through his measure like a spendthrift saint, astonishing many by ejaculatory fervours, offending many by airs of the cloister. One day in a wood near Malahide a labourer had marvelled to see a boy of fifteen praying in an ecstasy of Oriental posture. It was indeed a long time before this boy understood the nature of that most marketable goodness which makes it possible to give comfortable assent to propositions without ordering one’s life in accordance with them. The digestive value of religion {211} he never appreciated and he chose, as more fitting his case, those poorer humbler orders in which a confessor did not seem anxious to reveal himself, in theory at least, a man of the world. In spite, however, of continued shocks, which drove him from breathless flights of zeal shamefully inwards, he was still soothed by devotional exercises when he entered the University.

About this period the enigma of a manner was put up to all comers to protect the crisis. He was quick enough now to see that he must disentangle his affairs in secrecy and reserve had ever been a light penance. His reluctance to debate scandal, to seem curious of others, aided him in his real indictment and was not without a satisfactory flavour of the heroic. It was part of that ineradicable egoism of which he was afterward redeemer that he imagined converging to him the deeds and thoughts of the microcosm. Is the mind of boyhood medieval that it is so divining of intrigue? Field sports (or their correspondents in the world of mentality) are perhaps the most effective cure, but for this fantastic idealist, eluding the grunting booted apparition with a bound, the mimic hunt was no less ludicrous than unequal in a ground chosen to his disadvantage. But behind the rapidly indurating shield the sensitive answered: Let the pack of enmities come tumbling and sniffing to the highlands after their game. There was his ground and he flung them disdain from flashing antlers. There was evident self-flattery in the image but a danger of complacence too. Wherefore, neglecting the wheezier bayings in that chorus which no leagues of distance could make musical, he began loftily [sic Cixous] diagnosis of the younglings. His judgment was exquisite, deliberate, sharp; his sentence sculptural. These young men saw in the sudden death of a dull French novelist the hand of Emmanuel God with us; they admired Gladstone, physical science, and the tragedies of {212} Shakespeare; and they believed in the adjustment of Catholic teaching to everyday needs, in the Church diplomatic. In their relations among themselves and towards their superiors they displayed [207] a nervous and (wherever there was question of authority) a very English liberalism. He remarked half-admiring, half-reproving demeanour of a class, implicitly pledged to abstinences towards others among whom (the fame went) wild living was not unknown. Though the union of faith and fatherland was ever sacred in that world of easily inflammable enthusiams a couplet from Davis, accusing the least docile of tempers, never failed of its applause and the memory of McManus was hardly less revered than that of Cardinal Cullen. They had many reasons to respect authority; and even if a student were forbidden to go to Othello (“There are some coarse expressions in it” he was told) what a little cross was that? Was it not rather an evidence of watchful care and interest, and were they not assured that in their future lives this care would continue, this interest be maintained? The exercise of authority might be sometimes (rarely) questionable, its intention, never. Who therefore readier than these young men to acknowledge gratefully the sallies of some genial professor or the surliness of some door-porter, who more solicitous to cherish in every way and to advance in person the honour of Alma Mater? For his part he was at the difficult age, dispossessed and necessitous, sensible of all that was ignoble in such manners who, in revery at least, had been acquainted with nobility. An earnest Jesuit had prescribed a clerkship in Guinness’s: and doubtless the clerk-designate of a brewery would not have had scorn and pity only for an admirable community had it not been that he desired (in the language of the schoolmen) an arduous good. It was impossible that he should find solace in societies for the encouragement of thought among laymen or any other than {213} bodily comfort in the warm sodality amid so many foolish or grotesque virginities. Moreover, it was impossible that a temperament ever trembling towards its ecstasy should submit to acquiesce, that a soul should decree servitude for its portion over which the image of beauty had fallen as a mantle. One night in early spring, standing at the foot of the staircase in the library, he said to his friend “I have left the Church.” And as they walked home through the streets arm-in-arm he told, in words that seemed an echo of their closing, how he had left it through the gates of Assisi.

Extravagance followed. The simple history of the Poverello was soon out of mind and he established himself in the maddest of companies, Joachim Abbas, Bruno the Nolan, Michael Sendivogius, all the hierarchs of initiation cast their spells upon him. He descended among the hells of Swedenborg and abased himself in the gloom of Saint John of the Cross. His heaven was suddenly illuminated by a horde of stars, the signatures of all nature, the soul remembering ancient days. Like an [208] alchemist he bent upon his handiwork, bringing together the mysterious elements, separating the subtle from the gross. For the artist the rhythms of phrase and period, the symbols of word and allusion, were paramount things. And was it any wonder that out of this marvelous life, wherein he had annihilated and rebuilt experience, laboured and despaired, he came forth at last with a single purpose - to reunite the children of the spirit, jealous and long-divided, to reunite them against fraud and principality. A thousand eternities were to be reaffirmed, divine knowledge was to be re-established. Alas for fatuity! as easily might he have summoned a regiment of the winds. They pleaded their natural pieties - social limitations, inherited apathy of race, an adoring mother, the Christian fable. Their treasons were venial only. Wherever the social monster {214} permitted they would hazard the extremes of heterodoxy, reason of an imaginative determinant in ethics, of anarchy (the folk), of blue triangles, of the fish-gods, proclaiming in a fervent moment the necessity for action. His revenge was a phrase and insolation. He lumped the emancipates together - Venomous Butter - and set away from the sloppy neighbourhood.

Isolation, he had once written, is the first principle of artistic economy but traditional and individual revelations were at that time pressing their claims and self-communion had been but shyly welcomed. But in the intervals of friendships (for he had outridden three) he had known the sisterhood of meditative hours and now the hope began to grow up within him of finding among them that serene emotion, that certitude which among men he had not found. An impulse had led him forth in the dark season to silent and lonely places where the mists hung streamerwise among the trees; and as he had passed there amid the subduing night, in the secret fall of leaves, the fragrant rain, the mesh of vapours moon-transpierced, he had imagined an admonition of the frailty of all things. In summer it had led him seaward. Wandering over the arid, grassy hills or along the strand, avowedly in quest of shellfish, he had grown almost impatient of the day. Waders, into whose childish or girlish hair, girlish or childish dresses, the very wilfulness of the sea had entered - even they had not fascinated. But as day had waned it had been pleasant to watch the far last figures islanded in distant pools; and as evening deepened the grey glow above the sea he had gone out, out among the shallow waters, the holy joys of solitude uplifting him, singing passionately to the tide. Sceptically, cynically, mystically, he had sought for an absolute satisfaction and now little by little he began to be conscious of the beauty of mortal conditions. He remembered a sentence {215} in Augustine - “It was manifested unto me that [209] those things be good which yet are corrupted; which neither if they were supremely good, nor unless they were good could be corrupted: for had they been supremely good they would have been incorruptible but if they were not good there would be nothing in them which could be corrupted.” A philosophy of reconcilement […] possible […] as eve […] The […] of the […] at lef […] ber […] lit up with dolphin lights but the lights in the chambers of the heart were unextinguished, nay, burning as for espousal.

Dearest of mortals! In spite of tributary verses and of the comedy of meetings here and in the foolish society of sleep the fountain of being (it seemed) had been interfused. Years before, in boyhood, the energy of sin opening a world before him, he had been made aware of thee. The yellow gaslamps arising in his troubled vision, against an autumnal sky, gleaming mysteriously there before that violent altar - the groups gathered at the doorways arranged as for some rite - the glimpses of revel and fantasmal mirth - the vague face of some welcomer seeming to awaken from a slumber of centuries under his gaze - the blind confusion (iniquity! iniquity!) suddenly overtaking him - in all that ardent adventure of lust didst thou not even then communicate? Beneficent one! (the shrewdness of love was in the title) thou camest timely, as a witch to the agony of the self-devourer, an envoy from the fair courts of life. How could he thank thee for that enrichment of soul by thee consummated? Mastery of art had been achieved in irony; asceticism of intellect had been a mood of indignant pride: but who had revealed him to himself but thou alone? In ways of tenderness, simple, intuitive tenderness, thy love had made to arise in him the central torrents of life. Thou hadst put thine arms about him and, intimately prisoned as thou hadst been, in the soft stir of thy bosom, the raptures of {216}silence, the murmured words, thy heart had spoken to his heart. Thy disposition could refine and direct his passion, holding mere beauty at the cunningest angle. Thou wert sacramental, imprinting thine indelible mark, of very visible grace. A litany must honour thee; Lady of the Apple Trees, Kind Wisdom, Sweet Flower of Dusk. In another phase it had been not uncommon to devise dinners in white and purple upon the actuality of stirabout but here, surely, is sturdy or delicate food to hand; no need for devising. His way (abrupt creature!) lies out now to the measurable world and the broad expanses of activity. The blood hurries to gallop in his veins; his nerves accumulate an electric force; he is footed with flame. A kiss: and they leap together, indivisible, upwards, radiant lips [210] and eyes, bodies, sounding with the triumph of harps! Again, beloved! Again, thou bride! Again, ere life is ours!

In calmer mood the critic in him could not but remark a strange prelude to the new crowning era in a season of melancholy and unrest. He made up his tale of losses - a dispiriting tale enough even were there no comments. The air of false Christ was manifestly the mask of a physical decrepitude, itself the brand and sign of vulgar ardours; whence ingenuousness, forbearance, sweet amiability and the whole tribe of domestic virtues. Sadly mindful of the worst, the vision of his dead, the vision (far more pitiful) of congenital lives shuffling onwards between yawn and howl, starvelings in mind and body, visions of which came as temporary failure of his olden, sustained manner, darkly beset him. The cloud of difficulties about him allowed only peeps of light; even his rhetoric proclaimed transition. He could convict himself at least of a natural inability to prove everything at once and certain random attempts emboldened him to say to a patron of the fine arts “What advance upon spiritual {217} goods?” and to a capitalist “I need two thousand pounds for a project.” He had interpreted for orthodox Greek scholarship the living doctrine of the Poetics and, out of the burning bushes of excess, had declaimed to a night policeman on the true status of public women: but there was no budge of those mountains, no perilous cerebration. In a moment of frenzy he called for the elves. Many in our day, it would appear, cannot avoid a choice between sensitiveness and dulness; they recommend themselves by proofs of culture to a like-minded minority or dominate the huger world as lean of meat. But he saw between camps his ground of vantage, opportunities for the mocking devil in an isle twice removed from the mainland, under joint government of Their Intensities and Their Bullockships. His Nego, therefore, written amid a chorus of peddling Jews’ gibberish and Gentile clamour, was drawn up valiantly while true believers prophesied fried atheism and was hurled against the obscene hells of our Holy Mother: but, that outburst over, it was urbanity in warfare. Perhaps his state would pension off old tyranny - a mercy no longer hopelessly remote - in virtue of that mature civilization to which (let all allow) it had in some way contributed. Already the messages of citizens were flashed along the wires of the world, already the generous idea had emerged from a thirty years’ war in Germany and was directing the councils of the Latins. To those multitudes, not as yet in the wombs of humanity but surely engenderable there, he would give the word: Man and woman, out of you comes the nation that is to come, the lightning of your masses in travail; the competitive order is employed against [211] itself, the aristocracies are supplanted; and amid the general paralysis of an insane society, the confederate will issues in action. {218}

Whittier-Ferguson notes that Scholes & Kain (Workshop of Daedalus, 1965), suggest that Joyce intended ‘lightening’ for ‘lightning’ (See Whittier, Notes, in Poems and Shorter Writings, 1991, p.275.)

[ back ]

[ top ]