On this day…20 February

On 20 February 1956 James Cousins died in India.

James Henry Cousins (1873-1956) was born in Belfast and moved to Dublin in 1897 where he became involved in the literary circle that included WB Yeats, George Russell, and James Joyce. Cousins wrote poetry and plays, and even acted (under the name H Sproule) in the first performance of Cathleen ni Houlihan with Maud Gonne. He was also closely associated with the Theosophical Society founded by Madame Blavatsky, and the Society paid for his and his wife Gretta’s move to India in 1915. He taught in schools there and was active on behalf of the Theosophical Society until his death in 1956.

Joseph Holloway left an account in his diary of Joyce singing at Cousins’ house at 22 Dromard Terrace on Wednesday 8 June 1904. Holloway calls Joyce “a mysterious kind of youth with weird penetrating eyes” but added that he sang “most artistically and pleasingly… As he sings, he sways his head from side to side to add to the soulfulness of his rendering. He is a strange boy; I cannot fathom him.”

At the time, Joyce was renting a room in Mrs McKernan’s house at 60 Shelbourne Road, not far from Cousins’ house. On 15 June 1904, when Joyce couldn’t pay the rent he owed to Mrs McKernan, he asked the Cousinses to take him in. He was given the spare room in their house, and it was there that he stayed on the night of 16 June 1904.

Joyce stayed at Cousins’ house again for a few days at the end of August-beginning September 1904 but, according to Joyce’s brother Stanislaus, Joyce didn’t like their vegetarian household or their manner towards him. According to Padraic Colum, Cousins referred to Joyce as a “lost angel of a ruined paradise.” When Joyce was leaving Dublin in October 1904, he asked Cousins for £5 but got nothing. In a letter in 1937, Joyce remembers the Cousinses fondly, remarking that they were friendly to him and tried to help him.

Joyce sent Cousins a copy of the poem ‘The Holy Office’ in 1905, and Cousins gets a mention in ‘Gas from a Burner.’ It may be that Cousins was a model for the character Little Chandler in ‘A Little Cloud,’ and Gretta Cousins probably gave her name to Gretta Conroy in ‘The Dead.’ In Ulysses, Cousins is listed among Stephen’s creditors for a debt of ten shillings.


Sources & Further Reading:

Costello, Peter: James Joyce – The Years of Growth, 1882-1915, Schull: Roberts Rinehart Publishers

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Igoe, Vivien: James Joyce’s Dublin Houses & Nora Barnacle’s Galway, Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2007.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957; vol. II edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

Joyce, Stanislaus: The Complete Dublin Diary of Stanislaus Joyce, edited by George H Heavey, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.