On 22 February 1917 an anonymous patron offered Joyce a gift of £200.
The offer came in a letter from Slack, Monro, Saw & Co., a firm of solicitors in London. Writing on behalf of a client who wished to remain anonymous, they informed Joyce that they had been instructed to send him a cheque for £50 on the first of May, August, and November 1917, and February 1918 – a total of £200. They asked only that the gift be accepted without any inquiry from Joyce about the donor. They also hoped that the letter would reach him as they were sending it to his address as listed in Who’s Who for 1917.
The fact that the address had been found in Who’s Who indicated to Joyce that the person concerned wasn’t aware of his address and therefore wasn’t someone he already knew. He was curious to know who it was and why they were being so generous, and despite respecting the condition of anonymity, he speculated over the next two and a half years as to who it might be.
Joyce sent a letter of thanks to the firm of solicitors for his patron and in return received another letter from the firm saying that the arrangement was being extended for the duration of the war. There was some correspondence between Joyce and the firm over the next couple of years, but the letters only ever referred to “our Client,” giving Joyce no hint as to who might be behind the gift.
The arrangement remained in place until May 1919 when Joyce received a letter from the firm stating that their client wished to settle £5000 on him. The money would be held in trust and Joyce would receive the interest from it at 5% per annum, giving him £250 a year from then on.
Joyce’s curiosity about his anonymous patron grew more intense. While visiting Ezra Pound at Sirmione in June 1919, Pound suggested it might be Lady Cunard, who had helped secure a Civil List pension for Joyce in 1916. Convinced it was her, Joyce wrote to the solicitors suggesting that he knew who their anonymous client was. The solicitors replied in June 1919 that it was up to Joyce to declare who his patron was if he chose to, but they revealed that his patron was “she.”
Joyce decided to name Lady Cunard, but he was wrong. His patron all along had been Harriet Shaw Weaver, editor of the Egoist, with whom he had been in regular correspondence during the same period. Her aim in making the patronage anonymous was to make it easier for Joyce to accept it, but after two and a half years, the anonymity had become awkward. She thought she had allowed the solicitors to give enough information to make it obvious who she was, but Joyce’s wrong guess that it was Lady Cunard threatened to be embarrassing.
On 6 July 1919, Harriet Weaver wrote to Joyce about the ‘Sirens’ episode of Ulysses. Having said what she wanted to say (she didn’t like the episode much), there was an inch and half left at the bottom of the page, and she took the opportunity of that space to reveal herself as his patron. Typically, she did so by apologising to Joyce for having gone about it anonymously and through her solicitors.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Lidderdale, Jane, & Mary Nicholson: Dear Miss Weaver – Harriet Shaw Weaver 1876-1961, London: Faber & Faber, 1970.