On this day…11 December

On 11 December 1902 Joyce’s first reviews for the Daily Express were published.

Joyce had written these two reviews on 4 December 1902 and sent them to the Daily Express where they were published on 11 December. They were the first of twenty reviews Joyce wrote for the Daily Express between December 1902 and November 1903.

Lady Gregory had recommended Joyce to EV Longworth, editor of the Daily Express, as a book reviewer just before Joyce left Dublin for Paris at the beginning of December 1902. Joyce must have worked quite quickly as he had written the two reviews by 4 December, the day after he arrived in Paris.

The first review, ‘An Irish Poet,’ was a review of Poems and Ballads by William Rooney (1873-1901). Rooney had been a teacher of Irish and had written articles for several Irish newspapers and magazines. He was a close friend of Arthur Griffith with whom he had founded the United Irishman newspaper in 1899 and Cumann na nGaedheal in 1900. Rooney died of TB at the age of just 27 in May 1901, and the United Irishman published this posthumous collection of his poems with an introduction by Arthur Griffith and a biographical sketch by Patrick Bradley.

Though Rooney’s poetry had been acclaimed in patriotic circles, it didn’t warrant such honours according to Joyce. Rooney ‘has no care…to create anything according to the art of literature,’ Joyce wrote, because ‘patriotism has laid hold of the writer.’ Instead of literature, all Joyce found was ‘a weary succession of verses, “prize” poems – the worst of all.’ ‘[T]hey have no spiritual or living energy, because they come from one in whom the spirit is in a manner dead…a weary and foolish spirit, speaking of redemption and revenge, blaspheming against tyrants, and going forth, full of tears and curses, upon its infernal labours.’ Though he admired a translation Rooney had made from a poem by Douglas Hyde, Joyce found there was ‘no piece in the book which has even the first quality of beauty, the quality of integrity, the quality of being separate and whole…’

Joyce’s sense that patriotism made bad poetry was made explicit in his comment that Rooney ‘might have written well if he had not suffered from one of those big words which make us so unhappy.’ Arthur Griffith, on the other hand, saw Rooney’s patriotism as being what made his poetry significant, and used this line of Joyce’s in an advertisement for the book, inserting the word patriotism in brackets after ‘one of those big words.’

The second review published on 11 December 1902 was ‘George Meredith,’ a review of George Meredith – An Essay towards Appreciation by Walter Jerrold. Joyce claimed that ‘Mr Meredith’s eager brain, which will not let him be a poet, has, however, helped him to write novels which are, perhaps, unique in our time.’ Joyce thought these novels had ‘a distinct value as philosophical essays,’ and concluded his review by saying that ‘Any book about the philosopher is worth reading, unless we have given ourselves over deliberately to the excellent foppery of the world, and though Mr Jerrold’s book is not remarkable, it is worth reading.’


Sources & Further Reading:

Joyce, James: Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin Barry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.