On 14 September 1912 Joyce started writing ‘Gas from a Burner.’
Joyce started writing the poem in the railway station waiting room in Flushing (Vlissingen) in the Netherlands on his way from Dublin to Trieste, and he completed it between there and Salzburg. He had it printed in Trieste and sent copies to Dublin for distribution there. He gave it the dateline ‘Flushing, September 1912.’
After hearing that the already printed pages of Dubliners were to be destroyed, Joyce left Dublin for the last time on 12 September. He stopped over in London long enough to offer the manuscript of Dubliners to Charles Boon, of publishers Mills & Boon. Mills & Boon published books by Padraic Colum who had written in advance to recommend Joyce’s book. But Joyce was not hopeful. Boon told him he had read about the references to King Edward in Dubliners and said he wouldn’t care to publish something like that.
Joyce’s anger at the destruction of Dubliners had not abated by the time he got to the Netherlands, and while waiting for the train to Salzburg he took the opportunity to start drafting a ‘pasquinade,’ a satire or lampoon, on the back of his now worthless Dubliners contract with Maunsel & Company.
Joyce had the poem printed in Trieste and sent copies to his brother Charles in Dublin for him to distribute. Charles showed it to John Joyce who declared angrily that Joyce was ‘an out and out ruffian.’ Given his father’s reaction, Charles was reluctant to go about circulating the poem any further.
Joyce seems to have started out writing the poem from the point of view of John Falconer, the Dublin printer who had printed and destroyed Dubliners, but later mixed Falconer’s perspective with the perspective of George Roberts, manager at Maunsel and Company.
The poem is a much more personal rant than Joyce’s earlier poem ‘The Holy Office,’ and the language is much stronger. He includes elements of Swiftian scatology, and his invective is turned not only against Roberts and Falconer but also against other writers, James Cousins, Padraic Colum, JM Synge, and Lady Gregory among them.
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.
– -: Poems & Shorter Writings, edited by Richard Ellmann, A Walton Litz, & John Whittier-Ferguson, London: Faber & Faber, 1991.
– -: Poems & Exiles, edited with an Introduction and Notes by JCC Mays, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.