On 2 August 1923 Joyce sent a sketch about ‘St Patrick and the Druid’ to Harriet Weaver for typing.
This was one of a small number of sketches that Joyce asked Weaver to type for him while he was holidaying at Bognor in the south of England. In 1938 it was finally incorporated into Book IV of Finnegans Wake.
The sketch was based on the story of St Patrick’s conversion of Ireland to Christianity through his defiant act of lighting a bonfire on the hill at Slane and his besting of the king’s archdruid. Joyce refigures this as St Patrick’s conversion by Ireland rather than his conversion of Ireland. Joyce’s druid is Bishop George Berkeley, whose theory of vision Stephen Dedalus considers in the ‘Proteus’ episode of Ulysses. In Finnegans Wake, the contest between Patrick and the druid is over their differing visions of the world.
The earliest extant draft of this sketch dates from July 1923, though it seems likely there was an earlier draft. After Weaver had typed it, she seems to have developed doubts about what Joyce was doing. Of all the pieces he sent her for typing during the summer of 1923, it was the first to be written in Wakean language, and Joyce felt a need to explain it to her.
In a letter to her in October 1923, he apologises that Patrick and Berkeley had not been successful in explaining themselves to her, and he suggests that the explanation lies perhaps with metempsychosis, or with Hegel’s or Vico’s theories of history, or with the ‘Mamalujo’ pieces he was then working on. Significantly, he claims that these sketches as they increase in number will also begin to fuse into one another to form the book he is writing.
When Joyce sent this sketch to Weaver for typing on 2 August 1923, he asked her to keep it with the other rough drafts that he had already sent her. However, it was not until July 1938 that Joyce went looking for these old sketches again, and asked Weaver to send them to him. Later that month – almost exactly fifteen years after she had first typed it – she found the Patrick and the Druid sketch and sent it on to Joyce.
As soon as he received it, he began to expand it and incoporate it into the final chapter of his book. He later justified its inclusion as part of a stained-glass triptych (bringing together St Kevin, St Patrick, and St Laurence O’Toole – the latter only incorporated in November 1938), but he also claimed that the argument between Patrick and Berkeley was a challenge to his book, and a defence of it.
Sources & Further Reading:
Crispi, Luca & Sam Slote (eds): How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake – A Chapter-by-Chapter Genetic Guide, Madison: University of Wisonsin Press, 2007.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I, edited by Stuart Gilbert, vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.