On this day…24 October

On 24 October 1901 John F Taylor made a speech in defence of the Irish language.

Joyce may have been present on the evening of 24 October to hear Taylor’s speech in defence of the study of the Irish language. Joyce later used parts of Taylor’s speech in the ‘Aeolus’ episode of Ulysses, and made a recording of it in 1924.

Taylor was a King’s Counsel and orator who also wrote for the Manchester Guardian. His speech at the Law Student Debating Society was a response to the conservative Gerald Fitzgibbon, the Lord Justice and a well-known Freemason, who, as a commissioner of national education from 1884 to 1896, was seen by some as being responsible for efforts to Anglicize Ireland.

The Irish language revival campaign stemmed from Douglas Hyde’s speech on ‘The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland,’ delivered in November 1892, and from the foundation of the Gaelic League in 1893. Many people took an interest in the campaign, including Roger Casement whose pamphlet, ‘The Language of the Outlaw,’ published around 1903-5, contained a version of Taylor’s speech which Joyce seems to have used in writing the ‘Aeolus’ episode of Ulysses.

In the closing part of his speech, Taylor tells of an Egyptian who challenges Moses by comparing the riches and dominance of Egyptian language, literature, history and religion with the poverty of Jewish culture. In an article titled ‘The Irish Revival’ in the Freeman’s Journal on 25 October 1901, Taylor’s conclusion was quoted as: ‘If Moses had listened to the counsels of that learned Professor he would never have come down from the mountain, his face glowing as a star, and bearing the Tables of the Law…’

Roger Casement’s version of the conclusion ran: ‘And if Moses had listened to these arguments, what would have been the end? Would he ever had come down from the Mount, with the light of God shining on his face and carrying in his hands the Tables of the law written in the language of the outlaw?’ Joyce develops this into a much longer passage which concludes with Taylor saying that if Moses had listened to the Egyptian, ‘He would never have spoken with the Eternal amid lightnings on Sinai’s mountaintop nor ever have come down with the light of inspiration shining in his countenance and bearing in his arms the tables of the law, graven in the language of the outlaw.’

In 1924, when Sylvia Beach organised a recording of Joyce reading from Ulysses, he chose this passage because, he claimed, it was the only passage that could be lifted out of Ulysses, and because its declamatory styled made it suitable for recital. Beach thought these were not the only reasons, and felt that the speech also expressed something Joyce wanted to record in his own voice. Joyce scholar Mathew Hodgart later claimed that this passage was in fact ‘a truly inspired statement of Joyce’s artistic credo…’


Sources & Further Reading:

Beach, Sylvia: Shakespeare and Company, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980.

Bender, Abby: ‘The Language of the Outlaw – A Clarification,’ in James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 4, Summer 2007, pp. 807-12.

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Gifford, Don, & Robert J Seidman: Ulysses Annotated – Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses, second edition, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989.

Hodgart, MJC: ‘Aeolus,’ in James Joyce’s Ulysses: Critical Essays, eds. Clive Hart & David Hayman, London: University of California Press, 1974.