On this day…31 October

On 31 October 1902 Joyce graduated from University College Dublin.

Joyce had started his studies at UCD in 1898 and completed his final examinations in September 1902. He graduated on Friday 31 October 1902 with a Pass degree in modern languages.

Joyce’s grades in his final year were not very impressive – 58% in French, 52% in Italian, and just 43% in English. Nonetheless it was enough to get him his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Royal University of Ireland.

The graduation ceremony on 31 October 1902 was later reported in the University’s student magazine, St Stephen’s. In the November issue, one student complained that the ceremony and its attendant rituals was too long, with all its processions from place to place.

Nationalist students had objected to the national anthem, ‘God Save the King,’ being performed at the ceremony, and the University authorities anticipated trouble. According to the December issue of St Stephen’s ‘a strong force of police were drafted within the Academic walls’ to forestall any trouble from the students, and the student leaders apparently warned their fellows to avoid confrontation with the policemen.

At the end of the ceremony, ‘God Save the King’ was ‘heartily hissed’ by the students who then left the hall. Outside, they formed a group around Joyce who was just about to address them when the gathering was charged by the police. Joyce and some of his friends were forced to make their getaway on a passing carriage (just as Bloom does at the end of the ‘Cyclops’ episode of Ulysses), but that wasn’t the last of it. The group reassembled and at last Joyce was able to address his words of wisdom to a ‘large and excited gathering’ of students on the day of their graduation. He told them they should be allowed to make as much noise as they liked!

The report of the graduation in December’s St Stephen’s ended with a version of the famous lines from the poem ‘Horatius’ in Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome:

And how could we die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the rights of Undergraduates
And the Freedom of ‘the Gods’?

‘Once again,’ declared St Stephen’s, ‘the graduates of the Royal University have shown the civilized world what they are prepared to do for the principles they hold dear.’ A photograph of Joyce in a three-piece suit with a white shirt and bow tie, wearing his graduation gown and hood, survives to commemorate the occasion.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Hutchins, Patricia: James Joyce’s World, London: Methuen, 1957.