James Joyce

Verism and Idealism in English Literature; Daniel Defoe and William Blake [fragment] 1912

Translated by Andrew Blom, 1999.


It was the year of our Lord 1660 when Charles Stuart, the exile, the fugitive, the dethroned, disembarked on English soil at Dover, and, escorted by fanfare and torches in the midst of a jubilant populace, struck out for the capital to seize the same crown which his father, the martyr king, had taken off eleven years before, paying the fee for it on Whitehall scaffold by order of the regicide generals. The cadavers of Cromwell and Ireton were disinterred and dragged all the way to Tyburn (the Golgotha, place of the skulls, of English history) where they were hung on the gallows and then decapitated, putrified like they were, by the hangman. Joy returned to joyful England; the grace, culture, pomp and luxury of the Stuart courts returned. The young king opened the doors of his palace to men and women of flattery. With a puppy on his arm, he gave audience to his ministers: leaning against a stove in the chamber of Peers, he listened to the discourses of that exalted congress and swore by 'od's bodkins' (his Majesty's preferred oath) that his nobles entertained him more than the comedians.

But this triumph was a delusion, for in a brief turn of time the Stuart star had set forever, and the Protestant succession, incarnate in the person of William of Nassau, had become the cornerstone of the British constitution. Here, according to the textbooks, the chapter of ancient history comes to an end, and that of modern history opens.

And yet the constitutional crisis that then resolved itself in a lasting truce between the crown, the church and the legislature is neither the only nor the most interesting feat accomplished by that prince, called 'of glorious, pious and immortal memory.' His victory signifies in addition a racial crisis, an ethnic grudge match. From the days of William the Conqueror on, no monarch of Germanic blood had gripped the English scepter. The Normans were succeeded by the Plantagenets, the Plantagenets by the house of Tudor, the house of Tudor by the Stuarts. Even that Oliver Cromwell, lord protector of the public rights and liberties, was of Celtic stock, son of a Welsh father and a Scottish mother. More than six centuries since the battle of Hastings had therefore passed before the true successor of the Anglo-Saxon dynasty mounted the throne: and the populace that acclaimed the arrival of the awkward and taciturn Dutch general acclaimed itself, saluted the personal symbol of its own resurgence.

Translators note: the contributions on Billy-in-the-Bowl [on the fwake-list] were so impressive, though, I thought I could try to bolster up the (an)other side of the Billy allusion, that to William III. It might have been more than a year ago that Mikio Fuse asked why Joyce should have made so much of William of Orange, and the question was still with me when I recently read the surviving text of Joyce's lecture on Daniel Defoe, given in Trieste in 1912.

The following passage, the opening three paragraphs of that lecture, is to my knowledge Joyce's only non-fictional discussion of the prince of Nassau; though it antedates the Wake by some ten years, it speaks in terms which could hardly be more revealing of William's Wake-thematic implications.

The text of this lecture is not reprinted in Joyce's Critical Writings, Ellmann and Mason, eds. The translation is mine, and I have attempted to keep every element - punctuation, choice of particular words, etc. - as literal an importation from the original as possible. With Joyce's rangy Italian, this makes for some thick reading, but I figure accuracy is better than any arbitrary imposition of style would be.)

So in the present passage, stripped of extraneous detail, we see William (perhaps both King Williams, see also FW 31) as delimiters of neatly Viconian chapters in history, in this case the ancient and modern periods. (Whether this indicates a Joycean interest in Vico as early as 1912 is another question, but it would appear possible.) In this light too they are seen to be protagonists of the Wakean race war (v. 3rd paragraph) between blond and brune, their Germanic (blond?) ethnicity finding expression through the strongly Dutch character of the narration in episode I.iv, for example.

Bob Janusko was kind enough to let me know of an existing annotated translation of the Defoe lecture, and I figured I should pass on the information. It's published as, "Daniel Defoe by James Joyce, edited from Italian manuscripts and translated by Joseph Prescott." Buffalo Studies. State University of New York at Buffalo. Vol. I, No. 1. December/1964. 27pp.