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The Song of Fionnuala

Silent, oh Moyle, be the roar of thy water, Break not, ye breezes, your chain of repose, While, murmuring mournfully, Lir’s lonely daughter Tells to the night-star her tale of woes. When shall the swan, her death-note singing, Sleep, with wings in darkness furl’d? When will heav’n, its sweet bell ringing, Call my spirit from this stormy world? Sadly, oh Moyle, to thy winter-wave weeping, Fate bids me languish long ages away; Yet still in her darkness doth Erin lie sleeping, Still doth the pure light its dawning delay. When will that day-star, mildly springing, Warm our isle with peace and love? When will heav’n, its sweet bell ringing, Call my spirit to the fields above?1

Silent, O Moyle. Of course I know it, IT. You must have heard me sing it often. The best setting is by Sir Henry Bishop. It goes very well with a harp accompaniment.2

Between late October and late November 1905, Joyce in Trieste wrote ‘Grace’, which he conceived of at the time as the twelfth and last story of Dubliners. By late January 1906 he had added ‘Two Gallants’.

On a warm Sunday evening in August when the ‘gaily coloured’ crowds had not yet dispersed, the ‘two gallants’ walk across to the south city centre from the north. Corley, son of a police inspector and familiar of plainclothes [End Page 112] men, has an assignation with a girl he has met. He describes her to his sidekick Lenehan, from whose perspective the narrative unfolds, as ‘a slavey in a house on Baggot Street’, who ‘thinks I’m a bit of class, you know’. As they turn up Kildare Street, near the Kildare Street club,

a harpist stood in the roadway playing to a little ring of listeners. He plucked at the wires heedlessly, glancing quickly from time to time at the face of each newcomer and from time to time, wearily also, at the sky. His harp too, heedless that her coverings had fallen about her knees, seemed weary alike of the eyes of strangers and of her master’s hands. One hand played the bass the melody of Silent, O Moyle while the other hand careered in the treble after each group of notes. The notes of the air throbbed deep and full.

(D ‘Two Gallants’ 43.160–4)

The ‘mournful music’ follows them as they progress silently up the street towards Stephen’s Green. Corley meets his lady friend, with whom he disappears up the stairs of the Donnybrook tram. Lenehan resumes his torpid wandering about the city centre, awaiting Corley’s return. As he came to the railings of the Duke’s Lawn at the back of Leinster House, ‘he allowed his hand to run along them. The air which the harpist played began to control his movements. His softly padded feet played the melody while his fingers swept a scale of variations idly along the railings after each group of notes’ (D ‘Two Gallants’ 45.236–40). Lenehan is complicit in Corley’s purpose but doubts that Corley will ‘pull it off’. Corley prevails, but what he extracts are not sexual favours, but a gold sovereign or half-sovereign, either of which was a multiple of a housemaid’s weekly wage.

When Grant Richards’ printers refused to print ‘Two Gallants’, Joyce wrote to Richards of the printer ‘I would strongly recommend to him the chapters wherein Ferrero examines the moral code of the soldier and (incidentally) of the gallant’.3 Joyce wrote later to Stanislaus that Ferrero ‘gave me’ the story.4

Guglielmo Ferrero was a sociologist, journalist, and historian then at the height of his fame in Italy and beyond. Ferrero had a considerable influence on Joyce, and had already contributed the title of one of the stories in Dubliners, ‘A Little Cloud’.5 Ferrero’s assessment of contemporary Europe, its constituent races and states, was intelligently modern and quasi-sociological, if idiosyncratic. Susan L. Humphreys and Giorgio Melchiori have independently established that Joyce’s specific point of reference for the [End Page 113] Ferrero element in ‘Two Gallants’ is Ferrero’s...


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