James Joyce Quarterly 44.1 (2006) 133-135

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Billy Sunday:
A New Source for "Oxen of the Sun"
Peter Gilliver
Oxford English Dictionary

One strand of the "frightful jumble of Pidgin English, nigger English, Cockney, Irish, Bowery slang and broken doggerel" (LettersI 140) with which the "Oxen of the Sun" episode ends is a kind of overheated oratory associated by Joyce with American popular preaching. One such preacher is named several times in Ulysses, although only once in ungarbled form (U 8.13): John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907), a once-famous preacher, faith-healer, and temperance campaigner. Joseph C. Voelker and Thomas Arner point out that Joyce would have been able to follow the antics (and prose style) of Dowie in the Irish press, which regularly reported on his sermons and covered a visit he made to London in 1904.1 Robert Janusko, in a further investigation of the Dowie connection, suggests that he may have had Dowie or his brand of invective in mind when composing what he calls "Joyce's Americanese altar call parody."2 The "altar call" in question is indeed a fine specimen of its type: "Come on you winefizzling, ginsizzling, booseguzzling existences! Come on, you dog-gone, bullnecked, beetlebrowed, hogjowled, peanutbrained, weaseleyed fourflushers, false alarms and excess baggage! Come on, you triple extract of infamy!" (U 14.1580-84). But it is not a parody, so much as an almost verbatim transcription of the sermonizing of another American evangelist: Billy Sunday.

William Ashley "Billy" Sunday (1862-1935), now a little-known fig-ure, was in his time a spectacularly successful evangelical preacher and a passionate advocate of temperance. A former professional baseball player, he underwent a religious conversion in 1886 and thereafter increasingly devoted his life to preaching. In his heyday, he addressed vast crowds, often in specially constructed wooden "tabernacles"; hundreds of thousands were said to have been converted at his meetings. Newspaper reports often carried extensive extracts from his speeches and sermons, some of which were issued as pamphlets.

Over the years of his preaching, Sunday evolved a number of distinctive strings of epithets that he would incorporate, with only slight variations, into almost every sermon and speech. These choice pieces of invective were quoted with relish in newspaper reports, and from these it is possible to track even relatively small changes in wording. Thus in an anti-liquor diatribe that Sunday gave on several occasions, reproduced in a 1908 pamphlet entitled "Get On The Water Wagon," occurs the description "peanut-brained,3 weasel-eyed, hog-jowled, beetle-browed, bull-necked lobsters":4 this is close to Joyce's [End Page 133] text but not as close as some of Sunday's later versions. Similarly, while addressing a meeting in Decatur, Illinois, in March 1908, he refers to the "triple extract of infamy."5 During the period 1915-1917, though, Sunday consistently uses a form of words that is so close to the Ulysses reading that transcription, rather than imitation, becomes the only possible explanation.

As to how Joyce came across the passage—whether in one of the many American newspaper accounts of Sunday's preaching, in some similar report carried by a British or Irish newspaper, or in a pamphlet version of one of the sermons that somehow came into his hands—it is, of course, impossible to be certain; but evidence marginally favors an article in the Edwardsville, Illinois, Intelligencer of 5 May 1915, which reports on an address of Sunday's delivered in Kansas City. On this occasion, his appeal reads: "Come on, you forces of iniquity; . . . come on, you traducers; come on, you triple extract of infamy; come on, you assassins of character; come on, you sponsors of harlotry; come on, you defamers of God and enemies of the church; come on, you bull-necked, bettle-browed [sic], hog-jowled, peanut-brained, weasel-eyed four-flushers, false alarms and excess baggage." The misprint here is significant, for Joyce repeats it in the version of this passage which appears in the British Museum notesheets, where the reading differs only in punctuation: "Come on, you bullnecked, bettlebrowed, hogjowled, peanutbrained weaseleyed fourflushers, false alarms & excess baggage."6 To finalize the published Ulysses text, Joyce had merely to correct the misprint and add an introductory "dog-gone" (a word which does not appear to have been part of Sunday's regular armory, and which must, therefore, surely be Joyce's own). The identical sequence of five adjectives and three nouns occurs—without the misprint—both earlier (in the Modesto, California, Evening News of 22 January 1915, in a report on a meeting led by Sunday in Philadelphia) and later (in the Lancaster, Ohio, Daily Eagle of 10 April 1917, in a report on a New York campaign); but outside of this period, the sequence varies (as in the 1908 sermon quoted above), making it most likely that it was a report dating from between 1915 and 1917 that must have caught Joyce's fancy and led him to incorporate this morsel of Sunday sermon into his "frightful jumble."

Peter Gilliver is an Associate Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. He is also working on a history of the OED, to be published by the Oxford University Press.


1. Joseph C. Voelker and Thomas Arner, "Bloomian Pantomime: J. A. Dowie and the 'Messianic Scene,'" JJQ, 27 (Winter 1990), 283-91.

2. Robert Janusko, "More on J. A. Dowie (& Son)," JJQ, 29 (Spring 1992), 610.

3. The adjective "peanut-brained" is recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, as first occurring in this passage in Ulysses; it was in [End Page 134] the course of revising the OED entry for the word "peanut" that I discovered its earlier use by Billy Sunday. A revised version of the entry for "peanut" was published in the OED Online in 2005.

4. I am grateful to Darrol Pierson of the Indiana State Library for verifying this quotation.

5. See the Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois (4 March 1908), 3. I found this and other local newspaper reports by using the excellent database and search facilities at <www.NewspaperARCHIVE.com>.

6. See Phillip F. Herring, Joyce's "Ulysses" Notesheets in the British Museum (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1972), p. 115, and cited by Janusko (p. 608). The passage "wine-fizzling, ginsizzling booseguzzling existence" also appears in the notesheets, according to Herring (p. 115), but if this is another quotation from Billy Sunday, I have not been able to trace it.