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The Language of the Outlaw: A Clarification

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 4, Summer 2007
pp. 807-812 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0012

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In his definitive biography of Joyce, Richard Ellmann quotes extensively from a pamphlet entitled “The Language of the Outlaw” (JJII 91n). Joyce relied on this text to craft one of the most famous sections of Ulysses, the recitation of John F. Taylor’s speech in the “Aeolus” episode (U 7.791–870).1 Professor MacHugh rehearses the speech—a lively discourse in favor of the Irish language—before the men in the Freeman’s Journal office, and the analogy that organizes the argument, and indeed appears throughout Ulysses, would have been familiar in 1904: the Irish, like the Israelites enslaved in ancient Egypt, were a chosen people oppressed by a rich and powerful empire.2 My initial attempt to locate this source pamphlet was unsuccessful, and eventually the reason for this seemed clear. Ellmann, who quotes the pamphlet at length in both the biography and The Consciousness of Joyce, fails to note its author:3 the Irish nationalist and revolutionary Roger Casement.

Casement’s authorship of the document has been established since Herbert O. Mackey included it in a collection of Casement’s writings in 1958,4 but most Joyce scholars, apparently taking their cue from Ellmann, have overlooked this fact.5 It is easy to see where the problem originated: nowhere in the four-page pamphlet does Casement’s name appear. Yet even armed with this information, a person who searches the card catalogue of the Berg Collection will not locate the item; if it was once there, that is no longer the case. There are, however, several copies of “The Language of the Outlaw” in Box 2, folder 37, of Casement’s papers in the Maloney Collection of Irish Historical Papers, in the Manuscripts and Archives Section of the New York Public Library. As a note on one copy, evidently in Casement’s hand,6 explains, “This was printed privately 5,000 or 10,000 in 1904—or 1905 and circulated largely in North of Ireland.”

Taylor’s famed oratorical performance at a meeting of the Law Students Debate Society on 24 October 1901 circulated as fodder for the Dublin literary community with astonishing persistence for many years. W. B. Yeats, for example, recalls, in Reveries over Childhood and Youth, how one day “[I] overheard a man murmuring to another [this speech] as I might some Elizabethan lyric that is in my very bones.”7 Although the content of the speech was printed in the Freeman’s Journal the day after Taylor delivered it, it was Casement’s pamphlet, with its altered version of Taylor’s purportedly improvised words, that served as the primary source for Joyce, Yeats, and others. Joyce may have attended the speech (JJII 91), but it is also clear that he based the passage in “Aeolus” not exclusively on memory but also on Casement’s pamphlet.

Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman’s note in “Ulysses” Annotated, however, does not mention the pamphlet; their entry on “The Language of the Outlaw” reads: “Taylor’s speech was never written out or taken down. MacHugh’s version of the speech is just that, a version, as is Yeats’s quotation from the speech in The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats (New York, 1958), pp. 64–65, as was the ‘pal-lid’ account published by the Freeman’s Journal on 25 October 1901.”8 Although Gifford and Seidman make the salutary point that this was a “version” of the talk, still it is a slightly odd assessment: the Freeman’s Journal report is hardly “pallid,” as Ellmann also refers to it (JJII 91), and it was quite clearly “taken down” by a reporter, along with detailed accounts of other speakers and speeches, resolutions and secondings of resolutions. Even if its accuracy cannot be guaranteed, a report that differentiates between “applause” and “loud applause” reveals a degree of attentiveness.9 Indeed, the 25 October account is vital—particularly as a measure of how the speech changed in the memories of those who heard and repeated it.

In all accounts of the speech, Taylor describes an eminent Egyptian pointing out for Moses the advantages of the ruling culture over that of the oppressed Israelites (an analogy to English colonial...



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