Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

"A Great Future Behind Him": John F. Taylor's Speech in "Aeolus" Revisited

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

"A Great Future Behind Him": John F. Taylor's Speech in "Aeolus" Revisited

Article excerpt

John F. Taylor's oratory that Joyce fictionally re-enacts in "Aeolus" assumes a pride of place in Ulysses. When asked by Sylvia Beach in 1924 to read a passage from the book, Joyce chose the very speech. According to Beach, the reason Joyce gave for selecting the passage was that it was "'declamatory' and therefore suitable for recital".1 However, Beach suspected that this was not the whole truth; she sensed that "it expressed something he wanted said and preserved in his own voice".2 Beach was right. Taylor's speech had a special meaning for Joyce. In employing the Mosaic motif, Taylor was invoking the memory of the dead Irish leader Joyce regarded as his hero. This was Charles Stewart Parnell who, like Moses, led the Irish people within sight of the Promised Land. In Parnell's case, the Promised Land corresponded to Home Rule, or legislative independence for Ireland.3 If the prospects for Home Rule were rendered practically nil by the untimely death of Parnell in 1891 and by the political marginalisation of the pro-Home Rule Liberal Party after its massive electoral defeat in 1895, that did not matter much. What was paramount for Joyce, a loyal Parnellite, was to keep the torch of Parnellism burning on behalf of the dead leader. Andrew Gibson places particular emphasis on the significance of Taylor's speech, arguing that through it Joyce is "insisting] on the need to continue the proud, indomitable, Parnellite tradition of resistance".4

If so, there is something puzzling about the speech. In fact, no one in the audience responds to MacHugh's rehearsal of it with the enthusiasm or awe that would be due to "the uncrowned King of Ireland", as Parnell was known by his adherents in his time. The "silence" (u 7.870) that meets MacHugh's performance contrasts markedly with the hubbub of praise that follows J.J. O'Molloy's recitation of Seymour Bushe's famous defence speech in the courtroom. No outburst of "Fine!" (u 7.773) from Myles Crawford or a complimentary gloss of "[t]he divine afflatus" (u 7.774) from O'Madden Burke. Instead, it merely elicits a matter-of-fact commentary from J.J. O'Molloy: "And yet he died without having entered the land of promise" (u 7.873). If Taylor's speech was so important for the Parnellite Joyce, one wonders why he chose to represent the speech in "Aeolus" as a moment of anti-climax rather than climax. This essay will address this apparent paradox by examining Taylor's speech in its original historical settings, and will attempt to provide a new interpretation of its significance.

The Debate and Its Contenders

I will begin by establishing the precise date and location of the debate, for there is some uncertainty about both. Richard Ellmann suggests that the speech in question was delivered at "the Law Students' Debating Society [at King's Inns] on October 24, 1901" (jjii 91). However, one contributor to the Manchester Guardian reports that he or she heard Taylor's speech "last November [20, 1901] at the University College Debating Society".5 The conflicting accounts suggest that one of them is in error. At first glance, Ellmann seems to be right. The report by the Freeman's Journal indicates that the debate was conducted at the Law Students' Debating Society.6 Also, one passage of Taylor's speech that is quoted in the report contains the familiar Israeli-Irish analogy: "If Moses had listened to the counsels of that learned Professor he would never have come down from the mountain, his face glowing as a star, and bearing the Tables of the Law".7 Furthermore, at this debate we see Fitzgibbon present as "the President of the Society".8 However, two factors militate against Ellmann's proposition. Firstly, according to the Freeman's report, Taylor's speech was delivered as a part of "the resolution" in which he thanked the Auditor, St. L. Devitt, for presenting an address on "The Irish Revival", and not as a rebuttal to Fitzgibbon, who in fact spoke after Taylor and in moderate terms. …

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