James Joyce pp 37-40 | Cite as

James Joyce as a Young Man

  • Padraic Colum


James Joyce was very noticeable amongst the crowd of students who frequented the National Library or who sauntered along the streets between Nelson’s Pillar and Stephens ’[sic] Green. He was tall and slender when I knew him first, with a Dantesque face and steely blue eyes. The costume I see him in as I look back includes a peaked cap and tennis shoes more or less white. He used to swing along the street carrying in his hand an ash-plant by way of a cane (that ash-plant is celebrated in Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus carries it through that tremendous day and frequently addresses it). He spoke harshly in conversation, with a marked accent, and using many words of the purlieus. Stories were told about his arrogance. Did not this youth say to Yeats, ‘We have met too late: you are too old to be influenced by me? ’Back in 1901 — he was just twenty then — he reproved the promoters of the Irish Literary Theatre, writing in ‘The Day of the Rabblement’—

No man, said the Nolan, can be a lover of the true or the good unless he abhors the multitude; and the artist, though he may employ the crowd, is very careful to isolate himself. This radical principle of artistic economy applies specially to a time of crisis, and to-day when the highest form of art has been preserved by desperate sacrifices, it is strange to see the artist making terms with the rabblement.… The Irish Literary Theatre gave out that it was the champion of progress, and proclaimed war against commercialism and vulgarity. It had partly made good its word and was expelling the old devil when after the first encounter it surrendered to the popular will. Now your popular devil is more dangerous than your vulgar devil. Bulk and lungs count for something, and he can gild his speechaptly. He has prevailed once more, and the Irish Literary Iheatre must now be considered the property of the rabblement of the most belated race in Europe…. The official organ of the movement spoke of producing European masterpieces, but the matter went no further. Such a project was absolutely necessary. The censorship is powerless in Dublin, and the directors could have produced Ghosts or The Dominion of Darkness if they chose. Nothing can be done until the forces that dictate public judgment are calmly confronted…. Accordingly, the rabblement, placid and intensely moral, is enthroned in boxes and galleries amid a hum of approval, and those who think that Echegaray is ‘morbid’, and titter coyly when Melisande lets down her hair, are not sure but they are the trustees of every intellectual and poetic treasure…. Meanwhile, what of the artists? It is equally unsafe at present to say of Mr Yeats that he has or has not genius. In aim and form The Wind Among the Reeds is poetry of the highest order, and ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ (a story which one of the great Russians might have written) shows what Mr Yeats


National Library Official Organ Blond Hair Scandinavian Language Public Judgment 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

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  • Padraic Colum

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