Friday, 28 July 2017

Edgar Quinet in Finnegans Wake

Quinet's tomb in Montparnasse
'Today, as in the days of Pliny and Columella, the hyacinth disports in Gaul, the periwinkle in Illyria, the daisy on the ruins of Numantia; and while around them the cities have changed masters and names, while some have ceased to exist, while the civilisations have collided with one another and shattered, their peaceful generations have passed through the ages, and have come up to us, one following the other, fresh and cheerful as on the days of the battles'

That's a sentence from the French historian Edgar Quinet (1803-75), which Joyce gives in the original French on page 281 of the Wake. It's the only undistorted quotation in the whole book. Joyce loved this sentence so much that he would recite it from memory.

'He recited a page from Quinet, which satisfied him completely, a description on which he embroidered for several pages in 'Work in Progress': the whole atmosphere of the Mediterranean is in it, he said, its ports, its flowers, the azure sky, the sun on the sea. In that passage he felt at home.'

Jacques Mercanton, 'The Hours of James Joyce', 1963 (reprinted in Portaits of the Artist in Exile p 239)

In 1953, the Irish tenor John Sullivan told Richard Ellmann that Joyce astounded him one day by reciting the sentence to him while they were walking by Montparnasse cemetery, along the Boulevard Edgar Quinet. Quinet lies buried here


Pliny the Elder

Joyce summed up the sentence in a letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver: 'E.Q. says that the wild flowers on the ruins of Carthage, Numancia etc have survived the political rises and falls of Empires' (Let I: 295). Quinet uses classical Rome as the example of empire. Pliny the Elder and Columella were the great Roman writers on nature: Pliny wrote a massive Natural History and Columella wrote books on Agriculture and Trees. Numantia was a city in Spain whose inhabitants committed suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. Illyria in the western Balkans and Gaul (France) were also conquered by Rome.

Joyce said he 'felt at home' in this sentence. He shared Quinet's detached view of history, eternally repeating the same events. Ellmann tells us that, when Samuel Beckett spoke of Nazi persecution of the Jews, Joyce pointed out that there had been similar persecutions before. In later life, says Ellmann, Beckett 'thought this ability to contemplate with telescopic eye Joyce's most impressive characteristic, and quoted four lines from Pope's 'Essay on Man' to illustrate:

Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms of sytems into ruin hurled,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.'  (Ellmann p.709)


Léon Metchnikoff  (1838-88)
In The Books at the Wake, J.S.Atherton identified the source of the quotation as Quinet's Introduction à La Philosophie de l'Histoire de l'Humanité. Clive Hart spotted six misquotations in Joyce's text, and suggested that this was 'almost certainly due to faulty memory'. But Inge Landuyt discovered that Joyce's source was not Quinet's original but Léon Metchnikoff's La Civilisation et les Grands Fleuves Historiques (1889). Joyce follows Metchnikoff 's misquotations of the text ('au temps de Pline' instead of 'aux jours de Pline' and 'entrées' instead of 'rentrées').

Metchnikoff was a social scientist, who wrote about the impact of the environment on history in particular the role of great rivers in shaping early civilizations. Joyce read his book in early 1924, when he was gathering research for his own river chapter, Anna Livia Plurabelle. You can read Ingeborg Landuyt and Geert Lernout's article about Joyce's uses of Metchnikoff here, in Genetic Joyce Studies. 

I've also found Metchnikoff's book online. Here's the page where Joyce found Quinet's sentence.


In 1926, two years after finding the sentence, Joyce wrote the opening chapter of the Wake, which is a panoramic view of the prehistory of Dublin.  This was the perfect place to include Quinet's sentence, and so he reshaped it and made it Irish:

'Thus, too, for donkey's years. Since the bouts of Hebear and Hairyman the cornflowers have been staying at Ballymun, the duskrose has choosed out Goatstown's hedges, twolips have pressed togatherthem by sweet Rush, townland of twinedlights,  the whitethorn and the redthorn have fairygeyed the mayvalleys of Knockmaroon, and, though for rings round them, during a chiliad of perihelygangs, the Formoreans have brittled the tooath of the Danes and the Oxman has been pestered by the Firebugs and the Joynts have thrown up jerrybuilding to the Kevanses and Little on the Green is childsfather to the City (Year! Year! And laughtears!), these paxsealing buttonholes have quadrilled across the centuries and whiff now whafft to us, fresh and made-of-all-smiles as, on the eve of Killallwho.' 14.35

Though Joyce's reworkings of Quinet are called parodies, I prefer Clive Hart's description of them as 'free translations into various dialects of 'Djoytsch''. In rewriting Quinet here, Joyce changed the setting from classical antiquity to Dublin. Rush, Knockmaroon, Goatstown, Ballymun and Little Green Market are all places in and around Dublin.

In Pliny and Columella, he saw his warring twins, Shem and Shaun. He also made Quinet's flowers female temptresses - seizing on the contrast between masculine and feminine forces in Quinet's sentence. Wars and cities, 'which change masters' are masculine. The peaceful flowers are feminine in the French ('la marguerite'). Girls are often flowers in Finnegans Wake

'And they still nowanights and by nights of yore do all all bold floras of the field to their shyfaun lovers say only: Cull me ere I wilt to thee! and, but a little later: Pluck me whilst I blush! Well may they wilt, marry, and profusedly blush, be troth.' 15.19

'the bouts of Hebear and Hairyman'

The battles of he-bear and the hairy man (Esau?) and Heber and Heremon – the Irish equivalents of Romulus and Remus. The Irish traced their race back to Milesius of Spain, whose sons, Heber and Heremon were the first kings of the Gaels, ruling jointly until Heremon killed Heber. 

'twolips have pressed togatherthem by sweet Rush'

Kisses and tulips. The village of Rush, on the coast fifteen miles north of Dublin, is famous for its tulip fields. cf 'tulipbeds of Rush below' 526.06

'during a chiliad of perihelygangs' 

A thousand years. A chiliad is a group of a thousand, and it also includes the first war epic, the Iliad.  'perihelygangs'  going (gangs) around (peri) the sun (Helios), and so years. Hely in the Wake might suggest the Irish Governor General and enemy of Parnell, Tim Healy (Ireland is called 'Healiopolis' at 24.18).  It's a phrase suggestive of war and violence (gangs).

'the Formoreans have brittled the tooath of the Danes and the Oxman has been pestered by the Firebugs'

The Formoreans and the Tuatha de Danaan were two rival supernatural Irish races.  After being defeated by the Milesians, the Tuatha de Danaan retreated underground to become the aos sí (fairies). Also the tooth of the Danes, invaders who founded Dublin. The Danes called themselves Ostmen (men from the east), which became corrupted to Oxmen. So Dublin has an Oxmantown, the area north of the Liffey where the Danes were exiled at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. The Firbolgs were another legendary Irish race, conquered by the Tuatha de Danaan but allowed to settle in Connacht.

'and the Joynts have thrown up jerrybuilding to the Kevanses'

The Giants have thrown up jerry buildings. All our cities are 'jerry built', because the buildings will crumble in time, or be burned down ('firebugs' are arsonists). Shem and Shaun are also often called Jerry and Kevin

'these paxsealing buttonholes have quadrilled across the centuries'

Joyce takes Quinet's 'peaceful generations have passed through the following the other, fresh and cheerful' and creates a processional dance by the flowers, worn as buttonholes. Paxsealing - sealing peace. The alternation of peace and war.  In the marginal note next to the French text on page 281, Joyce wrote, 'BELLUM-PAX-BELLUM'.

'the eve of Killallwho'

Joyce's version of Quinet's 'days of battles'. King Brian Boru, who defeated the Danes at the Battle of Clontarf had his stronghold at Killaloe. 'Kill all who' – the dead of Clontarf included included Brian Boru, his son Murchad, his grandson Toirdelbach, King Máel Mórda of Leinster and the Viking leaders Sigurd of Orkney and Brodir of Man.

Scarlet pimpernels growing in the pot on Quinet's tomb


Here's the first draft of the sentence, written in pencil by Joyce in late 1926, from the Garland Press James Joyce Archive.

Joyce originally wrote 'the times of Hebear and Hairyman', then 'the high old times' before deciding on 'bouts'; 'townland of twinedlights' was originally 'the place for twilights', then 'twinlights'; 'during a chiliad of perihelygangs' began as 'during a hundred thousand yeargangs'; 'valleys' became 'mayvalleys'; 'jerrybuilding' was originally 'wallmaking'; 'the eve of Kallallwho' was 'the day of combat', corrected to 'the day of Killallwhoo' (though Joyce then lost the extra o).

Here's Joyce's fair (!) copy of November 1926. The only additions here are the parenthesis '('Year. year. laughtears!)' and 'whaft' added to 'whift'.

Here's Joyce's second reworking of Quinet's sentence, from the Hen chapter, written in 1927. Here he's taken just the structure of the sentence and applied it to new subjects, the passing on of the Letter and the brewing of tea and alcohol:

Since nozzy Nanette tripped palmyways with Highho Harry there’s a spurtfire turf a’kind o’kindling when oft as the souff souff blows her peaties up and a claypot wet for thee, my Sitys, and talkatalka tell Tibbs has eve: and whathough (revilous ife proving aye the death of ronaldses when winpower wine has bucked the kick on poor won man) billiousness has been billiousness during milliums of millenions and our mixed racings have been giving two hoots or three jeers for the grape, vine and brew and Pieter’s in Nieuw Amsteldam and Paoli’s where the poules go and rum smelt his end for him and he dined off sooth american (it would give one the frier even were one a normal Kettlelicker) this oldworld epistola of their weatherings and their marryings and their buryings and their natural selections has combled tumbled down to us fersch and made-at-all-hours like an ould cup on tay. 


For his third version, in the Games chapter, written in 1930, Joyce brought in Romulus and Remus and developed the dancing flower theme:

Since the days of Roamaloose and Rehmoose the pavanos have been strident through their struts of Chapelldiseut, the vaulsies have meed and youdled through the purly ooze of Ballybough, many a mismy cloudy has tripped taintily along that hercourt strayed reelway and the rigadoons have held ragtimed revels on the platauplain of Grangegorman; and, though since then sterlings and guineas have been replaced by brooks and lions and some progress has been made on stilts and the races have come and gone and Thyme, that chef of seasoners, has made his usual astewte use of endadjustables and whatnot willbe isnor was, those danceadeils and cancanzanies have come stimmering down for our begayment through the bedeafdom of po's taeorns, the obcecity of pa's teapucs, as lithe and limbfree limber as when momie mummed at ma. 


The fourth use of Quinet, furthest from the original, comes at the end of the Joyce's war story of Buckley and the Russian general. 

'When old the wormd was a gadden and Anthea first unfoiled her limbs wanderloot was the way the wood wagged where opter and apter were samuraised twimbs. They had their mutthering ivies and their murdhering idies and their mouldhering iries in that muskat grove but there’ll be bright plinnyflowers in Calomella’s cool bowers when the magpyre’s babble towers scorching and screeching from the ravenindove.'


The final use of Quinet was one of the last pieces of Finnegans Wake to be composed, in 1938. Joyce wrote it when he was tying together the opening and closing chapters. It has a place of honour, introducing Anna Livia Plurabelle's letter, delivered at last, and her final monologue. The passage is a sort of summary of the book. It's very dense but look out for the days of Pliny and Columella, and the flowers la jacinthe, la pervenche and la marguerite:

'Our wholemole millwheeling vicociclometer, a tetradomational gazebocroticon (the “Mamma Lujah” known to every schoolboy scandaller, be he Matty, Marky, Lukey or John-a- Donk), autokinatonetically preprovided with a clappercoupling smeltingworks exprogressive process, (for the farmer, his son and their homely codes, known as eggburst, eggblend, eggburial and hatch-as-hatch can) receives through a portal vein the dialytically separated elements of precedent decomposition for the verypetpurpose of subsequent recombination so that the heroticisms, catastrophes and eccentricities transmitted by the ancient legacy of the past, type by tope, letter from litter, word at ward, with sendence of sundance,since the days of Plooney and Columcellas when Giacinta, Pervenche and Margaret swayed over the all-too-ghoulish and illyrical and innumantic in our mutter nation all, anastomosically assimilated and preteridentified paraidiotically, in fact, the sameold gamebold adomic structure of our Finnius the old One, as highly charged with electrons as hophazards can effective it, may be there for you, Cockalooralooraloomenos, when cup, platter and pot come piping hot, as sure as herself pits hen to paper and there's scribings scrawled on eggs.'  61427-615.10

The best thing written about Joyce's uses of Quinet is Clive Hart's article in Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake, which you can read online here. Here he reveals that 'Mr Frank Budgen insists that Joyce detested flowers'!

I visited Quinet's grave in June 2018

I've always loved Joyce's first reworking of Qunet in the opening chapter. When Derek Pyle of Waywords and Meansigns asked me to read a passage, this was the bit I chose. You can hear me stumbling over the words here.

From Mary Ellen Bute's film of the Wake