James Joyce (1882-1914)
From Literary Anecdotes About 20th Century Authors

WE both lived on the north side of the city, and we were going up Rutland Square, I think it was a horse-drawn tram in those days. I happened to mention that thing that the newspapers were full of—that it was Yeats's fortieth birthday and that Lady Gregory had collected from his friends forty pounds with which she bought a Kelmscott edition of Chaucer by William Morris. Everybody knew it was Yeats's birthday. But when I made an epiphany, so to speak, and told Joyce this, at the first tram stop he got out. Yeats was lodging in the Cavendish Hotel, in Rutland Square, and he solemnly walked in and knocked at Yeats's door. When Yeats opened the door of the sitting-room he said, `What age are you, sir?' and Yeats said, `I'm forty.'—'You are too old for me to help. I bid you good-bye.' And Yeats was greatly impressed at the impertinence of the thing.

Irish Literary Portraits, p. 24.

JAMES Joyce had come to Paris from Zurich. In the summer of 1920 I [Lewis] went there with Thomas Stearns Eliot. We went there on our way to the Bay of Quiberon for a summer holiday, which his wife said would do him good. We descended at a small hotel, upon the left bank of the River Seine. It was there I met, in his company, James Joyce for the first time.

It has been agreed before we left London that we should contrive to see Joyce in Paris. And Eliot had been entrusted with a parcel by Ezra Pound (as a more responsible person than myself), which he had to hand to Joyce when he got there. We did not know at all what it contained. It was rather a heavy parcel and Eliot had carried it under his arm, upon his lap, as it was too big to go in a suitcase....

The hotel was nearer to the quays of the Seine than to the central artery of the St. Germain quarter. It was the rue des Saints-Pères, or it may have been the rue Bonaparte: no matter, they are all the same. Our rooms were the sort of lofty, dirtily parquetted, frowsilycurtained, faded apartments that the swarms of small hotels in Paris provide, upon their floors of honour. These small hotels still abound.

T. S. Eliot, ringing for the chasseur, dispatched a petit bleu to James Joyce. He suggested that Joyce should come to the hotel, because he had a parcel entrusted to him by Ezra Pound, and which that gentleman had particularly enjoined upon him to deliver personally to the addressee; but that it would likewise be a great pleasure to meet him. This was accompanied by an invitation to dinner.

An invitation to dinner! I laugh as I write this. But at the time I did not know the empty nature of this hospitable message, seeing to whom it was directed!

The parcel was then placed in the middle of a large Second Empire marble table, standing upon gilt eagles' claws in the centre of the apartment. About six in the evening James Joyce arrived, and the Punch and Judy show began.

Joyce was accompanied by a tallish youth, whom he introduced to Eliot as his son. Eliot then introduced me to Joyce. We stood collected about the shoddily-ornamented French table, in the decor of the cheap dignity of the red-curtained apartment, as if we had been people out of a scene in an 1870 gazette, resuscitated by Max Ernst, to amuse the tired intelligentsia — bowing in a cosmopolitan manner to each other across Ezra's prize packet, which was the proximate cause of this solemn occasion.

When Joyce heard my name he started in a very flattering fashion. Politely he was galvanized by this historic scene, and then collapsed. It was as if he had been gently pricked with the ghost of a hat-pin of a corsetted demirep out of the Police Gazette, and had given a highly well-bred exhibition of stimulus-response. Suppose this exhibition to have been undertaken for a lecture (with demonstrations) on `Behaviour', and you have the whole picture. He raised his eyebrows to denote surprise and satisfaction at the auspicious occasion; he said Ah! Wyndham Lewis civilly under his breath, and I bowed again in acknowledgement, at the repetition of my name. He then with a courteous haste looked around for his son, who was heavily scowling in the background, and effected an introduction. His son stiffened, and, still scowling, bowed towards me with ceremony. Bringing my heels together, unintentionally, with a noticeable report, I returned the salute. We all then sat down. But only for a moment.

Joyce lay back in the stiff chair he had taken from behind him, crossed his leg, the lifted leg laid out horizontally upon the one in support like an artificial limb, an arm flung back over the summit of the sumptuous chair. He dangled negligently his straw hat, a regulation `boater'. We were on either side of the table, the visitors and ourselves, upon which stood the enigmatical parcel.,/p>

Eliot now rose to his feet. He approached the table, and with one eyebrow drawn up, and a finger pointing, announced to James Joyce that this was that parcel to which he had referred in his wire, and which had been given into his care, and he formally delivered it, thus acquitting himself of his commission.

`Ah! Is this the parcel you mentioned in your note?' inquired Joyce, overcoming the elegant reluctance of a certain undisguised fatigue in his person. And Eliot admitted that it was, and resumed his seat. I stood up: and, turning my back upon the others, arranged my tie in the cracked Paris mirror — whose irrelevant imperfections, happening to bisect my image, bestowed upon me the mask of a syphilitic Creole. I was a little startled; but I stared out of countenance this unmannerly distortion, and then turned about, remaining standing.

James Joyce was by now attempting to untie the crafty housewifely knots of the cunning old Ezra. After a little he asked his son crossly in Italian for a penknife. Still more crossly his son informed him that he had no penknife. But Eliot got up, saying `You want a knife? I have not got a knife, I think!' We were able, ultimately, to provide a pair of nail scissors.

At last the strings were cut. A little gingerly Joyce unrolled the slovenly swaddlings of damp British brown paper in which the good-hearted American had packed up what he had put inside. Thereupon, along with some nondescript garments for the trunk — there were no trousers, I believe — a fairly presentable pair of old brown shoes stood revealed, in the centre of the bourgeois French table....

James Joyce exclaiming very faintly `Oh' looked up, and we all gazed at the old shoes for a moment. `Oh!' I echoed and laughed, and Joyce left the shoes where they were, disclosed as the matrix of the disturbed leaves of the parcel. He turned away and sat down again, placing his left ankle upon his right knee, and squeezing, and then releasing, the horizontal limb.

With a smile even slower in materializing than his still-trailing Bostonian voice (a handsome young United States President, to give you an idea — adding a Gioconda smile to the other charms of this office) Eliot asked our visitor if he would have dinner with us. Joyce turned to his son, and speaking very rapidly in Italian, the language always employed by him, so it seemed, in his family circle, he told him to go home: he would inform his mother that his father would not be home to dinner after all....

James Joyce, having disposed of his foreign-bred offspring, Ezra's embarrassing present, and his family arrangements for the evening, turned to us with the air of a man who has divested himself of a few minor handicaps, and asked us where we would like to dine and did we know Paris well, or would we commit ourselves to him and allow him to conduct us to a restaurant where he dined, from time to time, not far from where we were just then, and at which it was possible to get a good meal enough, though he had not been there lately.

We replied that we would gladly go with him to the restaurant he mentioned; and so he led the way in a very business-like fashion: he bustled on ahead of us — if the word bustled can be used of a very spare and light-footed cosmopolitan gentleman: he selected a table, took up the menu before we had sat down, asked us what we liked, inspecting the violet scrawl to ascertain what was available in the matter of plats du jour. And before we could say Jack Robinson he had ordered a large and cleverly arranged dinner as far as possible for all palates, and with a great display of inside knowledge of the insides of civilized men and the resources of the cuisine of France, discovering what wines we were by way of liking if any. And he had asked for a bottle to start with to introduce the soup. And so on, through a first-class French repast until we had finished, he pushed on, our indefatigable host: then at a moment when we were not paying particular attention, he called for the bill: and before either of us could forestall him, he 'had whisked out of his breast pocket a handful of hundred-franc notes, and paid for this banquet: the wine, the liqueurs, the coffee, and added to it, it was evident, a lordly pourboire. Nor was it ever possible for T. S. Eliot or myself to pay for the smallest thing from that time onwards....

We had to pay his `Irish pride' for the affair of the old shoes. That was it! He would not let us off. He was entirely unrelenting and we found it impossible to out-manoeuvre him.

Percy Wyndham Lewis, Blasting and Bombardiering (1937; 1967 edn.), pp. 265, 267-9, 270, 270-271.

Though he liked having Samuel Beckett with him, Joyce at the same time kept him at a distance. Once he said directly, `I don't love anyone except my family' in a tone which suggested, `I don't like anyone except my family either.' But Beckett's mind had a subtlety and strangeness that attracted Joyce as it attracted, in another way, his daughter. So he would ask the young man to read to him passages from Mauthner's Beiträge zu Einer Kritik der Sprache, in which the nominalistic view of language seemed something Joyce was looking for. Once or twice he dictated a bit of Finnegans Wake to Beckett, though dictation did not work very well for him; in the middle of one such session there was a knock at the door which Beckett didn't hear. Joyce said, `Come in,' and Beckett wrote it down. Afterwards he read back what he had written and Joyce said, `What's that "Come in"?' 'Yes, you said that,' said Beckett. Joyce thought for a moment, then said, `Let it stand.' He was quite willing to accept coincidence as his collaborator.

Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York, 1959), pp. 661-662.

WHEN a young man came up to him in Zurich and said, `May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?' Joyce replied, somewhat like King Lear, `No, it did lots of other things too.'

Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York, 1959), p. 114

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