Farback, pitchblack centuries: Joyce amid the Franciscans

St Francis, from St Bonaventura's "Life" of the saint (1597) (c) Marshs Library (cc)
St Francis, from St Bonaventura’s “Life” of the saint (1597)
(c) Marshs Library (cc)

Running since October 2014, the exhibition James Joyce: Apocalypse and Exile is open on Bloomsday and beyond, to September 2015.

The exhibition explores Joyce’s connection to Marsh’s Library (he read there in October 1902), the references to Marsh’s Library and to books he read there in his writings, and his interest in the Franciscan tradition. The latter includes a connection to the Irish Colleges, specifically those of the Irish Franciscans.

Ulysses by James Joyce, first edition,  number 273 of 1000 (c) Marsh's Library (cc)
Joyce’s Ulysses (first edition)
(c) Marsh’s Library (CC)

The exhibit itself includes quotations from Joyce’s works, including the little known Stephen Hero. The books by Joyce held by the library are on display as is his signature in the visitors book.

1590 edition of Boccaccio's Decameron (c) Marsh's Library (CC)
Boccaccio’s Decameron (1590)
(c) Marsh’s Library (CC)

In Stephen Hero the narrator speaks of visiting Marsh’s “a few times in the week to read old Italian books of the Trecento” and the exhibition displays 16th and 17th century printings of Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarche.

Prophesies of Joachim Abbas (1589) (c) Marshs
Prophesies of Joachim Abbas (1589)
(c) Marsh’s Library (CC)

Joyce in Stephen Hero also writes that, “He had begun to be interested in Franciscan literature…He knew, by instinct, that S. Francis’ love-chains would not hold him very long but the Italian was very quaint. Elias and Joachim also relieved the naïf history.” Two lives of St Francis (including that of Bonaventura) and a history of the Francisan order are on display along with Franciscan works, tainted by heresy, relating to the Prophesies of Joachim Abbas.

Title Page of The Annals of the Four Masters (c) Marsh's Library
Title Page of The Annals of the Four Masters
(c) Marsh’s Library

The highlight of the exhibition from an Irish philosophy point of view is the display of works relating to 17th century Irish Franciscans. There are 17th century books on display by John Punch, Luke Wadding, Hugh MacCaughwell, Michael O’Cleary (The Four Masters), Geoffrey Keating, John Colgan and Patrick Fleming. While there is no evidence that Joyce read these in 1902, and he may well have read other Irish Franciscans, he was familiar with these writers and they are referred to in his work.

Brian Boru from Geoffrey Keating's General History of Ireland, printed in 1723.
Brian Boru from Geoffrey Keating’s General History of Ireland (1723)
© Marsh’s Library (CC)

Joyce would have encountered The Annals of the Four Masters in school and this “grand old historium” written by “the four of Masterers”, as he refers to it in Finnegans Wake, is parodied in that work by the four unreliable chroniclers Joyce called after the evangelists, or collectively as Mamalujo. He would also have been aware of Keating’s Foras Feasa and made notes while in Europe from Keating’s Tri bior-ghaoithe an bhais (The Three Shafts of Death).

In Finnegans Wake Joyce also refers to “Mumblesome Wadding”, who is central to the depiction of Patrick, due to Wadding’s part in including St Patricks Day in the revised calendar of 1632, granting “a vaticanned viper catcher’s visa for Patsy Presbys”.

Joyce was also aware of the Irish Franciscan study of Duns Scotus and follows them in ascribing him Irish nationality along with Joannes de Sacrobosco of doubtful origin and the Irish Petrus Hibernus:

I do not intend to detain you by recounting the vicissitudes of Ireland under the foreign occupation.[…]Two or three illustrious names shine here like the last few stars of a radiant night that wanes as dawn arrives. According to legend, John Duns Scotus, of whom I have spoken before, the founder of the school of Scotists, listened to the arguments of all the Doctors of the University of Paris for three whole days, then rose and, speaking from memory, refuted them one by one; Joannes de Sacrobosco, who was the last great supporter of the geographical and astronomical theories of Ptolemy, and Petrus Hibernus, the theologian who had the supreme task of educating the mind of the author of the scholastic apology Summa contra Gentile, St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the keenest and most lucid, mind known to human history.

The previous quote is from Joyce’s lecture, originally given on 27th April 1907, “Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages”. In this lecture, Joyce refers to the many Irish wanderers in Europe, taking pride that Ireland “sent its sons to every country in the world to preach the gospel, and its Doctors to interpret and renew the holy writings” including Fiacre, Sedilius and Scotus Erigena. He lists later men of learning given above, and more recent emigrants such as Edward O’Connor the Chartist, George Moore, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.

“[E]ven today, the flight of the wild geese continues.” Joyce was himself the heir to the wanderings of the saints and sages that went before him, and made centres of learning in Europe, though he avoided the “penal start” of those “farback pitchblack centuries” (Finnegan’s Wake).

References and Further Reading

The information above is from the exhibition catalogue James Joyce: Apocalypse and Exile, including an introduction by Dr Jason McElligott, Keeper of Marsh’s Library, a essay by Prof John McCafferty, three essays by Dr. Anne Marie D’Arcy, and images with notes from the exhibition. The catalogue is available from the library and from the Marsh’s Library website. Posters are also available.

James Joyce (1907) “Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages”, Originally as “Irlanda, Isola dei Santi e dei Savi”, lecture of 27 April 1907; rep. in The Critical Writings of James Joyce, ed. Ellsworth Mason & Richard Ellmann (NY: Viking Press 1964, 1966 [35d printing]), pp.154-174 [intro. notice, p.153]. (Ricorso)

Exhibition Poster (c) Marsh's Library (cc)
Exhibition Poster
(c) Marsh’s Library (cc)
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