Bonsoir la compagnie
U 14.1534-6: Closingtime, gents. Eh? Rome boose for the Bloom toff [...] Play low, pardner. Slide. Bonsoir la compagnie.
There are several options we can chose from to explain where Joyce’s “Bonsoir la compagnie” comes from. The most straightforward is that it is simply a conventional French expression of farewell (literally ‘Goodnight the company’).
often refers to songs, and Don Gifford is surely right in taking this route,
doesn’t tell us enough, though. It’s quite possible that James Joyce or his
father was familiar with Constance Maud’s song Bonsoir la Compagnie, published by Boosey and Co in 1896 (there is
a rare copy in the British Library). 1896 was quite early in Constance Maud’s
career, but she had already published several songs, and in the previous year
had published the fictional tale Wagner’s
Bonsoir la Compagnie
received a pleasing notice in Hearth and
Maud was not responsible for the words, which (Hearth and Home continues) "are translated from the Old French by
Sir Edwin Arnold". In fact, the English poet and writer Edwin Arnold included
his translation of "A Farewell", "from the French" in his poetical collection Lotus and Jewel, with other poems in
1887. The three verses of "A Farewell" read as follows:
In France the tune or "air" Bonsoir, la Compagnie dates back to at least 1724, where it may be found – to different words - in Le theatre de la foire, ou L'opera comique (Paris, vol. 4, p. 63). We can find the musical score in Chansons Choisies (Geneva, 1782, vol. 3, No. 17 (at end)), which opens as illustrated.
1782 version includes the poem which Arnold translates – and which was not
unfamiliar to French and English readers at the time. It is by a pleasure-loving French cleric,
Gabriel Charles de L’Attaignant - the Abbé de L’Attaignant. One might see some similarities
between Joyce’s life and that of L’Attaignant:
biographical dictionary carries on:
was known for his ‘drinking songs and other occasional poetry’. Although it
sounds as if it could be a drinking song, Bonsoir,
la Compagnie comes from the period of his conversion to piety. Arnold
transposed verses two and three. The text, as presented in 1782, reads:
Bernard Benstock aptly notes (in Narrative Con/texts in Ulysses, p. 193) that
Bannon, who has just found out that Bloom is his new girlfriend's father, and
Mulligan, who wants to give Stephen the slip to Westland Row station, are
taking French leave.
Joyce's Allusions >