An anatomy of Gray’s Eulogy


U 6.939-41: Or a woman’s with her saucepan. I cooked good Irish stew. Eulogy in a country churchyard it ought to be that poem of whose is it Wordsworth or Thomas Campbell.

By the third Bloom episode of Ulysses the reader may have developed an unfounded feeling of superiority about the main character’s education. Bloom is often not quite right about facts and sometimes he is blatantly wrong, but our eagerness to correct is a conditioned reflex that can easily lead to misconceptions. Bloom’s mistakes almost always deserve the benefit of doubt. An attentive reader like Paul van Caspel1 would notice that “it ought to be” in the quotation above leaves little doubt that Bloom is fully aware of the original title of Gray’s poem, and Bloom’s preceding musings about inscriptions of gravestones confirm that he is aware of the laudatory quality of many of them. He also realises his uncertainty about the author of the poem, and having quoted him earlier in the chapter ("row me o'er the ferry" at 6.447-8) Campbell is a near miss when fumbling for the right name.

     There is yet another aspect that should be taken into consideration. Mistaking “elegy” for “eulogy” in the title of Gray’s celebrated poem, Elegy written in a country churchyard (1751) seems to have been a source of amusement from at least 1870:

Things Chronicled […] — A lady came into one of the book-stores the other day, and inquired for "Gray's Eulogy on a Graveyard.”

Chronicle (University of Michigan) (1870), 26 February p. 172/1

     Gray’s poem was much anthologised and was learnt by heart by generations of schoolchildren.2 Its popularity in the educational system perhaps helps to explain many of the contexts cited below:

[…] the candidates had no real idea of the meanings. In Question 7 the answers were characterised by great inaccuracy. For example, "Thomas Grey [sic] was a poet who wrote a eulogy on a country churchyard."

Manual of the Public Examinations Board (Adelaide) (1903), p. 78

A eulogy is always a trying thing for the speaker and still more trying for the subject. A schoolboy was once asked to define "eulogy" and he said, "Eulogy is a kind of sad poetry. The best example is 'Gray's Eulogy on a Country Churchyard."

Dental Scrap Book (1909), vol. 3, p. 3

     Bloom’s little joke fits his character. Stephen, well versed in etymology, might have considered it beneath him.

Harald Beck

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1 Paul van Caspel, Bloomers on the Liffey. Eisegetical Readings of Ulysses (Baltimore, 1986) p. 97.
2 Schoolboy humour also underlies a similar use in W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman’s 1066 and all that (1930), p. 18:

Another very conquering law made by William I said that everyone had to go to bed at eight o’clock. This was called the Curfew and was a Good Thing in the end since it was the cause of Gray’s Energy in the country churchyard.