From Meredith to Mulligan via Moore


U 14.1486: Mummer's wire. Cribbed out of Meredith.

Around noon on 16 June Buck Mulligan and Haines are thirstily waiting in The Ship on Lower Abbey Street for Stephen Dedalus, who is supposed to bring “four shining sovereigns” from his “school kip” that will allow them to have “a glorious drunk”. But Stephen harbours a grudge against Mulligan and sends him a put-off in the form of a puzzling telegram:

 The sentimentalist is he who would enjoy without incurring the immense debtorship for a thing done.1

     The epigrammatic choice of words suggests that this is a quotation, supposed to remind Mulligan of his offensive remark on the occasion of Stephen’s mother’s death, but neither Mulligan nor Haines seem to recognize its source, and when the Buck reads it out to the assembled scholars in the librarian’s office of the National Library in the early afternoon obviously none of them can identify it either.

     Late at night in Burke’s pub, however, Mulligan is suddenly able to tell his audience of fellow medicals and Stephen Dedalus that it is “Cribbed out of Meredith” - in fact from The Ordeal of Richard Feverel.

     Actually Stephen is manipulating a quotation from Sir Austin Feverel's "Pilgrim's Scrip", a parody of Old-Testament-style proverbs:

"Sentimentalists", says The Pilgrim's Scrip, "are they who seek to enjoy without incurring the Immense Debtorship for a thing done."

     Meredith distanced himself from it:

It is hard on me that the Scrip should be laid to my charge. These aphorisms came in the run of the pen, as dramatizings of the mind of the System-maker. I would not have owned to half a dozen of them. (Letters (1970), vol. 3, p. 1478)

An attentive reader of Ulysses may well speculate that as Mulligan has just arrived from George Moore’s literary soirée, to which he, but not Stephen, has been invited, he found the necessary enlightenment there. This is all the more plausible as George Moore was an avid reader and commentator of Meredith’s work. A long passage in his Confessions of a Young Man deals with Meredith’s style, and at one instance he even paid a visit to the celebrated writer.2

     An early draft of the Oxen of the Sun episode at Cornell turns this speculation into fact. Here the passage clearly identifies the person who knew the quote from Meredith:

The peerless mummer’s telegram. Cribbed out of Meredith, Moore says decked you.

     In a rather subtle change Joyce did away with the direct reference to Moore and hid it behind the sophisticated announcement:

Mummer’s wire. Cribbed out of Meredith. (U 14.1486)

which hints at Moore through the title of his novel A Mummer’s Wife (1885).3

Harald Beck

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1 For a discussion of Meredith’s changes to the passage in different editions see Hugh Kenner, Ulysses, London 1980, p. 42, footnote 2.
2 Confessions of a Young Man (London 1916), p. 159-62.
3 James Joyce Archive, vol. 14, p. 136.