Retirement into public life
U 8.515-6: Still David Sheehy beat him for south Meath. Apply for the Chiltern Hundreds and retire into public life.
Joyce was particularly attracted to expressions he encountered in his reading or conversation which contained an unexpected twist. “Retiring into public life” is one such expression.
In the early nineteenth century it was of course possible to refer to retiring from public life. It was also idiomatic – and perfectly logical - to speak of retiring into private life:
But by the mid nineteenth century it became fashionable to refer to retiring “into public life”, to retire from one’s situation, but to become in demand during one’s retirement in a public role.1 The Athenaeum of 1854 provides an early evidence:
The expression was appreciated internationally, and the Mercury of Hobart, Tasmania, found occasion to report its use in 1862, commenting on the retirement of an English politician from political life (a similar political context to Joyce’s):
The verb retire (rather than the noun retirement) is found by the ealy 1860s:
The Daily News of 26 January, 1900 employed the phrase as a sub-heading, on the retirement of Dr Guinness Rogers, pastor of the Clapham Congregational Church:
Amongst numerous other occurrences from the period, it is perhaps worth singling out this extract from the Irish Examiner of 7 February 1902, again reporting on events in England:
Joyce tellingly places the expression immediately after a reference to applying to the Chiltern Hundreds, the mechanism by which MPs may leave their seat by notionally applying to become Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, and hence “retiring into public life” in a small way. The phrase tended to fade from view as the twentieth century progressed, but it left a passing shadow in Ulysses.
1 Sentences such as the following, from John Eustace’s Tour through Italy (1813: vol. 2 p. 157) show early evidence for the collocation “retirement into public life”, but the syntax is significantly different:
Joyce's Allusions >