Charles Dawson – lecturer on talking about everything

U 6.151 Did you read Dan Dawson’s speech? Martin Cunningham asked.

The style and content of Dawson’s speech are mocked at some length in the Aeolus episode (7.242 – 343 ), with Professor MacHugh calling him an “inflated windbag” (7.315), and Bloom offering “Bladderbags”.

Later Bloom takes a more balanced view:

All very fine to jeer at now in cold print but it goes down like hot cake that stuff. He was in the bakery line too, wasn’t he? Why they call him Doughy Daw (U 7.338-40).

In real life Charles Dawson (1842-1917), son of baker Michael Dawson of Limerick, owned the Limerick Bakery with branches in 148 Great Britain Street, 1 Pill Lane and 27 St. Stephen’s Street. Gifford's suggestion that he owned the Dublin Bread Company (DBC) seems to be without foundation.

Freeman's Journal (1882), 2 December

Ephraim Cosgrave, Dublin and Co. Dublin. Contemporary biographies (1908), p.114

He was educated at the Christian Brothers’ College and the Catholic University, where he was Auditor of the Literary and Historical Society 1867-8, became a member of the Dublin Corporation in 1874, was MP for Carlow between 1880 and 1885 and Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1882 to 1883. During his term he had the honour of unveiling the O’Connell Monument and of opening the National Exhibition. At that time Punch, in “Essence of Parliament extracted from the diary of Toby, M.P.”, punned: “But Charles Dawson is better bread” (Punch, vol. 84, p. 184). When his business declined he became a corporation official (Comptroller of Rates and later Collector General of Rates) in 1891. Constantine Curran describes him in his memoir Under the Receding Wave (1970):

Alert and spruce, impeccably dressed, flower in button-hole, the elder Dawson delighted in old-fashioned eloquence and in his own. (p. 136)

His son Willie, who wrote for St Stephen's and Moran's The Leader was Joyce's age and befriended Arthur Clery, Tom Kettle and Curran.

So far, documentary evidence of the public perception of him as an “inflated windbag” or “Bladderbags” has not been forthcoming, but an obituary the Freeman's Journal of 19 March 1917 refers to his "wonderful gift of eloquence" (and notes his passion for Irish forestry). However, a contribution to a regular feature called “Letters to prominent individuals” in The Jarvey, a short-lived humorous paper that called itself the Irish Punch, suggests that Dawson’s reputation as a public speaker seems to have been at least for some people not all that different from Joyce’s presentation of it. The column with the portrait below is headed:


Lecturer on Talking about Everything in

General and Doing Nothing in Particular.

and continues:

Dear Sir – Were you expecting this epistle? No! Well, really I am astonished at that, because you are certainly one of the most prominent individuals I have the honour of being acquainted with. There is hardly a sheet published upon which I do not find your name. The Freeman’s Journal in particular seems utterly unable to make up its columns without Mr. Dawson on this or Mr. Dawson on that. One day it is Mr. Dawson lecturing in a Club, the next Mr. Dawson holds forth from a public platform. One day it’s politics, and the next day industry, and not the least surprising part of the business is that you seem to be quite at home on every subject, from the depth of our mines to the height of our aims. Whether it is a Loaf or a Sunburst, the darning of stockings or the freedom of a nation, Mr. Dawson is semper paratus. Sir, I cannot help admiring your industry, your omniscience, your ubiquity. Nobody could.

Do not take umbrage, Sir, if I venture to say that notwithstanding your very eloquent exordiums and your coruscating perorations, I sometimes fail to follow your reasoning. […]

The Jarvey (1889), 23 March p. 182

The Jarvey (1889), 23 March p. 182

So it is hardly a coincidence that Ulysses informs us that Dawson’s speech is supposed to be published in the Freeman’s Journal of the day. Attempts at identifying a source for the excerpts quoted from his (fictional?) speech in Ulysses, however, have been unsuccessful. The whiff of caricature in passages like the following is too strong to believe in the (sole) authorship of the real-life Dawson:

Or again, note the meanderings of some purling rill as it babbles on its way, fanned by the gentlest zephyrs tho' quarreling with the stony obstacles, to the tumbling waters of Neptune's blue domain, mid mossy banks, played on by the glorious sunlight or 'neath the shadows cast o'er its pensive bosom by the overarching leafage of the giants of the forest. (U 7.243-247)

Traces of hackneyed metaphors can however be found in this passage of the long speech Dawson gave in April 1904 and which was printed in full the Freeman’s Journal:

Freeman’s Journal (1904), 7 April

That Joyce also took liberties with the life circumstances of this notable public figure can be gleaned from the fact that Bloom gratuitously adds a daughter to the Dawson family of four sons:

Daughter engaged to that chap in the inland revenue office with the motor. Hooked that nicely. Entertainments. Open house. Big blowout. (U 340-2)

In calling the originator of the windy poetical speech in the Aeolus episode Dan Dawson Joyce may have enjoyed one of his famous cackles, as a person of that name was a notorious horse-nobbler eventually hanged in August 1812 because he had poisoned four race horses: a story that still finds its way into print in the twenty-first century.

Harald Beck

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