Perfide Albion — Perfidious Albion

U 12.1208-9: And says Lenehan that knows a bit of the lingo:

Conspuez les anglais! Perfide Albion!

U 12.1385-9: —The French! says the citizen. Set of dancing masters! Do you know what it is? They were never worth a roasted fart to Ireland. Aren't they trying to make an entente cordial now at Tay Pay's dinnerparty with perfidious Albion? Firebrands of Europe and they always were.

Conspuez les français, says Lenehan, nobbling his beer.

The phrase “perfidious Albion” (in French “la perfide Albion”) specifically references England’s “alleged treacherous policy towards foreigners” (OED, “Albion,” n.). The Marquis de Ximénèz (1726-1817) was the first to use “la perfide Albion” in his well-known poem “L’Ère Républicaine” (1793), after the British joined the allies against France. Ximénèz called for supporters of the French revolutionary cause to:

Attaquons dans ses eaux la perfide Albion!

Poésies révolutionnaires et contre-révolutionnaire (1821), p. 160

From these revolutionary roots, the phrase “Perfide Albion” became synonymous with England, particularly in the liberal French paper L’Ancien Moniteur in the 1840s. Thackeray complained that:

Ferocious yells of hatred against perfidious Albion were uttered by the liberal French press.

Fraser’s Magazine (1841) 7 June, p. 11/2

A couple of decades later, the expression had lost its initial political force. M. P. Larousse’s Grand Dictionnaire Universelle (1866) notes that:

Cette expression, d’abord poétique, est devenue en quelque sorte triviale, et personne n’oserait aujourd’hui l’employer sérieusement. C’est le Punica fides des Romains. ("Albion")

But at the height of the Boer War (1899-1902) and during the series of English-German talks about an entente cordiale, which France continually rebuffed (1898-1901), “perfide Albion” regained some of its initial strength. This is particularly true in Ireland where British foreign policy was viewed with suspicion.

In Ulysses, “perfide” and “Perfidious” resonate with (and quite possibly originate in) two different temporal contexts: the time of the novel’s setting and that of “Cyclops’” composition in 1919. In July 1901, Benedictines at Solesmes Abbey were forced into exile because of a French Third Republic law against “associations”. The monks from Solesmes settled in the Isle of Wight but were met with some hostility. The United Irishman of 7 December 1901 gave the following report on these events under the headline “Francophobia”:

[...] outbursts of petty spite and puny rage against France and all things French to which "La Perfide" treats the world when her temper gets the better of her prudence […] England’s Francophobia has shown itself lately in the howl of derision and unmanly insults that greeted the arrival of such of the exiled French religious as sought homes in England. The occasion was at once seized as an opportunity not to be lost of revenging the rejection of England’s 'entente cordiale' overture, as well as many other well-merited snubs that Great Britain has received at the hands of France. The base ingratitude and the cowardice of England’s proposal to make things as uncomfortable as possible for the French exiles in the hour of trial, forgetful of the numerous occasions on which France offered hospitality to English religious orders, is well worthy of "La Perfide". (p. 1)

The United Irishman is rooted in the historical milieu of Ulysses’ setting and is explicitly mentioned in “Cyclops” with reference to foreigners visiting England. The Citizen reads out “that skit in the United Irishman today about that Zulu chief that’s visiting England” (U 12.1509-10). Lenehan could well have picked up “a bit of the lingo” from such a source.

“Perfidious Albion”, on the other hand, is clearly an afterthought that came to Joyce as he was composing “Cyclops”. The phrase is scribbled in the left-hand margin of the page after which “Conspuez les anglais” appears (Buffalo V.A.8–38; JJA 13, 122). In 1919, when Joyce was working on the initial drafts of the episode, Ireland’s first Dáil began sitting in the Mansion House on 21 January. Canon Charles O’Neill, parish priest of Kilcoo, County Down, attended one of the first Dáil sessions. Many members who had been elected were absent, and when their names were called from the roll they were met with the reply “faoi ghlas ag na Gaill” (“locked up by the foreigner”). Reflecting on the Easter Rising and political events that led to Ireland’s first independent parliament shortly thereafter, O’Neill wrote the song “Foggy Dew”, of which the third stanza is:

Oh the night fell black, and the rifles' crack made perfidious Albion reel

In the leaden rain, seven tongues of flame did shine o'er the lines of steel

By each shining blade a prayer was said, that to Ireland her sons be true

But when morning broke, still the war flag shook out its folds in the foggy dew.

Cathal O’Boyle ed., Songs of County Down (1979), pp. 56-7

The first edition of the sheet-music only credits these lyrics to Iascaire (“fisherman”). “The music belongs to an old love-song, recorded in 1913 by John McCormick [sic]” in an arrangement by Carl Hardebeck (O’Boyle 57), so it could have been quickly produced and distributed by Whelan & Son once the lyrics were completed. Click here to see the first printed edition.

Lenehan’s stereotypically xenophobic interjections shrewdly appeal to narrow-minded concepts of nationalism and race so that he can continue to court favour and drinks from the men in Barney Kiernan’s. Lenehan’s slogan, “Conspuez les Anglais”, was initially only employed in isolated circumstances in France. R. T. Long, editor of the cycling paper Wheeling, notes:

We had heard that there was a strong anti-English feeling in Paris. We had seen cyclists warned against touring in France; we had seen it stated that France was rather more dangerous than a powder magazine for the travelling Englishman; and, further, that wherever an Englishman went in Paris he was greeted with the cry of "Conspuez Anglais", in plain language, "Spit upon the English" […] I may say that, from first to last, we found not the slightest evidence of anti-English feeling. The cry is a bogey.

Reprinted as "Looking for Trouble: France & Anglophobia"

The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (1899) 22 December

The escalation of the Boer War and British success in the Transvaal increased Anglophobic demonstrations in Paris. News arrived in Paris on 3 March 1900, just after Mardi Gras, that General Cronje had capitulated.

The crowds parading the boulevards in the evening raised unceasing shouts of "A bas les Anglais! Vive les Boers!" Two Englishmen were noticed and denounced by some fanatics, and in a few moments the merry throng of carnival makers was metamorphosed into a howling crowd, yelling "Conspuez les Anglais!" The Englishmen were struck and forced to take refuge within the café, which the mob besieged for an hour until a strong body of police arrived. The police charged and dispersed the crowd, arresting six persons, who will be prosecuted for assault.

The turn of the tide in favour of Great Britain has produced a painful impression here.

"Anglophobia in Paris", New York Times (1900) 4 March

Later that year, similar demonstrations took place in Marseilles following South African President Paul Kruger’s arrival on Thursday, 22 November 1900:

A band of demonstrators, headed by the tricolour flag, paraded through the principal streets, shouting "Vive l’Armée!" "Vive la France!" and "Vive Kruger!" in front of the officers' club. The demonstrators afterwards proceeded to various newspaper offices, uttering the same cries. Thence they went to the British Consulate, before which they stopped and sang "Conspuez les Anglais". They were at once dispersed by police.

"Mr. Kruger at Marseilles", The Leeds Mercury (1900) 23 November

This background of violent demonstration attached to the phrase would make it a more appealing slogan for a militant nationalist like the Citizen.

Philip Keel Geheber, TCD

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