What made a crocodile bite the flute of an anchor?

U 16.460: — Why, the sailor said, shifting his partially chewed plug, I seen queer things too, ups and downs. I seen a crocodile bite the fluke of an anchor same as I chew that quid.

Joyce’s notesheets for the Eumaeus episode contain the entry:

crocodiles eat bunches of keys

which the editor Phillip F. Herring associates with the allusion above.1 It was not unusual for Joyce to extract topical references from the English newspapers published while he was about to work on an episode, and so if that is the case here, we might look for key-eating crocodiles in mid to late 1920.

In May 1920 the London Zoological Gardens at Regent’s Park (London Zoo) were proudly displaying to visitors “one of the most curious little creatures in the world”, “Baby Peter”. “Baby Peter” was a baby alligator, not a baby crocodile. A journalist from the Daily Mirror went along to see the curious baby, and wrote a short article about him:

All About Peter, the Lively Three-Year Old Alligator. If you talk nicely to the keeper of the Reptile house at the London Zoological Gardens he will show you – if he has time – one of the most curious little creatures in the world – a baby alligator.2

The Mirror journalist had visited the baby alligator several times, and was fascinated by the way the alligator’s keeper could stroke its chest and apparently send it off to sleep. But while he was intrigued by the baby alligator, his attention was also arrested by two fierce young baby crocodiles:

An alligator is a far more amiable creature than a crocodile. There are two tiny six-months-old crocodiles in the Reptile House, but they are so fierce they will fly at anything, and even try to bite a bunch of keys.

Whereas “Baby Peter” the alligator was amiable, it was the crocodiles who would try to snap at a bunch of keys dangled in front of them and, exaggerated by the sailor’s characteristic hyperbole, their aggression found its way into Ulysses.

John Simpson


1 BL ‘Eumaeus’ Notesheet 6.49, in Phillip F. Herring, Joyce's Ulysses notesheets in the British Museum (1972), p. 401.

2 Daily Mirror (1920), 20 May, p. 13, col. 3. NB: JJON article Next stop Paradise! illustrates Joyce’s “book through to eternity junction” from the Daily Mirror of 5 August 1920.

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