Free fox, free hen-roost
When Joyce wrote the so-called “Messianic scene” (Buffalo MS V.A. 20) to be included into the Circe episode Bloom’s promise to the crowd of “Free money, free rent, free love and a free lay church in a free lay state”, is countered by Mr O’Madden Burke’s rather sarcastic heckling "Free fox in a free henroost".
The author of this frequently quoted expression was indeed the Austrian writer Ferdinand Kürnberger (1821-79), who participated in revolutionary activities in Vienna in1848 and had to flee to Dresden to save his skin.
It is likely that Joyce took the reference to Kürnberger’s polemic anti-clerical commentary from Steed’s Hapsburg Monarchy (see quotation above), as he had a copy of the book in his personal library at Trieste.
A Hungerian statesman, Baron Eötvös, had introduced a bill whose programme was “A free church in a free state” in order to turn public property into church property. Kürnberger vitriolicly suggested that this kind of economic freedom compared to “Der freie Fuchs im freien Hühnerhof” (The free fox in the free henroost) or “Der freie Hecht im freien Karpfenteich” (The free pike in the free carp pond).1
It can hardly be denied that Bloom’s programme and Mr O’Madden Burke’s reaction to it are pure Kürnberger. But unless we believe in an uncanny coincidence, Joyce must have read up on the "free church in a free state" context in Kürnberger's article somewhere else. Although the Hapsburg Monarchy does contain six references to Kürnberger and even mentions Eötvös, it does not contain this crucial link between free church and free fox.
Search by keyword (within this site): Politics Phrases Austria