The Hidden Life of Christ revealed

U 17.1391-4: A Handbook of Astronomy (cover, brown leather, detached, 5 plates, antique letterpress long primer, author's footnotes nonpareil, marginal clues brevier, captions small pica).

The Hidden Life of Christ (black boards).

Many of the books in Bloom’s library have been identified, so it’s reasonable to think that the remainder are ‘real’ titles. The problem is that although regular titles find their way into the standard bibliographies, some ephemera and specialist publications do not.

Don Gifford notes that the identity of The Hidden Life of Christ is ‘unknown’ (Ulysses Annotated). With better resources available to us today it’s now possible to suggest what this text might be.

The ‘hidden life’ of Christ is a term used in the nineteenth century and earlier (though not so much today) for the period in Christ’s life from age 12 to 30 when he was living with his parents in Nazareth, and about which the gospels have little to say. It is normally described as a period in which Jesus was learning the qualities of obedience, duty, etc. which served both as a support for his future work and as a model for Christians.

The ‘hidden life’ is discussed in Christian Latin texts as ‘vita Christi occulta’. We find it in English-language texts from at least the eighteenth century:

This is a general Draught of the hidden Life of Christ, which our Life ought likewise to be conformed unto.

Anton Wilhelm Boehm Life of a Christian (Sermon preached at St James’s, November 1708; published 1709), p. 10

The expression was used by Christians in a number of contexts, sometimes describing personal experience:

An hidden Life in Christ I live, And exercis'd in Things Divine My Senses all his Love receive.

John Wesley Collection of Moral and Sacred Poems (1744), p. 272 [Verse 4 of 'Happy the Soul, whom God delights'.]

Nineteenth-century Catholic references are as likely as not to come from the Jesuits, and here we are clearly moving towards sources with which Joyce may have been familiar from his days at Belvedere College:

St. Mary’s on the Quay. – The first of a series of four lectures on the "Hidden Life of Christ" was delivered last night, at the Roman Catholic chapel, by the Hon. And Rev. Father Grant, who has recently been attached to the mission of the Jesuit Fathers in this city.

Bristol Mercury (1878) 7 October

Joyce’s immediate source is likely to have begun life in French, as part of Charles Michel Alexandre de Brandt’s Méditations selon la méthode de Saint-Ignace sur la vie et sur les mystères de N[otre] S[eigneur] Jésus-Christ à l'usage des religieuses du sacré-coeur de Jésus, first published in Paris in four volumes (1835). The French text was immediately popular as a devotional work both in France and in Britain, and it was reprinted frequently into the third quarter of the nineteenth century.

More significantly for Joyce, the text was translated into English in 1847 by a Sister of Mercy, at which point it was edited by Frederick Hathaway. In 1875 the text was re-edited by the Rev. T. T. Carter (1875), and later (1883-4) by the leading Jesuit William Henry Eyre (publisher: Burns and Oates), under the title Meditations According to the Method of St Ignatius, on the Life and Mysteries of our Lord Jesus Christ, in five volumes (Volume Two was sometimes published as two volumes). Volume One covers the period known as the ‘Hidden Life’ of Christ.

Carter’s first volume had been entitled ‘The Hidden Life of Our Lord’ (the abbreviated alternative for the full volume title Meditations on the Hidden Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ). The full title of Eyre’s later version of Volume One was Contemplations and meditations on the hidden life of Jesus Christ, according to the method of St. Ignatius, but we can see from the illustration below that the mouthful was abbreviated:

The listing for Eyre’s edition in William Swan Sonnenschein’s Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literature (1895), p. 86

Volume One is here entitled ‘The Hidden Life of Xt [= Christ]’, a title that had been used earlier for individual lectures and chapters, but not – apparently – for a single volume. When British Books in Print listed a reprint of the text in 1909 it referred to “Five vols. Vol. I, The Hidden Life of Christ. 2s. 6d. [etc.]”. It was the shorter spine title of Eyre’s first volume that (in all likelihood) Bloom glimpsed in the mirror.

John Simpson

I am grateful to Timothy O’Neill for his advice on aspects of Bloom’s library.

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