In the so-called Aeolus or newspaper episode of Ulysses J. J. O’Molloy teases the indignant editor Myles Crawford, who nostalgically glorifies the great Irish orators of the past with the squib: “Sufficient for the day is the newspaper thereof”, parodying Christ’s statement in the Sermon on the Mount: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6:34, King James Bible). In August 1921, when Joyce radically changed the layout of the episode with the introduction of sixty-three subheadings, which incidentally provide something like a history of headlinese, the informal shortening of this sentence became one of these subheadings. Joyce’s preference for “for” rather than the more common “unto” was based on the Douay-Rheims Bible’s translation of the Vulgate’s “Sufficit diei malitia sua”, which Joyce would have been familiar with from his school days at Belvedere College. As Ulysses contains numerous parodies of the Bible and religious ceremonies, mostly by Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan, most readers would have tacitly assumed that the replacement of “evil thereof” by “newspaper thereof”, too, originates with the author. This, however, turns out to be wrong.
On 21 April 1899 the Topeka State Journal published a report on a speech given by the Chicago novelist and short-story writer Henry Blake Fuller (1857-1929) to “a gathering of artists”. The article consists almost entirely of quotations from Fuller’s speech. Its final two paragraphs read:
“There are no springs in the national life to feed the artist. I see thousands of budding writers and painters and sculptors and musicians, and I know their fate. They will shrivel up and pass off the fields of art. There is a hand-to-mouth system of intellectual living which makes all intellectual concentration impossible. The motto for most of [us] is: ‘Sufficient unto the day is the newspaper thereof.’
Short of any real appreciation of art, we are driven to ‘features’ – turrets of tin, sensationalism. We are the great ‘kid’ nation.”
That Fuller’s radical criticism caused a stir beyond his hometown becomes evident from a comment a few weeks later in the New York Criterion, whose opening paragraphs read:
“Wanted, an art atmosphere! Mr Henry B Fuller of Chicago has been telling the artists of that inartistic spot that we are crying out for what we can never have.
Our environment is hostile to art. As Americans we have the climate against our artistic aspirations. We have our business demands, forcing us to money-making, against us. Our social ideals are hindrances. This is the age of waste-paper, or, somewhat differently expressed, of widely diffused intelligence. There is a hand-to-mouth system of intellectual living which makes all intellectual concentration impossible. The motto for most of us is: ‘Sufficient unto the day is the newspaper thereof.’ Short of any real appreciation of art, we are driven to ‘features’ – turrets of tin, sensationalism. We are the great ‘kid’ nation.”
Criterion (1899), 6 May p. 19
In November 1899 the American literary magazine The Bookman published an essay by Fuller with the title "Art in America" that also contains his dictum about the ephemeral and superficial representation of "the day" through the newspapers:
"But more and more our intellectual living goes on merely from hand to mouth, and this is the most serious of all our obstacles. Sufficient unto the day is the newspaper thereof. [...] Upon such scrappy sustenance our mentality fritters away, and we become incapable of anything like a general apprehension and appraisal of a work of art."
Henry Blake Fuller, "Art in America", in The Bookman (New York), November 1899, p. 221
Fuller’s attack and the felicitous parody of the well-known quotation from the Sermon on the Mount caught on among contemporary cultural critics, as can be shown by this passage from the introduction to H. W. Singer’s 1905 biography of the English painter James MacNeill Whistler. Not that its author cared to identify his source.
“The motto that appeals to most Americans is, ‘sufficient unto the day is the newspaper thereof.’ Debarred from the higher walks of art […] they fly to all that is sensational. If they have a national dance it is that of St. Vitus.”
Hans Wolfgang Singer, James MacNeill Whistler (1905), p. 2
How Joyce had come across the phrase when he wrote the episode in Zurich in 1918 remains purely speculative, but he would certainly have understood its epiphanic relevance for the creation of his novel. The epic resurrection of 16 June 1904 in Dublin was significantly dependent on the newspapers thereof.