The tonic that braces the system
U 16.549-50: a plethora of attractions as well as a bracing tonic for the system in and around Dublin and its picturesque environs
Joyce’s Eumaeus notebook entry (“tonic for system bracing”) alludes to this idiom or a variant of it.1 The expression was still prevalent in the early years of the twentieth century, as shown by this advertisement for Bovril (apparently used principally outside the UK and Ireland), here reproduced from the Press (Canterbury, New Zealand) of 25 September (p. 4).2
The idiom, however, was not common in advertisements after around 1910, and this fact is nicely illustrated by the following Google ngram chart for “bracing the system”, plotting its frequency of occurrence in English text between 1800 and 2000:
The syntactic shift between the Eumaeus notebook and the text of Ulysses shows Joyce yet again aware of linguistic nuance and adapting his source in the light of an emerging and preferred idiom.
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