On the authorship of a Freeman sub-editorial

U 2.332 Foot and mouth disease. Known as Koch’s preparation.

In an essay for the James Joyce Quarterly in 2007, Terence Matthews convincingly argued that an unsigned editorial in the Freeman’s Journal of 10 September 1912, entitled “Politics and Cattle Disease”, which had been attributed to James Joyce in both collections of his occasional prose, was not written by him – that it was a misattribution.1

Subsequent research in the volume Joyce’s Non-Fiction Writings submitted the editorial to a battery of computer stylistics tests, concluding that it could not be by Joyce on stylistic grounds.2 Among the more embarrassing of Matthews’s findings was that a reference in the editorial to “Mr Russell”, annotated in both collections as George Russell (AE), was in fact T. W. Russell, then secretary of the Irish Department of Agriculture in Dublin Castle.

Matthews also drew attention to another piece in the Freeman’s Journal, which appeared a little earlier, on 6 September 1912. This item is explicitly about foot and mouth disease, not from a political perspective but from a purely animal health viewpoint. It is clearly the article that Charles Joyce referred to in a letter of 6 September 1912 to his brother Stanislaus, when he wrote: “Jim wrote a sub-editorial today for the Freeman about the Styrian cure for the foot-and-mouth disease.” It reads:

Our readers will remember a question recently asked in the House of Commons by Mr William Field, M.P., and a letter sent by him last week to the Press in connection with the Pyoktanin cure which is largely used in Styria, a province of Austria, for the treatment of cases of foot-and-mouth disease. Mr Blackwood Price, an Irishman who has resided for some thirty years in Austria, has written more than once against the wholesale slaughter of Irish cattle, and has furnished the Ministry with the names and addresses of several Austrian veterinary surgeons who are quite willing to come over to Ireland, without fee or salary, in order to demonstrate the efficacy of the treatment. It is claimed that the cure is absolutely successful when the preparation named is carefully painted into the cleft of the hoof of the diseased animal. In a letter received yesterday by a friend in Ireland, Mr Price gives a striking confirmation of his statements. It seems that only last month one hundred and fifty two head of cattle, affected with the disease, were treated with Pyoktanin at Murzsteg [sic], the shooting lodge of the Emperor. The animals were taken ill on August 4th, and the cure was completed on August 19th, though the animals will remain in quarantine till the middle of the month.

Matthews comments: “This sub-editorial does not appear to have been written by Joyce as claimed by Charles in his 6 September letter.” Matthews cites the publication of two batches of correspondence about the matter between William Field MP and Blackwood Price about the foot-and-mouth issue as indicating Joyce’s “minimal involvement” in this whole affair.2 He does believe that the “friend in Ireland” mentioned in the Freeman’s piece is Joyce, and thinks that Price, who of course was in Trieste, forwarded a letter with more information about the Styrian cure to Joyce, who then merely passed the letter on to Field. Field then, it would seem, arranged for publication of the essence of the letter’s contents in the Freeman’s, with text written either by Field himself, or perhaps by a newspaper hack.

Henry Blackwood Price (published in the Irish Veterinary News: November, 1986)

Matthews believes that Charles Joyce “garbled the facts somewhat by stating that the sub-editorial published on the sixth was by Joyce rather than that the information printed in it came from Joyce” (JJQ 44.3, p 448).

This is not an area where proof is possible, but it does seem to me far more likely that the Freeman’s piece of 6 September is indeed by Joyce. There are two principal reasons: first, the explicit statement by Charles Joyce that his eldest brother had indeed written this item. It is of course possible that Charles had indeed got it wrong – he is known for being unreliable in several respects – but it does not seem likely that he would mistake what James told him (since he must have had this information from James) so radically.3

As Matthews admits, the authentic foot-and-mouth report that Charles was referring to (rather than the one that Ellmann, Mason and subsequently Barry take him to be referring to) appears “exactly where Charles said it would be”, i.e. in the Freeman’s Journal of 6 September 1912. If he has the date right, as he does, it seems unlikely he has the author wrong - it must all have been very fresh in his mind when he wrote to Stanislaus.4

The second reason for believing the piece to be by Joyce is the close congruence between its contents and those of Mr Deasy’s letter to the papers as given in the Nestor episode of Ulysses – shorn of course of the “May I trespass on your valuable space” and the “Pardoned a classical allusion” of Deasy’s missive. Here is the summary of the relevant part of the letter that Stephen absorbs in a quick perusal of its contents:

Foot and mouth disease. Known as Koch’s preparation. Serum and virus. Percentage of salted horses. Rinderpest. Emperor’s horses at Mürzsteg, lower Austria. Veterinary surgeons. Mr Henry Blackwood Price. Courteous offer a fair trial. (U 2.332-335)

Much of this strongly resembles the text of the Freeman’s Journal piece. Most striking, of course, are the mentions of Henry Blackwood Price and of the emperor’s horses at Mürzsteg. There are also some differences: the reference in the Journal to Pyoktanin has been replaced with one to “Koch’s preparation”. In fact, Price, in his own signed letters to the papers about the issue, did also refer to the Koch cure, calling it as “a serum of inoculation”. As Don Gifford makes clear, the “Koch preparation” was a serum developed by two assistants of Robert Koch, the famous bacteriologist, in the hope that it could be used to immunise cattle against foot-and-mouth, though success was limited at best.5

A view of Mürzsteg around 1900

Wikimedia Commons

So this treatment was also within Blackwood Price’s purview and Joyce presumably would have heard about it from him. Similarly with “Rinderpest”, also referred to in a letter from Price in the Farmer’s Gazette of 21 September 1912, though not, as far as I can ascertain, with “salted horses”, horses whose treatment involved a saline solution.

The general correspondence between the contents of the Freeman’s Journal piece and Stephen’s summary of Deasy’s letter is a strong secondary reason to believe that Joyce is indeed the author of the former, as well, of course, as of the latter.6 The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away: any subsequent editions of Joyce’s occasional prose will certainly have to omit the Freeman’s editorial on “The Politics of Foot-and-Mouth Disease” of 10 September 1912, but would be fully justified in including the “sub-editorial” mentioned by Charles, which appeared on 6 September.

Terence Killeen


1 Terence Matthews, "An Emendation to the Joycean Canon: The Last Hurrah for 'Politics and Cattle Disease'", James Joyce Quarterly 44.3 (2007) 441-53. Matthews also makes clear (pp. 445-6) how the mistake arose. Further information about the confusion is also given in my article "Take me to your subleader!" in James Joyce Online Notes (Issue 5, September 2013). The two collections of Joyce’s occasional prose are The Critical Writings of James Joyce ed. Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking Press, 1959) and James Joyce, Occasional, Critical and Political Writings ed. Kevin Barry. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). A reasonably full account of the whole involvement of James Joyce in the foot-and-mouth situation is given in Richard Ellmannn, James Joyce (Oxford University Press, 1982) pp 325-7. It includes a long extract from Henry Blackwood Price’s letter to the Evening Telegraph about the issue. Ellmann writes of Joyce "parodying" Price’s letter in the Deasy material, but as we can see, it is actually quite possible that he is parodying himself.

2 Kevin Barry, Kevin Chekov Feeney, Gavin Mendel-Gleason and Bojan Božić, "Is It Joyce We Are Reading? Non-Fiction, Authorship and Digital Humanities" in Katherine Ebury and James Alexander Fraser eds, Joyce’s Non-Fiction Writings: Beyond His Jurisfiction (London: Palgrave Macmillan) 93-109. Kevin Barry is of course the editor of the Occasional, Critical and Political Writings volume. Interesting though the application of computer stylistic analysis to the impugned editorial is, there is a strong sense of closing the stable door after the horse (or rather cow) has bolted about this exercise.

3 Henry Blackwood Price was born on 28 March 1849, at Newtownards Rectory, the son of Townley Blackwood Price and Anne Henrietta Ward. He died on 21 December 1921, aged 72, at Annehof, Austria. The photograph of Henry Blackwood Price, from the Irish Veterinary News (November, 1986), accompanies an article, "The Bullockbefriending Bard: 'Ulysses' and the Foot and Mouth Disease", by Brian Ó Súilleabháin MVB, MRCVS. Mr Ó Súilleabháin, very naturally given the eminent sources, believed that the Freeman's editorial was by Joyce. But he very readily spotted the error in the annotation of "Mr Russell", and knew who was actually being referred to.

4 One argument used by Matthews to discredit the possibility that Joyce could have written the “Politics and Cattle Disease” editorial is that Joyce would have mentioned his authorship to someone subsequently, quite possibly to his biographer Herbert Gorman (JJQ 40.33 p. 444). I’m not sure that in an area so far removed from his normal concerns he would have done so, and still less for so marginal a piece as the note on the “Styrian cure”.

5 Don Gifford, with Robert J. Seidman, Annotations to 'Ulysses' (University of California Press, 1988) p. 37.

6 I think the sample involved here is too small to be amenable to the kind of computerised stylistic analysis performed on the Freeman’s editorial.

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