The case for “Hard by the block”

Ulysses: 12.612: Hand by the block stood the grim figure of the executioner, his visage being concealed.

Preparatory to anything else, let me acknowledge that I am not a genetic scholar. The argument that follows, that the words “Hand by” in “Cyclops” should probably be changed to “Hard by,” will be circumstantial.

“Hand by the block” would seem to make little contextual sense. The sentence in question begins “Hand by the block stood the grim figure of the executioner, his visage being concealed.” This is not plausibly saying anything about the executioner’s hand, about its being near the block, or anything else. In fact it would be difficult for it make much sense in any context. As opposed to “by hand”, “hand by” is not a phrase to be found in idiomatic English. A search through Google Books turns up only happenstance juxtapositions, as, in Dickens’s Great Expectations, “at first hand by word of mouth,”[1] or, in “Eumaeus,” “whose hand by the way was hurt” (16.1296).

“Hard by,” meaning “close to” or “next to”, was, by contrast, a familiar phrase in Joyce’s time, though beginning to fade. It occurs in Stephen Hero,[2] twice in Finnegans Wake (81.12, 341.36), and, the “Cyclops” passage aside, twice in “Oxen of the Sun”, first in the voice of Defoe – “hard by Mr Gavin Low’s yard in Prussia street” (14.572) –

then in the voice of Lamb:

He thinks of a drizzling night in Hatch street, hard by the bonded stores there, the first. Together (she is a poor waif, a child of shame, yours and mine and of all for a bare shilling and her luckpenny), together they hear the heavy tread of the watch as two raincaped shadows pass the new royal university. (14.1063-7)

In both cases, Joyce’s use of the phrase is in keeping with the sources. “Hard by” crops up frequently in Defoe’s writings. The second passage is, I think, especially pertinent, given its probable origin in a book that we know Joyce read, The Adventures of Ulysses, by Charles Lamb,[3] sometimes listed as co-author with his sister Mary:[4]

He waking, roared with the pain so loud that all the cavern broke into claps like thunder. They fled, and dispersed into corners. He plucked the burning stake from his eye, and hurled the wood madly about the cave. Then he cried out with a mighty voice for his brethren the Cyclops, that dwelt hard by in caverns upon hills; they hearing the terrible shout came flocking from all parts to enquire what ailed Polyphemus? and what cause he had for making such horrid clamours in the night-time to break their sleeps?[5]

The ”Oxen” encounter is also remembered as a thundery experience, in fact interrupted by a flash of lightning (14.1070), from which the “child of shame” “flees away” (14.1072). Although as best I can determine there is or was nothing on Hatch Street that might be compared to a giant’s “cavern,” in its “Circe” re-enactment the scene is “in the gap of” a “dark den,” from which the woman once again “runs” away, this time “pursued by a burley rough” (15.361-6). The “raincaped” police of the “Oxen” sequence reappear when Bloom is skulking in a “dark stalestunk corner” (15, 667, 674).

Defoe and Lamb (or the Lambs) aside, “Hard by” belongs in a chapter like “Oxen of the Sun”, chronologically surveying English literary history up to, approximately, the years just before Joyce began adding to it. The Oxford English Dictionary calls the phrase “Somewhat archaic”. “Cyclops” is also, intermittently, archaic, certainly including the execution scene of 12.525-678 –

“serried ranks”, “decencies of prison garb”, “anon”, and so on – in which the phrase appears. For the kind of production that is “Cyclops,” “Hard by” would fit right in, in a way that, again, “Hand by” would not.

For the genetic issues, I can only report. In 1919 the Little Review had “Hard by”:

Little Review (1919), November p. 50

The Gabler edition’s change to “Hand” was based on the Rosenbach manuscript’s handwritten version. Harald Beck and Ronan Crowley have kindly sent me photocopies of the word in question, the one from the Rosenbach and the other from the draft of “Cyclops” held by the National Library of Ireland.

Rosenbach MS

In the Rosenbach, the third letter of the word in question has two upward bumps, in the NLI draft it is undoubtedly “Hard”.

“Cyclops” draft in NLI

Both entries seem to have been hastily written, and I would likely have inclined toward “n” for the first and “r” for the second. Hans Gabler reports that the National Library draft was not available when the 1984 Ulysses was being prepared, and is open to the question being reconsidered.[6] In balance, I suggest that, turning to the text, we consider the narrative context. With that put in the balance, “Hard by” would seem to be the probable reading.

John Gordon


1 Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (London: Penguin, 1996), 138

2 James Joyce, Stephen Hero (New York: New Directions, 1963) 100

3 Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982) 46

4 Most editions list Charles Lamb as the sole author. If Mary Lamb were to be included, she would be the only female voice contributing to the “Oxen” chronology. Having earlier proposed (“Spot the Author,” JJQ 28, 1, pp. 291-2) that all the contributing authors have their names sounded somewhere in the chapter, I note that, along with “Lamb” (Ulysses 14.1580 and “Charley” (Ulysses 14.1329, there is also a “Mary” (Ulysses 14.76).

5 Charles Lamb, The Adventures of Ulysses (London, 1808), 15-16

6 Email communications from Harald Beck and Ronan Crowley (8 and 9 March 2022 respectively) and Hans Gabler (9 March 2022). My thanks to all three.