Philirenists: peace-loving monarchs

U 15.4435: Struggle for life is the law of existence but but human philirenists, notably the tsar and the king of England, have invented arbitration.

Joyce’s use of “philirenists” (= “peace-lovers”) is unusual. The word is not entered in the Oxford English Dictionary, nor can it be found in English dictionaries of Joyce’s (or any other) time. There is certainly no tradition of using the term in English. The nearest example found in an extensive trawl of potential sources occurs in the Hampshire Advertiser of 1851:

It is from no desire to disparage the value of the object proposed by the Peace Society and its champions that we thus express our own absolute conviction of the utter failure that must await the hereafter, as it has signalised the past, of their philirenism. It is of the preposterous incompetency and mistaken direction of their means, that we do not refrain from speaking of with contempt. (23 August p. 4)

Don Gifford glosses the word as “lovers of peace”. But this fails to indicate the rareness of the term over the ages.

Both the lone occurrence in the Hampshire Advertiser and Joyce’s isolated use look like independent coinages, based on the Greek elements phil(o)- and eἰrenikόs, or of some Latinised or even English versions of these. English irenic (“pacific, non-polemic”), for example, is recorded in English from 1864, and irenical is recorded in the same meaning very occasionally from around 1650. The equivalent compounds do not occur in Ancient Greek or Classical Latin.

However, we should be aware that the compound Philirene, and variants such as Philirenus and Phil-eirenus, have been recorded since the Early Modern period of English (i.e. post-1500). They are predominantly found as pseudonyms for writers engaged in pamphlet wars and other literary arguments, typically (but not exclusively) of a military or religious nature. It is attractive to think that something of the flavour of these arguments came Joyce’s way, but this is not proven.

Records show that Oswald Myconius, a follower of the Swiss humanist Zwingli, wrote (c1520) a tract against war called Philirenus, which was apparently circulated in manuscript.1 The co-author of a Brief discovrs svr la negotiation de la paix, published in the Netherlands in 1579 called himself “Gregoire Philirene”. In England we find the tradition maintained by Richard Williams, whose Peace, and No Peace; Or, a Pleasant Dialogue Betweene Phil-eirenus, a Protestant, a Lover of Peace; and Philo-Polemus, a Separatist, an Incendiary of War; Suitable to the Times was published in 1642.

In Britain the heaviest use of the term probably occurred in the seventeenth century, and particularly around the time of the Civil War and the Restoration. James Howell causes a letter to be signed “Your true Servant, Philerenus” in his Mercurius hibernicus (1644) sig. A2v – Hans Gabler points out that Joyce originally wrote “philerenists”.2 In 1680 John Nalson offered his arguments under the signature of “Philerenes”. In 1684 the clergyman Alexandre Vigne, from Grenoble, published his Entretiens de Philalèthe et de Philérène as he renounced Calvinism for Catholicism. The pseudonym continues to be used in various forms through the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth.

One occurrence that may have had particular resonance for Joyce occurred in 1755, in A Letter to a Member of the Irish Parliament relative to the present State of Ireland. The subject of the pamphlet was the:

Many Advantages […] which would arise to the Province of Munster in particular, and to the Kingdom in general, from improving and farther extending the Navigation of the Blackwater River thro’ the Counties of Waterford and Corke. (title-page)

The essay was actually signed “Philo-Eirne”, but bibliographers have consistently regarded this as a typographical error for the popular subscription “Phil-Irene” (despite the potential play by the English writer on Eirne/Irish). The author starts on a pacific bent:

With sincere pleasure I beg leave to congratulate with you, and every other well-wisher to Ireland, upon the prospect of tranquillity and peace, which your friends on this side the water flatter themselves is once more approaching your country. (sig. B)

It may be unlikely that Joyce saw an early pamphlet about the waterways of his ancestral home, but it is curious that in a chapter entitled “Fever and Dysentry in Ireland” in George Creighton’s History of Epidemics in Britain (1894: vol. 2 ch. 2 p. 246) we find the following footnote:

A Letter to a Member of the Irish Parliament relative to the present State of Ireland. By Philo-Irene, London, 20 May, 1755. The turning of hundreds of acres into one dairy-farm had caused the depopulation which Goldsmith described in the Deserted Village: "By this unhappy policy several villages have been deserted at different times by the inhabitants, and numbers of them set a-begging."

Although none of the abovementioned extracts gives a source for Joyce’s use, they do illustrate that the base, Philirene, of his compound philirenist, enjoyed a steady or not a widespread currency in the four centuries leading up to the writing of Ulysses.

John Simpson


1 James M. Stayer Anabaptists and the sword (2002), ch. 5 p. 96.

2 Hans Walther Gabler, Wolfhard Steppe, Claus Melchior Ulysses: a critical and synoptic edition (1984), vol. 3 p. 1288.

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