U 8.34-40: No families themselves to feed. Living on the fat of the land […] Does himself well. No guests. All for number one. Watching his water. Bring your own bread and butter. His reverence: mum's the word.
When Bloom thinks of Catholic Simon Dedalus and his large family, his thoughts drift towards the self-serving mentality of priests. In the Hades episode he had already made a vitriolic comment on a well-nourished priest’s body: “belly on him like a poisoned pup” (U 6.598-9).
In the autumn of 1921 Joyce made an addition to the existing passage: “All for number one. Watching his water.” Even if the reader originally misses the pun on the famous No I beer of the Bass Brewery in the first sentence, Joyce fills in the details some 80 lines further on when Bloom comments on Benjamin Dollard: “Powerful man he was at stowing away number one Bass.” The second sentence, “Watching his water”, remains slightly baffling to the modern reader who suspects more to it than a reference to the priest’s stinginess - keeping an eye even on the water and expecting visitors to bring their own bread and butter.
The figurative use of the expression in the sense of scrutinising a person’s conduct is recorded by the OED as early as 1640. John Ray’s Compleat Collection of English Proverbs of 1678 testifies to its popularity: “I'll watch your water.”
Today this figurative sense of the phrase has, however, fallen out of use.
1 Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (London: 1771), vol. 1, p. 147.
2 Henry Weber (ed.), The works of Beaumont and Fletcher (1812), vol. 5 p. 464.
Search by keyword (within this site): Religion Phrases Food Drink Medicine