The mystic yogibogeybox

U 9.279-80: Yogibogeybox in Dawson chambers. Isis Unveiled. Their Pali book we tried to pawn.

Yogibogeybox is a word that has puzzled Joyce scholars. It seems to arrive fully formed in Ulysses, but is only partly explained. Gifford states thatthe Hermetic Society met on Thursday evenings in Dawson Chambers at 11-12 Dawson Street in Dublin”, and cites Adams (ch. 8 pp. 208-9) recalling Stanislaus Joyce’s note on “box”:

Gogarty uses two words well, the Dublinized Jesus, 'Jaysus', and the word 'box' […] A 'box' is any kind of public entertainment, or a hall where any Society holds meetings for some purpose. The rooms of the Hermetic Society are a 'ghost-box', a church a 'God- box', a brothel a 'cunt-box'.

Stanislaus Joyce, Dublin Diary 1904 (1904; ed. 1962), p. 70

The OED regards it as a “nonce-word”, occurring only once, and of course cites Joyce. It offers the definition “the paraphernalia of a spiritualist”, which is probably an attempt to explain the term literally, without awareness of Gogarty’s usage of “box”. It does, however, reliably posit an etymology based on the words yogi (an acetic), bogy/bogey (the devil, a goblin, a bugbear), and box (the container). Beyond that, it does not offer any evidence suggesting why Joyce should have used these components in constructing his word.

There is plenty of evidence that rooms at Dawson Chambers were used for society meetings in the early years of the twentieth century. Small ads such as this appeared regularly in the local papers:

Dawson Chambers, 12 Dawson street – Several Offices, suitable for business for professional gentlemen. Apply Messrs. North or Battersby.

Irish Times (1903) 11 June p. 3

Later James Starkey (“Seumas O’Sullivan) locates the Hermetic Society’s theosophical meetings in Room 46, Dawson Chambers:

In about 1903, those weekly meetings at A.E.'s house in Mount Pleasant avenue […] having now assumed much larger proportions, the members of the "Hermetic" society looked for new premises; and the room at 46 Dawson Chambers (the site of [Charles] Whaley’s short-lived publishing venture) being then vacant, was, by a rather curious chance selected […] A second room was afterwards acquired beside the original room.

Seumas O’Sullivan Chapters from an Autobiography in Irish Times (1944) 5 February p. 2

The pre-history of yogibogeybox

The earliest record of the compound yogibogeybox is found in Ulysses, but this does not mean that it was entirely Joyce’s creation. It turns out that Joyce’s use was part of a tradition, in which elements of the word came to be associated with and redolent of mysticism and theosophy.

In late nineteenth-century America a passing reference to theosophy dismissively unites the yogi and bogy:

Young Baboos, with the delusions of their race not purged away, are caught, perhaps, by Europeans and Americans who believe, or affect to believe, in the magnetical powers of Yogis and Bogies.

"Theosophy", in St. Charles (Hahnville, Louisiana) Herald (1885), 29 August

Soon, the two words came to be linked as yogi-bogi, in the sense of a mystic or an ascetic (“some old fakir”):

"I say, old chap," retorted Jack Cross or "The Bogey", according to local links baptism, "you must have studied second sight, or crystal gazing from some old fakir or yogi-bogi, for you've hit off a rattling good snap-shot of Daphne Pride."

Golf Illustrated (1901), 28 June, p. 267

Although not common, the expression may be found in sources published after Ulysses, such as Ernest Large’s romance Sugar in the Air (1937, p. 70), where it applied to someone who goes out alone to watch birds:

The other looked at him strangely; queer, he thought, he looks intelligent enough, is this some sort of gag, or is he really a Yogi-Bogy?

The emergence of Joyce’s use

Joyce’s employment of yogibogeybox is interesting in that it is the first known occurrence of yogi-bogy being used with adjectival force as the initial element of a compound. In his first draft of chapter nine of Ulysses Joyce’s term is not yogibogeybox but the unexceptionable “Their room”. In late 1918 he changes this to "Their bogeybox in Dawson chambers” (in line with Gogarty’s use of “box” to mean “a hall where any Society holds meetings for some purpose, and bringing in the devils or sprites popularly associated with mystic practices). It is not until the Rosenbach manuscript that Joyce changes it again to "Yogibogeybox in Dawson chambers", retaining Gogarty’s slang and acknowledging the current use of yogi-bogy.

From noun to adjective

This adjectival use clearly enjoyed some popularity in the 1930s and 1940s. Rayner Heppenstall’s Apology for Dancing (1936, p. 136) offers:

Most of which — though I shudder at the dreadful verbal debauchery and the faintly nauseating Yogi-bogey flavour — I still find convincing, as metaphor.

and Robert Graves chooses the word in the context of asceticism (Collected Poems, 1958: p. 112):

O yogey-bogey lunching man,

Lunch on, against the bill –

Your service to the ascetic rule

And to the chiming till.

Later we find this historical reference to mysticism:

The fact, moreover, that [...] Reynolds found Huxley and Heard's training too oppressive to persevere with; that a mystic like Plowman likewise experienced "an unconscious resistance to intensive Study Groups and all Yogie-Bogie exercises".

Bernfried Nugel Now More than Ever (1996), p. 19

Nowadays the usage is confirmed to such historical contexts, but in the 1920s Joyce was part of a tradition which applied the dismissive term for a mystic or ascetic, a yogi-bogy, as an adjective to anything which smacked of the occult, the supernatural, or the unknown.

John Simpson

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