From the earliest reception of Finnegans Wake, the intertextual dimension of Joyce’s last book has been of central concern to readers and students alike. Harry Levin wrote of the “encyclopedic sweep of Earwicker’s fantasies” (Levin, 124) and James S. Atherton devoted a whole book to the problem of Joyce’s “extraordinarily wide” reading and on the “amazing variety” of books on which Finnegans Wake is based. Some of the books Joyce used, Atherton continues, were mentioned in letters to friends, mostly in the elaborate correspondence with Miss Weaver, but not all of them: “Indeed, his usual method was to make use of a book without mentioning it to anyone, as far as we know, and then to insert a reference to the book, as a kind of acknowledgement, somewhere in his own text” (Atherton, 19).
The main reason why The Books at the Wake has turned out to be one of the most valuable early studies is that Atherton was instrumental in showing the abundance of books Joyce referred to in Finnegans Wake, from the Bible, the Book of Kells and the Egyptian Book of the Dead to B. Seebohm Rowntree’s Poverty: A Study of Town Life and Bell’s Standard Elocutionist. Some of the suggestions in this study have been less useful. The difference between what Atherton calls “structural” books and other sources has not stood the test of time. Although most critics would now agree on the importance of some ideas Joyce borrowed from Vico, Nicholas of Cusa, Giordano Bruno, Freud and Jung, it is clear that, Freud excepted, Joyce did not read or study any of the books of these writers in great detail. Atherton’s law, as it was later formulated by Fritz Senn on the basis of comments such as the one quoted above (every valid intertext is acknowledged somewhere else in the book, preferably not too far from other instances) has also been discredited. Unfortunately, Joyce seems to have worked according to different and much more haphazard rules.
We need not agree with Atherton’s statement that “until all the quotations, allusions and parodies in Finnegans Wake have been elucidated the complete meaning of the whole work must escape us” (20), in order to continue looking for the sources that Joyce used in composing his history of the world, especially in the context of genetic criticism. As David Hayman demonstrated in The Wake in Transit and as Joe Schork showed in his “By Jingo: Genetic Criticism of Finnegans Wake” in last year’s Joyce Studies Annual, genetic criticism’s emphasis on the Finnegans Wake Notebooks centers on the problem of the peculiarly intertextual quality of the Wake. The Finnegans Wake Circular, Joyce Studies Annual and European Joyce Studies have recently published exciting new discoveries of literary or other source material that Joyce demonstrably made use of.
What these studies have in common is that they enable us to qualify some of the optimism of an earlier generation of “pre-Notebook” critics, especially regarding Joyce’s learning and erudition. The reality of the notebooks shows that Joyce acquired the apparent erudition that went into his novels from secondary and even tertiary sources. It would require much more space than we have available here to show the history of the view of Joyce as a modern-day renaissance man, but it is clear that this view was based to a large extent on the pre-ironic reading of the protagonist of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen Dedalus’s precocity in that book impresses us (and that is what it was supposed to do) and it set the standard for similar adolescents in modern fiction (Nabokov, Salinger). Joyce made his hero uncommonly precocious by placing events of his own life a number of years earlier. Another and much more prevalent technique is the fact that Stephen Dedalus’s learning is second-hand: when he builds an aesthetics on Aquinas, this is not based on a close and prolonged study of the Summa Theologica on the part of his creator. Jacques Aubert has shown that Joyce did not find the central sentence, Aquinas’s pulchra enim dicuntur ea quae visa placent (and much else besides) in the Saint’s Opera omnia but in Bernard Bosanquet’s Hegelian A History of Aesthetic (1892) (Aubert, 107).
Joyce himself seems to have been aware of the shallowness of Stephen’s learning. On p. 86 of Holograph Workbook VI.B.10, the notebook that bridges the gap between Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, Joyce noted: “discussing Aden war / SD said that he / had read Motley’s Rise / of Dutch Republic / (had read title).” This is a rather sophisticated critique of his alter ego, considering that it is Leopold Bloom who obliquely refers to the same book in his speech in “Circe” on 15.1390.
Yet the view of Joyce shared by most critics is still that of the all-round renaissance man who knows huge chunks of learning by heart and this is also the image of Joyce that we find in the reminiscences of his Paris friends. The result of this image on our reading of Joyce’s later works is immense: for example, when there is a discrepancy between the version of the famous Quinet sentence in Finnegans Wake and its original in Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire de l’humanité, we ascribe it to the fact that Joyce was quoting from memory. Atherton had identified the source in The Books at the Wake and in his Structure and Motif in “Finnegans Wake”, Clive Hart extensively analysed Joyce’s-“no less than six”-misquotes from the original, which, he believed were “almost certainly due to faulty memory” (Hart, 183)
The close study of the Finnegans Wake Notebooks enables us to trace Joyce’s reading in the period he was working on that book. The earliest appearance of the Quinet sentence in the genesis of Finnegans Wake is on p. 84 in Buffalo Notebook VI.B.1. Earlier in the same notebook we find a few references to the writing of history and to Vico that would make the presence of Quinet (one of the early readers of Vico) understandable. On page 29 we read: “pragmatic / philosophic/ history” and “/\ zigzag v spiral / corsi ricorsi Vico.” In the latest study of Vico’s influence on the Wake, Andrew Treip writes of these notes that they were taken “probably from an Italian source, perhaps even the Scienza nuova itself” (Treip, 62). Another group of references in B.1 attracted the attention of Laurent Milési when he showed that Stephen Heath’s emphasis on the sources of the Nile in an essay in Colin MacCabe’s James Joyce: New Perspectives could be supported by manuscript evidence on pp. 31 to 34 of this notebook (Milesi, 82-9).
Inge Landuyt has found the real source of all these items: La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques, published in 1889 by Hachette in Paris. This book by Léon Metchnikoff belongs to a genre that was of obvious interest to an author who was in the process of writing a history of the world and who had just completed the first version of the “ALP”-chapter. Joyce had an interest in historical and anthropological studies that transcended his interest in Irish history and mythology and that would lead to his acquaintance with Lucien Lévy-Bruhl who was granted the distinction of being written into chapter I, 6 as “Professor Levi-Brullo, F.D., of Sexe-Weiman-Eitelnaky.” The young discipline of sociology as it was developing in France was a very general science which studied subjects that would now be considered part of quite a few other disciplines. In 1900, the eminent sociologist Émile Durkheim could claim that sociology had been essentially a French science: “Déterminer la part qui revient à la France dans les progrès qu’a faits la sociologie pendant le XIXe siècle, c’est faire en grand partie l’histoire de cette science, car c’est chez nous et au cours de ce siècle qu’elle a pris naissance, et elle est restée une science essentiellement française” (quoted in Davy, 2). By the end of the nineteenth century sociology was no longer the innocent pastime of gentlemen, it had become the political battleground of conflicting ideas that are evident in the biographies of both the author and the editor of the book Joyce consulted in the early months of 1924.
Élisée Reclus, who edited and wrote the introduction to La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques, was a social revolutionary and a scientist. One of twelve children of a Protestant pastor, he studied geography in France and Germany. He left France after the 1851 coup d’état by Napoleon III and spent seven years in exile in England, Ireland (in County Wicklow) and America. On his return in 1858, he began to publish geographical studies. He had become an atheist, socialist, vegetarian, feminist and, after meeting Bakunin in Italy in 1865, an anarchist. Reclus got into trouble when he and his brother Élie showed their sympathy for the Paris Commune (Élie was briefly director of the Bibliothèque nationale, Élisée wrote an article against the Versailles government and continued to serve in the National Guard which had taken the side of the Communards). Élisée was arrested and sentenced to transportation for life, but he was released after petitions from British scientists. His sentence was commuted into banishment. The two brothers went into exile, Élisée to Switzerland where he began his masterpiece, a nineteen-volume Nouvelle géographie universelle which took eighteen years to compile and for which he received the gold medal of the Paris Geographical Society in 1892. In exile he met Bakunin regularly until the latter’s death in 1876 and two years later Reclus was asked by the anarchist’s friends to edit Bakunin’s writings. A later acquaintance was Peter Kropotkin, another revolutionary and geographer. It was probably in the context of these contacts with the anarchist milieu that Reclus met Metchnikoff. In 1882 Reclus initiated the “Anti-Marriage Movement” but when he allowed his two daughters to marry without any civil or religious sanction, he was sentenced by the High Court of Lyon as the leader (with Prince Peter Kropotkin) of the anarchist International Association. Kropotkin was condemned to five years imprisonment, but Reclus was still abroad and could not be arrested. In 1892 Reclus was offered a chair in comparative geography at the Université libre de Bruxelles, but his wish to finish the Nouvelle géographie universelle postponed the appointment which was then revoked by the university authorities when a series of anarchist attacks in Paris made Reclus an undesirable alien in Brussels. A number of radical professors at the university resigned in protest or were dismissed and they created the Université nouvelle de Bruxelles. A number of socialist politicians who would play a central role in left-wing politics in Belgium in the first decades of the twentieth century taught or were trained at this school, in which Reclus occupied a central position and in which his brother Élie taught the history of religions. Reclus continued to publish in German, English and French scientific journals and shortly before his death in 1905, he had completed his L’Homme et la terre, a study of the influence of geography on the development of mankind. He was much more than an important political and intellectual figure in France: like Ernest Renan, Edgar Quinet and Jules Michelet, he was also a fine writer. The article on Reclus in the eleventh edition of the Enyclopædia Britannica concludes that “[e]xtreme accuracy and brilliant exposition form the leading characteristics of all Reclus’s writings, which thus possess permanent literary and scientific value.”
Léon Metchnikoff was also a scientist and a revolutionary. Born in Saint Petersburg in 1838, his continued ill health forced his parents in 1851 to send him to school in the southern town of Kharkov. Three years later Metchnikoff was arrested and sent back after escaping the school to enlist in the defense of Sebastopol. He started to study medicine at the University of Kharkov but was suspended for his political activities after only seven months. He returned to Saint Petersburg and took courses in medicine, physics and mathematics, arts and oriental languages, successively and without qualifying in any of these studies. In 1858 he was chosen as an interpreter on an expedition to the Holy Land, but after a duel and “disrespectful conduct” towards his superiors, he was dismissed. He traveled in the Near East for a while, and ended up in Venice where he began to study painting until he was swept up in the enthusiasm of Italian politics. He joined the Milbitz brigade in Livorno and was wounded in Vulturne, but rescued and taken care of by his comrades, among them Alexandre Dumas. After his recovery, he became a political agitator who because of his command of languages became the link between such social-revolutionaries as Herzen, Bakunin and Garibaldi. At the same time he published scientific articles which were published, if they were not censored, in Russian journals and magazines. In 1873 he taught himself Chinese and Japanese and a year later he moved to Yeddo in Japan where he organized a Russian school for Japanese students. His anaemia forced him to give up his teaching post and he returned to Europe where he published a book, L’Empire japonais. Élisée Reclus, who was working on his Nouvelle géographie universelle asked him for information about China and Japan, and Metchnikoff began to work as Reclus’s secretary until 1883 when he was appointed professor of statistics and comparative geography in Neuchâtel. His illness finally caught up with him and he died in 1888.
La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques, which may well have been at least partly intended as a text-book for Metchnikoff’s course on comparative geography, has a focus that is limited to what the author calls the “synthèse géographique”: the uneven and inconsistent distribution and spread of civilisation in history: “[J]e voudrais étudier les rapports et les liens intimes qui rattachent les diverses phases de l’histoire commune des peuples les plus civilisés, à un ensemble nettement déterminé de conditions topographiques et géographiques” (71).
In his introduction Reclus offers a brief biographical vignette of his friend Metchnikoff, whose work he has decided to publish. First Reclus gives a survey of what he sees as the main argument of Metchnikoff’s book, which only represents a part of a larger project in which the author was going to offer “a grand synthesis of social philosophy” in which “the childish belief in a tutelary providence” would be replaced by a fundamentally social ethics: “La seule voie qui nous soit ouverte est de nous associer pour discipliner toutes les forces sauvages, cruelles, contradictoires de la nature brute, et les mettre au service d’un monde nouveau d’utilité commune, d’équité et de bonté mutuelle” (xiv). Reclus identifies a number of deficiences in Metchnikoff’s study, which were as much due to the editor’s inability to identify the intentions of his friend in his unfinished manuscript as to the insufficient amount of time the author himself could devote to his scholarly work (because of his health, his financial problems, his journalistic work).
Central in the first chapter of Metchnikoff’s book is the notion of progress, which the author defines as the transformation of social bonds. Metchnikoff is especially interested in what he calls “pragmatic history,” the everyday evolution of the ways in which people interact, and this gives us “the only law of progress.” Whereas the British evolutionists and the French positivists see sociological processes in terms of Darwin’s findings in biology (struggle for survival by means of selection and differentiation), Metchnikoff distinguishes between biology and sociology by positing “cooperation” (or “association”) as the principal characteristic of social life. His conclusion at the end of the chapter is simple: “Le progrès sociologique est donc en raison inverse de la coercition déployée, de la contrainte ou de l’autorité, et en raison directe du rôle de la volonté, de la liberté, de l’anarchie” (28). In the second chapter, Metchnikoff applies these principles to the history of civilisations and he distinguishes three different phases in the development of society: an “inferior period” in which order is imposed by coercion; an “intermediary period” of subordination based on a differentiation due to an increasingly specialized division of labour; and a “superior period” of coordination which has only just started in the most developed countries.
The third chapter discusses the different ways in which comparative geography studies the influence of the geographical environment on man. Analytically, we can distinguish between three ways in which the environment influences civilisation: astronomical, physical and the combined influence of flora, fauna and anthropological factors. Metchnikoff’s own book takes a synthetical approach: it will study the influence of geographical conditions on the great work of civilisation that at present only concerns Europeans. The rest of humanity has failed to participate in this great work: “Dans ce sens […] nous dirons de ces peuples ‘nature’ qu’aucun d’eux n’a apporté une seule pierre à la construction du commun édifice, n’a versé une seule obole au trésor commun de l’humanité” (77). This posits the problem of race, discussed in chapter IV. Metchnikoff distinguishes between two different views of the problem of the inequality of development. Most popular and most influential at the time is the ethnological theory which blames the inequality on inherited racial differences. As a certain Charles Letourneau, member of the Société d’anthropologie de Paris has it: “Jamais une race anatomiquement inférieure n’a créé une civilisation supérieure” (quoted on p. 81). Metchnikoff demolishes all possible arguments for this racist theory by showing the inadequacy of classifications based on skin colour, on the form of the skull, or on language, and he is even more severe towards scientists such as Cesare Lombroso who had claimed that the Italian urban proletariat belonged to a different race which was supposed to consist of descendants of a mysterious aboriginal population ethnically different from “normal” Italians. The evidence used by these scientists proves on the contrary that heredity is never more than a concomitant factor: “L’hérédité, en somme, est un puissant agent, avec le concours duquel l’adaptation façonne les variétés humaines, mais qui ne parvient jamais à émanciper la race de l’influence décisive du milieu” (106).
The fifth chapter is entirely devoted to the problem of defining the exact role of the environment, which is a lot less straightforward than claimed by the majority of positivist sociologists. In the next chapter Metchnikoff distinguishes three different environments (milieux) which have determined three phases of the development of civilisation: the fluvial environment which saw the origin of human culture (in China, India, Egypt and Mesopotamia), the littoral or mediterranean (from the founding of Carthage to Charles V), and the oceanic or universal. The all-important influence of water and especially of rivers on the earliest civilisations is first discussed generally in chapter VII, which shows how rivers made a tyrannical political system necessary. In chapter VIII to XI Metchnikoff then discusses four historical regions in more detail: the Nile, Mesopotamia, the Indus and the Ganges, and the Hoang-ho and Yangtse-kiang.
The political agenda of La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques should be made explicit and put in its own historical context before we move on to the use Joyce made of this book. Metchnikoff’s book is clearly Eurocentric, humanist and teleological, but it would have been a miracle if it hadn’t been. In its original context the study is revolutionary and progressive. Its implicit and explicit enemies are the racist and conservative theories based on Darwin that would lead to social darwinism. Benjamin Kidd would claim in Social Evolution (1894) and Control of the Tropics (1898) that the concept of survival of the fittest was not restricted to animal species, but to human races as well. The young lions of the British tories under Joseph Chamberlain found in Kidd’s theories an endorsement of an agressive imperialism. Closer in subject to Metchnikoff’s study was an influential book published in 1900, Friedrich Ratzel’s Das Meer als Quelle der Völkergrösse which has been described as one of the intellectual sources of Hitler’s expansionist politics. Closer to home, anthropological and racist theories were used to describe and “explain” the existence of the poor and criminal classes at the heart of European capitals. Cesare Lombroso used concepts of ethnology to explain the hereditary nature of crime and poverty. In this context, Metchnikoff’s approach is that of a social revolutionary: he argues against all types of racist theories to explain differences in cultural development and he shows how these dissimilarities are due to different environmental conditions. In contrast to most sociologists around the turn of the century (Vilfredo Pareto and Georges Sorel, e.g.), Metchnikoff’s theory is utopian and progressive. In the geographical, ethnographical and historical material he studies, he is able to isolate a telos that coincides with an anarchist utopia.
Joyce’s selection of notes from Metchnikoff’s book confirms the impression that students of the Finnegans Wake notebooks confront regularly. A number of different questions must be addressed: why did Joyce choose this particular book, what kinds of notes did he make, what does that tell us about his interests at the time, and finally what did he do with the material he gathered? The general import of Metchnikoff’s book must be obvious: Joyce’s interest in anthropological and historical works is well-documented, but what may well have attracted him first is the suggestion in the title of the book of a connection between rivers and human culture. The first drafts of I,8 had just been written and the opposition between river and city, nature and culture must have become clear. The element of history in the book may have attracted him too: his picture of Mamalujo, the four historians, had been finished in October of 1923, but he returned to the sketch when Ford Maddox Ford persuaded him to contribute to the transatlantic review.
When we look at the actual notes of Metchnikoff’s book in VI.B.1, a slightly different picture emerges. Joyce did make notes from passages that discuss the importance of rivers in the history of civilisation or the continuity between primitive and modern cultures, but most of the notes deal with specific information about rivers or the cultures they engendered. Laurent Milési’s point in the essay mentioned above that Joyce was particularly interested in the sources of the Nile must therefore be amended: some of the notes Milési transcribes are based on passages in Metchnikoff that have nothing to do with the Nile and Joyce did not use any of the notes in the Finnegans Wake passages that are central to Milési’s discussion.
Joyce did not always read and annotate books from cover to cover and the notes he made from La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques are not consecutive. Joyce began to take notes from Élisée Reclus’s introduction and the first chapter on “Le progrès.” He then moved to chapter VII, a discussion of the general geographical conditions of fluvial civilisations, and then to chapter VIII, the discussion of the Nile. The notes from these two chapters cover, with only a few interruptions, pages 30 to the first entry on p. 35 of the notebook. On p. 37 Joyce continued with a few notes from chapter IX on the Tigris and Euphrate. After fourteen pages of notes from other sources, Joyce started again at the bottom of p. 51 with notes from chapter X on the Indus and the Ganges that run onto the next page. The river references on pages 54-57 seem to have come from another source, but on p. 64 and 65 we find notes from chapter XI on the Hoang-ho and the Yangtse-kiang. Joyce then filled two and a half pages with notes from other sources and then began to move backwards through the book, first to chapter VI on the great historical divisions. On p. 75 and 76 of the notebook he moved back even more to chapter IV on “Les races” and on the bottom of page 78, back again to chapter III on the “geographic synthesis of history” from which he took copious notes for two pages. Finally, on the bottom of page 84, in a different hand and with a pen instead of a pencil, Joyce copied the quotation of Quinet’s Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire de l’humanité (the title is identified at the top of notebook page 85) from Metchnikoff’s chapter on the influence of the milieu.
It is clear that Joyce was not in the habit of making scholarly notes in the Finnegans Wake Notebooks and this is also not the case here: his concern in taking notes is with what he would do with the words and ideas he found in La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques, not with the book itself. There seems to be only one exception here: on p. 122 Metchnikoff explains the importance of isothermic lines which seem to suggest that civilisation can only really flourish between certain limits. In a very concise note Joyce questions this idea: “antipodal — / same event”; i.e. if Metchnikoff were right, we might have expected a similar evolution and similar events in regions on the earth’s southern hemisphere. But this remains an exception: Joyce does not seem to be interested in the book’s own logic.
The very first note taken from Metchnikoff’s first chapter provides a good example of the strange logic of Joyce’s note taking. Metchnikoff opens his book with the idea that history without the notion of progress is a monotonous chaos of crimes, hypocrisy and madness. Those rare instances of virtue take on absurd or revolting forms, such as Manlius who beheads his son for killing an enemy in single combat without his father’s permission. Joyce simply noted “in single combat” and he entered the words in the first “Mamalujo” typescript prepared for the printers of the transatlantic review. In that explicitly sexual context (FW 388.24), it seems to lose all reference to the original context. A minor error involves the very last note (except for the Quinet sentence) when Joyce translates the population density of Northern Asia from 1 inhabitant per square kilometer into one per square mile.
B.1 differs from a very early notebook such as B.10 in that Joyce had already developed the system of sigla that enabled him to identify, sort and appropriate material. The reference to the course of history on p. 29 of his notebook is introduced by /\, the sigla for Shaun, whereas the words “monocellular bion” are introduced by the sigla for [sigla E]. Apart from the reference to HCE, Joyce’s latter note does not make sense when it is compared with the original text. Metchnikoff defines bions as humans and higher animals, which cannot therefore be monocellular. If HCE is both a bion and monocellular, it can only mean that he is self-sufficient and does not need any other bion to live or procreate. The ALP sigla is used for a note on the fortification of the Nile delta and somewhat later the HCE sigla introduces “Basque, Finn or Hun”: in other words, HCE is not an Aryan “like most civilized people in Europe.” In a final sigla note, HCE is described as the last in a series of cities who succeeded each other in history.
A more general technique of appropriation takes place in the notebooks when Joyce immediately translates items from La civilisation into their Irish equivalents. When Reclus in the introduction to the book writes about cities situated on the banks of rivers, Joyce notes “Dublin on the Liffey.” Metchnikoff describes how the Nile is obstructed from flowing into the Red Sea which would have been fatal for Egypt and the world at large. Joyce turns this into an Irish question: “if Liffey had / turned back?” The most blatant hibernicisation occurs when a note about the Chinese being forced to fight the imperialist conquerors with weapons they must first acquire from their enemies is turned into the note: “Ir. ask for guns to / shoot E,” where the E stands for the English. Also interesting is the absence of notes: now and then there are ideas in Metchnikoff one feels Joyce should have made a note of, e.g. when it is pointed out on p. 132 that the Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese ideograms for heaven, sun and mountain are identical, two of the three mentioned are Joyce’s sigla for Issy and HCE.
The final question that needs to be asked is what Joyce did with the material he had collected. All of the used entries are crossed out in red, but the entries were incorporated in different drafts. The majority of notes were used in the first draft of the second half of III, 3, when Joyce combined a number of them in just a few sentences. First HCE protests that he is entirely innocent and has given up the practice anyway: “I will say that since my tools began famine has receded from the land. It were idle to inquire whether I am the product of group marriage or team work. I mean to say, had my faithful wife turned back on her ways or had she left her bed at the suggestion of some infamous fishermen …”
It is clear that in this context ALP acquires characteristics of the Hoang-ho and the Liffey. The infamous fishermen in this version take a much more active role than in Metchnikoff’s book where they are only capable of divulging the secret of the sources of the Nile. One item, “skygrey” was used in the first section of this chapter to describe the ass that accompanies the four claymen. Two more items were used in “Mamalujo”, one on the first typescript of I, 7 and the rest on the fair copy and first typescript of “ALP” which was revised together with the first typescript of I.7.
In all the harvest is limited, especially when we consider that the historical notes could have been relevant for the two “mamalujo” texts he was working on and the river references for the “ALP”-chapter and all other passages where she is mentioned. Joyce seems not to have used these notes after december 1924 and he only returned to Metchnikoff’s book in the early thirties when he used two more entries from Mme Rafael’s transcription in C.3. The first was on p. 107 of that notebook: “average temp. / irel = 10°” was used in the first section of the first draft of Book IV as “It is perfect degrees excelsius … the torporature is returning to mornal” (FW 597.31-33). The second illustrates how little Joyce seems to have been aware of the original sources when he returned to these notes after more than twelve years. Mme Raphael had mistranscribed the original note “flowing water = Govt” as “flowing water = gait.” Joyce simply struck out the note and wrote “in gait a movely water” on the first draft of Book II, chapter 3. It is obvious that the original reference to Metchnikoff’s book (the Chinese ideogram for moving water contains the one for government) is completely lost.
The most important element Joyce found in Metchnikoff’s book is the famous Quinet sentence which has been a crux ever since James Atherton first identified its source. Since then critics have returned to it again and again: Clive Hart concentrated on Joyce’s use of the sentence in Structure and Motif in “Finnegans Wake” and he correctly recognises its genetic history in the writing of the Wake. A number of critics have studied Joyce’s reference to Quinet’s philosophy of history in a wider context. Lorraine Weir in Writing Joyce opposes Quinet and Michelet as the warring brothers of French historiography and she writes that the former’s thesis is that time conquers all, that nature precedes and will follow man: “Even the epic battles of the past are erased by the power of time, of the order of the universe as epitomized by the tenacity of wildflowers growing amid the ruins of ancient empires. This is the context of the ‘beautiful sentence from Edgar Quinet’ which recurs across Finnegans Wake” (Weir, 70). Andrew Treip too has recently discussed the role of Quinet as a philosopher of history.
There can be little doubt that Joyce found his Quinet sentence in Metchnikoff’s book: it is written down in the same notebook as the rest of the notes from La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques, the sentence occurs in Metchnikoff’s book as a quotation, Joyce identified his source (this is rare in the notebooks), and the quotation copies errors Metchnikoff had made: “au temps de Pline” instead of “aux jours de Pline.”
Although Joyce’s knowledge of the Quinet sentence almost spans the entire genetic history of Finnegans Wake, he parodied it for the first time in the fall of 1926 in the first draft of I,1 and again a year later when revising I,5 for transition. Most of the other parodies, listed by Clive Hart, were introduced in the second half of the thirties, in the last phase of Joyce’s work on his book. The genetic evidence seems to suggest that Joyce chose the sentence for its beauty and for what the sentence itself says, not for Quinet’s theories or for the function the sentence may have in Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire de l’humanité, which he does not seem to have read. In a letter to Miss Weaver he dictated on 22 November 1930, Joyce sums up the sentence’s meaning in these terms: “E.Q. says that the wild flowers on the ruins of Carthage, Numancia etc have survived the political rises and falls of Empires” (Let I: 295). The function in Metchnikoff’s book is clear from the introductory sentence: Quinet is quoted to illustrate the fact that history changes much more rapidly than the soil or the climate.
But some problems remain with the only direct quotation of the Quinet sentence in Finnegans Wake. When Joyce copied it from Metchnikoff, he made a number of transcription errors: he omitted the comma after the first word and after “Columelle,” and before “pendant.” He also omitted the semi colon after “Numance” and he capitalized “pervenche.” Joyce also made “temps” singular and “nom” plural, dropped the circonflexe in “plaît,” “maîtres” and “fraîches,” and the accents aigus in “générations.” Like most early notebooks, VI.B.1 was copied by Mme Raphaël in the early thirties. The new version differed slightly: Mme Raphaël restored the circonflexes but did not touch the other mistakes.
In the summer of 1933, while he was in Switzerland, Joyce needed the entry for use in II, 2 (he had put “E. Q” in the middle of ms-page 47478-122, which contains additions to the typescript of section seven of the chapter. According to Richard Ellmann (JJII:664), he then wrote (or telephoned) Paul Léon to ask him to find the Quinet passage in the notebooks that he had left behind in Paris. From letters that were only discovered in 1992 when the Joyce-Léon papers in Dublin’s National Library became available (Fahy, 10), we know that Léon wrote back on 6 July 1933, enclosing a copy of the Quinet passage. Joyce then copied this out in his own handwriting and sent it back to Léon on 7 July, writing, “Thanks for the E.Q. piece. Please verify it chez moi et chez lui. Is it ‘riantes’ or ‘fraiches et riantes’?” Léon’s reply to this letter is unfortunately unavailable or lost. In the 1950s, the copy of the Quinet passage sent to Léon turned up among his papers still (at that time) in the possession of his wife Lucie. She gave it to Maria Jolas, who reproduced it in her A James Joyce Yearbook (Paris: Transition Workshop, 1949); it ended up in Yale and was included in the James Joyce Archive (where it is identified as “Yale 10.13-1”). The copy sent by Léon to Joyce, however, is lost. Nevertheless, we can be fairly sure that Léon copied from the VI.B.1 version (from the absence of the circonflexes), and this in turn suggests that Madame Raphael did not begin her transcriptions until after Joyce returned to Paris at the end of August 1933. We can also now emend the dating of the II.2§7 pages listed at JJA 52:239 from “probably 1934” to “Summer 1933.”
The manuscript version of the passage does not have the circonflexes but has “que autour d’elles ces villes.” When the text was typed, somebody changed Joyce’s “la jacinthe” into “le jacynte” which necessitated the change in the third person pronoun to “que autour d’eux les villes.” The typescript version has several corrections in Joyce’s hand, restoring the feminine endings of the adjectives and a whole line that had been forgotten (between the first and the second “sont”) but failing to restore the other errors. Most of these must have been corrected on the now missing typescripts prepared for the printers of Finnegans Wake. The correction of mistakes in French orthography could very well have been made independently of any earlier version of the sentence: the pluralization of “temps” at the beginning and of “jour” at the end of the sentence may well have been made for internal reasons, although they seem to restore the similarly plural forms in the original text by Quinet absent in Metchnikoff’s quotation. But Joyce or his collaborators cannot have had immediate access to Quinet’s own text because then they would not have failed to correct the fourth word into “jours” (“temps” is Metchnikoff’s error) and the change of “se sont succédé” into “sont arrivées,” which may be the result of Metchnikoff’s leaving out “l’une à l’autre.” The only explanation for these changes is a series of transcription errors followed by corrections without recourse to an original, whatever an original may be in a case such as this. It seems evident that Joyce intended to quote Quinet’s sentence directly and without distortion. The fate of these nine lines in the genesis of Finnegans Wake demonstrates the difficulties and complexities of the process genetic critics attempt to elucidate.