One of the more unusual items we have in The Royal Mail Archive stored here at the BPMA is a first edition copy of Ulysses by James Joyce. Joyce wrote the novel between 1919 and 1920 and when it was published in 1922 it was soon banned in the UK for obscene content.
It was illegal to send these sorts of publications through the post, and this became one of the many publications that the Post Office was instructed to intercept if they came across them. Here the Post Office was acting under section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 which directed: such goods shall be forfeited, and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the Commissioners of Customs may direct.
A warrant issued to detain and open packages containing Ulysses was in force from 27 March 1933 to 13 November 1936, over which time a fair few copies were intercepted. A note from early 1934 in a file (POST 23/9, ‘Seditious, obscene and libellous publications sent through the post’) suggests ‘no more than 50’ copies had been stopped since the warrant came into force (as against a newspaper suggestion that 2,000 copies had been seized and destroyed). In particular, efforts were being made to stop the importation of Ulysses into the country from publishers abroad.
Our edition is one of 1,000 numbered editions produced by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris. 100 were produced using Dutch handmade paper signed by the author, a further 150 on Vergé d’Arches paper. The remainder on handmade paper were numbered, 251 to 1000. Our copy is numbered 895.
As well as the book itself we have a small number of items accompanying it. There is a printed business card for a David Byrne of 21 Duke Street, Dublin and a handwritten note which reads:
Jacob Schwartz, Bookseller, 20 Bloomsbury St.
Sold to Ulysses Bookshop
James Joyce – Ulysses – 1922
Price £3 – 0 – 0.
These introduce two interesting historical figures.
On a recent visit to the BPMA Dan Mulhall, Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK, pointed out that the David Byrne on the card would have been the proprietor of Davy Byrne’s pub at that address on Duke Street and furthermore features in Ulysses, in the pub, something we were alas not aware of (I have to admit here that my two attempts at reading Joyce’s wonderful but exacting work have failed around page 100). Davy Byrne’s pub also features in Joyce’s short story Counterparts which was published in his collection Dubliners.
The pub and Byrne come into Ulysses from page 163:
He [protagonist Leopold Bloom] entered Davy Byrne’s. Moral pub. He doesn’t chat. Stands a drink now and then. But in leapyear once in four. Cashed a cheque for me once.
—Have you a cheese sandwich?
Like a few olives too if they had them. Italian I prefer. Good glass of burgundy take away that. Lubricate. A nice salad, cool as a cucumber, Tom Kernan can dress. Puts gusto into it. Pure olive oil. Milly served me that cutlet with a sprig of parsley. Take one Spanish onion. God made food, the devil the cooks. Devilled crab.
—Quite well, thanks … A cheese sandwich, then. Gorgonzola, have you?
Davy Byrne came forward from the hindbar in tuckstitched shirtsleeves, cleaning his lips with two wipes of his napkin. Herring’s blush. Whose smile upon each feature plays with such and such replete. Too much fat on the parsnips.
—And here’s himself and pepper on him, Nosey Flynn said. Can you give us a good one for the Gold cup?
—I’m off that, Mr Flynn, Davy Byrne answered. I never put anything on a horse.
—You’re right there, Nosey Flynn said.
Mr Bloom ate his strips of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese. Sips of his wine soothed his palate. Not logwood that. Tastes fuller this weather with the chill off.
Nice quiet bar. Nice piece of wood in that counter. Nicely planed. Like the way it curves there.
The pub is now part of the route followed by those re-enacting Bloom’s journey each year on 16 June (Bloomsday).
Davy Byrne, originally from County Wicklow, bought the pub at 21 Duke Street, Dublin in 1889. Coincidentally Joyce had previously been granted leasehold interest in the lodging rooms above 20 and 21 Duke Street. The pub has been famously visited by many literary and political figures including Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan, Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. Byrne retired in 1939 but the pub goes strong to this day.
Jacob Schwartz is also a very interesting character. He practiced as a dentist in New York in the 1920s. By the 1930s he had established Ulysses Bookshop in Bloomsbury, London. He later worked in Paris, London and Brighton. Later among others he acquired manuscripts from Samuel Beckett who referred to the ex-dentist Schwartz as ‘The Great Extractor’.
So it looks like Davy Byrne attempted to sell his book to Bernard Schwartz in London presumably in the early to mid 1930s. Unlike in the UK and the US, Ulysses was never banned in Ireland. It has even been suggested that the copy could have come to Byrne directly from Joyce. Unfortunately we have nothing further material in our collection to tell us more.
So Jake the Dentist didn’t get the copy of the book he paid three pounds for. Or Byrne didn’t get payment for the book if this is an unpaid invoice. The mystery continues but one thing is for sure. It will move to a new and prestigious home when The Postal Museum opens in 2016.
Further sources for this blog:
-Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue & Project Manager