James Joyce, Gas From a Burner (1912)

Extant copies Digital text

Extant copies

Autograph copies of “Gas from a Burner” (Sept. 1912)

On 11 Sept. 1912 the Dublin printer John Falconer burned the entire run of 1,000 copies of Joyce’s Dubliners in sheets intended for the first edition to be published Maunsel & Co. Seemingly the printer feared the book would expose him to prosecution. Joyce sought unsuccessfully to buy the sheets and was hence left only with galley proofs previously supplied by the Maunsel publisher, George Roberts. Later on he would use the galleys as a basis for the first edition of Dubliners, which the London publisher Grant Richards brought out (on second thoughts) in a first edition of 2,500 copies on 15 June 1914 - less than two months before the outbreak of World War I on 28 July, a catastrophe which spelt doom for the commercial success of the edition. Joyce himself bought up 250 copies and sold them on in Trieste but by the end of the year only 499 had been traded - 1 short of the number needed to secure the profits for the author under the contract.
 Details of the destruction of the Dublin “First Edition” are given in a letter sent by Joyce’s brother Charles from Dublin to their brother Stanislaus - in Trieste, where he had joined Joyce as a language-teacher in Oct. 1907. Joyce himself wrote an account of the fiasco at the foot of one of the extant copies of “Gas from a Burner” - a verse-broadside which he wrote at Flushing railway station (now Vlissingen, Netherlands) on Sept. 12th during his journey back to Trieste, following his departure from Dublin with Nora and the children on the evening of the 11th. It was to be his last time in Ireland. On reaching Trieste in September 1912, Joyce had the broadside printed at Trieste in 1,000 copies and circulated in Dublin by Charles, who pushed them through the letterboxes of friends and enemies alike.

[Based on a Facebook post of John McCourt [Macerata], 13.09.2020]


A photostat copy of the poem is held in National Library of Ireland with a letter from James F. Spoerri (23 Jan. 1950) together with a copy of “The Holy Office” (see NLI Cat. - online.) The above images (left & right) were copied to RICORSO from the NLI Online Catalogue in 2015 but are not available at the time of writing (13.09.2020). Click on the left image above to enlarge it. [BS]


Transcription: ‘This [?] was written in the railway station waiting room at Flushing, Holland, on the way to Trieste from Dublin after the malicious burning of the 1st edition of Dubliners (1000 copies less one in my posession) by the printer Messers John Falconer, Upper Sackville Street, Dublin. ...’

Another copy is held in the British Library (London) as C.39.i.15 - online), while a third - without any holograph inscription - is held at Tulsa University and can also be viewed in "Blog: Joyce in 100 Objects" [online] online - with a good scrollable full-size image [online or as attached]. A further copy was auctioned for £14,340 by Christie’s of London as part of the Quentin Keynes Collection on 7-8 April 2004, when a copy of the first London Edition of Ulysses was also sold. The broadside is listed in Slocum & Cahoun's bibliography of Joyce as A7 (see Christie’s - online). A 16-page edition of the poem in 100 copies was illustrated by Jamie Murphy and Mary Plunkett (Dublin: Distillers Press 2012). [All accessed 13.09.2020.]

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LADIES and gents, you are here assembled
To hear why earth and heaven trembled
Because of the black and sinister arts
Of an Irish writer in foreign parts.
He sent me a book ten years ago.
I read it a hundred times or so,
Backwards and forwards, down and up,
Through both the ends of a telescope.
I printed it all to the very last word
But by the mercy of the Lord
The darkness of my mind was rent
And I saw the writer’s foul intent.
But I owe a duty to Ireland:
I held her honour in my hand,
This lovely land that always sent
Her writers and artists to banishment
And in a spirit of Irish fun
Betrayed her own leaders, one by one.
’Twas Irish humour, wet and dry,
Flung quicklime into Parnell’s eye;
’Tis Irish brains that save from doom
The leaky barge of the Bishop of Rome
For everyone knows the Pope can’t belch
Without the consent of Billy Walsh.
O Ireland my first and only love
Where Christ and Caesar are hand and glove!
O lovely land where the shamrock grows!
(Allow me, ladies, to blow my nose)
To show you for strictures I don’t care a button
I printed the poems of Mountainy Mutton
And a play he wrote (you’ve read it I’m sure)
Where they talk of “bastard”, “bugger” and “whore
And a play on the Word and Holy Paul
And some woman’s legs that I can’t recall
Written by Moore, a genuine gent
That lives on his property’s ten per cent:
I printed mystical books in dozens:
I printed the table-book of Cousins
Though (asking your pardon) as for the verse
’Twould give you a heartburn on your arse:
I printed folklore from North and South
By Gregory of the Golden Mouth:
I printed poets, sad, silly and solemn:
I printed Patrick What-do-you-Colm:
I printed the great John Milicent Synge
Who soars above on an angel’s wing
In the playboy shift that he pinched as swag
From Maunsel’s manager’s travelling-bag.
But I draw the line at that bloody fellow

That was over here dressed in Austrian yellow,
Spouting Italian by the hour
To O’Leary Curtis and John Wyse Power
And writing of Dublin, dirty and dear,
In a manner no blackamoor printer could bear.
Shite and onions! Do you think I’ll print
The name of the Wellington Monument,
Sydney Parade and Sandymount tram,
Downes’s cakeshop and Williams’s jam?
I’m damned if I do - I’m damned to blazes!
Talk about Irish Names of Places!
It’s a wonder to me, upon my soul,
He forgot to mention Curly’s Hole.
No, ladies, my press shall have no share in
So gross a libel on Stepmother Erin.
I pity the poor - that’s why I took
A red-headed Scotchman to keep my book.
Poor sister Scotland! Her doom is fell;
She cannot find any more Stuarts to sell.
My conscience is fine as Chinese silk:
My heart is as soft as buttermilk.
Colm can tell you I made a rebate
Of one hundred pounds on the estimate
I gave him for his Irish Review.
I love my country - by herrings I do!
I wish you could see what tears I weep
When I think of the emigrant train and ship.
That’s why I publish far and wide
My quite illegible railway guide,
In the porch of my printing institute
The poor and deserving prostitute
Plays every night at catch-as-catch-can
With her tight-breeched British artilleryman
And the foreigner learns the gift of the gab
From the drunken draggletail Dublin drab.
Who was it said: Resist not evil?
I’ll burn that book, so help me devil.
I’ll sing a psalm as I watch it burn
And the ashes I’ll keep in a one-handled urn.
I’ll penance do with farts and groans
Kneeling upon my marrowbones.
This very next lent I will unbare
My penitent buttocks to the air
And sobbing beside my printing press
My awful sin I will confess.
My Irish foreman from Bannockburn
Shall dip his right hand in the urn
And sign crisscross with reverent thumb
Memento homo upon my bum.

[See .jpeg version of this - attached.]

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