Lot 302
  • 302

Joyce, James

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Joyce, James
  • Autograph letter signed ("Jas. A. Joyce"), to Augusta, Lady Gregory
  • paper
written on the eve of his first "exile" from Ireland and containing his artistic declaration of faith ( "...though I seem to be driven out of my country as a misbeliever I have found no man yet with a faith like mine..."), explaining that he believes his medical studies are being deliberately frustrated by the University authorities in Dublin so he is going "alone and friendless" to study in Paris ("...I want to get a degree in medicine for then I can build up my work securely. I want to achieve myself - little or great as I may be - for I know there is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being...") and hoping for assistance from Lady Gregory, 4 pages, 8vo, mourning stationery, 7 St Peter's Terrace, Cabra, Dublin, 22 November 1902, with autograph envelope, slight ink smudging on final page, rust mark


By descent to Major R.G. Gregory; sold by his executors in these rooms, 15 December 1982, lot 194 (a marked-up sale catalogue is included with this lot)


The Letters of James Joyce, I, p.53

Catalogue Note

"...I am not despondent however for I know that even if I fail to make my way such failure proves very little. I shall try myself against the powers of the world. All things are inconstant except the faith in the soul which changes all things and fills their inconstancy with light..."

A remarkable letter of dizzying ambition by the twenty-year old Joyce, denouncing the Catholic Church and the civic authorities in Ireland and expressing his fierce independence. This is the most important letter by Joyce to appear at auction since the Stanislaus Joyce collection in 2004, and is also among the earliest known letters by Joyce (only three earlier letters appear in the Letters and the Selected Letters). It is particularly enthralling as its themes and attitudes are so deeply woven into Joyce's later literary works. The idea of exile, portrayed dramatically in this letter, was of course to be an abiding theme of Joyce's work, whilst the young Joyce's devotion to literary creation and anti-clericalism, not to mention his arrogant tone, are recalled with affectionate irony in Stephen Dedalus's "revolt" in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

This letter was written to the great patron of the Irish Literary Revival, Augusta, Lady Gregory, and followed a dinner at Dublin's Nassau Hotel, at which the two had been introduced to each other by W.B. Yeats, and Joyce had shared with her some of his poems. Lady Gregory's response to Joyce's letter survives (the original is at Cornell University): she suggested he might try the Medical school at Trinity, invited him to Coole, and put him in touch with J.M. Synge. She did not, however, supply him with money. Joyce arrived in Paris on 3 December only to discover that he lacked the qualifications to study medicine. The trip was to be far from the complete break with Ireland suggested in his letter: he came back to Dublin for Christmas and returned again in April 1903 on hearing that his mother was dying. It was only in late 1904 that Joyce left Ireland permanently.