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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Engaging Moral Agon

Beckett fact no. 90.

‘And yet, when I sat for Fellowship, but for the boil on my bottom…’

But for that boil, indeed. Beckett’s time at Trinity College, Dublin, and subsequent allusions to it have been well documented, from his contribution to the Trinity Cricket XI’s performance against Northampton to his portrait of Rudmose-Brown as The Polar Bear in Dream and More Pricks Than Kicks to Ernest Louit’s travails with a college committee over his dissertation on The Mathematical Intuitions of the Visicelts in Watt. But allow me to add my tuppence ha’worth anyway, based on a trawl through back issues of student magazines from the 1920s. How exactly did the genteelly residual colonial atmosphere of Trinity just after Irish independence shape Beckett’s writing?

Incalculably, need you even ask?

TCD, A College Miscellany, to which Beckett contributed ‘The Possessed’, offered ‘colonial and ten-year subscriptions’. It carried ads for the ‘Swastika Laundry’ in Ballsbridge, whose chimney and its distinctive ancient Hindu symbol remained on view when I was a student myself.

‘We note’, it notes, ‘that Mr A.E. Jacobs, who was returned as Unionist Member of Parliament for the East Toxteth Division of Liverpool, is an old Trinity man.’

In 1925 suggests as Christmas gift for Rudmose-Brown a model ‘wind-jammer’, and publishes ‘A Christmas Dose in Three Spasms’ an ‘Engaging moral agon spread over three numbers.’

A.A. Luce, Beckett’s tutor, writes in 1926 discouraging non-veterans from falling in with Remembrance Day parades. Students of a unionist stripe were targeted by local ‘poppy-snatchers’, a custom that gave rise to the wearing of razor blades under the poppy, as described in a memorably gruesome Michael Longley poem.

XXXIII no. 574, 24 February 1927: ‘We have nothing to say.’

2 February 1928, talk by W.E. Milligan to the College Theological Society on ‘Christianity and the Race Problem’:

The innate antipathy which exists between white and coloured races, as well as the widely divergent moral outlook, which distinguishes the Western from the Oriental, forms a very difficult barrier to the spread of Christianity.

Trinity men appointed to the Indian civil service.

12 February 1931: S. B-ck-tt: An exhausted aesthete who life’s strange poisonous wines has sipped, and found them rather tedious – J.C. Squire

I wish he would explain his explanations. – Byron

Now if only I could remember the name of the turn-of-the-century Trinity Classics Professor who translated Gilbert and Sullivan into Latin hexameters, in between energetic letters to the Church of Ireland Gazette, and delighted students at Christmas parties with his Boris Yeltsin-like skill on the spoons.

But sadly it's gone.

For more on the Dublin Swastika Laundry see here.

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