Philip Beaufoy

Philip Beaufoy

In Brief

Joyce apparently invented the title of the "prize titbit" that Bloom reads on the toilet in Calypso, Matcham's Masterstroke. The man listed as its author, however––"Mr Philip Beaufoy, Playgoers' Club, London"––was an actual person who did publish stories in Tit-Bits. He was born Zaleq Philip Bergson and became successively Philip Bergson, Philip Beaufoy, and Philip Beaufoy Barry. He was, remarkably, the brother of Henri Bergson, an important philosopher whom Joyce admired.

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In My Brother's Keeper Stanlislaus Joyce observed that Philip Beaufoy "if I am not greatly mistaken was, and I hope is still, a real person who had various short stories accepted by Titbits in those years." Joyce scholar David Pierce went looking for him in old issues of Tit-Bits. In Reading Joyce (2008) he reported that he had found multiple Beaufoy stories, including a "Prize Tit-Bit" published in the 6 March 1897 issue that listed the author as "Mr. Philip Beaufoy, Playgoers’ Club, Strand, W.C." (246). In an earlier book, Joyce and Company (2006), Pierce had identified three similarly named authors of children's stories: Philip Beaufoy, Philip Beaufoy Barry, and P. Beaufoy (42).

In an article on James Joyce Online Notes, John Simpson shows that all three must have been the same man. From 1895 onward, P. Beaufoy and Philip Beaufoy were publishing melodramatic fictions in Tit-Bits and other journals, and in 1900, writing from the Playgoers' Club, P. Beaufoy wrote a letter to an editor defending the paper's journalistic practice. A new author, Philip Beaufoy Barry, appeared on the literary scene in 1927 with the publication of no fewer than five books: How to Succeed as a Writer: Twenty Methods of Earning Money by the Pen, How to Succeed on the Stage: a Practical Handbook to the Actor's Profession, The Secret Power: A Handbook to the Art of Living, The Mystery of the Blue Diamond, and Twelve Monstrous Criminals from Nero to Rasputin, A.D. 37-A.D. 1916. Four more books followed in the next two years:  in 1928 How to Succeed as a Playwright and Amateur Acting from a New Angle, and in 1929 Sinners down the Centuries, from Cleopatra to Cora Pearl & from Ovid to Edmund Kean: 69 B.C.–A.D. 1886 and Twenty Human Monsters in Purple and in Rags from Caligula to Landru: A.D. 12–A.D. 1922. Still more books appeared in the 1930s.

Legal death notices from 1947, Simpson notes, confirm that Beaufoy and Beaufoy Barry were the same man, and that both were pseudonyms of one Philip Bergson. Born in 1871 (Vivien Igoe says 1878, but this seems doubtful), Bergson was the son of a Polish Jew named Michael Bergson or Michel Bereksohn, an accomplished musician and composer who had migrated from Warsaw to Geneva to Paris to London. The theatrical talents of his son Philip were observed in two performances of Shakespeare scenes for the City of London School's annual Beaufoy Prize Day in 1886. The Beaufoy Prize, the Beaufoy Shakespeare Medal, and Beaufoy Scholarships to Cambridge, all funded by a wealthy distiller's endowment, apparently gave Bergson his pseudonym. 

According to Stanislaus his father got his literary culture from Tit-Bits, but James cannot have esteemed this mass-market publication or Beaufoy's light crowd-pleasing prose, aimed at selling copy rather than telling truth. Stanislaus noted that the imitative melodramatic story that Joyce submitted to the journal, "as a joke" and under a false name, was "suitably written down to the style" of its low-brow model. But in 1904 Beaufoy had long been publishing fiction in journalistic outlets, something that Joyce was trying to do at that time, and when he wrote Ulysses he made Bloom envy Beaufoy's remunerative literary success. Bloom is not awed by the writing but he good-naturedly appreciates its modest virtues before wiping himself with it: "Life might be so. It did not move or touch him but it was something quick and neat. Print anything now. Silly season."

In Circe his impulse to earn some money by imitating this hack writer, combined with an assumption that anyone who belongs to a private club in London must be his social superior, make Beaufoy a prosecution witness at his trial. Bloom grandly claims to "follow a literary occupation, author-journalist." Beaufoy, "in accurate morning dress, outbreast pocket with peak of handkerchief showing, creased lavender trousers and patent boots," replies that Bloom, "no born gentleman," is "A plagiarist. A soapy sneak masquerading as a litterateur." Tit-Bits used this high-toned word to address potential contributors ("TO LITTERATEURS. The price we pay for original contributions specially written for Tit-bits is ONE GUINEA PER COLUMN"). The fictional Beaufoy adopts a correspondingly high tone: "The Beaufoy books of love and great possessions, with which your lordship is doubtless familiar, are a household word throughout the kingdom.... My literary agent Mr J. B. Pinker is in attendance. I presume, my lord, we shall receive the usual witnesses' fees, shan't we? We are considerably out of pocket over this bally pressman johnny, this jackdaw of Rheims, who has not even been to a university."

Simpson reports one more discovery about Bergson, a fascinating one: he had a much older brother, born in France, named Henri. Joyce owned two of Henri Bergson's books, and another book about him. Whether he knew that Bergson and Beaufoy were brothers will probably never be known.

John Hunt 2023

Beaufoy's children's novel The Mystery of the Blue Diamond.

Beaufoy's popular history Twenty Human Monsters In Purple and in Rags From Caligula to Landru A.D.12–A.D. 1922. Source:

Philosopher Henri Bergson, in a photographic portrait of unknown date held in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, Washington DC. Source: Wikimedia Commons.