The man who asks to borrow Bloom's newspaper in Lotus
Eaters, and who receives what he thinks is a horse
racing tip from him, is either seen or mentioned in half a
dozen later chapters. His role in the novel is simple and
well-defined: to remind readers of the Gold Cup race. But the
character himself displays some strange ambiguities. Ithaca
calls him "Frederick M. (Bantam) Lyons," and Vivien
Igoe has identified a real Frederick M. Lyons who was alive in
1904, but that man's social status seems hard to square with
the fictional character. Another confusion arises from textual
prehistory. Bantam Lyons is mentioned in "The Boarding
House," one of the stories of Dubliners, and another
character with the same last name appears in a second story,
"Ivy Day in the Committee Room." Joyceans have traditionally
taken that second Lyons to be Bantam, but, again, the
characteristics of the two men seem very dissimilar.
Near the start of Lotus Eaters Charley M'Coy tells Bloom that he was just
now "down there in Conway's"
with Bob Doran "and what
do you call him Bantam Lyons." Near the chapter's end,
across the street from that pub, Lyons approaches Bloom asking
to inspect his newspaper for information about the Gold Cup
race and mistakenly infers that Bloom is urging him to bet on
Throwaway. Saying, "thanks" and "I'll risk it," he runs off.
In Lestrygonians he enters Davy Byrne's pub with Paddy
Leonard and Tom Rochford, and Leonard says that "He has some
bloody horse up his sleeve for the Gold cup. A dead snip."
Lyons is coy about the identity of the horse, but he points to
Bloom as the source of his information and says, "I'm going to
plunge five bob on my own." In Wandering Rocks Lenehan
says, "I knocked against Bantam Lyons in there going to back a
bloody horse someone gave him that hasn't an earthly." In Cyclops
he adds that he dissuaded him: "I met Bantam Lyons going to
back that horse only I put him off it and he told me Bloom
gave him the tip."
These four chapters cumulatively create the impression that Lyons spends his days frequenting pubs, racetracks, and betting offices. Lotus Eaters adds some unsavory details of personal hygiene and deportment. Bloom watches as Lyons' "yellow blacknailed fingers unrolled the baton. Wants a wash too. Take off the rough dirt. Good morning, have you used Pears' soap? Dandruff on his shoulders. Scalp wants oiling." His speech too is unkempt: "Is that today's? Show us a minute.... I want to see about that French horse that's running today... Where the bugger is it?" The narrative observes how his eyes "leer" weakly, and Bloom notes the "Silly lips of that chap." Lyons is clearly not a self-possessed individual or one who worries much about his appearance. M'Coy's "what do you call him" implies that he is the kind of hanger-on whose name one struggles to remember. Joyce critics have often called him a "punter"—Irish and English slang loosely applied to pub denizens, sports fans, placers of bets, frequenters of brothels, and other anonymous customers.
That image seems hard to square with the biographical details
supplied in Igoe's entry. She too calls him a "Punter" in her
title line, but the body of her note supplies no details
consistent with such an absence of occupation. Frederick M.
Lyons was born in 1858 to Martin Lyons and his wife Julia.
"His father was a commercial traveller who started his own
stationery business" catering to the legal profession. He had
a workshop at 16 Usher's Court and printing works at 6 Ormond
Quay, both conveniently close to the Four Courts. He took his
sons Frederick and James into the business, and those two men
ran "a stationer's shop at 56 Grafton Street, which dealt in
high-class writing paper." What are the odds that a
46-year-old businessman with a shop on Grafton Street would
spend his days trying to get rich at the track while
neglecting his appearance?
It is also hard to reconcile the images created by the two Dubliners
stories. In "The Boarding House," the landlady who is scheming
to coerce Bob Doran into marrying her daughter considers the
vulnerability of her prey: "She counted all her cards again
before sending Mary up to Mr Doran’s room to say that she
wished to speak with him. She felt sure she would win. He was
a serious young man, not rakish or loud-voiced like the
others. If it had been Mr Sheridan or Mr Meade or Bantam
Lyons her task would have been much harder." Ulysses
shows that she is right to despair of shaming Bantam Lyons. A
glance back at "The Boarding House" in Cyclops
suggests that he was not only rakish and loud-voiced but also
aware of the trap being set by Polly and Mrs. Mooney: "the
bumbailiff's daughter, mother kept a kip in Hardwicke street,
that used to be stravaging about the landings Bantam Lyons
told me that was stopping there at two in the morning
without a stitch on her, exposing her person, open to all
comers, fair field and no favour."
It is easy to imagine the Bantam Lyons of Mrs. Mooney's
estimation being the loud-mouthed source of scandal cited in Cyclops,
but much harder to identify him with the quiet and thoughtful
"Mr Lyons" of "Ivy Day." That man is, admittedly, a drinker.
When he enters the committee room after canvassing for votes,
he instantly notices the bottles of stout that have been
brought in: "Where did the boose come from?... Did
the cow calve?" Mr. O'Connor exclaims, "O, of course,
Lyons spots the drink first thing!" But as he sits talking, it
becomes clear that he is morally and politically principled
and maintains a fidelity to the memory of Parnell that others
have abandoned. The nationalist candidate that the men in the
room are working to elect has praised the king, and one of the
canvassers has secured the vote of a prominent Conservative.
Both things seem to trouble Lyons: "And what about the
address to the king?"
Parnell had urged his followers to shun the Prince of Wales
when he visited Ireland in 1885. Now, as that man prepares to
visit Ireland a second time as King Edward, Mr Henchy loudly
insists that a royal visit will bring money to Ireland.
Parnell is dead, he says, and the king isn't so bad: "Here’s
this chap come to the throne after his old mother keeping him
out of it till the man was grey. He’s a man of the world, and
he means well by us. He’s a jolly fine decent fellow, if you
ask me, and no damn nonsense about him. He just says to
himself: The old one never went to see these wild Irish.
By Christ, I’ll go myself and see what they’re like. And
are we going to insult the man when he comes over here on a
friendly visit?" Lyons, recalling Dirty Bertie's notoriously
dissolute escapades, replies "argumentatively" that "King
Edward's life, you know, is not the very..." Henchy
rudely interrupts him: "Let bygones be bygones... I admire the
man personally. He's just an ordinary knockabout like you and
me. He’s fond of his glass of grog and he’s a bit of a rake,
perhaps, and he’s a good sportsman. Damn it, can’t we Irish
Mr. Lyons persists: "That's all very fine... But look at the
case of Parnell now...we have our ideals. Why, now, would
we welcome a man like that? Do you think now after what he
did Parnell was a fit man to lead us? And why, then, would
we do it for Edward the Seventh?" He is referring to
Parnell's adulterous love affair with Katherine O'Shea, which
caused puritanical Catholics to desert him even though the
relationship was longstanding and essentially monogamous.
Albert Edward's offenses against conventional morality have
been far greater, but Mr. Henchy cannot see any reason to feel
outraged by the fat lecher: "where's the analogy between the
Albert Edward not only ate, drank, and fornicated out of all
measure. As both Nestor and Cyclops remind the
reader, this "good sportsman" also bet avidly on horse races.
Could Bantam Lyons, who shares that fondness for the horses,
be the same Lyons who says "we have our ideals" and who sets
himself against the king so strongly? Given the careful way in
which Joyce normally deploys details, it seems more likely
that he is inviting readers to draw a contrast. There is also
the fact that when we finally see Bantam Lyons inside a pub,
in Lestrygonians, he is ordering "a stone ginger."
Paddy Leonard expresses dismay and remarks that Lyons would
normally "suck whisky off a sore leg," so it is clear that he
is no teetotaler. But this is arguably a second way in which
Joyce distinguishes "Bantam Lyons" from the "Mr Lyons" who
spots the stout in the committee room.
Gifford, Slote, and many other Joyce critics assume that
Bantam Lyons is the Lyons of "Ivy Day"—an assumption that the
textual considerations sketched here would seem to challenge.
Were it not for the identifying information offered in Ithaca,
it would be tempting to suppose that Joyce created two
characters named Lyons, one based on the respectable owner of
a Grafton Street shop and the other a low-life "punter." But "Frederick
M. (Bantam) Lyons" (Slote oddly changes the middle
initial to "J."), by attaching both the biographical name and
the fictional nickname to a single person, makes that
hypothesis hard to entertain. If Bantam Lyons and Mr. Lyons
are in fact one person, they would seem to be so in somewhat
the way that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are.