Yeates and Son

Yeates and Son

In Brief

Having passed the entrance to Trinity College in Lestrygonians, Bloom continues south along the railings and crosses the street that runs along the southern edge of the campus: "He crossed at Nassau street corner and stood before the window of Yeates and Son." This optical shop sat on the busy corner of Nassau Street and Grafton Street––a prime location. Bloom stands looking through the windows, and the devices inside get him thinking about long-distance vision. He turns in the opposite direction, back toward Westmoreland Street, to perform a visual experiment, and then turns again toward the sun to perform another. These experiments lead him to consider an important astronomical principle.

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The 1904 Thom's directory notes that Yeates and Son, at 2 Grafton Street, were "opticians and mathematical instrument makers to the university and to the Dublin Port and Docks Board" (2044). Quoting from an advertisement in the 19 December 1911 issue of the Irish Times, Slote observes that the firm went as "far back as 1728" and sold "telescopes, marine glasses, race and opera glasses, lorgnettes, and the famous prismatic fieldglasses" (9). Field glasses were binoculars that enabled the viewing of distant outdoor objects. They normally lacked prisms, so the "famous prismatic" ones sold at Yeates and Son may have been of a new, advanced design sold by the German firm Goerz.

Bloom stands "pricing the fieldglasses" because his own pair have stopped working correctly: "Must get those old glasses of mine set right." He then faces back the way he has come and gazes toward the Bank of Ireland building on College Green and Westmoreland Street, a long city block to the north. In a gently comical moment, he strains to see something that cannot be seen even with binoculars:

There's a little watch up there on the roof of the bank to test those glasses by.
      His lids came down on the lower rims of his irides. Can't see it. If you imagine it's there you can almost see it. Can't see it.

Slote notes "a long-standing Dublin rumour that there was a small watch on the roof" of the bank, started "because some customers at Yeates and Son would test out spyglasses and binoculars by looking in the general direction of the Bank, which is 200 metres away, and a portion of which is in a direct line of sight (with thanks to Gerry O'Flaherty)." As the final photograph here shows, one corner of the bank building––its columned eastern portico––can indeed be seen from where Bloom is standing.

He follows his hopeless little sight experiment with a second one that seems just as silly, but this one succeeds and it leads him into some very productive thoughts. Turning around a second time, and "standing between the awnings," Bloom holds out "his right hand at arm's length" and finds that, just as he had hoped, "The tip of his little finger blotted out the sun's disk." This experiment returns him to the thoughts about parallax he began earlier in Lestrygonians, though he is not consciously aware of the principles by which it does so (rays crossing at a focus, and paired eyes seeing objects in slightly different places). Joyce takes his readers to the important concept of parallax by a series of incremental steps: first the Yeates shop window, then the binoculars sold inside, then a fairly distant object on the roof of the bank that binoculars might enable one to see, and finally the vast distances over which astronomers train their telescopes.

JH 2023
Trams on Nassau Street (Bloom crosses from Trinity on the left to Yeates & Son on the right) in a 1900 photograph by J. J. Clarke held in the National Library of Ireland. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Bloom's location (lower green dot), the path he has walked to get there (red dots), and the Bank of Ireland building (red at upper left), in the Lestrygonians Guide Map published by The James Joyce Center, Dublin.
1973 photograph by Michael S. Walker held in the National Library of Ireland, looking from the west end of Nassau Street toward the bank's eastern portico on Westmoreland Street. Source: