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Six Naked Old Women on a Running Machine: A Scrambled Chronicle of My Family Bondage. Front Cover. Peter Jalesh.
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They give as complete a portrait of him as we can now hope to possess.

Boeken van Peter Jalesh

His was a nature in which simplicity and complexity were very curiously contrasted, and it would need all his own power of fusing innumerable details into coherency to create a picture that would seem sufficient to those who knew him. Yet even his letters, varied as they are, give full expression to one side of his life only, the side that he shewed to the world he lived in and loved. After all the prodigal display of mind that is given in these volumes, the free outpouring of curiosity and sympathy and power, a close reader must still be left with the sense that something, the most essential and revealing strain, is little more than suggested here and there.

The daily drama of his work, with all the comfort and joy it brought him, does not very often appear as more than an undertone to the conversation of the letters. It was like a mystery to which he was dedicated, but of which he shrank from speaking quite openly. Much as he always delighted in sociable communion, citizen of the world, child of urbanity as he was, all his friends must have felt that at heart he lived in solitude and that few were ever admitted into the inner shrine of his labour. There it was nevertheless that he lived most intensely and most serenely.

In outward matters he was constantly haunted by anxiety and never looked forward with confidence; he was of those to whom the future is always ominous, who dread the treachery of apparent calm even more than actual ill weather. It was very different in the presence of his work. There he never knew the least failure of assurance; he threw his full weight on the belief that supported him and it was never shaken.

That belief was in the sanctity and sufficiency of the life of art. It was a conviction that needed no reasoning, and he accepted it without question. It was absolute for him that the work of the imagination was the highest and most honourable calling conceivable, being indeed nothing less than the actual creation of life out of the void. He did not scruple to claim that except through art there is no life that can be known or appraised. It is the artist who takes over the deed, so called, from the doer, to give it back again in the form in which it can be seen and measured for the first time; without the brain that is able to close round the loose unappropriated fact and render all its aspects, the fact itself does not exist for us.

This was the standard below which Henry James would never allow the conception of his office to drop, and he had the reward of complete exemption from any chill of misgiving. His life as a creator of art, alone with his work, was one of unclouded happiness. It might be hampered and hindered by external accidents, but none of them could touch the real core of his security, which was his faith in his vocation and his knowledge of his genius.

These certainties remained with him always, and he would never trifle with them in any mood. His impatience with argument on the whole aesthetic claim was equally great, whether it was argument in defence of the sanctuary or in profanation of it. Silence, seclusion, concentration, he held to be the only fitting answer for an artist. He disliked the idea that the service of art should be questioned and debated in the open, still more to see it organised and paraded and publicly celebrated, as though the world could do it any acceptable honour.

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He had as little in common with those who would use the artistic profession to persuade and proselytise as with those who would brandish it defiantly in the face of the vulgar. Thus it is that he is seldom to be heard giving voice to the matters which most deeply occupied him. He preferred to dwell with them apart and to leave them behind when he emerged. Sometimes he would drop a word that shewed what was passing beneath; sometimes, on a particular challenge, or to one in whom he felt an understanding sympathy, he would speak out with impressive authority.

There his natural kindliness and his keen dramatic interest were both satisfied at once. He enjoyed friendship, his letters shew how freely and expansively; and with his steady and vigilant eye he watched the play of character.

He was insatiable for anything that others could give him from their personal lives. Whatever he could seize in this way was food for his own ruminating fancy; he welcomed any grain of reality, any speck of significance round which his imagination could pile its rings. It was very noticeable how promptly and eagerly he would reach out to such things, as they floated by in talk; it was as though he feared to leave them to inexpert hands and felt that other people could hardly be trusted with their own experience.

He remembered how much of his time he had spent in exploring their consciousness when he spoke of himself as a confirmed spectator, one who looked on from the brink instead of plunging on his own account; but if this seemed a pale substitute for direct contact he knew very well that it was a much richer and more adventurous life, really, than it is given to most people to lead. There is no life to the man who does not feel it, no adventure to the man who cannot see the whole of it; the greatest share goes to the man who can taste it most fully, however it reaches him. Henry James might sometimes look back, as he certainly did, with a touch of ruefulness in reflecting on all the experience he had only enjoyed at second hand; but he could never doubt that what he had he possessed much more truly than any of those from whom he had taken it.

There was no hour in which he was not alive with the whole of his sensibility; he could scarcely persuade himself that he might have had time for more. And indeed at other moments he would admit that he had lived in the way that was at any rate the right way for him. These letters, then, while they shew at every point the abundant life he led in his surroundings, have to be read with the remembrance that the central fact of all, the fact that gave everything else its meaning to himself, is that of which least is told.

The gap, moreover, cannot be filled from other sources; he seems to have taken pains to leave nothing behind him that should reveal this privacy. He put forth his finished work to speak for itself and swept away all the traces of its origin. There was a high pride in his complete lack of tenderness towards the evidence of past labour — the notes, manuscripts, memoranda that a man of letters usually accumulates and that shew him in the company of his work. It is only to the stroke of chance which left two of his novels unfinished that we owe the outspoken colloquies with himself, since published, over the germination of those stories — a door of entry into the presence of his imagination that would have been summarily closed if he had lived to carry out his plan.

And though in the prefaces to the collected edition of his works we have what is perhaps the most comprehensive statement ever made of the life of art, a biographia literaria without parallel for fulness and elaboration, he was there dealing with his books in retrospect, as a critic from without, analysing and reconstructing his own creations; or if he went further than this, and touched on the actual circumstances of their production, it was because these had for him the charm of an old romance, remote enough to be recalled without indiscretion.

So it is that while in a sense he was the most personal of writers — for he could not put three words together without marking them as his own and giving them the very ring of his voice — yet, compared with other such deliberate craftsmen as Stevenson or Gustave Flaubert, he baffles and evades curiosity about the private affairs of his work. If curiosity were merely futile it would be fitting to suppress the chance relic I shall offer in a moment — for it so happens that a single glimpse of unique clarity is open to us, revealing him as no one saw him in his life.

But the attempt to picture the mind of an artist is only an intrusion if it is carried into trivial and inessential things; it can never be pushed too far, as Henry James would have been the first to maintain, into a real sharing of his aesthetic life. The relic in question consists of certain pencilled pages, found among his papers, in which he speaks with only himself for listener.

They belong to the same order as the notes for the unfinished novels, but they are even more informal and confidential. Nothing else of the kind seems to have survived; the schemes and motives that must have swarmed in his brain, far too numerously for notation, have all vanished but this one. At Rye, some years before the end, he began one night to feel his way towards a novel which he had in mind — a subject afterwards abandoned in the form projected at first.

The rough notes in which he casts about to clear the ground are mostly filled with the mere details of his plan — the division of the action, the characters required, a tentative scenario. These I pass over in order to quote some passages where he suddenly breaks away, leaves his imaginary scene, and surrenders to the awe and wonder of finding himself again, where he has so often stood before, on the threshold and brink of creation.

It is as though for once, at an hour of midnight silence and solitude, he opened the innermost chamber of his mind and stood face to face with his genius. There is no moment of all his days in which it is now possible to approach him more closely. Such a moment represented to himself the pith of life — the first tremor of inspiration, in which he might be almost afraid to stir or breathe, for fear of breaking the spell, if it were not that he goes to meet it with a peculiar confidence.

I take this up again after an interruption — I in fact throw myself upon it under the secousse of its being brought home to me even more than I expected that my urgent material reasons for getting settled at productive work again are of the very most imperative. Infinitely interesting — and yet somehow with a beautiful sharp poignancy in it that makes it strange and rather exquisitely formidable, as with an unspeakable deep agitation, the whole artistic question that comes up for me in the train of this idea.

I mean I come back, I come back yet again and again, to my only seeing it in the dramatic way — as I can only see everything and anything now; the way that filled my mind and floated and uplifted me when a fortnight ago I gave my few indications to X. Momentary side-winds — things of no real authority — break in every now and then to put their inferior little questions to me; but I come back, I come back, as I say, I all throbbingly and yearningly and passionately, oh mon bon, come back to this way that is clearly the only one in which I can do anything now, and that will open out to me more and more, and that has overwhelming reasons pleading all beautifully in its breast.

Causons, causons, mon bon — oh celestial, soothing, sanctifying process, with all the high sane forces of the sacred time fighting, through it, on my side! Let me fumble it gently and patiently out — with fever and fidget laid to rest — as in all the old enchanted months!

It only looms, it only shines and shimmers, too beautiful and too interesting; it only hangs there too rich and too full and with too much to give and to pay; it only presents itself too admirably and too vividly, too straight and square and vivid, as a little organic and effective Action.

Thus just these first little wavings of the oh so tremulously passionate little old wand now! The good days of last August and even my broken September and my better October come back to me with their gage of divine possibilities, and I welcome these to my arms, I press them with unutterable tenderness. I seem to emerge from these recent bad days — the fruit of blind accident — and the prospect clears and flushes, and my poor blest old Genius pats me so admirably and lovingly on the back that I turn, I screw round, and bend my lips to passionately, in my gratitude, kiss its hands.

To the exaltation of this wonderful unbosoming he had been brought by fifty years of devout and untiring service. Where so little is heard of it all, the amount of patience and energy that he had consecrated to it might easily be mistaken. His immense industry all through his crowded London years passes almost unnoticed, so little it seems to conflict with this life in the world, his share in which, with the close friendships he formed and the innumerable relations he cultivated, could have been no fuller if he had had nothing to do but to amuse himself with the spectacle.

In one way, however, it is possible to divine how heavily the weight of his work pressed on him. The change that divides the general tone and accent of his younger and middle age from that of his later years is too striking to be overlooked. The impression is unmistakeable that for a long while, indeed until he was almost an old man, he felt the constant need of husbanding and economising his resources; so that except to those who knew him intimately he was apt to seem a little cold and cautious, hesitating to commit himself freely or to allow promiscuous claims.

Later on all this was very different. There were certain habits of reserve, perhaps, that he never threw off; all his friends remember, for example, how carefully he distinguished the different angles of his affection, so to call them — adjusting his various relations as though in fear lest they should cross each other and form an embarrassing complexity. Yet any scruples or precautions of this sort that still hung about him only enhanced the large and genial authority of his presence. There seemed to have come a time when after long preparation and cogitation he was able to relax and to enjoy the fruit of his labour.

Not indeed that his labour was over; it never was that, while strength lasted; but he gave the effect of feeling himself to be at length completely the master of his situation, at ease and at home in his world. The new note is very perceptible in the letters, which broaden out with opulent vigour as time goes on, reaching their best comparatively late. That at last he felt at home was doubtless indeed the literal truth, and it was enough to account for this ample liberation of spirit. His decision to settle in Europe, the great step of his life, was inevitable, though it was not taken without long reflection; but it was none the less a decision for which he had to pay heavily, as he was himself very well aware.

If he regarded his own part as that of an onlooker, the sense in which he understood observation was to the highest degree exacting. He watched indeed, but he watched with every faculty, and he intended that every thread of intelligence he could throw out to seize the truth of the old historic world should be as strong as instruction, study, general indoctrination could make it.

It would be useless for him to live where the human drama most attracted him unless he could grasp it with an assured hand; and he could never do this if he was to remain a stranger and a sojourner, merely feeding on the picturesque surface of appearances. To justify his expatriation he must work his own life completely into the texture of his new surroundings, and the story of his middle years is to be read as the most patient and laborious of attempts to do so. Its extraordinary success need hardly be insisted on; its failure, necessary and foredoomed, from certain points of view, is perhaps not less obvious.

But the great fact of interest is the sight of him taking up the task with eyes, it is needless to say, fully open to all its demands, and never resting until he could be certain of having achieved all that was possible. So long as he was in the thick of it, the task occupied the whole of his attention. He took it with full seriousness; there never was a scholar more immersed in research than was Henry James in the study of his chosen world. There were times indeed when he might be thought to take it even more seriously than the case required.

The world is not used to such deference from a rare critical talent, and it certainly has much less respect for its own standards than Henry James had, or seemed to have. His respect was of course very freely mingled with irony, and yet it would be rash to say that his irony preponderated. He probably felt that this, in his condition, was a luxury which he could only afford within limits. He could never forget that he had somehow to make up to himself for arriving as an alien from a totally different social climate; for his own satisfaction he had to wake and toil while others slept, keeping his ever-ready and rebellious criticism for an occasional hour of relief.

The world with which he thus sought to identify himself was a small affair, by most of our measurements. It was a circle of sensibilities that it might be easy to dismiss as hypertrophied and over-civilised, too deeply smothered in the veils of artificial life to repay so much patient attention. Yet the little world of urbane leisure satisfied him because he found a livelier interest, always, in the results and effects and implications of things than in the groundwork itself; so that the field of study he desired was that in which initial forces had travelled furthest from their prime, passing step by step from their origin to the level where, diffused and transformed, they were still just discernible to acute perception.

It is not through any shy timidity that so often in his books he requires us to infer the presence of naked emotion from the faintest stirrings of an all but unruffled surface; it is because these monitory signals, transmitted from so far, tell a story that would be weakened by a directer method. The tiny movement that is the last expression of an act or a fact carries within it the history of all it has passed through on the way — a treasure of interest that the act, the fact in itself, had not possessed.

And so in the social scene, wherever its crude beginnings have been left furthest behind, wherever its forms have been most rubbed and toned by the hands of succeeding generations, there he found, not an obliteration of sharp character, but a positive enhancement of it, with the whole of its past crowded into its bosom. The kind of life, therefore, that might have been thought too trifling to bear the weight of his grave and powerful scrutiny was exactly the life that he pursued for its expressive value. He clung to civilisation, he was faithful throughout to a few yards of town-pavement, not because he was scared by the rough freedom of the wild, but rather because he was impatient of its insipidity.

He is very often to be heard crying out against the tyrannous claims of his world, when they interfere with his work, his leisure, his health; but at the moment of greatest revulsion he never suggests that the claims may be fraudulent after all, or that this small corner of modernity is not the best and most fruitful that the age has to shew.

It must be a matter of pride to an English reader that this corner happened to be found among ourselves. Henry James came to London, however, more by a process of exhaustion than by deliberate choice, and plenty of chastening considerations for a Londoner will appear in his letters. If he elected to live among thick English wits rather than in any nimbler atmosphere, it was at first largely because English ways and manners lay more open to an explorer than the closer, compacter societies of the mainland.

Gradually, as we know well, his affection was kindled into devoted loyalty. It remained true, none the less, that with much that is common ground among educated people of our time and place he was never really in touch. One has only to think of the part played, in the England he frequented, by school and college, by country-homes, by church and politics and professions, to understand how much of the ordinary consciousness was closed to him. Yet it is impossible to say that these limitations were imposed on him only because he was a stranger among strangers; they belonged to the conditions of his being from much further back.

They were implied in his queer unanchored youth, in which he and his greatly gifted family had been able to grow in the free exercise of their talents without any of the foundations of settled life. His ripe wisdom and culture seemed to have been able to dispense entirely with the mere training that most people require before they can feel secure in their critical outlook and sense of proportion.

There could be no better proof of the fact that imagination, if only there is enough of it, will do the work of all the other faculties unaided. Whatever were the gaps in his knowledge — knowledge of life generally, and of the life of the mind in particular — his imagination covered them all.

And so it was that without ever acquiring a thousand things that go to the making of a full experience and a sound taste, he yet enjoyed and possessed everything that it was in them to give. His taste, indeed, his judgment of quality, seems to have been bestowed upon him in its essentials like a gift of nature. From the very first he was sure of his taste and could account for it.

His earliest writing shews, if anything, too large a portion of tact and composure; a critic might have said that such a perfect control of his means was not the most hopeful sign in a young author. Henry James reversed the usual procedure of a beginner, keeping warily to matter well within his power of management — and this is observable too in his early letters — until he was ready to deal with matter more robust.

In his instinct for perfection he never went wrong — never floundered into raw enthusiasms, never lost his way, never had painfully to recover himself; he travelled steadily forward with no need of guidance, enriching himself with new impressions and wasting none of them. He accepted nothing that did not minister in some way to the use of his gifts; whatever struck him as impossible to assimilate to these he passed by without a glance. He could not be tempted by any interest unrelated to the central line of his work. He had enough even so, he felt, to occupy a dozen lives, and he grudged every moment that did not leave its deposit of stuff appropriate to his purpose.

The play of his thought was so ample and ardent that it disguised his resolute concentration; he responded so lavishly and to so much that he seemed ready to take up and transform and adorn whatever was offered him. But this in truth was far from the fact, and by shifting the recollection one may see the impatient gesture with which he would sweep aside the distraction that made no appeal to him. It was natural that he should care nothing for any abstract speculation or inquiry; he was an artist throughout, desiring only the refracted light of human imperfection, never the purity of colourless reason.

More surprising was his refusal, for it was almost that, of the appeal of music — and not wordless music only, but even the song and melody of poetry. It cannot be by accident that poetry scarcely appears at all in such a picture of a literary life as is given by his letters. The purely lyrical ear seems to have been strangely sealed in him — he often declared as much himself. And poetry in general, though he could be deeply stirred by it, he inclined to put away from him, perhaps for the very reason that it meant too forcible a deflection from the right line of his energy.

All this careful gathering up of his powers, in any case, this determined deafness to irrelevant voices, gave a commanding warrant to the critical panoply of his later life. His certainty and consistency, his principle, his intellectual integrity — by all these the pitch of his opinions, wherever he delivered them, reached a height that was unforgettably impressive.

They will remember how much of his life was lived in his relations with his countless friends, and how generously he poured out his best for them. But if, as I have suggested, much of his mind appears fitfully and obscurely in his letters, this side is fully irradiated from first to last. Never, surely, has any circle of friendship received so magnificent a tribute of expressed affection and sympathy.

It was lavished from day to day, and all the resources of his art were drawn upon to present it with due honour. As time goes on a kind of personal splendour shines through the correspondence, which only becomes more natural, more direct a communication of himself, as it is uttered with increasing mastery.

The familiar form of the letter was changed under his hand into what may really be called a new province of art, a revelation of possibilities hitherto unexplored. Perfect in expression as they are, these letters are true extemporisations, thrown off always at great speed, as though with a single sweep of the hand, for all their richness of texture and roundness of phrase.

But the greater wonder is that this liberal gesture never became mechanical, never a fixed manner displayed for any and all alike, without regard to the particular mind addressed. Not for a moment does he forget to whom he is speaking; he writes in the thought of his correspondent, always perceptibly turning to that relation, singled out for the time from all the rest. Each received of his best, but some peculiar, inalienable share in it.

One difference indeed is immediately to be marked. His pondering hesitation as he talked, his search over the whole field of expression for the word that should do justice to the picture forming in his mind — this gives place in the letters to a flow unchecked, one sonorous phrase uncoiling itself after another without effort.

Peter Jalesh

Pen in hand, or, as he finally preferred, dictating to his secretary, it was apparently easier for him to seize upon the images he sought to detach, one by one, from the clinging and populous background of his mind. In conversation the effort seemed to be greater, and save in rare moments of exceptional fervour — no one who heard him will forget how these recurred more and more in the last year of his life, under the deep excitement of the war — he liked to take his time in working out his thought with due deliberation.

But apart from this, the letters exactly reflect the colour and contour of his talk — his grandiose courtesy, his luxuriant phraseology, his relish for some extravagantly colloquial turn embedded in a Ciceronian period, his humour at once so majestic and so burly. Intercourse with him was not quite easy, perhaps; his style was too hieratic, too richly adorned and arrayed for that. But it was enough to surrender simply to the current of his thought; the listener felt himself gathered up and cared for — felt that Henry James assumed all the responsibility and would deal with the occasion in his own way.

That way was never to give a mere impersonal display of his own, but to create and develop a reciprocal relation, to both sides of which he was more than capable of doing the fullest justice. No words seem satisfactory in describing the dominance he exerted over any scene in which he figured — yet exerted by no over-riding or ignoring of the presence of others, rather with the quickest, most apprehending susceptibility to it.

But better than by any description is this memory imparted by the eloquent roll and ring of his letters. He grew old in the honour of a wide circle of friends of all ages, and of a public which, if small, was deeply devoted. He stood so completely outside the evolution of English literature that his position was special and unrelated, but it was a position at last unanimously acknowledged.

Signs of the admiration and respect felt for him by all who held the belief in the art of letters, even by those whose line of development most diverged from his — these he unaffectedly enjoyed, and many came to him. None the less he knew very well that in all he most cared for, in what was to him the heart and essence of life, he was solitary to the end. However much his work might be applauded, the spirit of rapt and fervent faith in which it was conceived was a hermitage, so he undoubtedly felt, that no one else had perceived or divined.

His story of the Figure in the Carpet was told of himself; no one brought him what he could accept as true and final comprehension. He could never therefore feel that he had reached a time when his work was finished and behind him. Old age only meant an imagination more crowded than ever, a denser throng of shapes straining to be released before it was too late. He bitterly resented the hindrances of ill-health, during some of his last years, as an interruption, a curtailment of the span of his activity; there were so many and so far better books that he still wished to write.

His interest in life, growing rather than weakening, clashed against the artificial restraints, as they seemed, of physical age; whenever these were relaxed, it leaped forward to work again. The challenge of the war with Germany roused him to a height of passion he had never touched before in the outer world; and if the strain of it exhausted his strength, as well it might, it gave him one last year of the fullest and deepest experience, perhaps, that he had ever known.

It wore out his body, which was too tired and spent to live longer; but he carried away the power of his spirit still in its prime. Bruce Porter, for much valuable help. Porter undertook the collecting and copying of all the letters addressed to correspondents in America; and it is owing to her that the completion of these volumes, inevitably hindered by the war, has not been further delayed. It will be remembered that the third volume, The Middle Years , of which only a fragment was written, opens with his arrival in England in February ; and the first letter here printed is dated from London a few days later.

For convenience, therefore, a brief summary may be given of the course of his early years. He was the second child of his parents, the elder by a year being his brother William. Their father Henry James the elder, was a man whose striking genius has never received full justice except at the hands of his illustrious sons, though from them with profound and affectionate admiration. He was the most brilliant of a remarkable group of many brothers and sisters, whose portraits, or some of them, are sketched in A Small Boy and Others.

Originally of Irish descent, the James family had been settled for a couple of generations in the State of New York, and in particular at Albany. The founder of the American branch had been a prosperous man of business, whose successful career left him in a position to bequeath to his numerous descendants a fortune large enough to enable them all to live in complete independence of the commercial world. To his brothers and their extensive progeny he was a trusted and untiring moral support of a kind that many of them distinctly needed; the bereavements of the family were many, their misfortunes various, and his genial charity and good faith were an inexhaustible resource.

His wife was Mary Walsh. She too belonged to a substantial New York family, of Scotch origin, several members of which are commemorated in A Small Boy. The second Henry James has left so full and vivid a portrait of his father that it is unnecessary to dwell on the happy influences under which the family passed their youth. It is natural to speak of the father as a Swedenborgian, for the writings of Swedenborg had been the chief source of his inspiration and supplied the tincture of his thought.

He did not, however, himself admit this description of his point of view, which indeed was original and unconventional to the last degree. His recollections of childhood began, surprisingly enough, when he was little more than a year old. His earliest American memories were of Albany; but the family were soon established in Fourteenth Street, New York, which was their home for some ten years, a settlement only broken by family visits and summer weeks by the sea.

To Henry at least their schooling meant nothing whatever but the opportunity of conducting his own education in his own way, and he made the utmost of the easy freedom they enjoyed. In the whole household migrated to Europe for a visit of three years. All this time was one long draught of romance; though indeed as an initiation into the ways of French and English life it could hardly have been a more incoherent enterprise.

True to his law, the head of the household planted the young family in one place only to sweep them away as soon as they might begin to form associations there. But Geneva was abandoned before the end of the year, and the family settled in London for the winter, at first in Berkeley Street, afterwards in St. For any real contact with the place, this was a blank interlude; the tuition of a young Scotchman, later one of R. By the middle of they were in Paris, and here they were able to use their opportunities a little more fully.

But there was more for them to learn at the Louvre and the Luxembourg, and it was to this time that Henry James afterwards ascribed his first conscious perception of what might be meant by the life of art. In the course of the two following years they twice spent some months at Boulogne-sur-mer, returning each time to Paris again.

During the second visit to Boulogne Henry was laid low by the very serious attack of typhus that descends on the last page of A Small Boy. In the family was rushed back to America for a year at Newport; but they were once more at Geneva for the winter of Needless to say it did not last long. In the following summer the three elder boys were sent as private pupils to the houses of certain professors at Bonn.

Henry alone of them, by his account, felt that their proceedings needed a great deal of explanation. The new experiment, as short-lived as all the rest, was entered upon with ardour, and the family was re-established at Newport in the autumn of The distinguished master, William Hunt, had his studio there; and for a time Henry himself haunted it tentatively, while his brother was working with a zeal that was soon spent.

If we may trust his own report, Henry James had reached the age of seventeen with a curiously vague understanding of his own talent. But if he was not quite the indeterminate brooder he depicts, he was far from rivalling the unusual precocity and decision of his brothers, and he was only now beginning to take real stock of his gifts. He had been provided with almost none of the sort of training by which he might have profited; and it is not to be supposed that his always indulgent parent would have neglected the taste of a literary son if it had shewn itself distinctly.

He had been left to discover his line of progress as best he might, and his advance towards literature was slow and shy. Yet it would seem that by this time he must have made up his mind more definitely than he suggests in recalling the Newport years. The side-light I mentioned is thrown by some interesting notes sent me by Mr. Thomas Sergeant Perry, who made the acquaintance of the family at Newport and was to remain their lifelong friend.

His description shews that Henry James had now his own ambitions, even if he preferred to nurse them unobtrusively. The first time I saw the James boys writes Mr. This year of their life is not recorded by H. Duncan Pell, who knew Mr. James the father, told his son and me that we ought to call on the boys; and we did, but they were out.

A day or two later we called again and found them in. I have often thought that the three brothers shewed that evening some of their characteristic qualities.

Peter Jalesh (Author of Princess TV)

I remember walking with Wilky hanging on my arm, talking to me as if he had found an old friend after long absence. When we got to the house and the rest of us were chattering, H. William was full of merriment and we were soon playing a simple and childish game. Very soon afterwards H. Browning, that she had married R.

It was at that time that we began to take long walks together almost every afternoon along the Cliffs, over the beaches to the Paradise Rocks, to the Point, or inland, wherever it might be. A thousand scrappy recollections of the strolls still remain, fragments of talk, visions of the place. At another time, he fell under the influence of Ruskin; he devoted himself to the conscientious copying of a leaf and very faithfully drew a little rock that jutted above the surface of the Lily Pond.

His chief interest was literature. We read the English magazines and reviews and the Revue des Deux Mondes with rapture. We fished in various waters, and I well remember when W. Like Shakespeare he had less Greek. The departure of the James family to Geneva in October was a grievous blow. They returned, however, with characteristic suddenness the next September and came at once to Newport.

During their stay abroad H. After his return to America in , the question what he should do with his life became more urgent. Of course it was in literature that he took the greatest interest. Exactly what they were I do not recall, though I read them with an even intenser interest than I did the original text.

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He was continually writing stories, mainly of a romantic kind. The heroes were for the most part villains, but they were white lambs by the side of the sophisticated heroines, who seemed to have read all Balzac in the cradle and to be positively dripping with lurid crimes. He began with these extravagant pictures of course in adoration of the great master whom he always so warmly admired.

They were too keen critics, too sharp-witted, to be allowed to handle every essay of this budding talent. Their judgments would have been too true, their comments would have been too merciless; and hence, for sheer self-preservation, he hid a good part of his work from them. Not that they were cruel, far from it.

Their frequent solitude in foreign parts, where they had no familiar companions, had welded them together in a way that would have been impossible in America, where each would have had separate distractions of his own. Their loneliness forced them to grow together most harmoniously, but their long exercise in literary criticism would have made them possibly merciless judges of H. The following anecdote will shew what I mean. There was no limit to it. There were always books to tell about and laugh over, or to admire, and there was an abundance of good talk with no shadow of pedantry or priggishness.

If they had been, he still would have had but little chance in a conflict of wits with them, on account of his slow speech, his halting choice of words and phrases; but as a companion in our walks he was delightful. He had plenty of humour, as his books shew, and above all he had a most affectionate heart. No one ever had more certain and more unobtrusive kindness than he. He had a certain air of aloofness, but he was not indifferent to those who had no claim upon him, and to his friends he was most tenderly devoted.

Those who knew him will not need to be assured of that. The Civil War, which presently broke upon the leisurely life of Newport, went deep into the mind and character of Henry James; but his part in it could only be that of an onlooker, for about this time an accidental strain developed results that gave him many years of uncertain health. He had to live much in the experience of his brothers, which he eagerly did. The two youngest fought in the war, Wilky receiving a grave wound of which he carried the mark for the rest of his life — he died in Henry went to Harvard in , where William, no longer a painter but a man of science, had preceded him the year before.

By the beginning of the rest of the family had settled in Boston, at Ashburton Place, whence they finally moved out to Cambridge in This was the end of their wanderings. But the long connection with New England never superseded, for Henry at least, the native tie with New York, and he was gratified when his name was at last carried back there again, many years afterwards, by another generation. In Boston and Cambridge Henry James at length touched a purely literary circle.

The beginning of such fruitful friendships as those with Professor C. Howells meant his open and professed dedication to literature. The Harvard Law School left as little direct impression on him as any of his other exposures to ordinary teaching, but at last he had finished with these makeshifts. His new friends helped him into his proper channel. Under their auspices he made his way into publication and became a regular contributor of criticism and fiction to several journals and reviews.

There followed some very uneventful and industrious years, disturbed to some extent by ill-health but broken by no long absences from Cambridge. His constant companion and literary confidant was Mr. It included not only what he was doing and thinking himself in fiction, and criticism of whatever he was reading, but what other people were trying to do in our American magazines. It is not very clear why the satisfaction of his wish was delayed for as long as it was.

His doubtful health can hardly have amounted to a hindrance, and the authority of his parents was far too light and sympathetic to stand in his way. From this point the letters speak for themselves, and only the slenderest commentary is required. He went first to London, where the hospitable Nortons had been installed on a visit for some while.

These good friends opened the way to many interesting impressions for him, but he was only briefly in London at this time. After a tour which included Oxford and Cambridge and several English cathedrals, he had a few weeks more of London, and then passed on to Switzerland. He left them in July for a small Swiss tour before making the great adventure of crossing the Alps for the first time. By Venice and Florence he reached Rome in November.

He gave himself up there to rapturous and solitary wanderings: After a year of Europe his hunger for the old world was greater than ever, but he had no present thought of settling there permanently. But the memory of Italy had fatally shaken his rest, and there began a long and anxious struggle with his sense of duty to his native land.

Still with his sister and aunt he wandered for three months in Switzerland, North Italy and Bavaria, settling upon Paris, now alone, for the autumn. It was here that he began his intimacy with J. He declares that he saw no one else in Paris — his mind was firmly set upon Italy. To Rome he went for the first six months of , where he was now at home enough among ancient solitudes to have time and thought for social novelty. Thirty years later, in his life of William Wetmore Story, he revived the American world of what was still a barely modernised Rome, the world into which he was plunged by acquaintance with the sculptor and his circle.

Now and thenceforward it was not so much the matter for sketches of travel that he was collecting as it was the matter for the greater part of his best-known fiction. The American in Europe was to be his own subject, and he began to make it so. The summer months were mainly spent at Homburg, which was also to leave its mark on several of his tales. His elder brother joined him when he returned to Rome, but William contracted a malaria, and they moved to Florence early in Here Henry was soon left alone, in rooms on Piazza Sta.

Maria Novella, for some months of close and happy concentration on Roderick Hudson. The novel had already been engaged by Mr. He had arrived at it by wary stages; of the large amount of work behind him, though much of it was of slight value, nothing had been wasted; every page of his writing had been in the direct line towards the perfect literary manners of his matured skill.

But hitherto he had written experimentally and to occasion; he was now an established novelist in his own right. But it happens that at this point there is an almost empty gap of a year and more in his surviving correspondence, and it is not possible to follow him closely. He disappears with the still agitating question upon his hands — where was he to live? The steps are lost by which the doubt was determined in the course of another year at home. It is only certain that when he next came to Europe, twelve months later, it had been quieted for ever.

Lazarus Fox, are described, it will be remembered, in The Middle Years. He had arrived in London from America a few days before the date of the following letter to his sister. Professor Charles Norton, with his wife and sisters, was living at this time in Kensington. I have half an hour before dinner-time: I actually believe that this feeling is owing to the singular permanence of the impressions of childhood, to which any present experience joins itself on, without a broken link in the chain of sensation.

Nevertheless, I may say that up to this time I have been crushed under a sense of the mere magnitude of London — its inconceivable immensity — in such a way as to paralyse my mind for any appreciation of details. This is gradually subsiding; but what does it leave behind it?

An extraordinary intellectual depression, as I may say, and an indefinable flatness of mind. The place sits on you, broods on you, stamps on you with the feet of its myriad bipeds and quadrupeds. In fine, it is anything but a cheerful or a charming city. Yet it is a very splendid one. It gives you here at the west end, and in the city proper, a vast impression of opulence and prosperity. On Saturday I received a visit from Mr. Leslie Stephen blessed man who came unsolicited with the utmost civility in the world and invited me to dine with him the next day.

This I did, in company with Miss Jane Norton. His wife made me very welcome and they both appear to much better effect in their own premises than they did in America. In the evening I dined with the invaluable Nortons and went with Chas. I enjoyed it much in spite of fatigue; but as I am to meet him some day through the Nortons, I shall reserve comments.

On Wednesday evening I dined at the N. I exchanged but ten words with her. But yesterday, my dear old sister, was my crowning day — seeing as how I spent the greater part of it in the house of Mr. Fitly to tell the tale, I should need a fresh pen, paper and spirits. A few hints must suffice.

To begin with, I breakfasted, by way of a change, with the Nortons, along with Mr. Sam Ward, who has just arrived, and Mr. Aubrey de Vere, tu sais , the Catholic poet, a pleasant honest old man and very much less high-flown than his name. He tells good stories in a light natural way. To begin with, he is a manufacturer of stained glass windows, tiles, ecclesiastical and medieval tapestry, altar-cloths, and in fine everything quaint, archaic, pre-Raphaelite — and I may add, exquisite.

Of course his business is small and may be carried on in his house: But everything he has and does is superb and beautiful. But more curious than anything is himself. He designs with his own head and hands all the figures and patterns used in his glass and tapestry, and furthermore works the latter, stitch by stitch, with his own fingers — aided by those of his wife and little girls. In either case she is a wonder. After dinner we stayed to dinner, Miss Grace, Miss S. There was something very quaint and remote from our actual life, it seemed to me, in the whole scene: Morris himself is extremely pleasant and quite different from his wife.

He impressed me most agreeably. He is short, burly, corpulent, very careless and unfinished in his dress, and looks a little like B. Hosmer, if you can imagine B. He has a very loud voice and a nervous restless manner and a perfectly unaffected and business-like address. His talk indeed is wonderfully to the point and remarkable for clear good sense.

He said no one thing that I remember, but I was struck with the very good judgment shown in everything he uttered. All his designs are quite as good or rather nearly so as his poetry: A few general reflections, a burst of affection say another sheet , and I must close. During the last week I have been knocking about in a quiet way and have deeply enjoyed my little adventures. The last few days in particular have been extremely pleasant. You have perhaps fancied that I have been rather stingy-minded towards this wondrous England, and that I was [not] taking things in quite the magnanimous intellectual manner that befits a youth of my birth and breeding.

The truth is that the face of things here throws a sensitive American back on himself — back on his prejudices and national passions, and benumbs for a while the faculty of appreciation and the sense of justice. But with time, if he is worth a copper, the characteristic beauty of the land dawns upon him just as certain vicious chilblains are now dawning upon my poor feet and he feels that he would fain plant his restless feet into the rich old soil and absorb the burden of the misty air. If I were in anything like working order now, I should be very sorry to leave England.

I should like to settle down for a year and expose my body to the English climate and my mind to English institutions. But a truce to this cheap discursive stuff. I date the moment from which my mind rose erect in impartial might to a little sail I took on the Thames the other day in one of the little penny steamers which shoot along its dirty bosom.

It was a grey, raw English day, and the banks of the river, as far as I went, hideous. Nevertheless I enjoyed it. It was too cold to go up to Greenwich. The weather, by the way, since my arrival has been horribly damp and bleak, and no more like spring than in a Boston January. This too was extremely pleasant. Ruskin himself is a very simple matter. In face, in manner, in talk, in mind, he is weakness pure and simple. I use the word, not invidiously, but scientifically. He has the beauties of his defects; but to see him only confirms the impression given by his writing, that he has been scared back by the grim face of reality into the world of unreason and illusion, and that he wanders there without a compass and a guide — or any light save the fitful flashes of his beautiful genius.

But I confess, cold-blooded villain that I am, that what I most enjoyed was a portrait by Titian — an old doge, a work of transcendent beauty and elegance, such as to give one a new sense of the meaning of art. But, dearest mammy, I must pull up. Pile in scraps of news. Osculate my sister most passionately. Be assured of my sentiments and present them to my father and brother. Carter, with whom I had some discourse; and on the same morning I fell in with a somewhat seedy and sickly American, who seemed to be doing the gallery with an awful minuteness, and who after some conversation proposed to come and see me.

He called this morning and has just left; but he seems a vague and feeble brother and I anticipate no wondrous joy from his acquaintance. One especially, whom I met at Verona, won my affections so rapidly that I was really sad at losing him. But he has vanished, leaving only a delightful impression and not even a name — a man of about 38, with a sort of quiet perfection of English virtue about him, such as I have rarely found in another.

In fact, however, I have very little right to have any opinion on the matter. To this I would say that the Englishmen I have met not only kill, but bury in unfathomable depths, the Americans I have met. A set of people less framed to provoke national self-complacency than the latter it would be hard to imagine. There is but one word to use in regard to them — vulgar, vulgar, vulgar.

Their ignorance — their stingy, defiant, grudging attitude towards everything European — their perpetual reference of all things to some American standard or precedent which exists only in their own unscrupulous wind-bags — and then our unhappy poverty of voice, of speech and of physiognomy — these things glare at you hideously.

On the other hand, we seem a people of character , we seem to have energy, capacity and intellectual stuff in ample measure. What I have pointed at as our vices are the elements of the modern man with culture quite left out.


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The pleasantness of the English, on the other side, comes in a great measure from the fact of their each having been dipped into the crucible, which gives them a sort of coating of comely varnish and colour. They have been smoothed and polished by mutual social attrition. They have manners and a language. We lack both, but particularly the latter. The women are at once better and worse than the men. Occasionally they are hard, flat, and greasy and dowdy to downright repulsiveness; but frequently they have a modest, matronly charm which is the perfection of womanishness and which makes Italian and Frenchwomen — and to a certain extent even our own — seem like a species of feverish highly-developed invalids.

You see Englishmen, here in Italy, to a particularly good advantage. In the midst of these false and beautiful Italians they glow with the light of the great fact, that after all they love a bath-tub and they hate a lie. I have seen some nice Americans and I still love my country. I have called upon Mrs. Huntington and her two daughters — late of Cambridge — whom I met in Switzerland and who have an apartment here. I have kept my letter three days, hoping for news from home. I hope you are not paying me back for that silence of six weeks ago.

Blessings on your universal heads. The afternoon after I had posted those two letters I took a walk out of Florence to an enchanting old Chartreuse — an ancient monastery, perched up on top of a hill and turreted with little cells like a feudal castle. I attacked it and carried it by storm — i. Here I am then in the Eternal City. It was easy to leave Florence; the cold had become intolerable and the rain perpetual. There are several places on the route I should have been glad to see; but the weather and my own condition made a direct journey imperative.

I rushed to this hotel a very slow and obstructed rush it was, I confess, thanks to the longueurs and lenteurs of the Papal dispensation and after a wash and a breakfast let myself loose on the city. From midday to dusk I have been roaming the streets. Que vous en dirai-je? At last — for the first time — I live! It makes Venice — Florence — Oxford — London — seem like little cities of pasteboard.

In the course of four or five hours I traversed almost the whole of Rome and got a glimpse of everything — the Forum, the Coliseum stupendissimo! Angelo — all the Piazzas and ruins and monuments. The effect is something indescribable. For the first time I know what the picturesque is.

It was filled with foreign ecclesiastics — great armies encamped in prayer on the marble plains of its pavement — an inexhaustible physiognomical study. To crown my day, on my way home, I met his Holiness in person — driving in prodigious purple state — sitting dim within the shadows of his coach with two uplifted benedictory fingers — like some dusky Hindoo idol in the depths of its shrine. Even if I should leave Rome tonight I should feel that I have caught the keynote of its operation on the senses.

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