The Shadow Over Camber Sands (Cogkneys Book 2)
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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. 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.
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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.
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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.
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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. It was W.