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Westminster Abbey Address by Leon Edel, University of Hawaii Editor's note: Professor Edel's address (©1976 by Leon Edel) originally appeared in the London Times Literary Supplement. It was subsequently published in a limited edition by the Petronium Press, Honolulu, and is reprinted here with the permission of the Petronium Press. I. Foreword One of the less noticed but deeply significant events of the American bicentenary was the unveiling in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey of a stone in memory of Henry James, the American novelist. Of all American writers, James has fixed himself in the mind and spirit of generations on both sides of the sea as a supreme symbol of the interplay between British and American cultural feelings derived from common roots and separate but intimately related flowerings. The dedication of the Memorial took place in the great splendor of the Abbey with traditional services on Thursday, 17 June 1976 at 12:00 noon. The stone, which bears the simple facts, "Henry James 0. M. Novelist New York 1843 London 1916," was unveiled by Alexander R. James, grand-nephew of the novelist and great-grandson of William James. It is placed next to the stone which honors Gerard Manley Hopkins and the one honoring T. S. Eliot. Earlier memorials to American writers in the Abbey consist (in addition to Eliot's) of a bust of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a stained glass remembering James Russell Lowell, a poet and a beloved American minister to England in the 1880's. In his opening remarks the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Edward F. Carpenter, spoke of the three categories of writers whose remains or names have found their way into the Poets' Corner: those swept into the Abbey by the surge of feeling that follows their death; those withheld by old hesitancies and barriers but later recognized (he cited Shelley and Byron); and those consecrated into permanence by time. Henry James belonged to the latter group, he said. In the words of the prayer which the Dean read at the close of the ceremonial, James "through his sensitivity of spirit and disciplined use of language bore witness to the truth that was in him." Appropriate to this ceremony, which was attended by many of England's writers and representatives from the United States, were the texts chosen for the Lesson read by the Counselor of Embassy of the United States of America for Public Affairs—the passage in the 55th Psalm, "0 that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest," from which James derived the title for his novel The Wings of the Dove, and the lines from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 12, "Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain," which the novelist drew upon for The Golden Bowl. At the moment of the unveiling and placing oÃ- The wreath, Stephen Spender offered Britain's tribute by reminding his listeners that James had been not only the historian of the privileged, as some wrongly claim, but the elegist of a great civilization in decline. "As with Proust," said Mr. Spender, "one can read through the symptoms of that decline the still poignantly living characteristics of history, marvellous natural scenery and vivid human personalities which made that civilization so great." He alluded (without quoting it) to the passage in a letter of James's in which the novelist sees England's privileged classes as possessing in the late nineteenth century a decay similar to that of the French aristocracy before the revolution. A brief tribute from France was delivered by Roger Asselineau of the Sorbonne. Earlier Sir Ralph Richardson read passages from the opening pages of The Portrait of a Lady. The initiator of the plan for this memorial was the Emeritus Professor of English of Johns Hopkins University, Charles Anderson, and the stone itself and its cutting were paid for with funds privately collected by Anglo-American committees, of which Professor Frank Kermode was chairman in Britain and C. Waller Barrett was honorary treasurer in the United States. The address of the occasion, here printed, was...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 5-9
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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