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Henry James in The Bookman of New York by Arthur Sherbo, Michigan State University In a section titled "Magazines of Criticism," the editors of the Literary History of the United States open with these two sentences: "One of the most distinguished literary and critical journals during the first quarter of the twentieth century was the Bookman (1895-1933). Though it was modeled on the English Bookman, it featured criticism of American literature' ' (62). I strongly suspect and will hope to demonstrate that, despite the praise of The Bookman, its contents have too often been neglected. I have already pointed out the neglect in three periodicals of some of the literature on Henry James (see Sherbo). I can point to the same neglect of material in the New York Bookman.1 I limit myself to little or no commentary; the focus of this article is bibliographical, not literary-critical. The pieces are arranged in order of appearance and identified as to volume and page numbers.2 The opening section of The Bookman was titled "Chronicle and Comment" and served as a kind of catch-all of various kinds of information. As items in these sections often did not appear in the indexes to the individual volumes, they have, for the most part, escaped notice. The first such item comes in volume 8, and it needs (as well as other items) quotation of matter introductory to the actual discussion of James. It is diverting to find honest prejudice speaking in the columns of our grave young contemporary, Literature, as when George Moore's new book is decisively damned on the familiar ethical ground that there are bad people in it. No mincing analysis here, but plain, smashing blows with a bludgeon—the sort of elemental criticism that is dear to the primitive man. There has, however, been a long series of American letters contributed by Mr. Henry James to the same periodical, and these are constructed on a very different principle. In fact, there is such an interweaving of complexities, such a balancing of intricate clauses that you can stay in one sentence all day without getting too familiar with the The Henry James Review 13 (1992): 315-27 © 1992 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 316 The Henry James Review thought. Take this one for instance: It is a direct effect of any meditation provoked by such a book as Mr. Godkins's that we promptly, perhaps too promptly, revert to certain reminders among our multitudinous aspects, that nothing here is grimly ultimate, yet awhile—as may, even at the risk of the air of flippancy, be said for convenience—fatal; become aware that the correctives to doubt, the omens and promises of health and happiness, are on the scale of all the rest and at least as frequent as the tokens before which the face of the bold observer has its hours of elongation. Now this sentence is quoted in no irreverent spirit, but as an instance of the elusive quality of Mr. James's style throughout these letters. They are written for the literary sportsman who finds a zest in tracking the wily thought through the verbal jungle. Like an anise-seed bag, a thought thus captured is valued not for its intrinsic worth, but on account of the excitement and difficulties of the chase. Not to imply that all Mr. James's thoughts are of the nature of anise-seed bags, for even in these somewhat reluctant papers he often reveals an idea, which as they say of athletes, strips very well. As an international novelist Mr. James may carry some weight in what he says of the local specialisation in American fiction. He seems to admire most in American writers their saturation with local conditions. He finds in Hamlin Garland, for instance, ' 'a case of saturation so precious as to have almost the value of genius.... I express his price to my own taste, with all honour, if I call him the soaked sponge of Wisconsin ." This comment, by the way, is a good illustration of Mr. James's analytical and sometimes ambiguous compliments to American authors. The latter can hardly enjoy his cautious delimitation of their...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 315-327
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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