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The Little Review, 5 (Aug 1918) 47-53

My object is not to discuss critically even one phase or period of James, but merely to provide a note, Beitrag, toward any attempt to determine his antecedents, affinities, and “place.” 2 Presumed that James’s relation to Balzac, to Turgenev, to anyone else on the continent is known and measured–I refer to Mr. Hueffer’s book and to Mr. Pound’s article 3 –and presumed that his relation to the Victorian novel is negligible, it is not concluded that James was simply a clever young man who came to Europe and improved himself, but that the soil of his origin contributed a flavour discriminible after transplantation in his latest fruit. We may even draw the instructive conclusion that this flavour was precisely improved and given its chance, not worked off, by transplantation. If there is this strong native taste, there will probably be some relation to Hawthorne; and if there is any relation to Hawthorne, it will probably help us to analyse the flavour of which I speak.

When we say that James is “American,” we must mean that this “flavour” of his, and also more exactly definable qualities, are more or less diffused throughout the vast continent rather than anywhere else; but we cannot mean that this flavour and these qualities have found literary expression throughout the nation, or that they permeate the work of Mr. Frank Norris or Mr. Booth Tarkington. 4 The point is that James is positively a continuator of the New England genius; that there is a New England genius, which has discovered itself only in a very small number of people in the middle of the nineteenth century–and which is notsignificantly present in the writings of Miss Sarah Orne Jewett, Miss Eliza White, or the Bard of Appledore whose name I forget. 5 I mean whatever we associate with certain purlieus of Boston, with Concord, Salem, and Cambridge, Massachusetts: notably Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Lowell. 6 None of these men, with the exception of Hawthorne, is individually very important; they all can and perhaps ought to be made to look very foolish; but there is a “something” there, a dignity, about Emerson, for example, which persists after we have perceived the taint of commonness about some English contemporary, as for instance, the more intelligent, better educated, more alert Matthew Arnold. Omitting such men as Bryant and Whittier as absolutely plebeian, 7 we can still perceive this halo of dignity around the men I have named, and also Longfellow, Margaret Fuller and her crew, Bancroft and Motley, the faces of (later) Norton and Child pleasantly shaded by the Harvard elms. 8 One distinguishing mark of this distinguished world was very certainly leisure; and importantly not in all cases a leisure given by money, but insisted upon. There seems no easy reason why Emerson or Thoreau or Hawthorne should have been men of leisure; it seems odd that the New England conscience should have allowed them leisure; yet they wouldhave it, sooner or later. That is really one of the finest things about them, and sets a bold frontier between them and a world which will at any price avoid leisure, a world in which Theodore Roosevelt is a patron of the arts. 9 An interesting document of this latter world is the Lettersof a nimbly dull poet of a younger generation, of Henry James’s generation, Richard Watson Gilder, Civil Service Reform, Tenement House Commission, Municipal Politics. 10

Of course, leisure in a Metropolis, with a civilised society (the society of Boston was and is quite uncivilised, but refined beyond the point of civilisation) with exchange of ideas and critical standards, would have been better; but these men could not provide the metropolis, and were right in taking the leisure under possible conditions.

Precisely this leisure, this dignity, this literary aristocracy, this unique character of a society in which the men of letters were also of the best people, clings to Henry James. It is some consciousness of this kinship which makes...

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