Friday, May 23, 2008

the complexion of your days

Henry James to Robert Louis Stevenson.

{Stevenson's letter (answered by the following) of admiration of Roderick Hudson and execration of The Portrait of a Lady is included in the Letters to his Family and Friends, edited by Sir Sidney Colvin.}

34 De Vere Gardens, W.
December 5th [1887].

My dear Louis,
I could almost hate poor Roderick H. (in whom, at best, as in all my past and shuffled off emanations and efforts, my interest is of the slenderest,) for making you write so much more about him than about a still more fascinating hero. If you had only given me a small instalment of that romantic serial, The Mundane Situation of R. L. S.! My dear fellow, you skip whole numbers at a time. Your correspondent wouldn't. I am really delighted you can find something at this late day in that work in which my diminutive muse first tried to elongate her little legs. It is a book of considerable good faith, but I think of limited skill. Besides, directly my productions are finished, or at least thrust out to earn their living, they seem to me dead. They dwindle when weaned--removed from the parental breast, and only flourish, a little, while imbibing the milk of my plastic care. None the less am I touched by your excellent and friendly words. Perhaps I am touched even more by those you dedicate to the less favoured Portrait. My dear Louis, I don't think I follow you here--why does that work move you to such scorn--since you can put up with Roderick, or with any of the others? As they are, so it is, and as it is, so they are. Upon my word you are unfair to it--and I scratch my head bewildered. 'Tis surely a graceful, ingenious, elaborate work--with too many pages, but with (I think) an interesting subject, and a good deal of life and style. There! All my works may be damnable but I don't perceive the particular damnability of that one. However I feel as if it were almost gross to defend myself--for even your censure pleases and your restrictions refresh. I have this very day received from Mr. Bain your Memories and Portraits, and I lick my chops in advance. It is very delectable, I can see, and it has the prettiest coat and face of any of your volumes. --London is settling to its winter pace, and the cool rich fogs curtain us in. I see Colvin once in a while dans le monde, which however I frequent less and less. I miss you too sensibly. My love to your wife and mother--my greeting to the brave Lloyd.
Ever yours very faithfully,

P.S. I am unspeakably vexed at the Century's long delay in printing my paper on you--it is quite sickening. But I am helpless--and they tell me it won't come out till March----d----n 'em all. I am also sorry--very--not to have any other prose specimens of my own genius to send you. I have really written a good deal lately--but the beastly periodicals hold them back: I can't make out why. But I trust the dance will begin before long, and that then you may glean some pleasure. I pray you, do write something yourself for one who knows and yet is famished : for there isn't a morsel here that will keep one alive. I won't question you--'twere vain--but I wish I knew more about you. I want to see you--where you live and how--and the complexion of your days. But I don't know even the name of your habitat nor the date of your letter: neither were on the page. I bless you all the same.

-from The Letters of Henry James selected and edited by Percy Lubbock (New York: Charles Scribner's & Sons, 1920) p. 132-33.

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