Monday, May 26, 2008

grow not too thin

Henry James to Robert Louis Stevenson.

{The novel, just begun, was The Tragic Muse.}

34 De Vere Gardens, W.
July 31st [1888].

My dear Louis,
ou are too far away--you are too absent--too invisible, inaudible, inconceivable. Life is too short a business and friendship too delicate a matter for such tricks--for cutting great gory masses out of 'em by the year at a time. Therefore come back. Hang it all--sink it all and come back. A little more and I shall cease to believe in you: I don t mean (in the usual implied phrase) in your veracity, but literally and more fatally in your relevancy--your objective reality. You have become a beautiful myth--a kind of unnatural uncomfortable unburied mort. You put forth a beautiful monthly voice, with such happy notes in it--but it comes from too far away, from the other side of the globe, while I vaguely know that you are crawling like a fly on the nether surface of my chair. Your adventures, no doubt, are wonderful; but I don't successfully evoke them, understand them, believe in them. I do in those you write, heaven knows--but I don't in those you perform, though the latter, I know, are to lead to new revelations of the former and your capacity for them is certainly wonderful enough. This is a selfish personal cry: I wish you back; for literature is lonely and Bournemouth is barren without you. Your place in my affection has not been usurped by another--for there is not the least little scrap of another to usurp it. If there were I would perversely try to care for him. But there isn't--I repeat, and I literally care for nothing but your return. I haven't even your novel to stay my stomach withal. The wan wet months elapse and I see no sign of it. The beautiful portrait of your wife shimmers at me from my chimney-piece--brought some months ago by the natural McClure--but seems to refer to one as dim and distant and delightful as a "toast" of the last century. I wish I could make you homesick--I wish I could spoil your fun. It is a very featureless time. The summer is rank with rheumatism--a dark, drowned, unprecedented season. The town is empty but I am not going away. I have no money, but I have a little work. I have lately written several short fictions--but you may not see them unless you come home. I have just begun a novel which is to run through the Atlantic from January 1st and which I aspire to finish by the end of this year. In reality I suppose I shall not be fully delivered of it before the middle of next. After that, with God's help, I propose, for a longish period, to do nothing but short lengths. I want to leave a multitude of pictures of my time, projecting my small circular frame upon as many different spots as possible and going in for number as well as quality, so that the number may constitute a total having a certain value as observation and testimony. But there isn't so much as a creature here even to whisper such an intention to. Nothing lifts its hand in these islands save blackguard party politics. Criticism is of an abject density and puerility--it doesn't exist--it writes the intellect of our race too low. Lang, in the D.N., every morning, and I believe in a hundred other places, uses his beautiful thin facility to write everything down to the lowest level of Philistine twaddle--the view of the old lady round the corner or the clever person at the dinner party. The incorporated society of authors (I be long to it, and so do you, I think, but I don't know what it is) gave a dinner the other night to American literati to thank them for praying for international copyright. I carefully forbore to go, thinking the gratulation premature, and I see by this morning's Times that the banquetted boon is further off than ever. Edmund Gosse has sent me his clever little life of Congreve, just out, and I have read it but it isn't so good as his Raleigh. But no more was the insufferable subject. . . . Come, my dear Louis, grow not too thin. I can't question you--because, as I say, I don't conjure you up. You have killed the imagination in me that part of it which formed your element and in which you sat vivid and near. Your wife and Mother and Mr. Lloyd suffer also--I must confess it by this failure of breath, of faith. Of course I have your letter--from Manasquan (is that the idiotic name?) of the--ingenuous me, to think there was a date! It was terribly impersonal--it did me little good. A little more and I shan't believe in you enough to bless you. Take this, therefore, as your last chance. I follow all with an aching wing, an inadequate geography and an ineradicable hope. Ever, my dear Louis, yours, to the last snub--
Henry James.

-from The Letters of Henry James selected and edited by Percy Lubbock (New York: Charles Scribner's & Sons, 1920) p. 136-39.

1 comment:

F.L/ D.L. said...

I keep a commonplace book and small press updates on my blog. You might enjoy it. Come take a look.