Thursday, May 29, 2008

lead him back blooming, by the hand

Henry James to Robert Louis Stevenson.

{Stevenson was now beginning to break to his friends at home the possibility that he might settle permanently in the South Seas; but he still projected a preliminary visit to England, or at least to Europe.}

34 De Vere Gardens, W.
March 21st, 1890.

My dear Louis and my dear Mrs. Louis,
It comes over me with horror and shame that, within the next very few months, your return to England may become such a reality that I shall before long stand face to face with you branded with the almost blood-guilt of my long silence. Let me break that silence then, before the bliss of meeting you again (heaven speed the day) is qualified, in prospect, by the apprehension of your disdain. I despatch these incoherent words to Sydney, in the hope they may catch you before you embark for our palpitating England. My despicable dumbness has been a vile accident--I needn't assure you that it doesn't pretend to the smallest backbone of system or sense. I have simply had the busiest year of my life and have been so drained of the fluid of expression--so tapped into the public pitcher--that my whole correspondence has dried up and died of thirst. Then, somehow, you had become inaccessible to the mind as well as to the body, and I had the feeling that, in the midst of such desperate larks, any news of mine would be mere irrelevant drivel to you. Now, however, you must take it, such as it is. It won't, of course, be news to you at all that the idea of your return has become altogether the question of the day. The other two questions (the eternal Irish and Rudyard Kipling) aren't in it. (We'll tell you all about Rudyard Kipling--your nascent rival; he has killed one immortal--Rider Haggard; the star of the hour, aged 24 and author of remarkable Anglo-Indian and extraordinarily observed barrack life--Tommy Atkins--tales.) What I am pledged to do at the present moment (pledged to Colvin) is to plead with you passionately on the question of Samoa and expatriation. But somehow, when it comes to the point, I can't do it--partly because I can't really believe in anything so dreadful (a long howl of horror has gone up from all your friends), and partly because before any step so fatal is irretrievably taken we are to have a chance to see you and bind you with flowery chains. When you tell me with your own melodious lips that you're committed, I'll see what's to be done; but I won't take a single plank of the house or a single hour of the flight for granted. Colvin has given me instantly all your recent unspeakable news--I mean the voyage to Samoa and everything preceding, and your mother has kindly communicated to me her own wonderful documents. Therefore my silence has been filled with sound--sound infinitely fearful sometimes. But the joy of your health, my dear Louis, has been to me as an imparted sensation--making me far more glad than anything that I could originate with myself. I shall never be as well as I am glad that you are well. We are poor tame, terrified products of the tailor and the parlour-maid; but we have a fine sentiment or two, all the same. . . . I, thank God, am in better form than when you first took ship. I have lately finished the longest and most careful novel I have ever written (it has gone 16 months in a periodical) and the last, in that form, I shall ever do--it will come out as a book in May. Also other things too flat to be bawled through an Australasian tube. But the intensest throb of my literary life, as of that of many others, has been the Master of Ballantrae--a pure hard crystal, my boy, a work of ineffable and exquisite art. It makes us all as proud of you as you can possibly be of it. Lead him on blushing, lead him back blooming, by the hand, dear Mrs. Louis, and we will talk over everything, as we used to lang syne at Skerryvore. When we have talked over everything and when all your tales are told, then you may paddle back to Samoa. But we shall call time. My heartiest greeting to the young Lloyd--grizzled, I fear, before his day. I have been very sorry to hear of your son-in-law's bad case. May all that tension be over now. Do receive this before you sail--don't sail till you get it. But then bound straight across. I send a volume of the Rising Star to goad you all hither with jealousy. He has quite done for your neglected even though neglectful friend,
Henry James.

-from The Letters of Henry James selected and edited by Percy Lubbock (New York: Charles Scribner's & Sons, 1920) p. 155-57.

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