Wednesday March 11th, 2009

“I shall greatly be humiliated if you do like it…”

henryandwilliamjamesA letter from Henry James to his brother William, dated November 23, 1905:

Dearest William,

. . . I mean (in response to what you write me of your having read the Golden B[owl]) to try to produce some uncanny form of thing, in fiction, that will gratify you, as Brother — but let me say, dear William, that I shall greatly be humiliated if you do like it, and thereby lump it, in your affection, with things, of the current age, that I have heard you express admiration for and that I would sooner descend to a dishonoured grave than have written. Still I will write you your book, on that two-and-two-make-four system on which all the awful truck that surrounds us is produced, and then descend to my dishonoured grave — taking up the art of the slate pencil instead of, longer, the art of the brush (vide my lecture on Balzac). But it is, seriously, too late at night, and I am too tired, for me to express myself on this question — beyond saying that I’m always sorry when I hear of your reading anything of mine, and always hope you won’t — you seem to me so constitutionally unable to “enjoy” it, and so condemned to look at it from a point of view remotely alien to mine in writing it, and to the conditions out of which, as mine, it has inevitably sprung — so that all the intentions that have been its main reason for being (with me) appear never to have reached you at all — and you appear even to assume that the life, the elements forming its subject-matter, deviate from felicity in not having an impossible analogy with the life in Cambridge. I see nowhere about me done or dreamed of the things that alone for me constitute the interest of the doing of the novel — and yet it is in a sacrifice of them on their very own ground that the thing you suggest to me evidently consists. It shows how far apart and to what different ends we have had to work out (very naturally and properly!) our respective intellectual lives. And yet I can read you with rapture — having three weeks ago spent three or four days with Manton Marble at Brighton and found in his hands ever so many of your recent papers and discourses, which, having margin of mornings in my room, through both breakfasting and lunching there (by the habit of the house,) I found time to read several of — with the effect of asking you, earnestly, to address me some of those that I so often, in Irving St., saw you address to others who were not your brother. I had no time to read them there. Philosophically, in short, I am “with” you, almost completely, and you ought to take account of this and get me over altogether….
But oh, fondly, good-night!
Ever your