To Howard Sturgis
To Henry James, junior
To Hugh Walpole
To Mrs. Wharton
To Mrs. T. S. Perry
To Edmund Gosse
To Miss Elizabeth Norton
To G. W. Prothero|
To Wilfred Sheridan
To Edward Marsh .
To Edward Marsh
To Compton Mackenzie
To Henry James, junior
To Edmund Gosse
To J. B. Pinker
THE letters that follow tell the story of Henry James's life during the first year of the war in words that make all others superfluous. The tide of emotion on which he was lifted up and carried forward was such as he only could describe; and week by week, in scores of letters to friends in England and France and America, he uttered himself on behalf of those who felt as he did, but who had no language worthy of the time. To all who listened to him in those days it must have seemed that he gave us what we lacked---a voice; there was a trumpet note in it that was heard nowhere else and that alone rose to the height of the truth. For a while it was as though the burden of age had slipped from him; he lived in the lives of all who were acting and suffering especially of the young, who acted and suffered most. His spiritual vigour bore a strain that was the greater by the whole weight of his towering imagination; but the time came at last when his bodily endurance failed. He died resolutely confident of the victory that was still so far off.
He was at Rye when the war broke out, but he very soon found the peace of the country intolerable. He came to London, to be within the current of events, and remained there almost uninterruptedly till the end. His days were filled with many interests, chief of which was the opportunity of talk with wounded soldiers-in hospital, at the houses of friends, in the streets as he walked; wherever he met them the sight irresistibly drew forth his sympathy and understanding and admiration. Close at hand, in Chelsea, there was a centre for the entertainment of refugees from Belgium, and for these he was active in charity. Another cause in which he was much engaged, and to which he contributed help of more kinds than one, was that of the American Volunteer Motor-Ambulance corps in France, organised by the son of his old friend Charles Eliot Norton. Every contact with the meaning of war, which no hour could fail to bring, gave an almost overpowering surge of impressions, some of which passed into a series of essays, written for different charitable purposes and now collected in Within the Rim (1919). Even beyond all this he was able to give a certain amount of energy to other literary work; and indeed be found it essential to cling so far as might be to the steadying continuity of creation. The Ivory Tower had to be laid aside---it was impossible to believe any longer in a modern fiction, supposed to represent the life of the day, which the great catastrophe had so belied; but be took up The Sense of the Past again, the fantasmal story he had abandoned for its difficulty in 1900---finding its unreality now remote enough to be beyond the reach of the war. He also began a third volume of reminiscences, The Middle Years. Work of one kind or another was pushed forward with increasing effort through the summer of 1915, the last of his writing being the introduction to the Letters from America of Rupert Brooke. He finished this, and spent the eve of his last illness, December 1st, in turning over the pages of The Sense of the Past, intending to go on with it the next morning.
Meanwhile, as everyone knows, his passionate loyalty to the cause of the Allies had brought him to take a step which in all but forty years of life in England he had never before contemplated. On July 26th, 1915, he became naturalised as a British subject. The letters now published give the fullest expression to his motives; it has seemed right to let them do so, mingled as his motives were with many strains, some of them reactions of disappointment over the official attitude of his native country at that time. If he had lived to see America join the Allies he would have had the deepest joy of his life; and perhaps it is worth mentioning that his relations with the American Embassy in London had never been so close and friendly as they became during those last months.
On the morning of December 2nd he had a stroke, presently followed by another, from which he rallied at first, but which bore him down after not many days. His sister-in-law, with her eldest son and daughter, came at once from America to be with him, and he was able to enjoy their company. He was pleased, too, by a sign of welcome offered to him in his new citizenship. Among the New Year honours there was announced the award to him of the Order of Merit, and the insignia were brought to his bedside by Lord Bryce, a friend of many years. Through the following weeks he gradually sank; he died on February 28th, 1916, within two months of his seventy-third birthday. His body was cremated, and the funeral service held at Chelsea Old Church on March 3rd, a few yards from his own door on the quiet river-side.
"W. E. D." is William Darwin, brother-in-law to Charles Eliot Norton. "Richard" is the latter's son, Director of the American School of Archaeology in Rome, at this time engaged in organising a motor-ambulance of American volunteers in France. He unhappily died of meningitis in Paris, August 2, 1918.
Very dear old Friend,
How can I thank you enough for the deep intelligence and sympathy of your beautiful and touching little letter, this morning received, or sufficiently bless the impulse that made you write it? For really the strain and stress of the whole horribly huge case over here is such that the hand of understanding and sympathy reached out across the sea causes a grateful vibration, and among all our vibrations those of gratitude don't seem appointed to be on the whole the most numerous: though indeed I mustn't speak as if within our very own huge scope we have not plenty of those too! That we can feel, or that the individual, poor resisting-as-he-can creature, may on such a scale feel, and so intensely and potently, with the endlessly multitudinous others who are subject to the same assault, and such hundreds of thousands of them to so much greater---this is verily his main great spiritual harbourage; since so many of those that need more or less to serve have become now but the waste of waters! Happy are those of your and my generation, in very truth, who have been able, or may still be, to do as dear W. E. D. so enviably did, and close their eyes without the sense of deserting their post or dodging their duty. We feel, don't we? that we have stuck to and done ours long enough to have a right to say "Oh, this wasn't in the bargain; it's the claim of Fate only in the form of a ruffian or a swindler, and with such I'll have no dealing:"---the perfection of which felicity, I have but just heard, so long after the event, was that of poor dear fine Jules Lemaître, who, unwell at the end of July and having gone down to his own little native pays, on the Loire, to be soigné, read in the newspaper of the morrow that war upon France had been declared, and fell back on the instant into a swoon from which he never awoke. . . . The happiest, almost the enviable (except those who may emulate William) are the younger doers of things and engagers in action, like our admirable Richard (for I find him so admirable!) whom I can't sufficiently commend and admire for having thrown himself into Paris, where he can most serve. But I won't say much more now, save that I think of you with something that I should call the liveliest renewal of affection if my affection for you had ever been less than lively! I rejoice in whatever Peggy has been able to tell you of me; but don't you, on your side, fall into the error of regretting that she came back. I have done nothing so much since her departure as bless the day of it; so wrong a place does this more and more become for those whose life isn't definitely fixed here, and so little could I have borne the anxiety and responsibility of having her on my mind in addition to having myself! Have me on yours, dearest Grace, as much as you like, for it is exquisitely sensible to me that you so faithfully and tenderly do; and that does nothing but good ---real helpful good, to yours all affectionately,
This follows on the letter to Miss Norton of Oct. 16, 1914, dealing with the work in France of her nephew, Richard Norton.
I waste no time in explaining, again how reduced I am to the use of this machinery by the absolute physical effect on my poor old organism of the huge tension and oppression of our conditions here---to say nothing of the moral effect, with which the other is of course intensely mixed. I can tell you better thus moreover than by any weaker art what huge satisfaction I had yesterday in an hour or two of Richard's company; he having generously found time to lunch with me during two or three days that he is snatching away from the Front, under urgency of business. I gathered from him that you hear from him with a certain frequency and perhaps some fulness---I know it's always his desire that you shall; but even so you perhaps scarce take in how "perfectly splendid" he is---though even if you in a manner do I want to put it on record to you, for myself, that I find him unmitigatedly magnificent. It's impossible for me to overstate my impression of his intelligent force, his energy and lucidity, his gallantry and resolution, or of the success the unswerving application of these things is making for him and for his enterprise. Not that I should speak as if he and that were different matters---he is the enterprise, and that, on its side, is his very self; and in fine it is a tremendous tonic---among a good many tonics that we have indeed, thank goodness !---to get the sense of his richly beneficent activity. He seemed extremely well and "fit," and suffered me to ply him with all the questions that one's constant longing here for a nearer view, combined with a kind of shrinking terror of it, given all the misery the greatest nearness seems to reveal, makes one restlessly keep up. What he has probably told you, with emphasis, by letter, is the generalisation most sadly forced upon him---the comparative supportability of the fact of the wounded and the sick beside the desolating view of the ravaged refugees. He can help the former much more than the latter, and the ability to do his special job with success is more or less sustaining and rewarding; but the sight of the wretched people with their villages and homes and resources utterly annihilated, and they simply staring at the blackness of their ruin, with the very clothes on their backs scarce left to them, is clearly something that would quite break the heart if one could afford to let it. If he isn't able to give you the detail of much of that tragedy, so much the better for you---save indeed for your thereby losing too some examples of how he succeeds in occasional mitigations quand même, thanks to the positive, the quite blest, ferocity of his passion not to fail of any service he can with the least conceivability render. He was most interesting, he was altogether admirable, as to his attitude in the matter of going outside of the strict job of carrying the military sick and wounded, and them only, as the ancient "Geneva Conventions" confine a Red Cross Ambulance to doing. There has been some perfunctory protest, not long since, on the part of some blank agent of that (Red Cross) body, in relation to his picking up stricken and helpless civilians and seeing them as far as possible on their way to some desperate refuge or relief; whereupon he had given this critic full in the face the whole philosophy of his proceedings and intentions, letting the personage know that when the Germans ruthlessly broke every Geneva Convention by attempting to shell him and his cars and his wounded whenever they could spy a chance, he was absolutely for doing in mercy and assistance what they do in their dire brutality, and might be depended upon to convey not only every suffering civilian but any armed and trudging soldiers whom a blest chance might offer him. His remonstrant visitor remained blank and speechless, but at the same time duly impressed or even floored, and Dick will have, I think, so far as any further or more serious protest is concerned, an absolutely free hand. The Germans have violated with the last cynicism both the letter and the spirit of every agreement they ever signed, and it's little enough that the poor retaliation left us, not that "in kind.." which I think we may describe ourselves as despising, but that in mere reparation of their ravage and mere scrappy aid to ourselves, should be compassed by us when we can compass it. . . . Richard told me yesterday that the aspect of London struck him as having undergone a great change since his last rush over---in the sense of the greater flagrancy of the pressure of the War; and one feels that perfectly on the spot and without having to go away and come back for it. There corresponds with it doubtless a much tighter screw-up of the whole public consciousness, worked upon by all kinds of phenomena that are very penetrating here, but that doubtless are reduced to some vagueness as reported to you across the sea---when reported at all, as most of them can't be. Goodbye at any rate for this hour. What I most wanted to give you was the strong side-wind and conveyed virtue of Dick's visit. I hope you are seeing rather more than less of Alice and Peggy, to whom I succeed in writing pretty often---and perhaps things that if repeated to you, as I trust they sometimes are, help you to some patient allowance for your tremendously attached old friend,
The "pamphlet" was his appeal on behalf of the American Volunteer Motor-Ambulance, included in Within the Rim.
It has been of the greatest interest, it has been delightful, to me to receive to-night your so generous and informing letter. The poor little pamphlet for which you "thank" me is a helpless and empty thing---for which I should blush were not the condition of its production so legibly stamped upon it. You can't say things unless you have been out there to learn them, and if you have been out there to learn them you can say them less than ever. With all but utterly nothing to go upon I had to make my remarks practically of nothing, and that the effect of them can only be nil on a subscribing public which wants constant and particular news of the undertakings it has been asked to believe in once for all, I can but too readily believe. The case seems different here --- I mean on this side of the sea---where scores and scores of such like corps are in operation in France---the number of ambulance-cars is many, many thousand, on all the long line---without its becoming necessary for them that their work should be publicly chronicled. I think the greater nearness ---here---the strange and sinister nearness---makes much of the difference; various facts are conveyed by personal---unpublished---report, and these sufficiently serve the purpose. What seems clear, at all events, is that there is no devisable means for keeping the enterprise in touch with American sympathy, and I sadly note therefore what you tell me of the inevitable and not distant end. The aid rendered strikes me as having been of the handsomest---as is splendidly the case with all the aid America is rendering, in her own large-handed and full-handed way; of which you tell me such fine interesting things from your own experience. It makes you all seem one vast and prodigious workshop with us --- for the resources and the energy of production and creation and devotion here are of course beyond estimation. I imagine indeed that, given your more limited relation to the War, your resources in money are more remarkable---even though here (by which I mean in England, for the whole case is I believe more hampered in France) the way the myriad calls and demands are endlessly met and met is prodigious enough. It does my heart good that you should express yourself as you do---though how could you do anything else?---on behalf of the simply sacred cause, as I feel it, of the Allies; for here at least one needs to feel it so to bear up under the close pressure of all that is so hideous and horrible in what has been let loose upon us. Much of the time one feels that one simply can't the heart-breaking aspect, the destruction of such masses, on such a scale, of the magnificent young life that was to have been productive and prolific, bears down any faith, any patience, all argument and all hope. I can look at the woe of the bereft, the parents, the mothers and wives, and take it comparatively for granted --- that is not care for what they individually suffer (as they seem indifferent themselves, both here and in France, in an extraordinarily noble way.) But the dead loss of such ranks upon ranks of the finest young human material---of life---that is an abyss into which one can simply gaze appalled. And as if that were not enough I find myself sickened to the very soul by the apparent sense of the louche and sinister figure of Mr. Woodrow Wilson, who seems to be aware of nothing but the various ingenious. ways in which it is open to him to make difficulties for us. I may not read him right, but most of my correspondents at home appear to, and they minister to my dread of him and the meanness of his note as it breaks into all this heroic air.
But I am writing you in the key of mere lamentation---which I didn't mean to do. Strange as it may seem, there are times when I am much uplifted---when what may come out of it all seems almost worth it. And then the black nightmare holds the field again---and in fact one proceeds almost wholly by those restless alternations. They consume one's vital substance, but one will perhaps wear them out first. It touches me deeply that you should speak tenderly of dear old London, for which my own affection in these months s'est accrue a thousandfold---just as the same has taken place in my attachment for all these so very preponderantly decent and solid people. The race is worth fighting for, immensely ---in fact I don't know any other for whom it can so much be said. . . . Well, go on working and feeling and believing for me, dear Lily, and God uphold your right arm and carry far your voice. Think of me too as your poor old aching and yet not altogether collapsing, your in fact quite clinging,
The two articles here referred to, "The Long Wards" and "Within the Rim," were both eventually devoted to charitable purposes.
My dear Pinker,
I am glad to hear from you of the conditions in which the New York Tribune representative thinks there will be no difficulty over the fee for the article. I have in point of fact during the last three or four days considerably written one concerning which a question comes up which I hope you won't think too tiresome. Making up my mind that something as concrete and "human" as possible would be my best card to play, I have done something about the British soldier, his aspect, temper and tone, and the considerations he suggests, as I have seen him since the beginning of the war in Hospital; where I have in fact largely and constantly seen him. The theme lends itself, by my sense, much; and I dare say I should have it rather to myself---though of course there is no telling! But what I have been feeling in the connection --- having now done upwards of 3000 words---is that I should be very grateful for leave to make them 4000 (without of course extension of fee.) I have never been good for the mere snippet, and. there is so much to say and to feel! Would you mind asking her, in reporting to her of what my subject is, whether this extra thousand would incommode them. If she really objects to it I think I shall be then disposed to ask you to make some other application of my little paper (on the 4000 basis;) in which case I should propose to the Tribune another idea, keeping it down absolutely to the 3000. (I'm afraid I can't do less than that.) My motive would probably in that case be a quite different and less "concrete" thing; namely, the expression of my sense of the way the Briton in general feels about his insulation, and his being in it and of it, even through all this unprecedented stress. It would amount to a statement or picture of his sense of the way his sea-genius has always encircled and protected him, striking deep into his blood and his bones; so that any reconsideration of his position in a new light inevitably comes hard to him, and yet makes the process the effective development of which it is interesting to watch. I should call this thing something like "The New Vision," or, better still, simply "Insulation": though I don't say exactly that. At all events I should be able to make something interesting of it, and it would of course inevitably take the sympathetic turn. But I would rather keep to the thing I have been trying, if I may have the small extra space. . . .
Believe, me yours ever,
Norton, Charles Eliot, i. 10-12, 15, 353; ii. 69, 118, 119, 295. Letters to, i. 30, 74, 91, 122, 183, 193, 306, 337.
Norton, Miss Elizabeth, letter to, ii. 441.
Norton, Miss Grace, letters to, i. 35, 54, 56, 69, 93, 100, 113, 126, 268; ii. 67, 131, 165, 293, 412, 431.
Norton, Richard, H. 380, 412, 431-3.