Book Review

Daily Henry James, continued

I didn’t realize I had underlined so much of this book, but I am kind of enjoying typing them down in here. Hope you are too, reading them I mean. I am keeping up with my Tolstoy, by the way, and am about halfway through the first volume of Ernest J. Simmon’s biography of him; I also bought A.N. Wilson’s biography of him. Okay, now for more HJ.

“July 4, Charles Baudelaire, 1878

“He knew evil not by experience, not as something within himself, but by contemplation and curiosity, as something outside of himself, by which his own intellectual agility was not in the least discomposed, rather, indeed (as we say his fancy was of a dusky cast) agreeably flattered and stimulated. In the former case, Baudelaire, with his other gifts, might have been a great poet. But, as it is, evil for him begins outside and not inside, and consists primarily of a great deal of lurid landscaped and unclean furniture. This is an almost ludicrously puerile view of the matter–a good way to embrace Baudelaire at a glance is to say that he was, in his treatment of evil, exactly what Hawthorne was not–Hawthorne, who felt the thing at its source, deep in the human consciousness. Baudelaire’s infinitely slighter volume of genius apart, he was a sort of Hawthorne reversed.”

I don’t know enough Baudelaire to know if he’s right here. Auden wrote, “Baudelaire is, in fact, the religious hero turned upside down. . . . The rebel, the defiant one who asserts his freedom by disobeying all commands, whether given by God, society, or his maker.” And Isherwood, “What kind of man wrote this book? [The Intimate Journals of Charles Baudelaire] A deeply religious man, whose blasphemies horrified the orthodox. An ex-dandy who dressed like a condemned convict. A philosopher of love, who was ill-at-ease with women. A revolutionary, who despised the masses. An aristocrat, who loathed the ruling class. A minority of one. A great lyric poet . . . .”

“July 8, The Art of Fiction, 1884

“To what degree a purpose in a work of art is a source of corruption I shall not attempt to enquire; the one that seems to me least dangerous is the purpose of making a perfect work.”


“July 15, Roderick Hudson, 1875

“‘But what you say’ she said at last,’means change!’

“‘Change for the better!’ cried Rowland.

“‘How can one tell? As one stands one knows the worst, It seems to me very frightful to develop.’

“‘One is in for it in one way or another, and one might as well do it with a good grace as with a bad! Since one can’t escape life it is better to take it by the hand.'”

“July 21, Roderick Hudson, 1875

“‘The crop we gather depends upon the seed we sow. He may be the biggest genius of the age; his potatoes won’t come up without his hoeing them. If he takes things so almighty easy as–well, as one or two young fellows of genius I’ve had under my eye–his produce will never gain the prized. Take the word for it of a man who has made his way inch by inch and doesn’t believe that we wake up to find our work done because we have lain all night a dreaming of it; any thing worth doing is devilish hard to do! If your young gentleman finds things easy and has a good time of it and says he likes the life, it’s a sign that–as I may say–you had better step round to the office and look at the books.'”

The indomitable Brenda Ueland: “If you are never satisfied with what you write, that is a good sign. It means your vision can see so far that is is hard to come up to it. Again I say, the only unfortunate people are the glib ones, immediately satisfied with their work. To them the ocean is only knee-deep.”

“July 26, Roderick Hudson, 1875

“‘The curious thing is that the more the mind takes in, the more it has space for, and that all one’s ideas are like the Irish people at home who live in the different corners of the a room and take boarders.'”

“August 1, The Lesson of the Master, 1892

“‘I’ve touched a thousand things, but which one of them have I turned into gold? The artist has to do only with that–he knows nothing of any baser metal.'”

“August 3, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1887

“The novelist who leaves the extraordinary out of his account is liable to awkward confrontations, as we are compelled to reflect in this age of newspapers and of universal publicity. The next report of the next divorce case (to give an instance) shall offer us a picture of astounding combinations of circumstance and behaviour, and the annals of any energetic race are rich in curious anecdote and startling example.”

Stevenson is a great writer. We tend to forget that because we think of him as a children’s writer only. R.H. Blyth: “There is a thrilling story told of Stevenson in this connection: ‘At Pillochry, in 1881, when he saw a dog being ill-treated, he at once interposed, and when the owner resented his interference and told him, “It’s not your dog,” he cried out, “It’s God’s dog and I’m here to protect it!”‘”

“August 8, The Lesson of the Master, 1892

“‘Try to do some really good work.’

“‘Oh I want to, heaven knows!’

“‘Well, you can’t do it without sacrifices; don’t believe that for a moment,’ said Henry St. George.’I’ve made none. I’ve had everything. In other words, I’ve missed everything.'”

“August 9, The Lesson of the Master, 1892

“‘Ah, there it is–there’s nothing like life! When you’re finished, squeezed dry and used up and you think the sack’s empty, you’re still spoken to, you still get touches and thrills, the idea springs up–out of the lap of the actual–and shows you there’s always something to be done.'”

I love that “lap of the actual.”

“August 23, The Madonna of the Future, 1873

“‘There is only one Raphael, but an artist may still be an artist; the days of illumination are gone; visions are rare; we have to look long to see them. But in meditation we may still cultivate the ideal; round it, smooth it, perfect it. The result certainly may be less than this; but still it may be good, it may be great!–it may hang somewhere, in after years, in goodly company, and keep the artist’s memory warm. Think of being known to mankind after some such fashion as this! suspended here through the slow centuries in the gaze of an altered world; living on and on in the cunning of an eye and hand that are part of the dust of the ages, a delight and a law to remote generations; making beauty a force and purity an example!'”

I love that “gaze of an altered world.”



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