Book Review

Daily Henry James, cont.

“October 30, The Next Time, 1895

“The only success worth one’s powder was success in the line of ones’ idiosyncrasy. Consistency was in itself distinction, and what was talent but the art of being completely whatever it was that one happened to be? One’s things were characteristic or were nothing.”

Annie Dillard in The Writing Life: Gnaw your bone.

“November, Essays in London and Elsewhere, 1893

“It is not a small matter either, to a man of letters, that this is the best time for writing, and that during the lamp-lit days the white page he tries to blacken becomes, on his table, in the circle of the lamp, with the screen of the climate folding him in, more vivid and absorbent. The weather makes a kind of sedentary midnight and muffles the possible interruptions. It’s bad for the eyesight, but excellent for the image.”

Or, as Hemingway said, “Summer’s a discouraging time to work–You don’t feel death coming on the way it does in the fall when the boys really put pen to paper.”

“November 4, Roderick Hudson, 1875

“It seemed to him that the glow of happiness must be found either in action of some immensely solid kind on behalf of an idea, or in producing a masterpiece in one of the arts.”

“November 13, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, 1900

“The fascination in him from the first is the mixture, and the extraordinary charm of his letters is that they are always showing this. It is the proportions, moreover, that are so admirable–the quantity of each different thing that he fitted to each other one and to the whole. The free life would have been all his dream, if so large a part of it had not been that love of letters, of expression and form, which is but another name for the life of service. Almost the last word about him, by the same law, would be that he had, at any rate, supremely written, were it not that he seems still better characterized by his having at any rate supremely lived.”

From Blyth’s Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics (one of my favorite books): “‘Usually I hate to speak of what I really feel, to that extent that when I find myself cornered , I have a tendency to say the reverse. (Stevenson, in a letter to his father.)”

“November 17, Merimee’s Letters, 1878

“Most forms of contempt are unwise; but one of them seems to us peculiarly ridiculous–contempt for the age one lives in. Men with but a little of Merimee’s ingenuity have been able, and have not failed, in every age. to make out a deplorable case for mankind. His imagination faded early, and it is certainly a question whether this generous spirit, half-sister at least to charity, will remain under a roof in which the ideal is treated as uncivilly as Merimee treated it.”

“November 22, The Life of George Eliot, 1885

“George Eliot of course had drawbacks and difficulties, physical infirmities, constant liabilities to headache, dyspepsia, and other illness, to deep depression, to despair about her work; but these jolts of the chariot were small in proportion to the impetus acquired, and were hardly greater than was necessary for reminding her of the secret of all ambitious works in the field of art–that effort, effort, always effort, is the only key to success. Her great furtherance was that, intensely intellectual being as she was, the life of affection and emotion was also widely open to her.”

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