JAMES, HENRY (1843-1916, novelist, O.M.)
Lot 130
JAMES, HENRY (1843-1916, novelist, O.M.)
Sold for £ 3,840 (US$ 5,121) inc. premium

Lot Details
JAMES, HENRY (1843-1916, novelist, O.M.)
LONG UNPUBLISHED AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED ('your fond old Uncle Henry James'), to his nephew William James III, asking him with manic exactitude to send a set of proofs of a part of The Princess Casamassima, which he was revising for the 'big edition' [The New York edition] of his works ('...there are a mass of proofs...which I haven't wished, for prudence, to destroy...they should be sent carefully...the Italian post being, one is assured, far from impeccable...'), describing his stay in Paris with the Whartons ('...Paris fades away into phantasmagorid gold & rose colours - & what I most feel, as yet, I fear, is that I couldn't have borne another day of it on that "keyed-up" basis. I thank the Lord for you that your drum is more muffled...') and his days in Turin ('...I have spent these 5 days in this very comfortable, if not particularly thrilling place, making up some belated & Paris-baffled work all day & rejoicing as in a healing bath, in not having an acquaintance...'), and expressing his views on travelling ('...is all charming again, but a growing homesickness breaks through & decidedly I've outlived the joy of travelling - as I had it once, or rather 50 times...'); the letter was written shortly before James left Turin for Rome by the night express, which he was taking 'to avoid too many otherwise too hot & too dusty hours on the so perpetually tunnelled & yet so ensoleillé Genoa-Pisa road'; it ends with an instruction for his nephew to call on the Whartons in Paris, 12 pages, octavo, with additional text cross-written on the first page, Hotel de Turin, 16 May [1907]


  • At the time he wrote this letter, James was revising The Princess Casamassima for the New York edition of his novels and tales, the purpose of which he discussed fully in a memorandum to Charles Scribner's Sons on 30 July 1905: '...My idea is...to revise everything carefully, and to re-touch, as to expression, turn of sentence, and the question of surface generally, wherever this may strike me as really required...' In August 1907 he described the colossal burden of paperwork which the New York edition entailed in a letter to Owen Wister, where he said that he felt 'like the thing they call...a Revising Barrister - pleading at the bar my poor case...decking out my volumes with long (- perhaps too long) Prefaces...'

    The extraordinary exactness of James's instructions to his nephew deserves full quotation: '...Also I thank the Lord that you are there to do me a little service that my stupidity & inadvertence at the last (in packing) have rendered necessary I shall ask of you. I put away (instead of bringing with me) a set of proofs (with a blue ticket on the 1st page of the set) of a part of the Princess Casamassima, which I am revising for my "big" edition; but I am helpless to say if they are in the trunk or in the suit-case I left with you - for there are a mass of proofs, duplicates of those returned, which I haven't wished, for prudence, to destroy, & shovelled into the larger receptacle, & I think some others in the smaller. The "set" I mean, at any rate, a folded series with the latest (highest) numbers of pageing - I forget how high - ought to be near the top - or on top - of either accumulation, as the [sic] must have absent-mindedly chucked in at the last; & it, the "set", is certainly identifiable by its being the only one with H.O. Houghton's Riverside Press small blue label aforesaid, with date of sending out, attached [to] the 1st sheet. (There will be in the trunk a DUPLICATE set (of these last sheets) without the label - but it is the labelled set please I want - &, as I say, it must be the only one. Kindly make sure it's all in the little folded (once-folded) sheaf - I mean by seeing that the highest-paged number is in with it. Only you mustn't in the least to rummage wearily in the mass in the trunk to make this out - as I remember the little lot I want were still on my table after I had put those others well away. Try in the suit-case first. There! I think I have made the thing clear - as to what I want. Now they should be sent carefully...the Italian post being, one is assured, far from impeccable, should be enclosed in an envelope, a stout one, for letter postage & registered. I enclose the envelope that will take it, & that should be sealed! I think the proofs will just fit in if you use a gentle firmness with them at the angles - but I send a 2d envelope on the other chance. It will certainly take them; but try the blue one, from London, 1st - & as for the postage, rather heavy, 3 francs or so, I will refund it the instant I return to you...'

    According to a letter to his nephew written at the end of May, his instructions were faithfully carried out: 'Fully hideously have I delayed to acknowledge your bounties and services - the precious proofs, all safe and exactly right...'. The same letter gives his impressions of Rome at the time: '...the abatements and changes and modernisms and vulgarities, the crowd and the struggle and the frustration (of real communion with what one wanted) are quite dreadful - and I really quite revel in the thought that I shall never come to Italy at all again - in all probability...'

    Since March 1907 James had remained in 'gilded captivity' in the Whartons' house in the rue de Varenne in Paris, and had accompanied them on a tour which Edith Wharton later made the subject of A Motor-Flight Through France. James would allude to this journey through France and Italy as the 'last continental episode of my aged life', although he was to visit Edith Wharton in Paris again the next year.

    This letter is apparently unpublished; not in The Letters, edited by Leon Edel, 1974-1984.
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