By Derek Stanford
SELECTED LETTERS OF HENRY JAMES, edited and Introduced by Leon Edel (Rupert Hart-Davis, 16s.).
WHAT a thing is urbanity; how it soft-pedals the disagreeable, making of criticism an understanding purr!
Nobody knew better than Henry James how to measure out this social emollient, and his correspondence offers us a satin-smooth tact never merely formal or impersonally polite. To read these letters is a lesson in courtesy, peep into art intimate civilisation, and entry into a charmed, dead world.
Mr. Leon Edel --a leading James scholar -has discharged his task in a masterly fashion; indeed. in the manner of the master himself. He has chosen 120 letters (half of which appear here for the first time). These represent schoolboy James, James the Young Man about Europe, Country House James in England, Scotland, Ireland, and James the Illustrious of Lamb House, Rye.
His heart was deep
From a man who can remember the graces when dispatching a telegram, what bounties of propriety may we not expect? "Intensely though respectfully deprecate social attendance at station, Elegant choice of cabs " has its happy proliferation in a score of missives to hosts and friends.
But it would be wrong to celebrate James solely as exponent of a liberal glibness. As his mind was large, so his heart was deep. " She was a kind of window in the past," he wrote of the widow of a poet on her death " now it's closed there is so much less air."
For the Edwardian connoisseur, the literary tyro, and the student of great souls, this is an indispensable volume.