Excerpt: The Letters of Henry James

Earlier this month, Holland Cotter highlighted the artistic work and influence of Henry James in his New York Times article on the Morgan Library & Museum’s exhibition, “Henry James and American Painting.” The article brings up several people featured in the exhibit and throughout James’ life, including Elizabeth Boott, a close friend and painter.

At UNP, Henry James is practically an old friend. Since 2006, the press has been working with Greg W. Zacharias and Michael Anesko, who took the place of Pierre A. Walker, to publish the personal correspondence of this prolific author throughout his life. The ten volumes of The Complete Letters of Henry James are carefully annotated, incredibly searchable, and have been praised by the Times Literary Supplement as “an inestimable contribution to readers.” The eleventh volume of the series is set to be released this October.

The following letter has been excerpted from The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1878-1880 Volume 1. In it, James tries to encourage his friend Elizabeth as she struggles to find a venue from which to sell her artwork.



11 February [1879]

ALS Houghton

bMS Am 1094 (546)



Feb. 11th

My dear Lizzie—

I was literally on the point of sitting down to thank you for your letter of Jan. 24th when your  note from Civita Vecchia was brought in. I t hank you very kindly for both. I am greatly pained to hear that your father’s invulnerable nature has been touched by the Roman miasma—but I hope it is a trifling episode & that a little sea-breeze will blow it all away. I shall enclose him a line.

Yes, dear Lizzie, I will ascertain with pleasure everything that is to be ascertained about the Decorative Art Society—if there be such a body. There is a Decorative Needlework Society connected with South Kesington, & (of course) in female hands; but I have no clear idea in mind of the existence of the association you mention. This is far from proving, however, that it does not exist. If I find it does & will have your panels, I will see that they are removed from Trollope’s & taken there. I am very sorry indeed that the Trollope speculation has turned out no better. I went to see him a couple of months since, to ask about your things, & he told me the size of them made them difficult to sell, or to make use of—that they were too large to be inserted into furniture, &c. He said they would be very glad to use them if they could, and that the occasion of doing so might suddenly present itself; but on the other hand, too, it might be very remote. I am afraid I gave you false hopes—but I only repeated what was said to me. I am very sorry you are “out of pocket”—& if I were not as poor as a rat myself, would buy your panels, instantly, for the love of them & of you. It is indeed a drawback of your art that you have to invest such sums in materials—as it is a peculiar blessing of mine that I need but a quire of paper & a pennyworth of ink.

Thank you very kindly for Mrs. Lynn Linton’s compliments: I don’t at all know her own works–but you needn’t tell her this. (I have often heard of her.) Please to her give mille grazie for all her appreciative observations, & to tell her that I am much gratified by her friendly judgement—& would fondly return the pressure of her hand. Is she young & fair? I thought the realist would turn up, if you shld. give her time. She went down to Oxford while she was here, & spent 24 hours with Julian Story. She desires, ferociously, to marry again, & will take Julian if she can get no one else. But of course she will have to flatten down Mrs. S. first—no easy task. What a pity we ever saw her!

I wish I could take a walk with you by the Mediterranean—I should undertake to find Civita Vecchia picturesque.

Don’t lose courage about your painting—it is a bad moment for every one. I saw Lady Gordon yesterday–she had 1/2 a dozen charming water-colours that she was preparing to send to the Female Artists–desiring greatly to sell t hem. She is (for a woman in her position) very impecunious, I believe. Mightn’t you do some clever little water-colours for such places as the Female Artists &c? Heaven bless you, dear Lizzie, & help you speedily to your great deserts! Ever your’s H. J. Jr

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