From the Desk of Henry James: August 25, 1881

Since 2006, the University of Nebraska Press has worked to publish The Complete Letters of Henry James, an acclaimed series that fills a crucial gap in modern literary studies by presenting in a scholarly edition the complete letters of one of the great novelists and letter writers of the English language. Comprising more than ten thousand letters reflecting on a remarkably wide range of topics—from James’s own life and literary projects to broader questions on art, literature, and criticism—these editions are an indispensable resource for students of James and of American and English literature, culture, and criticism.

Were Mr. James around today, we think he would be delighted to contribute to the UNP blog. Today we’re sharing one of his many letters, written on Aug. 25, 1881.

From the Desk of Henry James

The following is an excerpt from The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1880–1883, Vol. 1 (Nebraska, 2016), edited by Michael Anesko and Greg W. Zacharias with associate editor, Katie Sommer.

Mary Walsh James
25 August [1881]
ALS Houghton
bMS Am 1094 (1919)

3 Bolton St. W

Aug 25th


Dearest Mother.
I have two letters from you, & one from father to acknowledge. The 2d of yours (Aug. 11th) I found last evening on my return from a week’s visit in Somersetshire to my friends’ the Trevilians (Mrs. Caretr Carter & her husband.) Your first, & of father’s, of August 1st & 2d, came to me while I was at Midelney (Mrs. T.’s place.) I thank you & father for all of them—as well as for two others (of Alice’s)—one from each of you—which A. has let me read since my return here.—I found her established her in London, round the corner (10 Clarges St.,) wonderfully better than when I had seen her last, & better, I suspect, than she has been for many months. She shows it in her appearance, & in everything. She seems to like London extremely, to find it agrees with her beautifully, & to be able to occupy herself here in in a number of interesting & entertaining ways. I hope therefore she will remain some time, which is probable, as the summer is quite over—has been over these three weeks—& the climate & temperature are daily more & more the reverse of oppressive. They are by no means enough so, for it is dismally cold & wet. We have had the most extraordinary & unfortunate summer. All July was magnificently hot & dry, & produced a promise of such a harvest as had not been seen for 20 years. But August has changed everything—it has rained unceasingly, it is as cold as October, it grows worse every day, the crops are ruined &c. I pity the British farmer heartily.—Alice & Miss Loring will, between them, have told you all their own news, which, I trust, will seem to you as good as you can possibly desire. I have not much of my own. I am paying a few visits here & there, & am thinking of going to Scotland for a short time, about a week hence. Alice & Miss L. are very independent of me—& A. indeed seems so extraordinarily fond of Miss L. that a third person is rather a superfluous appendage. Tell f Father I found at Midelney (staying with Mrs. Trevilian,) a delightful old Yankee=woman, a certain Miss Adeline Brown, of Providence, who told me that she had once “corresponded for six weeks with him.” She is very deaf, but most racy & charming; I don’t know whether, among his numerous correspondents, father remembers her.—I am very happy to hear that Bob is better rather than worse—& wish you might have thought well of letting him get the good of the money draft I sent, quite independently of the what you are able to do for him yourselves.—I have just got a short note from Wm (chiefly, as usual, to my disappointment, taken up with the description of certain books he wishes me to get,) but in which he does not complain of his residence this summer—saying on the contrary he thinks of remaining there through September. Alice gave me to read a very pretty letter to read, from Aunt Kate, describing Aunt Emily’s funeral &c.—She told me last night the date (middle of September,) for which they have taken passages home; but I forget the exact date. I am not attempting to go with them, as it will not be possible, & scarcely even desirable. I have still my berth for the 24th Sept; but as I see difficulties in the way of getting off so early as that, I have taken another in the Parisian, for Quebec, for the 14th October. I incline now to believe that of the two, this is the ship I shall take (I can easily get rid of my Cunard berth;) & I do not believe that the delay will disappoint you, for you will probably be very glad to have Alice’s arrival over before mine begins. You must not, however, fear that I am “edging out” of my own departure, for it is absolutely certain (as certainties go,) that I shall sail not later than Oct. 14th. If I do go on that day, I shall not at all mind the journey from Quebec to Boston, but rather enjoy it—as I am going home to “see America.”

—I have not been surprised by Grace Norton’s plans, poor woman, for she wrote me about them some time ago, & again very lately (a week or ten days since.) They seem to me not only right, but necessary, for I believe she would either have died or gone mad if she had not not thus attempted to achieve a certain independence. I am sorry that Charles suffers by the change, but I can’t blame Grace. Love to father, dearest mother, from yours ever devotedly H. James jr

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