From the Desk of Henry James: January 4, 1887

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 Jan. 4, 1887.

From the Desk of Henry James

The following is an excerpt from The Complete Letters of Henry James (1887–1888) Vol. 1 by Henry James, edited by Michael Anesko, Greg W. Zacharias, and associate editor Katie Sommer (Nebraska, 2022).

– – – –

Linda White Mazini Villari
4 January [1887]
ALS Bodleian Library Oxford
MS. Eng. lett. e. 199, ff. 10–13

Dear Madame Villari.
I am not in the least an “authority,” & write by instinct much more than by science; nevertheless I make bold to say that concision is as good as conciseness—though I don’t say it is better. It seems to me to have rights as expressing a different nuance from conciseness—just as precision does expresses a different thing from preciseness. It strikes me it has for it its analogy with the said precision—& the fact that it is a pretty word—whereas conciseness is an ugly one (surely;) & this is always, for me, an argument of great force. If precisian (with the a—̸ (meaning a Puritan) has excellent precedent (it often occurs in W. Scott,) precision with the o, is surely right. And if precs precision is right, why isn’t concision?—though I admit that analogies, in English, are shaky. But I think there are good examples. I think, further, that concision means this quality in a particular case, & conciseness the quality in general. I shld. write “He expresses this with great concision”; but and I should write—though I dislike the word—“He is remarkable for the conciseness of his style.” But you won’t think that I am for that
of yours very truly
Henry James

Hotel du Sud
January 4th

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Notes:

Linda White Mazini Villari • British author and translator Linda Villari (1836–1915).

Hotel du Sud • The hotel in Florence, on the Arno River, where HJ resided after leaving the Villa Brichieri in Bellosguardo at the end of December 1886.

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