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Title: A Backward Glance
Author: Edith Wharton
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Language:   English
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Title: A Backward Glance
Author: Edith Wharton

"A backward glance o'er travell'd roads."
Walt Whitman.

"Je veux remonter le penchant de mes belles annees..."
Chateaubriand: "Memoires d'outre tombe."

"Kein Genuss ist vorubergehend."
Goethe: "Wilhelm Meister."

To the friends
who every year on All Souls' Night
come and sit with me
by the fire.


Years ago I said to myself: "There's no such thing as old age; there is
only sorrow."

I have learned with the passing of time that this, though true, is not
the whole truth. The other producer of old age is habit: the deathly
process of doing the same thing in the same way at the same hour day
after day, first from carelessness, then from inclination, at last from
cowardice or inertia. Luckily the inconsequent life is not the only
alternative; for caprice is as ruinous as routine. Habit is necessary;
it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that
must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.

In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one CAN
remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is
unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in
big things, and happy in small ways. In the course of sorting and
setting down of my memories I have learned that these advantages are
usually independent of one's merits, and that I probably owe my happy
old age to the ancestor who accidentally endowed me with these

Another advantage (equally accidental) is that I do not remember long to
be angry. I seldom forget a bruise to the soul--who does? But life puts
a quick balm on it, and it is recorded in a book I seldom open. Not long
ago I read a number of reviews of a recently published autobiography.
All the reviewers united in praising it on the score that here at last
was an autobiographer who was not afraid to tell the truth! And what
gave the book this air of truthfulness? Simply the fact that the
memorialist "spared no one," set down in detail every defect and
absurdity in others, and every resentment in the writer. That was the
kind of autobiography worth reading!

Judged by that standard mine, I fear, will find few readers. I have not
escaped contact with the uncongenial; but the antipathy they aroused was
usually reciprocal, and this simplified and restricted our intercourse.
Nor do I remember that these unappreciative persons ever marked their
lack of interest in me by anything more harmful than indifference. I
recall no sensational grievances. Everywhere on my path I have met with
kindness and furtherance; and from the few dearest to me an exquisite
understanding. It will be seen, then, that in telling my story I have
had to make the best of unsensational material; and if what I have to
tell interests my readers, that merit at least will be my own.

Madame Swetchine, that eminent Christian, was once asked how she managed
to feel Christianly toward her enemies. She looked surprised. "Un
ennemi? Mais de tous les accidents c'est le plus rare!"

So I have found it.

Several chapters of this book have already appeared in the "Atlantic
Monthly" and "The Ladies' Home Journal." I have also to thank Sir John
Murray for kindly permitting me to incorporate in the book two or three
passages from an essay on Henry James, published in "The Quarterly
Review" of July 1920 and the Editor of "The Colophon" for the use of a
few paragraphs on the writing of "Ethan Frome."

E. W.




















Gute Gesellschaft hab ich gesehen; man nennt sie die gute Wenn sie zum
kleinsten Gedicht nicht die Gelegenheit giebt.

Goethe: "Venezianische Epigrammen."


It was on a bright day of midwinter, in New York. The little girl who
eventually became me, but as yet was neither me nor anybody else in
particular, but merely a soft anonymous morsel of humanity--this little
girl, who bore my name, was going for a walk with her father. The
episode is literally the first thing I can remember about her, and
therefore I date the birth of her identity from that day.

She had been put into her warmest coat, and into a new and very pretty
bonnet, which she had surveyed in the glass with considerable
satisfaction. The bonnet (I can see it today) was of white satin,
patterned with a pink and green plaid in raised velvet. It was all drawn
into close gathers, with a bavolet in the neck to keep out the cold, and
thick ruffles of silky blonde lace under the brim in front. As the air
was very cold a gossamer veil of the finest white Shetland wool was
drawn about the bonnet and hung down over the wearer's round red cheeks
like the white paper filigree over a Valentine; and her hands were
encased in white woollen mittens.

One of them lay in the large safe hollow of her father's bare hand; her
tall handsome father, who was so warm-blooded that in the coldest
weather he always went out without gloves, and whose head, with its
ruddy complexion and intensely blue eyes, was so far aloft that when she
walked beside him she was too near to see his face. It was always an
event in the little girl's life to take a walk with her father, and more
particularly so today, because she had on her new winter bonnet, which
was so beautiful (and so becoming) that for the first time she woke to
the importance of dress, and of herself as a subject for adornment--so
that I may date from that hour the birth of the conscious and feminine
ME in the little girl's vague soul.

The little girl and her father walked up Fifth Avenue: the old Fifth
Avenue with its double line of low brown-stone houses, of a desperate
uniformity of style, broken only--and surprisingly--by two equally
unexpected features: the fenced-in plot of ground where the old Miss
Kennedys' cows were pastured, and the truncated Egyptian pyramid which
so strangely served as a reservoir for New York's water supply. The
Fifth Avenue of that day was a placid and uneventful thoroughfare, along
which genteel landaus, broughams and victorias, and more countrified
vehicles of the "carry-all" and "surrey" type, moved up and down at
decent intervals and a decorous pace. On Sundays after church the
fashionable of various denominations paraded there on foot, in gathered
satin bonnets and tall hats; but at other times it presented long
stretches of empty pavement, so that the little girl, advancing at her
father's side, was able to see at a considerable distance the approach
of another pair of legs, not as long but considerably stockier than her
father's. The little girl was so very little that she never got much
higher than the knees in her survey of grown-up people, and would not
have known, if her father had not told her, that the approaching legs
belonged to his cousin Henry. The news was very interesting, because in
attendance on Cousin Henry was a small person, no bigger than herself,
who must obviously be Cousin Henry's little boy Daniel, and therefore
somehow belong to the little girl. So when the tall legs and the stocky
ones halted for a talk, which took place somewhere high up in the air,
and the small Daniel and Edith found themselves face to face close to
the pavement, the little girl peered with interest at the little boy
through the white woollen mist over her face. The little boy, who was
very round and rosy, looked back with equal interest; and suddenly he
put out a chubby hand, lifted the little girl's veil, and boldly planted
a kiss on her cheek. It was the first time--and the little girl found it
very pleasant.

This is my earliest definite memory of anything happening to me; and it
will be seen that I was wakened to conscious life by the two tremendous
forces of love and vanity.

It may have been just after this memorable day--at any rate it was
nearly at the same time--that a snowy-headed old gentleman with a red
face and a spun-sugar moustache and imperial gave me a white Spitz puppy
which looked as if its coat had been woven out of the donor's luxuriant
locks. The old gentleman, in whose veins ran the purest blood of Dutch
Colonial New York, was called Mr. Lydig Suydam, and I should like his
name to survive till this page has crumbled, for with his gift a new
life began for me. The owning of my first dog made me into a conscious
sentient person, fiercely possessive, anxiously watchful, and woke in me
that long ache of pity for animals, and for all inarticulate beings,
which nothing has ever stilled. How I loved that first "Foxy" of mine,
how I cherished and yearned over and understood him! And how quickly he
relegated all dolls and other inanimate toys to the region of my
everlasting indifference!

I never cared much in my little childhood for fairy tales, or any
appeals to my fancy through the fabulous or legendary. My imagination
lay there, coiled and sleeping, a mute hibernating creature, and at the
least touch of common things--flowers, animals, words, especially the
sound of words, apart from their meaning--it already stirred in its
sleep, and then sank back into its own rich dream, which needed so
little feeding from the outside that it instinctively rejected whatever
another imagination had already adorned and completed. There was,
however, one fairy tale at which I always thrilled--the story of the boy
who could talk with the birds and hear what the grasses said. Very
early, earlier than my conscious memory can reach, I must have felt
myself to be of kin to that happy child. I cannot remember when the
grasses first spoke to me, though I think it was when, a few years
later, one of my uncles took me, with some little cousins, to spend a
long spring day in some marshy woods near Mamaroneck, where the earth
was starred with pink trailing arbutus, where pouch-like white and rosy
flowers grew in a swamp, and leafless branches against the sky were
netted with buds of mother-of-pearl; but on the day when Foxy was given
to me I learned what the animals say to each other, and to us...


The readers (and I should doubtless have been among them) who twenty
years ago would have smiled at the idea that time could transform a
group of bourgeois colonials and their republican descendants into a
sort of social aristocracy, are now better able to measure the formative
value of nearly three hundred years of social observance: the concerted
living up to long-established standards of honour and conduct, of
education and manners. The value of duration is slowly asserting itself
against the welter of change, and sociologists without a drop of
American blood in them have been the first to recognise what the
traditions of three centuries have contributed to the moral wealth of
our country. Even negatively, these traditions have acquired, with the
passing of time, an unsuspected value. When I was young it used to seem
to me that the group in which I grew up was like an empty vessel into
which no new wine would ever again be poured. Now I see that one of its
uses lay in preserving a few drops of an old vintage too rare to be
savoured by a youthful palate; and I should like to atone for my
unappreciativeness by trying to revive that faint fragrance.

If any one had suggested to me, before 1914, to write my reminiscences,
I should have answered that my life had been too uneventful to be worth
recording. Indeed, I had never even thought of recording it for my own
amusement, and the fact that until 1918 I never kept even the briefest
of diaries has greatly hampered this tardy reconstruction. Not until the
successive upheavals which culminated in the catastrophe of 1914 had
"cut all likeness from the name" of my old New York, did I begin to see
its pathetic picturesqueness. The first change came in the 'eighties,
with the earliest detachment of big money-makers from the West, soon to
be followed by the lords of Pittsburgh. But their infiltration did not
greatly affect old manners and customs, since the dearest ambition of
the new-comers was to assimilate existing traditions. Social life, with
us as in the rest of the world, went on with hardly perceptible changes
till the war abruptly tore down the old frame-work, and what had seemed
unalterable rules of conduct became of a sudden observances as quaintly
arbitrary as the domestic rites of the Pharaohs. Between the point of
view of my Huguenot great-great-grandfather, who came from the French
Palatinate to participate in the founding of New Rochelle, and my own
father, who died in 1882, there were fewer differences than between my
father and the post-war generation of Americans. That I was born into a
world in which telephones, motors, electric light, central heating
(except by hot-air furnaces), X-rays, cinemas, radium, aeroplanes and
wireless telegraphy were not only unknown but still mostly unforeseen,
may seem the most striking difference between then and now; but the
really vital change is that, in my youth, the Americans of the original
States, who in moments of crisis still shaped the national point of
view, were the heirs of an old tradition of European culture which the
country has now totally rejected. This rejection (which Mr. Walter
Lippmann regards as the chief cause of the country's present moral
impoverishment) has opened a gulf between those days and these. The
compact world of my youth has receded into a past from which it can only
be dug up in bits by the assiduous relic-hunter; and its smallest
fragments begin to be worth collecting and putting together before the
last of those who knew the live structure are swept away with it.


My little-girl life, safe, guarded, monotonous, was cradled in the only
world about which, according to Goethe, it is impossible to write
poetry. The small society into which I was born was "good" in the most
prosaic sense of the term, and its only interest, for the generality of
readers, lies in the fact of its sudden and total extinction, and for
the imaginative few in the recognition of the moral treasures that went
with it. Let me try to call it back...

Once, when I was about fifteen, my parents took me to Annapolis for the
graduating ceremonies of the Naval Academy. In my infancy I had
travelled extensively on the farther side of the globe, and it was
thought high time that I should begin to see something of my own half.

I recall with delight the charming old Academic buildings grouped about
turf and trees, and the smartness of the cadets (among whom were some of
my young friends) in their dress uniforms; and thrilling memories of
speeches, marchings, military music and strawberry ice, flutter
pleasingly about the scene. On the way back we stopped in Baltimore and
Washington, in the days before Charles McKim had seen its possibilities,
and resolved to develop them on Major L'Enfant's lines, was in truth a
doleful desert; and it was a weary and bored little girl who trailed
after her parents through the echoing emptiness of the Capitol, and at
last into the famous Rotunda with its paintings of Revolutionary
victories. Trumbull was little thought of as a painter in those days
(Munkacsky would doubtless have been preferred to him), and when one
great panel after another was pointed out to me, and I was led up first
to the "Surrender of Burgoyne" and then to the "Surrender of
Cornwallis," and told: "There's your great-grandfather," the tall thin
young man in the sober uniform of a general of artillery, leaning
against a cannon in the foreground of one picture, in the other
galloping across the battlefield, impressed me much less than the
beautiful youths to whom I had just said goodbye at Annapolis. If
anything, I was vaguely sorry to have any one belonging to me
represented in those stiff old-fashioned pictures, so visibly inferior
to the battle-scenes of Horace Vernet and Detaille. I remember feeling
no curiosity about my great-grandfather, and my parents said nothing to
rouse my interest in him. The New Yorker of that day was singularly,
inexplicably indifferent to his descent, and my father and mother were
no exception to the rule.

It was many years later that I began to suspect that Trumbull was very
nearly a great painter, and my great-grandfather Stevens very nearly a
great man; but by that time all who had known him, and could have spoken
of him familiarly, had long been dead, and he was no more than a
museum-piece to me. It is a pity, for he must have been worth knowing,
even at second-hand.

On both sides our colonial ancestry goes back for nearly three hundred
years, and on both sides the colonists in question seem to have been
identified since early days with New York, though my earliest Stevens
forbears went first to Massachusetts. Some of the first Steven's
grandsons, however, probably not being of the stripe of religious
fanatic or political reformer to breathe easily in that passionate
province, transferred their activities to the easier-going New York,
where people seem from the outset to have been more interested in making
money and acquiring property than in Predestination and witch-burning. I
have always wondered if those old New Yorkers did not owe their greater
suavity and tolerance to the fact that the Church of England (so little
changed under its later name of Episcopal Church of America) provided
from the first their prevalent form of worship. May not the matchless
beauty of an ancient rite have protected our ancestors from what Huxley
called the "fissiparous tendency of the Protestant sects," sparing them
sanguinary wrangles over uncomprehended points of doctrine, and all
those extravagances of self-constituted prophets and evangelists which
rent and harrowed New England? Milder manners, a greater love of ease,
and a franker interest in money-making and good food, certainly
distinguished the colonial New Yorkers from the conscience-searching
children of the "Mayflower." Apart from some of the old Dutch colonial
families, who continued to follow the "Dutch Reformed" rite, the New
York of my youth was distinctively Episcopalian; and to this happy
chance I owe my early saturation with the noble cadences of the Book of
Common Prayer, and my reverence for an ordered ritual in which the
officiant's personality is strictly subordinated to the rite he

Colonial New York was mostly composed of merchants and bankers; my own
ancestors were mainly merchant ship-owners, and my great-grandmother
Stevens's wedding-dress, a gauzy Directoire web of embroidered "India
mull," was made for her in India and brought to New York on one of her
father's merchant-men. My mother, who had a hearty contempt for the
tardy discovery of aristocratic genealogies, always said that old New
York was composed of Dutch and British middle-class families, and that
only four or five could show a pedigree leading back to the aristocracy
of their ancestral country. These if I remember rightly, were the Duers,
the Livingstons, the Rutherfurds, the de Grasses and the Van Rensselaers
(descendants, these latter, of the original Dutch "Patroon"). I name
here only families settled in colonial New York; others, from the
southern states, but well known in New York--such as the Fairfaxes,
Carys, Calverts and Whartons--should be added if the list included the
other colonies.

My own ancestry, as far as I know, was purely middle class; though my
family belonged to the same group as this little aristocratic nucleus I
do not think there was any blood-relationship with it. The
Schermerhorns, Joneses, Pendletons, on my father's side, the Stevenses,
Ledyards, Rhinelanders on my mother's, the Gallatins on both, seem all
to have belonged to the same prosperous class of merchants, bankers and
lawyers. It was a society from which all dealers in retail business were
excluded as a matter of course. The man who "kept a shop" was more
rigorously shut out of polite society in the original Thirteen States
than in post-revolutionary France--witness the surprise (and amusement)
of the Paris solicitor, Moreau de St Mery, who, fleeing from the Terror,
earned his living by keeping a bookshop in Philadelphia, and for this
reason, though his shop was the meeting-place of the most blue-blooded
of his fellow emigres, and Talleyrand and the Marquis de la Tour du Pin
were among his intimates, yet could not be invited to the ball given for
Washington's inauguration. So little did the Revolution revolutionize a
society at once middle class and provincial that no retail dealer, no
matter how palatial his shop-front or how tempting his millions, was
received in New York society until long after I was grown up.

My great-grandfather, the Major-General Ebenezer Stevens of the Rotunda,
seems to have been the only marked figure among my forebears. He was
born in Boston in 1751 and, having a pronounced tendency to mechanical
pursuits, was naturally drafted into the artillery at the Revolution. He
served in Lieutenant Adino Paddock's artillery company, and took part in
the "Boston tea-party," where, as he told one of his sons, "none of the
party was painted as Indians, nor, that I know of, disguised; though,"
(he adds a trifle casuistically) "some of them stopped at a paint-shop
on the way and daubed their faces with paint." Thereafter he is heard of
as a house-builder and contractor in Rhode Island; but at the news of
the battle of Lexington he abandoned his business and began the raising
and organizing of artillery companies. He was a first lieutenant in the
Rhode Island artillery, then in that of Massachusetts, and in 1776 was
transferred as captain to the regiment besieging Quebec. At Ticonderoga,
Stillwater and Saratoga he commanded a division of artillery, and it was
he who directed the operations leading to General Burgoyne's surrender.
For these feats he was specially commended by Generals Knox, Gates and
Schuyler, and in 1778 he was in command of the entire artillery service
of the northern department. Under Lafayette he took part in the
expedition which ended in the defeat of Lord Cornwallis; his skilful
manoeuvres are said to have broken the English blockade at Annapolis,
and when the English evacuated New York he was among the first to enter
the city.

The war over, he declined further military advancement and returned to
civil life. His services, however, were still frequently required, and
in 1812 he was put in command of the New York Brigade of artillery. One
of the forts built at this time for the defence of New York harbour was
called Fort Stevens, in his honour, and after the laying of the
foundation stone he "gave the party a dinner at his country seat, 'Mount
Buonaparte'," which he named after the hero who restored order in

My great-grandfather next became an East-India merchant, and carried on
a large and successful trade with foreign ports. The United States War
Department still entrusted him with important private missions; he was a
confidential agent of both the French and English governments, and at
the same time took a leading part in the municipal business of New York,
and served on numerous commissions dealing with public affairs. He
divided his year between his New York house in Warren Street, and Mount
Buonaparte, the country place on Long Island created by the fortune he
had made as a merchant; but when his hero dropped the u from his name
and became Emperor, my scandalized great-grandfather, irrevocably
committed to the Republican idea, indignantly re-named his place "The
Mount." It stood, as its name suggests, on a terraced height in what is
now the dreary waste of Astoria, and my mother could remember the
stately colonnaded orangery, and the big orange-trees in tubs that were
set out every summer on the upper terrace. But in her day the classical
mantelpieces imported from Italy, with designs in white marble relieved
against red or green, had already been torn out and replaced by black
marble arches and ugly grates, and she recalled seeing the old
mantelpieces stacked away in the stables. In his Bonapartist days
General Stevens must have imported a good deal of Empire furniture from
Paris, and one relic, a pair of fine gilt andirons crowned with
Napoleonic eagles, has descended to his distant great-grand-daughter;
but much was doubtless discarded when the mantelpieces went, and the
stuffy day of Regency upholstery set in.

If I have dwelt too long on the career of this model citizen it is
because of a secret partiality for him--for his stern high-nosed good
looks, his gallantry in war, his love of luxury, his tireless commercial
activities. I like above all the abounding energy, the swift
adaptability and the joie de vivre which hurried him from one adventure
to another, with war, commerce and domesticity (he had two wives and
fourteen children) all carried on to the same heroic tune. But perhaps I
feel nearest to him when I look at my eagle andirons, and think of the
exquisite polychrome mantels that he found the time to bring all the way
from Italy, to keep company with the orange-trees on his terrace.

In his delightful book on Walter Scott Mr. John Buchan, excusing Scott's
inability to create a lifelike woman of his own class, says that, after
all, to the men of his generation, gentlewomen were "a toast" and little
else. Nothing could be truer. Child-bearing was their task, fine
needlework their recreation, being respected their privilege. Only in
aristocratic society, and in the most sophisticated capitals of Europe,
had they added to this repertory a good many private distractions. In
the upper middle class "the ladies, God bless 'em," sums it up. And so
it happens that I know less than nothing of the particular virtues,
gifts and modest accomplishments of the young women with pearls in their
looped hair or cambric ruffs round their slim necks, who prepared the
way for my generation. A few shreds of anecdote, no more than the faded
flowers between the leaves of a great-grandmother's Bible, are all that
remain to me.

Of my lovely great-grandmother Rhinelander (Mary Robart) I know only
that she was of French descent, as her spirited profile declares, and
properly jealous of her rights; for if she chanced to drive to New York
in her yellow coach with its fringed hammer-cloth at the same hour when
her daughter-in-law, from lower down the East River, was following the
same road, the latter's carriage had to take the old lady's dust all the
way, even though her horses were faster and her errand might be more
urgent. I may add that once, several years after my marriage, a new
coachman, who did not know my mother's carriage by sight, accidentally
drove me past it on the fashionable Ocean Drive at Newport, and that I
had to hasten the next morning to apologize to my mother, whose only
comment was, when I explained that the coachman could not have known the
offence he was committing: "You might have told him."

One of my great-grandmothers, Lucretia Ledyard (the second wife of
General Stevens), lost her "handsome sable cloak" one day when she was
driving out General Washington in her sleigh, while on another occasion,
when she was walking on the Battery in 1812, the gentleman who was with
her, glancing seaward, suddenly exclaimed: "My God, madam, there are the

Meagre relics of the past; and when it comes to the next generation,
that of my own grandparents, I am little better informed. My maternal
grandfather Rhinelander, son of the proud dame of the yellow coach,
married Mary Stevens, daughter of the General and his dusky handsome
Ledyard wife. The young pair had four children, and then my grandfather
died, when he was little more than thirty. He too was handsome, with
frank blue eyes and a wide intelligent brow. My mother said he "loved
reading," and that particular drop of his blood must have descended to
my veins, for I know of no other bookworm in the family. His young widow
and her children continued to live at the country place at Hell Gate,
lived there, in fact, from motives of economy, in winter as well as
summer while the children were young; for my grandmother, whose property
was left to the management of her husband's eldest brother, remained
poor though her brother-in-law grew rich. The children, however, were
carefully educated by English governesses and tutors; and to one of the
latter is owing a charming study of the view across Hell Gate to Long
Island, taken from my grandmother's lawn.

The little girls were taught needle-work, music, drawing and "the
languages" (their Italian teacher was professor Foresti, a distinguished
fugitive from the Austrian political prisons). In winter their "best
dresses" were low-necked and short-sleeved frocks, of pea-green merino,
with gray beaver hats trimmed with tartan ribbons, white cotton
stockings and heelless prunella slippers. When they walked in the snow
hand-knitted woollen stockings were drawn over this frail footgear, and
woollen shawls wrapped about their poor bare shoulders. They suffered,
like all young ladies of their day, from chilblains and excruciating
sick-headaches, yet all lived to a vigorous old age. When the eldest (my
mother) "came out," she wore a home-made gown of white tarlatan, looped
up with red and white camellias from the greenhouse, and her mother's
old white satin slippers; and her feet being of a different shape from
grandmamma's, she suffered martyrdom, and never ceased to resent the
indignity inflicted on her, and the impediment to her dancing, the more
so as her younger sisters, who were prettier and probably more indulged,
were given new slippers when their turn came. The girls appear to have
had their horses (in that almost roadless day Americans still went
everywhere in the saddle), and my mother, whose memory for the details
of dress was inexhaustible, told me that she wore a beaver hat with a
drooping ostrich plume, and a green veil to protect her complexion, and
that from motives of modesty riding-habits were cut to trail on the
ground, so that it was almost impossible to mount unassisted.

A little lower down the Sound (on the actual site of East Eighty-first
Street) stood my grandfather Jones's pretty country house with classic
pilasters and balustraded roof. A print in my possession shows a
low-studded log-cabin adjoining it under the elms, described as the
aboriginal Jones habitation; but it was more probably the slaves'
quarter. In this pleasant house lived a young man of twenty, handsome,
simple and kind, who was madly in love with Lucretia, the eldest of the
"poor Rhinelander" girls. George Frederic's parents thought him too
young to marry; perhaps they had other ambitions for him; they bade him
break off his attentions to Miss Rhinelander of Hell Gate. But George
Frederic was the owner of a rowing-boat. His stern papa, perhaps on
account of the proximity of the beloved, refused to give him a
sailing-craft, though every youth of the day had his "cat-boat," and the
smiling expanse of the Sound was flecked with the coming and going of
white wings. But George was not to be thwarted. He contrived to turn an
oar into a mast; he stole down before dawn, his bed-quilt under his arm,
rigged it to the oar in guise of a sail, and flying over the waters of
the Sound hurried to his lady's feet across the lawn depicted in the
tutor's painting. His devotion at last overcame the paternal opposition,
and George and "Lou" were married when they were respectively twenty-one
and nineteen. My grandfather was rich, and must have made his sons a
generous allowance; for the young couple, after an adventurous honeymoon
in Cuba (of which my father kept a conscientious record, full of drives
in volantes and visits to fashionable plantations) set up a house of
their own in Gramercy Park, then just within the built-on limits of New
York, and Mrs. George Frederic took her place among the most elegant
young married women of her day. At last the home-made tarlatans and the
inherited satin shoes were avenged, and there began a long career of
hospitality at home and travels abroad. My father, as a boy, had been to
Europe with his father on one of the last of the great sailing
passenger-ships; and he often told me of the delights of that crossing,
on a yacht-like vessel with few passengers and spacious airy cabins, as
compared with subsequent voyages on the cramped foul-smelling steamers
that superseded the sailing ships. A year or so after the birth of my
eldest brother my parents went abroad on a long tour. The new railways
were beginning to transform continental travel, and after driving by
diligence from Calais to Amiens my family journeyed thence by rail to
Paris. Later they took train from Paris to Brussels, a day or two after
the inauguration of this line; and my father notes in his diary: "We
were told to be at the station at one o'clock, AND BY FOUR WE WERE
ACTUALLY OFF." By various means of conveyance the young couple with
their infant son pursued their way through France, Belgium, Germany and
Italy. They met other young New Yorkers of fashion, also on their
travels, and would have had a merry time of it had not little Freddy's
youthful ailments so frequently altered their plans--sometimes to a
degree so disturbing that the patient young father (of twenty-three)
confides to his diary how "awful a thing it is to travel in Europe with
an infant of twenty months."

In spite of Freddy they saw many cities and countries, and on February
24, 1848, toward the hour of noon, incidentally witnessed, from the
balcony of their hotel in the rue de Rivoli, the flight of Louis
Philippe and Queen Marie Amelie across the Tuileries gardens. Though my
mother often described this scene to me, I suspect that the study of the
Paris fashions made a more vivid impression on her than the fall of
monarchies. The humiliation of the pea-green merino and the maternal
slippers led to a good many extravagances; among them there is the white
satin bonnet trimmed with white marabout and crystal drops in which the
bride made her wedding visits, and a "capeline" of gorge de pigeon
taffetas with a wreath of flowers in shiny brown kid, which was one of
the triumphs of her Paris shopping. She had a beautiful carriage, and
her sloping shoulders and slim waist were becomingly set off by the
wonderful gowns brought home from that first visit to the capital of
fashion. All this happened years before I was born; but the tradition of
elegance was never abandoned, and when we finally returned to live in
New York (in 1872) I shared the excitement caused by the annual arrival
of the "trunk from Paris," and the enchantment of seeing one resplendent
dress after another shaken out of its tissue-paper. Once, when I was a
small child, my mother's younger sister, my beautiful and serious-minded
Aunt Mary Newbold, asked me, with edifying interest: "What would you
like to be when you grow up?" and on my replying in all good faith, and
with a dutiful air: "The best dressed woman in New York," she uttered
the horrified cry: "Oh, don't say that, darling!" to which I could only
rejoin in wonder: "But, auntie, you know Mamma IS."

When my grandfather died my father came into an independent fortune; but
even before that my father and uncles seem to have had allowances
permitting them to lead a life of leisure and amiable hospitality. The
customs of the day were simple, and in my father's set the chief
diversions were sea-fishing, boat-racing and wild-fowl shooting. There
were no clubs as yet in New York, and my mother, whose view of life was
incurably prosaic, always said that this accounted for the early
marriages, as the young men of that day "had nowhere else to go." The
young married couples, Langdons, Hones, Newbolds, Edgars, Joneses,
Gallatins, etc., entertained each other a good deal, and my mother's
sloping shoulders were often displayed above the elegant fringed and
ruffled "berthas" of her Parisian dinner gowns. The amusing diary of Mr.
Philip Hone gives a good idea of the simple but incessant exchange of
hospitality between the young people who ruled New York society before
the Civil War.

My readers, by this time, may be wondering what were the particular
merits, private or civic, of these amiable persons. Their lives, as one
looks back, certainly seem lacking in relief; but I believe their value
lay in upholding two standards of importance in any community, that of
education and good manners, and of scrupulous probity in business and
private affairs. New York has always been a commercial community, and in
my infancy the merits and defects of its citizens were those of a
mercantile middle class. The first duty of such a class was to maintain
a strict standard of uprightness in affairs; and the gentlemen of my
father's day did maintain it, whether in the law, in banking, shipping
or wholesale commercial enterprises. I well remember the horror excited
by any irregularity in affairs, and the relentless social ostracism
inflicted on the families of those who lapsed from professional or
business integrity. In one case, where two or three men of high social
standing were involved in a discreditable bank failure, their families
were made to suffer to a degree that would seem merciless to our modern
judgment. But perhaps the New Yorkers of that day were unconsciously
trying to atone for their culpable neglect of state and national
politics, from which they had long disdainfully held aloof, by upholding
the sternest principles of business probity, and inflicting the severest
social penalties on whoever lapsed from them. At any rate I should say
that the qualities justifying the existence of our old society were
social amenity and financial incorruptibility; and we have travelled far
enough from both to begin to estimate their value.

The weakness of the social structure of my parents' day was a blind
dread of innovation, an instinctive shrinking from responsibility. In
1824 (or thereabouts) a group of New York gentlemen who were appointed
to examine various plans for the proposed laying-out of the city, and
whose private sympathies were notoriously anti-Jeffersonian and
undemocratic, decided against reproducing the beautiful system of
squares circles and radiating avenues which Major L'Enfant, the
brilliant French engineer, had designed for Washington, because it was
thought "undemocratic" for citizens of the new republic to own
building-plots which were not all of exactly the same shape, size--and
VALUE! This naif document, shown to me by Robert Minturn, a descendant
of a member of the original committee, and doubtless often since
published, typified the prudent attitude of a society of prosperous
business men who have no desire to row against the current.

A little world so well-ordered and well-to-do does not often produce
either eagles or fanatics, and both seem to have been conspicuously
absent from the circle in which my forebears moved. In old-established
and powerful societies originality of character is smiled at, and even
encouraged to assert itself; but conformity is the bane of middle-class
communities, and as far as I can recall, only two of my relations
stepped out of the strait path of the usual. One was a mild and
inoffensive old bachelor cousin, very small and frail, and reputed of
immense wealth and morbid miserliness, who built himself a fine house in
his youth, and lived in it for fifty or sixty years, in a state of
negativeness and insignificance which made him proverbial even in our
conforming class--and then, in his last years (so we children were told)

Cousin Edmund's final illusion was not without pathos, but as a source
of inspiration to my childish fancy he was a poor thing compared with
George Alfred. George Alfred was another cousin, but one whom I had
never seen, and could never hope to see, because years before he
had--vanished. Vanished, that is, out of society, out of respectability,
out of the safe daylight world of "nice people" and reputable doings.
Before naming George Alfred my mother altered her expression and lowered
her voice. Thank heaven SHE was not responsible for him--he belonged to
my father's side of the family! But they too had long since washed their
hands of George Alfred--and ceased even to be aware of his existence. If
my mother pronounced his name it was solely, I believe, out of malice,
out of the child's naughty desire to evoke some nursery hobgoblin by
muttering a dark incantation like "Eena Meena Mina Mo," and then darting
away with affrighted backward looks to see if there is anything there.

My mother always darted away from George Alfred's name after pronouncing
it, and it was not until I was grown up, and had acquired greater
courage and persistency, that one day I drove her to the wall by
suddenly asking: "But, mamma, WHAT DID HE DO?" "Some woman"--my mother
muttered; and no one accustomed to the innocuous word as now used can
imagine the shades of disapproval, scorn and yet excited curiosity, that
"some" could then connote on the lips of virtue.

George Alfred--and some woman! Who was she? From what heights had she
fallen with him, to what depths dragged him down? For in those simple
days it was always a case of "the woman tempted me." To her respectable
sisters her culpability was as certain in advance as Predestination to
the Calvinist. But I was not fated to know more--thank heaven I was not!
For our shadowy Paolo and Francesca, circling together on the "accursed
air," somewhere outside the safe boundaries of our old New York, gave
me, I verily believe, my earliest glimpse of the poetry that Goethe
missed in the respectable world of the Hirschgraben, and that my
ancestors assuredly failed to find, or to create, between the Battery
and Union Square. The vision of poor featureless unknown Alfred and his
siren, lurking in some cranny of my imagination, hinted at regions
perilous, dark and yet lit with mysterious fires, just outside the world
of copybook axioms, and the old obediences that were in my blood; and
the hint was useful--for a novelist.



Peopling the background of these earliest scenes there were the tall
splendid father who was always so kind, and whose strong arms lifted one
so high, and held one so safely; and my mother, who wore such beautiful
flounced dresses, and had painted and carved fans in sandalwood boxes,
and ermine scarves, and perfumed yellowish laces pinned up in blue
paper, and kept in a marquetry chiffonier, and all the other dim
impersonal attributes of a Mother, without, as yet, anything much more
definite; and two big brothers who were mostly away (the eldest already
at college); but in the foreground with Foxy there was one rich
all-permeating presence: Doyley. How I pity all children who have not
had a Doyley--a nurse who has always been there, who is as established
as the sky and as warm as the sun, who understands everything, feels
everything, can arrange everything, and combines all the powers of the
Divinity with the compassion of a mortal heart like one's own! Doyley's
presence was the warm cocoon in which my infancy lived safe and
sheltered; the atmosphere without which I could not have breathed. It is
thanks to Doyley that not one bitter memory, one uncomprehended
injustice, darkened the days when the soul's flesh is so tender, and the
remembrance of wrongs so acute.

I was born in New York, in my parents' house in West Twenty-third
Street, and we lived there in winter, and (I suppose) at Newport in
summer, during the first three years of my life. But no memories of
those years survive, save those I have mentioned, and one other, a good
deal dimmer, of going to stay one summer with my Aunt Elizabeth, my
father's unmarried sister, who had a house at Rhinebeck-on-the-Hudson.
This aunt, whom I remember as a ramrod-backed old lady compounded of
steel and granite, had been threatened in her youth with the
"consumption" which had already carried off a brother and sister. Few
families in that day escaped the scourge of tuberculosis, and the
Protestant cemeteries of Pisa and Rome are full of the graves of
wretched exiles sent to end their days by the supposedly mild shores of
Arno or Tiber. My poor Aunt Margaret, my poor Uncle Joshua, both
snatched in their early flower, already slept beside the Pyramid of
Caius Cestius, where my grandmother was later to join them; and when
Elizabeth in her turn began to pine, her parents, no doubt discouraged
by the Italian experiment, decided to try curing her at home. They
therefore shut her up one October in her bedroom in the New York house
in Mercer Street, lit the fire, sealed up the windows, and did not let
her out again till the following June, when she emerged in perfect
health, to live till seventy.

My aunt's house, called Rhinecliff, afterward became a vivid picture in
the gallery of my little girlhood; but among those earliest impressions
only one is connected with it; that of a night when, as I was ready to
affirm, there was a Wolf under my bed. This business of the Wolf was the
first of other similar terrifying experiences, and since most
imaginative children know these hauntings by tribal animals, I mention
it only because from the moment of that adventure it became necessary,
whenever I "read" the story of Red Riding Hood (that is, looked at the
pictures), to carry my little nursery stool from one room to another, in
pursuit of Doyley or my mother, so that I should never again be exposed
to meeting the family Totem when I sat down alone to my book.

The effect of terror produced by the house of Rhinecliff was no doubt
partly due to what seemed to me its intolerable ugliness. My visual
sensibility must always have been too keen for middling pleasures; my
photographic memory of rooms and houses--even those seen but briefly, or
at long intervals--was from my earliest years a source of inarticulate
misery, for I was always vaguely frightened by ugliness. I can still
remember hating everything at Rhinecliff, which, as I saw, on
rediscovering it some years later, was an expensive but dour specimen of
Hudson River Gothic; and from the first I was obscurely conscious of a
queer resemblance between the granitic exterior of Aunt Elizabeth and
her grimly comfortable home, between her battlemented caps and the
turrets of Rhinecliff. But all this is merged in a blur, for by the time
I was four years old I was playing in the Roman Forum instead of on the
lawns of Rhinecliff.


The transition woke no surprise, for almost everything that constituted
my world was still about me: my handsome father, my beautifully dressed
mother, and the warmth and sunshine that were Doyley. The chief
difference was that the things about me were now not ugly but incredibly
beautiful. That old Rome of the mid-nineteenth century was still the
city of romantic ruins in which Clive Newcome's "J. J." had depicted the
Trasteverina dancing before a locanda to the music of a pifferaro. I
remember, through the trailing clouds of infancy, the steps of the
Piazza di Spagna thronged with Thackerayan artists' models, and heaped
with early violets, daffodils and tulips; I remember long sunlit
wanderings on the springy turf of great Roman villas; heavy coaches of
Cardinals flashing in scarlet and gold through the twilight of narrow
streets; the flowery bombardment of the Carnival procession watched with
shrieks of infant ecstasy from a balcony of the Corso. But the liveliest
hours were those spent with my nurse on the Monte Pincio, where I played
with Marion Crawford's little half-sister, Daisy Terry, and her brother
Arthur. Other children, long since dim and nameless, flit by as
supernumeraries of the band; but only Daisy and her brother have
remained alive to me. There we played, dodging in and out among old
stone benches, racing, rolling hoops, whirling through skipping ropes,
or pausing out of breath to watch the toy procession of stately
barouches and glossy saddle-horses which, on every fine afternoon of
winter, carried the flower of Roman beauty and nobility round and round
and round the restricted meanderings of the hill-top.

Those hours were the jolliest; yet deeper impressions were gathered in
walks with my mother on the daisy-strewn lawns of the Villa
Doria-Pamphili, among the statues and stone-pines of the Villa Borghese,
or hunting on the slopes of the Palatine for the mysterious bits of blue
and green and rosy stone which cropped up through the turf as violets
and anemones did in other places, and turned out to be precious
fragments of porphyry, lapis lazuli, verde antico, and all the mineral
flora of Palace of the Caesars. In those days every traveller of
artistic sensibility gathered baskets-full of these marble blossoms, and
had them transformed into the paper-weights, inkstands and circular
"sofa-tables" without which no gentleman's home was complete. All the
glory seemed to forsake my treasures when they were forced into these
lapidary combinations; but the hunt was thrilling, and it occurred to no
one that these exquisite relics of ruined opus alexandrinum, and of
Imperial vases and statues, should have been treated with more
reverence. The buffaloes of Piranesi had vanished from the Forum and the
Palatine, but the ruins of Imperial Rome were still a free
stamping-ground for the human herd.

There were other days when we drove out on the Campagna, and wandered
over the short grass between the tombs of the Appian way; still others
among the fountains of Frascati; and some, particularly vivid, when, in
the million-tapered blaze of St Peter's, the Pope floated ethereally
above a long train of ecclesiastics seen through an incense haze so
golden that it seemed to pour from the blinding luminary behind the High

What clung closest in after years, when I thought of the lost Rome of my
infancy? It is hard to say; perhaps simply the warm scent of the box
hedges on the Pincian, and the texture of weather-worn sun-gilt stone.
Those, at least, are the two impressions which, for many years after,
the mightiest of names instantly conjured up for me.


My Roman impressions are followed by others, improbably picturesque, of
a journey to Spain. It must have taken place just before or after the
Roman year; I remember that the Spanish tour was still considered an
arduous adventure, and to attempt it with a young child the merest
folly. But my father had been reading Prescott and Washington Irving;
the Alhambra was more of a novelty than the Colosseum; and as the
offspring of born travellers I was expected, even in infancy, to know
how to travel. I suppose I acquitted myself better than the unhappy
Freddy; for from that wild early pilgrimage I brought back an incurable
passion for the road. What a journey it must have been! Presumably there
was already a railway from the frontier to Madrid; but I recall only the
incessant jingle of diligence bells, the cracking of whips, the yells of
gaunt muleteers hurling stones at their gaunter mules to urge them up
interminable and almost unscaleable hills. It is all a jumble of excited
impressions: breaking down on wind-swept sierras; arriving late and
hungry at squalid posadas; flea-hunting, chocolate-drinking (I believe
there was nothing but chocolate and olives to feed me on), being pursued
wherever we went by touts, guides, deformed beggars, and all sorts of
jabbering and confusing people; and, through the chaos and fatigue, a
fantastic vision of the columns of Cordova, the tower of the Giralda,
the pools and fountains of the Alhambra, the orange groves of Seville,
the awful icy penumbra of the Escorial, and everywhere shadowy aisles
undulating with incense and processions...Perhaps, after all, it is not
a bad thing to begin one's travels at four.


In the course of time we exchanged the Piazza di Spagna for the Champs
Elysees. It probably happened the very next winter; but life in Paris
must have seemed colourless after the sunny violet-scented Italian days,
for I remember far less of it than of Rome.

Two episodes, however, stand out vividly. One was the coming to dine
every Sunday evening of a kindly gentleman with curly gray hair and a
long moustache. An old friend and Rhode Island neighbour of the family.
This was Mr. Henry Bedlow, whose chief title to fame seems to have been
that he lived in an old house "up the island" called Malbone, which he
had inherited from his grandfather or great-uncle, the celebrated
miniature painter of that name. When Mr. Bedlow dined with us I was
always led in with the dessert, my red hair rolled into sausages, and
the sleeves of my best frock looped up with pink coral, and was allowed
to perch on his knee while he "told me mythology." What blessings I have
since called down on the teller! Fairy stories, even Mother Goose, even
Andersen's tales and the Contes de Perrault, still left me inattentive
and indifferent, but the domestic dramas of the Olympians roused all my
creative energy. Perhaps I scented an indefinable condescension (and
often a great lack of discernment) in the stories which big people have
invented about little ones; and besides, the doings of children were
always intrinsically less interesting to me than those of grown-ups, and
I felt more at home with the gods and goddesses of Olympus, who behaved
so much like the ladies and gentlemen who came to dine, whom I saw
riding and driving in the Bois de Boulogne, and about whom I was forever
weaving stories of my own.

The other Parisian event concerns this story-telling. The imagining of
tales (about grown up people, "real people," I called them--children
always seemed to me incompletely realized) had gone on in me since my
first conscious moments; I cannot remember the time when I did not want
to "make up" stories. But it was in Paris that I found the necessary
formula. Oddly enough, I had no desire to write my stories down (even
had I known how to write, and I couldn't yet form a letter); but from
the first I had to have a book in my hand to "make up" with, and from
the first it had to be a certain sort of book. The page had to be
closely printed, with rather heavy black type, and not much margin.
Certain densely printed novels in the early Tauchnitz editions, Harrison
Ainsworth's for instance, would have been my richest sources of
inspiration had I not hit one day on something even better: Washington
Irving's "Alhambra." These shaggy volumes, printed in close black
characters on rough-edged yellowish pages, and bound in coarse dark-blue
covers (probably a production of the old Gaglignani Press in Paris) must
have been a relic of our Spanish adventure. Washington Irving was an old
friend of my family's, and his collected works, in comely type and
handsome binding, adorned our library shelves at home. But these would
not have been of much use to me as a source of inspiration. The rude
companion of our travels was the book I needed; I had only to open it
for the Pierian fount to flow. There was richness and mystery in the
thick black type, a hint of bursting overflowing material in the serried
lines and scant margin. To this day I am bored by the sight of widely
spaced type, and a little islet of text in a sailless sea of white

Well--the "Alhambra" once in hand, making up was ecstasy. At any moment
the impulse might seize me; and then, if the book was in reach, I had
only to walk the floor, turning the pages as I walked, to be swept off
full sail on the sea of dreams. The fact that I could not read added to
the completeness of the illusion, for from those mysterious blank pages
I could evoke whatever my fancy chose. Parents and nurses, peeping at me
through the cracks of doors (I always had to be alone to "make up"),
noticed that I often held the book upside down, but that I never failed
to turn the pages, and that I turned them at about the right pace for a
person reading aloud as passionately and precipitately as was my habit.

There was something almost ritualistic in the performance. The call came
regularly and imperiously; and though, when it caught me at inconvenient
moments, I would struggle against it conscientiously--for I was
beginning to be a very conscientious little girl--the struggle was
always a losing one. I had to obey the furious Muse; and there are
deplorable tales of my abandoning the "nice" playmates who had been
invited to "spend the day," and rushing to my mother with the desperate
cry: "Mamma, you must go and entertain that little girl for me. I'VE GOT

My parents, distressed by my solitude (my two brothers being by this
time grown up and away) were always trying to establish relations for me
with "nice" children, and I was willing enough to play in the Champs
Elysees with such specimens as were produced or (more reluctantly) to
meet them at little parties or dancing classes; but I did not want them
to intrude on my privacy, and there was not one I would not have
renounced forever rather than have my "making up" interfered with. What
I really preferred was to be alone with Washington Irving and my dream.

The peculiar purpose for which books served me probably made me
indifferent to what was in them. At any rate, I can remember feeling no
curiosity about it. But my father, by dint of patience, managed to drum
the alphabet into me; and one day I was found sitting under a table,
absorbed in a volume which I did not appear to be using for
improvisation. My immobility attracted attention, and when asked what I
was doing, I replied: "Reading." This was received with incredulity; but
on being called upon to read a few lines aloud I appear to have
responded to the challenge, and it was then discovered that the work
over which I was poring was a play by Ludovic Halevy, called "Fanny
Lear," which was having a succes de scandale in Paris owing to the fact
that the heroine was what ladies of my mother's day called "one of those
women." Thereafter the books I used for "making up" were carefully
inspected before being entrusted to me; and an arduous business it must
have been, for no book ever came my way without being instantly pounced
on, and now that I could read I divided my time between my own
improvisations and the printed inventions of others.

It was in Paris that I took my first dancing-lessons. I was no Isadora,
and these beginnings would not be worth a word but for the light they
throw on the manners and customs of my infancy. I used to go, with a
group of little friends, children English and American, to the private
cours of an ex-ballerina of the Grand Opera, Mademoiselle Michelet, a
large stern woman with a heavy black moustache, in whom it would have
been hard for the most imaginative to detect even a trace of her early
calling. To us she was the severest of instructresses. The waltz and
mazurka had long since been introduced into the ball-room, without even
a lingering remembrance of Byron's reprobation; but they were not
thought difficult enough to train the young, and we were persistently
exercised in the menuet, the shawl dance (with a lace scarf) and the
cachucha--of course with castanets. Mademoiselle Michelet's quarters
were very small; and I can still see myself, an isolated figure in the
centre of her shining parquet, helplessly waving my scarf or uncertainly
clacking my castanets, while my fellow pupils hedged me about as rather
bored spectators, and Mademoiselle Michelet's wizened little old mother,
in a cap turreted with loops of purple ribbon, tinkled out the tunes at
a piano squeezed into a corner of the room.

During one of our Paris winters (I think there were two or three) my
dear old grandmother, my mother's mother, paid us a long visit. I call
her "old," though it is probable that at the time she was under sixty;
but I had never seen her except in lace cap and lappets, a bunch of gold
charms dangling from her massive watch-chain, among the folds of a rich
black silk dress, and a black japanned ear-trumpet at her ear--the
abstract type of an ancestress as the function was then understood.

I always recall her seated in an arm-chair, her undimmed eyes bent over
some exquisitely fine needle-work. I hope she sometimes went for a walk
or a drive, and enjoyed a few glimpses of grown-up society; but for me
she exists only as a motionless and gently smiling figure, whose one
gesture was to lay aside her stitching for her ear-trumpet at my
approach. When she was with us I was constantly in her room; and my way
of returning her affection was to read aloud to her. I had just
discovered a volume of Tennyson among my father's books, and for hours I
used to shout the "Idyls of the King," and "The Lord of Burleigh"
through the trumpet of my long-suffering ancestress. Not being more than
six or seven years old I understood hardly anything of what I was
reading, or rather I understood it in my own way, which was most often
not the poet's; as in the line from "The Lord of Burleigh," "and he made
a loving consort," where I read "concert" for consort, and concluded
(being already addicted to rash generalisations) that a gentleman's
first act after marriage was to give his spouse a concert, in gratitude
for which "a faithful wife was she." But I enjoyed all the sonorities as
much as if I had known what they meant, and perhaps even more, since my
own interpretations so often enriched the text; and probably such shrill
scraps as travelled through the windings of my grandmother's trumpet
troubled her no more than they did me. To one whose preferred poetic
reading was "The Christian Year," the "Idyls of the King" must have been
almost as full of mystery and obscurity as Browning was to the next
generation, and the rhythmic raptures tingling through me probably woke
no echo in the dear old head bent to mine.

I suspect that no one else in the house could bear to be read aloud to
by me, for I do not remember attempting it on any one but my
grandmother; and indeed poetry did not play much part in our lives. My
father knew Macaulay's "Lays" by heart, and

Ho, Philip, send for charity thy Mexican pistoles,


Where ride Massilia's triremes
Heavy with fair-haired slaves,

had already thrummed their march-tunes into my infant ears. The new
Tennysonian rhythms also moved my father greatly; and I imagine there
was a time when his rather rudimentary love of verse might have been
developed had he had any one with whom to share it. But my mother's
matter-of-factness must have shrivelled up any such buds of fancy; and
in later years I remember his reading only Macaulay, Prescott,
Washington Irving, and every book of travel he could find. Arctic
explorations especially absorbed him, and I have wondered since what
stifled cravings had once germinated in him, and what manner of man he
was really meant to be. That he was a lonely one, haunted by something
always unexpressed and unattained, I am sure.


I remember nothing else of my Paris life except one vision over which
after-events shed a tragic glare. It was the sight, one autumn
afternoon, of a beautiful lady driving down the Champs Elysees in a
beautiful open carriage, a little boy in uniform beside her on a pony,
and a glittering escort of officers. The carriage, of the kind called a
daumont, was preceded by outriders, and swayed gracefully on its big
C-springs to the rhythm of four high-stepping and highly-groomed horses,
a postilion on one of the leaders, and two tremendous footmen perched
high at the back. But all I had eyes for was the lady herself. Leaning
back as ladies of those days leaned in their indolently-hung carriages,
flounces of feuille-morte taffetas billowing out about her, and on her
rich auburn hair a tiny black lace bonnet with a tea-rose above one ear.
I still see her serene elegance of attitude and expression, her
conscious air of being, with her little boy, and the shining horses, and
the flashing officers and outriders, the centre of the sumptuous
spectacle. The next year she and her procession had vanished in a
crimson hurricane; and the whole setting of swaying carriages and
outstretched ladies, of young men caracoling on thorough-breds past
stately houses glimpsed through clustering horse-chestnut foliage, has
long since been rolled up in the lumber-room of discarded pageants.

We must have remained in Paris till the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian
war, at which fateful moment we chanced to be at Bad Wildbad, in the
Black Forest, a primitive watering-place just coming into fashion, where
my mother had been sent for a cure. With a young German nursery
governess who had been added to our party I took happy rambles in the
pine-forests, and learned from her to make wild-flower garlands, to knit
and to tat, and to practise (for the only time in my life) other
Gretchenish arts. She also taught me (out of the New Testament) how to
read German; and in our Bible reading I came across a phrase which has
always delighted me because of the quaint contrast between its impulsive
German Gemuthlichkeit and the majestic phraseology of our Authorized
Version. When, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples cry out:
"Lord, it is good for us to be here; if Thou wilt, let us make here
three tabernacles," the German version causes them to say: "So lasset
uns Hutten bauen!" The cry, which suggested to me something fresh and
leafy and adventurous, like a Mayne Reid story or "The Swiss Family
Robinson," is a picturesque instance of the way in which racial
character colours alien formulas.

But one morning, climbing a woodland path with my governess and some
other children, I was seized by an agony of pain--and after that for
many long weeks life was a confused and feverish misery. I was
desperately ill with typhoid fever, and I mention the fact only because
of one incredible circumstance. All the doctors of Wildbad (they were
doubtless few) had already been mobilized, save one super-annuated
practitioner; and he had never before seen a case of typhoid! His son,
also a doctor, was with the army; and all that his father could do was
to despatch bulletins to him, asking how I was to be treated. The
replies, one may suppose, were long in arriving; and in the interval
death came near. But at the same time a celebrated Russian physician
arrived at Wildbad for a day, at the call of a princely patient. My
parents persuaded him to see me, and he prescribed the new treatment:
plunging the patient in baths of ice-cold water. At the suggestion my
mother's courage failed her; but she wrapped me in wet sheets, and I was


My childish world, though so well filled, lacked completeness, for my
dog Foxy had not come to Europe with us. His absence left such a void
that my parents finally gave me a Florentine lupetto, as white as Foxy,
but much smaller. By that time (I think in 1870) we had exchanged Paris
for Florence, and he was known as Florence Foxy. He was the joyous
companion of a comparatively dull winter; for the return to Italy did
not bring back the joys of Rome. Florence was much colder and less
sunny; there were no children to replace the jolly Pincianites, and the
Cascine Gardens are associated only with sedate walks with my elders,
monotonous enough if I had not had Foxy to race with, and violets to

The other high lights of those gray months were the increased
enchantment of "making up," and the fainter glow of the hours spent with
a charming young lady who taught me Italian. My lessons amused me, and
the new language came to me as naturally as breathing, as French and
German had already. Why do so few parents know what a fortune they could
bestow on their children by teaching them the modern languages in
babyhood, when a playmate is the only professor needed, and the speech
acquired is never afterward lost, however deep below the surface it may
be embedded?

But discovering Italian, though it was to be the source of such joys,
was nothing to the ecstasy of "making up." Learning to read, instead of
distracting me from this passion, had only fed it; and during that
Florentine winter it became a frenzy. Our vast and cheerless suite in
the high-ceilinged piano nobile of an hotel overlooking the Arno was
scantily furnished with threadbare carpets and heavy consoles and sofas;
but the long vista of rooms, each communicating with the next through
tall folding doors, was a matchless track for my sport. When the
grown-ups were out, and Doyley safe with her sewing, I had the field to
myself; and I still feel the rapture (greater than any I have ever known
in writing) of pouring forth undisturbed the tireless torrent of my
stories. The "Faster, faster, O Circe, Goddess" of "The Strayed
Reveller" always reminds me of those youthful gallops around the
racecourse of my imagination. The speed at which I travelled was so
great that my mother tried in vain to take down my "stories," and
posterity will never know what it has lost! All I remember is that my
tales were about what I still thought of as "real people" (that is,
grown-up people, resembling in appearance and habits my family and their
friends, and caught in the same daily coil of "things that might have
happened"). My imagination was still closed to the appeal of the purely
fabulous and fairy-like, and though I was already an ardent reader of
poetry I felt no desire to write it. But all that was soon to be
changed; for the next year we were to go home to New York, and I was to
enter into the kingdom of my father's library.



The depreciation of American currency at the close of the Civil war had
so much reduced my father's income that, in common with many of his
friends and relations, he had gone to Europe to economize, letting his
town and country houses for six years to some of the profiteers of the
day; but I did not learn till much later to how prosaic a cause I owed
my early years in Europe. Happy misfortune, which gave me, for the rest
of my life, that background of beauty and old-established order! I did
not know how deeply I had felt the nobility and harmony of the great
European cities till our steamer was docked at New York.

I remember once asking an old New Yorker why he never went abroad, and
his answering: "Because I can't bear to cross Murray Street." It was
indeed an unsavoury experience, and the shameless squalor of the
purlieus of the New York docks in the 'seventies dismayed my childish
eyes, stored with the glories of Rome and the architectural majesty of
Paris. But it was summer; we were soon at Newport, under the friendly
gables of Pencraig; and to a little girl long pent up in hotels and
flats there was inexhaustible delight in the freedom of a staircase to
run up and down, of lawns and trees, a meadow full of clover and
daisies, a pony to ride, terriers to romp with, a sheltered cove to
bathe in, flower-beds spicy with "carnation, lily, rose," and a
kitchen-garden crimson with strawberries and sweet as honey with Seckel

The roomy and pleasant house of Pencraig was surrounded by a verandah
wreathed in clematis and honey-suckle, and below it a lawn sloped to a
deep daisied meadow, beyond which were a private bathing-beach and
boat-landing. From the landing we used to fish for "scuppers" and
"porgies," succulent little fish that were grilled or fried for high
tea; and off the rocky point lay my father's and brothers' cat-boats,
the graceful wide-sailed craft that flecked the bay like sea-gulls.

Adjoining our property was Edgerston, the country home of Lewis
Rutherfurd, the distinguished astronomer, notable in his day for his
remarkable photographs of the moon. He and his wife were lifelong
friends of my parents', and in their household, besides two grown-up
daughters of singular beauty, there were two little boys, the youngest
of my own age. There were also two young governesses, French and German;
and as I was alone, and the German governess who had been imported for
me was unsympathetic and unsatisfied, she was soon sent home, and the
Rutherfurd governesses (the daughters of the house being "out," and off
their hands) took me on for French, German, and whatever else, in those
ancient days, composed a little girl's curriculum. This drew the two
households still closer, for though I did not study with the little boys
I seem to remember that I went to Edgerston for my lessons. There was
certainly a continual coming and going through the private gate between
the properties; but I recall a good deal more of our games than of my

Most vivid is my memory of the picturesque archery club meetings of
which the grown daughters of the house, Margaret (afterward Mrs. Henry
White) and her sister Louisa were among the most brilliant performers.
When the club met we children were allowed to be present, and to
circulate among the grown-ups (usually all three of us astride of one
patient donkey); and a pretty sight the meeting was, with parents and
elders seated in a semicircle on the turf behind the lovely archeresses
in floating silks or muslins, with their wide leghorn hats, and heavy
veils flung back only at the moment of aiming. These veils are
associated with all the summer festivities of my childhood. In that
simple society there was an almost pagan worship of physical beauty, and
the first question asked about any youthful newcomer on the social scene
was invariably: "Is she pretty?" or: "Is he handsome?"--for good looks
were as much prized in young men as in maidens. For the latter no grace
was rated as high as "a complexion." It is hard to picture nowadays the
shell-like transparence, the luminous red-and-white, of those young
cheeks untouched by paint or powder, in which the blood came and went
like the lights of an aurora. Beauty was unthinkable without "a
complexion," and to defend that treasure against sun and wind, and the
arch-enemy sea air, veils as thick as curtains (some actually of woollen
barege) were habitually worn. It must have been very uncomfortable for
the wearers, who could hardly see or breathe; but even to my childish
eyes the effect was dazzling when the curtain was drawn, and young
beauty shone forth. My dear friend Howard Sturgis used to laugh at the
"heavily veiled" heroines who lingered on so late in Victorian fiction,
and were supposed to preserve their incognito until they threw back
their veils; but if he had known fashionable Newport in my infancy he
would have seen that the novelists' formula was based on what was once a

Those archery meetings greatly heightened my infantile desire to "tell a
story," and the young gods and goddesses I used to watch strolling
across the Edgerston lawn were the prototypes of my first novels. The
spectacle was a charming one to an imaginative child already caught in
the toils of romance; no wonder I remember it better than my studies.
Not that I was not eager to learn; but my long and weary illness had
made my parents unduly anxious about my health, and they forbade my
being taught anything that required a mental effort. Committing to
memory, and preparing lessons in advance, were ruled out; it was thought
that I read too much (as if a born reader could!), and that my mind must
be spared all "strain." This was doubtless partly due to the solicitude
of parents for a late-born child, partly to a natural reaction against
the severities of their own early training. The sentimental theory that
children must not be made to study anything that does not interest them
was already in the air, and reinforced by the fear of "fatiguing" my
brain, it made my parents turn my work into play. Being deprived of the
irreplaceable grounding of Greek and Latin, I never learned to
concentrate except on subjects naturally interesting to me, and
developed a restless curiosity which prevented my fixing my thoughts for
long even on these. Of benefits I see only one. To most of my
contemporaries the enforced committing to memory of famous poems must
have forever robbed some of the loveliest of their bloom; but this being
forbidden me, great poetry--English, French, German and Italian--came to
me fresh as the morning, with the dew on it, and has never lost that
early glow.

The drawbacks were far greater than this advantage. But for the wisdom
of Fraulein Bahlmann, my beloved German teacher, who saw which way my
fancy turned, and fed it with all the wealth of German literature, from
the Minnesingers to Heine--but for this, and the leave to range in my
father's library, my mind would have starved at the age when the mental
muscles are most in need of feeding.

I used to say that I had been taught only two things in my childhood:
the modern languages and good manners. Now that I have lived to see both
these branches of culture dispensed with, I perceive that there are
worse systems of education. But in justice to my parents I ought to have
named a third element in my training; a reverence for the English
language as spoken according to the best usage. Usage, in my childhood,
was as authoritative an element in speaking English as tradition was in
social conduct. And it was because our little society still lived in the
reflected light of a long-established culture that my parents, who were
far from intellectual, who read little and studied not at all,
nevertheless spoke their mother tongue with scrupulous perfection, and
insisted that their children should do the same.

This reverence for the best tradition of spoken English--an easy
idiomatic English, neither pedantic nor "literary"--was no doubt partly
due to the fact that, in the old New York families of my parents' day,
the children's teachers were often English. My mother and her sisters
and brother had English tutors and governesses, and my own brothers were
educated at home by an extremely cultivated English tutor. In my
mother's family, more than one member of the generation preceding hers
had been educated at Oxford or Cambridge, and one of my own brothers
went to Cambridge.

Even so, however, I have never quite understood how two people so little
preoccupied with letters as my father and mother had such sensitive ears
for pure English. The example they set me was never forgotten; I still
wince under my mother's ironic smile when I said that some visitor had
stayed "quite a while," and her dry: "Where did you pick THAT up?" the
wholesome derision of my grown-up brothers saved me from pomposity as my
mother's smile guarded me against slovenliness; I still tingle with the
sting of their ridicule when, excusing myself for having forgotten
something I had been told to do, I said, with an assumption of grown-up
dignity (aetat ten or eleven): "I didn't know that it was IMPERATIVE."

Such elementary problems as (judging from the letters I receive from
unknown readers) disturb present-day users of English in
America--perplexity as to the distinction between "should" and "would,"
and the display of such half-educated pedantry as saying "gotten" and
"you would better"--never embarrassed our speech. We spoke naturally,
instinctively good English, but my parents always wanted it to be
better, that is, easier, more flexible and idiomatic. This excessive
respect for the language never led to priggishness, or precluded the
enjoyment of racy innovations. Long words were always smiled away as
pedantic, and any really excessive slang was welcomed with
amusement--but used as slang, as it were between quotation marks, and
not carelessly admitted into our speech. Luckily we all had a lively
sense of humour, and now that my brothers were at home again the house
rang with laughter. We all knew by heart "Alice in Wonderland," "The
Hunting of the Snark," and whole pages of Lear's "Nonsense Book," and
our sensitiveness to the quality of the English we spoke doubled our
enjoyment of the incredible verbal gymnastics of those immortal works.
Dear to us also, though in a lesser degree, were "Innocents Abroad,"
Bret Harte's parodies of novels, and, in their much later day, George
Ade's "Arty," and the first volumes of that great philosopher, Mr.
Dooley. I cannot remember a time when we did not, every one of us, revel
in the humorous and expressive side of American slang; what my parents
abhorred was not the picturesque use of new terms, if they were vivid
and expressive, but the habitual slovenliness of those who picked up the
slang of the year without having any idea that they were not speaking in
the purest tradition. But above all abhorrent to ears piously attuned to
all the inflexions and shades of meaning of our rich speech were such
mean substitutes as "back of" for behind, "dirt" for earth (i.e., a
"dirt road"), "any place" for anywhere, or slovenly phrases like "a
great ways," soon, alas, to be followed by the still more inexcusable "a
BARRACKS," "a WOODS," and even "a strata," "a phenomena," which, as I
grew up, a new class of the uneducated rich were rapidly introducing.

This feeling for good English was more than reverence, and nearer: it
was love. My parents' ears were wounded by an unsuitable word as those
of the musical are hurt by a false note. My mother, herself so little of
a reader, was exaggeratedly scrupulous about the books I read; not so
much the "grown-up" books as those written for children. I was never
allowed to read the popular American children's books of my day because,
as my mother said, the children spoke bad English WITHOUT THE AUTHOR'S
KNOWING IT. You could do what you liked with the language if you did it
consciously, and for a given purpose--but if you went shuffling along,
trailing it after you like a rag in the dust, tramping over it, as Henry
James said, like the emigrant tramping over his kitchen oil-cloth--that
was unpardonable, there deterioration and corruption lurked. I remember
it was only with reluctance, and because "all the other children read
them," that my mother consented to my reading "Little Women" and "Little
Men"; and my ears, trained to the fresh racy English of "Alice in
Wonderland," "The Water Babies" and "The Princess and the Goblin," were
exasperated by the laxities of the great Louisa.

Perhaps our love of good English may be partly explained by the
background of books which was an essential part of the old New York
household. In my grand-parents' day every gentleman had what was called
"a gentleman's library." In my father's day, these libraries still
existed, though they were often only a background; but in our case
Macaulay, Prescott, Motley, Sainte-Beuve, Augustin Thierry, Victor Hugo,
the Brontes, Mrs. Gaskell, Ruskin, Coleridge, had been added to the
French and English classics in their stately calf bindings. Were these
latter ever read? Not often, I imagine; but they were there; they
represented a standard; and perhaps some mysterious emanation disengaged
itself from them, obscurely fighting for the protection of the languages
they had illustrated.

A standard; the word perhaps gives me my clue. When I said, in my
resentful youth, that I had been taught only languages and manners, I
did not know how closely, in my parents' minds, the two were related.
Bringing-up in those days was based on what was called "good breeding."
One was polite, considerate of others, careful of the accepted formulas,
because such were the principles of the well-bred. And probably the
regard of my parents for the niceties of speech was a part of their
breeding. They treated their language with the same rather ceremonious
courtesy as their friends. It would have been "bad manners" to speak
"bad" English, and "bad manners" were the supreme offence.

The fastidiousness of speech came chiefly from my mother's side, and my
father probably acquired it under her influence. His own people, though
they spoke good English, had disagreeable voices. I have noticed that
wherever, in old New York families, there was a strong admixture of
Dutch blood, the voices were flat, the diction was careless. My mother's
stock was English, without Dutch blood, and this may account for the
greater sensivetiveness of all her people to the finer shades of English
speech. In an article on Conrad which appeared in the "Times Literary
Supplement" after his death, the author said (I quote from memory):
"Conrad had worshipped the English language all his life like a lover,
but he had never romped with her in the nursery"; and this it was my
happy fate to do.

To the modern child my little-girl life at Pencraig would seem sadly
tame and uneventful, for its chief distractions were the simple ones of
swimming and riding. My mother, like most married women of her day, had
long since given up exercise, my father's only active pursuits were
boating and shooting, and there was no one to ride with me but the
coachman--nor was our end of the island a happy place for equestrianism.
I enjoyed scampering on my pony over the hard dull roads; but it was
better fun to swim in our own cove, in the jolly company of brothers,
cousins and young neighbours. There were always two or three cat-boats
moored off our point, but I never shared the passion of my father and
brothers for sailing. To be a passenger was too sedentary, and I felt no
desire to sail the boat myself, being too wrapt in dreams to burden my
mind with so exact a science. Best of all I liked our weekly walks with
Mr. Rutherfurd over what we called the Rocks--the rough moorland
country, at that time without roads or houses, extending from the placid
blue expanse of Narrangansett bay to the gray rollers of the Atlantic.
Every Sunday he used to collect the children of the few friends living
near us, and take them, with his own, for a tramp across this rugged
country to the sea.

Yet what I recall of those rambles is not so much the comradeship of the
other children, or the wise and friendly talk of our guide, as my secret
sensitiveness to the landscape--something in me quite incommunicable to
others, that was tremblingly and inarticulately awake to every detail of
wind-warped fern and wide-eyed briar rose, yet more profoundly alive to
a unifying magic beneath the diversities of the visible scene--a power
with which I was in deep and solitary communion whenever I was alone
with nature. It was the same tremor that had stirred in me in the spring
woods of Mamaroneck, when I heard the whisper of the arbutus and the
starry choir of the dogwood; and it has never since been still.


The old New York to which I came back as a little girl meant to me
chiefly my father's library. Now for the first time I had my fill of
books. Out of doors, in the mean monotonous streets, without
architecture, without great churches or palaces, or any visible
memorials of an historic past, what could New York offer to a child
whose eyes had been filled with shapes of immortal beauty and immemorial
significance? One of the most depressing impressions of my childhood is
my recollection of the intolerable ugliness of New York, of its untended
streets and the narrow houses so lacking in external dignity, so crammed
with smug and suffocating upholstery. How could I understand that people
who had seen Rome and Seville, Paris and London, could come back to live
contentedly between Washington Square and the Central Park? What I could
not guess was that this little low-studded rectangular New York, cursed
with its universal chocolate-coloured coating of the most hideous stone
ever quarried, this cramped horizontal gridiron of a town without
towers, porticoes, fountains or perspectives, hide-bound in its deadly
uniformity of mean ugliness, would fifty years later be as much a
vanished city as Atlantis or the lowest layer of Schliemann's Troy, or
that the social organization which that prosaic setting had slowly
secreted would have been swept to oblivion with the rest. Nothing but
the Atlantis-fate of old New York, the New York which had slowly but
continuously developed from the early seventeenth century to my own
childhood, makes that childhood worth recalling now.

Looking back at that little world, and remembering the "hoard of petty
maxims" with which its elders preached down every sort of initiative, I
have often wondered at such lassitude in the descendants of the men who
first cleared a place for themselves in a new world, and then fought for
the right to be masters there. What had become of the spirit of the
pioneers and the revolutionaries? perhaps the very violence of their
effort had caused it to exhaust itself in the next generation, or the
too great prosperity succeeding on almost unexampled hardships had
produced, if not inertia, at least indifference in all matters except
business or family affairs.

Even the acquiring of wealth had ceased to interest the little society
into which I was born. In the case of some of its members, such as the
Astors and Goelets, great fortunes, originating in a fabulous increase
of New York real estate values, had been fostered by judicious
investments and prudent administration; but of feverish money-making, in
Wall Street or in railway, shipping or industrial enterprises, I heard
nothing in my youth. Some of my father's friends may have been bankers,
others have followed one of the liberal professions, usually the law; in
fact almost all the young men I knew read law for a while after leaving
college, though comparatively few practised it in after years. But for
the most part my father's contemporaries, and those of my brothers also,
were men of leisure--a term now almost as obsolete as the state it
describes. It will probably seem unbelievable to present day readers
that only one of my own near relations, and not one of my husband's, was
"in business." The group to which we belonged was composed of families
to whom a middling prosperity had come, usually by the rapid rise in
value of inherited real estate, and none of whom, apparently, aspired to
be more than moderately well off. I never in my early life came in
contact with the gold-fever in any form, and when I hear that nowadays
business life in New York is so strenuous that men and women never meet
socially before the dinner hour, I remember the delightful week-day
luncheons of my early married years, where the men were as numerous as
the women, and where one of the first rules of conversation was the one
early instilled in me by my mother: "Never talk about money, and think
about it as little as possible."

The child of the well-to-do, hedged in by nurses and governesses, seldom
knows much of its parents' activities. I have only the vaguest
recollection of the way in which my father and mother spent their days.
I know that my father was a director on the principal charitable boards
of New York--the Blind Asylum and the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum among
others; and that during Lent a ladies' "sewing class" met at our house
to work with my mother for the poor. I also recall frequent drives with
my mother, when the usual afternoon round of card-leaving was followed
by a walk in the Central Park, and a hunt for violets and hepaticas in
the secluded dells of the Ramble. In the evenings my parents went
occasionally to the theatre, but never, as far as I remember, to a
concert, or any kind of musical performance, until the Opera, then only
sporadic, became an established entertainment, to which one went (as in
eighteenth century Italy) chiefly if not solely for the pleasure of
conversing with one's friends. Their most frequent distraction was
dining out or dinner giving. Sometimes the dinners were stately and
ceremonious (with engraved invitations issued three weeks in advance,
soups, "thick" and "clear," and a Roman punch half way through the
menu), but more often they were intimate and sociable, though always the
occasion of much excellent food and old wine being admirably served, and
discussed with suitable gravity.

My father had inherited from his family a serious tradition of good
cooking, with a cellar of vintage clarets, and of Madeira which had
rounded the Cape. The "Jones" Madeira (my father's) and the "Newbold"
(my uncle's) enjoyed a particular celebrity even in that day of noted
cellars. The following generation, interested only in champagne and
claret, foolishly dispersed these precious stores. My brothers sold my
father's cellar soon after his death; and after my marriage, dining in a
nouveau riche house of which the master was unfamiliar with old New York
cousinships, I had pressed on me, as a treat not likely to have come the
way of one of my modest condition, a glass of "the famous Newbold

My mother, if left to herself, would probably not have been much
interested in the pleasures of the table. My father's Dutch blood
accounted for his gastronomic enthusiasm; his mother, who was a
Schermerhorn, was reputed to have the best cook in New York. But to know
about good cooking was a part of every young wife's equipment, and my
mother's favourite cookery books (Francatelli's and Mrs. Leslie's) are
thickly interleaved with sheets of yellowing note paper, on which, in a
script of ethereal elegance, she records the making of "Mrs. Joshua
Jones's scalloped oysters with cream," "Aunt Fanny Gallatin's fried
chicken," "William Edgar's punch," and the special recipes of our two
famous negro cooks, Mary Johnson and Susan Minneman. These great artists
stand out, brilliantly turbaned and ear-ringed, from a Snyders-like
background of game, fish and vegetables transformed into a succession of
succulent repasts by their indefatigable blue-nailed hands: Mary
Johnson, a gaunt towering woman of a rich bronzy black, with huge golden
hoops in her ears, and crisp African crinkles under vividly patterned
kerchiefs; Susan Minneman, a small smiling mulatto, more quietly
attired, but as great a cook as her predecessor.

Ah, what artists they were! How simple yet sure were their methods--the
mere perfection of broiling, roasting and basting--and what an
unexampled wealth of material, vegetable and animal, their genius had to
draw upon! Who will ever again taste anything in the whole range of
gastronomy to equal their corned beef, their boiled turkeys with stewed
celery and oyster sauce, their fried chickens, broiled red-heads, corn
fritters, stewed tomatoes, rice griddle cakes, strawberry short-cake and
vanilla ices? I am now enumerating only our daily fare, that from which
even my tender years did not exclude me; but when my parents "gave a
dinner," and terrapin and canvas-back ducks, or (in their season)
broiled Spanish mackerel, soft-shelled crabs with a mayonnaise of
celery, and peach-fed Virginia hams cooked in champagne (I am no doubt
confusing all the seasons in this allegoric evocation of their riches),
lima-beans in cream, corn souffles and salads of oyster-crabs, poured in
varied succulence from Mary Johnson's lifted cornucopia--ah, then, the
gourmet of that long-lost day, when cream was cream and butter butter
and coffee coffee, and meat fresh every day, and game hung just for the
proper number of hours, might lean back in his chair and murmur "Fate
cannot harm me" over his cup of Moka and his glass of authentic

I have lingered over these details because they formed a part--a most
important and honourable part--of that ancient curriculum of
house-keeping which, at least in Anglo-Saxon countries, was so soon to
be swept aside by the "monstrous regiment" of the emancipated: young
women taught by their elders to despise the kitchen and the linen room,
and to substitute the acquiring of University degrees for the more
complex art of civilized living. The movement began when I was young,
and now that I am old, and have watched it and noted its results, I
mourn more than ever the extinction of the household arts. Cold storage,
deplorable as it is, has done far less harm to the home than the Higher

And what of the guests who gathered at my father's table to enjoy the
achievements of the Dark Ladies? I remember a mild blur of rosy and
white-whiskered gentlemen, of ladies with bare sloping shoulders rising
flower-like from voluminous skirts, peeped at from the stair-top while
wraps were removed in the hall below. A great sense of leisure emanated
from their kindly faces and voices. No motors waited to rush them on to
ball or opera; balls were few and widely spaced, the opera just
beginning; and "Opera night" would not have been chosen for one of my
mother's big dinners. There being no haste, and a prodigious amount of
good food to be disposed of, the guests sat long at table; and when my
mother bowed slightly to the lady facing her on my father's right, and
flounces and trains floated up the red velvet stair-carpet to the
white-and-gold drawing-room with tufted purple satin arm-chairs, and
voluminous purple satin curtains festooned with buttercup yellow fringe,
the gentlemen settled down again to claret and Madeira, sent duly
westward, and followed by coffee and Havana cigars.

My parents' guests ate well, and drank good wine with discernment; but a
more fastidious taste had shortened the enormous repasts and deep
bumpers of colonial days, and in twenty minutes the whiskered gentlemen
had joined the flounced ladies on the purple settees for another half
hour of amiable chat, accompanied by the cup of tea which always rounded
off the evening. How mild and leisurely it all seems in the glare of our
new century! Small parochial concerns no doubt formed the staple of the
talk. Art and music and literature were rather timorously avoided
(unless Trollope's last novel were touched upon, or a discreet allusion
made to Mr. William Astor's audacious acquisition of a Bouguereau
Venus), and the topics chiefly dwelt on were personal: the thoughtful
discussion of food, wine, horses ("high steppers" were beginning to be
much sought after), the laying out and planting of country-seats, the
selection of "specimen" copper beeches and fern-leaved maples for lawns
just beginning to be shorn smooth by the new hand-mowers, and those
plans of European travel which filled so large a space in the thought of
old New Yorkers. From my earliest infancy I had always seen about me
people who were either just arriving from "abroad" or just embarking on
a European tour. The old New Yorker was in continual contact with the
land of his fathers, and it was not until I went to Boston on my
marriage that I found myself in a community of wealthy and sedentary
people seemingly too lacking in intellectual curiosity to have any
desire to see the world.

I have always been perplexed by the incuriosity of New England with
regard to the rest of the world, for New Yorkers of my day were never so
happy as when they were hurrying on board the ocean liner which was to
carry them to new lands. Those whose society my parents frequented did
not, perhaps, profit much by the artistic and intellectual advantages of
European travel, and to social opportunities they were half-resentfully
indifferent. It was thought vulgar and snobbish to try to make the
acquaintance, in London, Paris or Rome, of people of the class
corresponding to their own. The Americans who forced their way into good
society in Europe were said to be those who were shut out from it at
home; and the self-respecting American on his travels frequented only
the little "colonies" of his compatriots already settled in the European
capitals, and only their most irreproachable members! What these artless
travellers chiefly enjoyed were scenery, ruins and historic sites;
places about which some sentimental legend hung, and to which Scott,
Byron, Hans Andersen, Bulwer, Washington Irving or Hawthorne gently led
the timid sight-seer. Public ceremonials also, ecclesiastical or royal,
were much appreciated, though of the latter only distant glimpses could
be caught, since it would have been snobbish to ask, through one's
Legation, for reserved seats or invitations. And as for the American
women who had themselves presented at the English Court--well, one had
only to see with whom they associated at home!

However, ruins, snow-mountains, lakes and water-falls--especially
water-falls--were endlessly enjoyable; and in the great cities there
were the shops! In them, as Henry James acutely noted in "The Pension
Beaurepas," the American woman found inexhaustible consolation for the
loneliness and inconveniences of life in foreign lands. But, lest I seem
to lay undue stress on the limitations of my compatriots, it must be
remembered that, even in more sophisticated societies, cultivated
sight-seeing was hardly known in those days. One need only glance
through the "Travels" of the early nineteenth century to see how little,
before Ruskin, the average well-educated tourist of any country was
prepared to observe and enjoy. The intellectual few, at the end of the
eighteenth century, had been taught by Arhtur Young to travel with an
eye to agriculture and geology; and Goethe, in Sicily, struck Syracuse
and Girgenti from his itinerary, and took the monotonous and exhausting
route across the middle of the island, in order to see with his own eyes
why it had been called the granary of Rome. Meanwhile the simpler
majority collected scraps of marble from the Forum, pressed maidenhair
fern from the temple of Vesta at Tivoli, or daisies from the grave of
Shelley, and bought edelweiss gummed on cardboard from the guides of
Chamonix, and copies of Guido's "Aurora" and Caravaggio's "Gamesters"
from the Roman picture-dealers.

At that very time a handsome blue-eyed young man with a scarred mouth
was driving across the continent in his parents' travelling carriage,
and looking with wondering eyes at the Giottos of the Arena Chapel and
the Cimabues of Assisi; at that time a young architect, poor and
unknown, was toiling through the by-ways of Castile, Galicia and
Andalusia in jolting diligences, or over stony mule-tracks, and
recording in a series of exquisite drawings the unknown wonders of
Spanish architecture; and Browning was dreaming of "The Ring and the
Book"--and Shelley had long since written "The Cenci." But to the
average well-to-do traveller Hawthorne's "Marble Faun," Bulwer's "Last
Days of Pompeii" and Washington Irving's "Alhambra" were still the last
word on Spain and Italy.


I have wandered far from my father's library. Though it had the leading
share in my growth I have let myself be drawn from it by one scene after
another of my parents' life in New York or on their travels. But the
library calls me back, and I pause on its threshold, averting my eyes
from the monstrous oak mantel supported on the heads of vizored knights,
and looking past them at the rows of handsome bindings and familiar
names. The library probably did not contain more than seven or eight
hundred volumes. My father was a younger son, and my mother had a
brother to whom most of the books on her side of the family went. (I
remember on my uncle's shelves an unexpurgated Hogarth, splendidly bound
in eighteenth century crushed Levant, with which my little cousins and I
quite innocently and unharmedly beguiled ourselves.) The library to
which I had access contained therefore few inherited books; I remember
chiefly, in the warm shabby calf of the period, complete editions of
Swift, Sterne, Defoe, the "Spectator," Shakespeare, Milton, the Percy
reliques--and Hannah More! Most of the other books must have been
acquired by my father. Though few they were well-chosen, and the fact
that their number was so limited probably helped to fix their contents
in my memory. At any rate, long before the passing of years and a
succession of deaths brought them back to me, I could at any moment
visualize the books contained in those low oak bookcases. My mother,
perplexed by the discovery that she had produced an omnivorous reader,
and not knowing how to direct my reading, had perhaps expected the
governess to do it for her. Being an indolent woman, she finally turned
the difficulty by reviving a rule of her own schoolroom days, and
decreeing that I should never read a novel without asking her
permission. I was a painfully conscientious child and, conforming
literally to this decree, I submitted to her every work of fiction which
attracted my fancy. In order to save further trouble she almost always
refused to let me read it--a fact hardly to be wondered at, since her
own mother had forbidden her to read any of Scott's novels, except
"Waverley," till after she was married! At all events, of the many
prohibitions imposed on me--most of which, as I look back, I see little
reason to regret--there is none for which I am more grateful than this,
though it extended its rigours even to one of the works of Charlotte M.
Yonge! By denying me the opportunity of wasting my time over ephemeral
rubbish my mother threw me back on the great classics, and thereby
helped to give my mind a temper which my too-easy studies could not have
produced. I was forbidden to read Whyte Melville, Rhoda Broughton, "The
Duchess," and all the lesser novelists of the day; but before me
stretched the wide expanse of the classics, English, French and German,
and into that sea of wonders I plunged at will. Nowadays a reader might
see only the lacunae of the little library in which my mind was formed;
but, small as it was, it included most of the essentials. The principal
historians were Plutarch, Macaulay, Prescott, Parkman, Froude, Carlyle,
Lamartine, Thiers; the diaries and letters included Evelyn, Pepys, White
of Selborne, Cowper, Mme de Sevigne, Fanny Burney, Moore, the Journals
of the Misses Berry; the "poetical works" (in addition to several
anthologies, such as Knight's "Half Hours with the Best Authors" and
Lamb's precious selections from the Elizabethan dramatists) were those
of Homer (in Pope's and Lord Derby's versions), Longfellow's Dante,
Milton, Herbert, Pope, Cowper, Gray, Thomson, Byron, Moore, Scott,
Burns, Wordsworth, Campbell, Coleridge, Shelley (I wonder how or why?),
Longfellow, Mrs. Hemans and Mrs. Browning--though not as yet the writer
described in one of the anthologies of the period as "the husband of
Elizabeth Barrett, and himself no mean poet." He was to come later, as a
present from my sister-in-law, and to be one of the great Awakeners of
my childhood.

Among the French poets were Corneille, Racine, Lafontaine and Victor
Hugo, though, oddly enough, of Lamartine the poet there was not a page,
nor yet of Chenier, Vigny or Musset. Among French prose classics there
were, of course, Sainte-Beuve's "Lundis," bracing fare for a young mind,
Sevigne the divinely loitering, Augustin Thierry and Philarete Chasles.
Art history and criticism were represented by Lacroix's big volumes, so
richly and exquisitely illustrated, on art, architecture and costume in
the middle ages, by Schliemann's "Ilias" and "Troja," by Gwilt's
Encyclopaedia of Architecture, by Kugler, Mrs. Jameson, P.G. Hamerton,
and the Ruskin of "Modern Painters" and the "Seven Lamps," together with
a volume of "Selections" (appropriately bound in purple cloth) of all
his purplest patches; to which my father, for my benefit, added "Stones
of Venice" and "Walks in Florence" when we returned to Europe and the
too-short days of our joint sight-seeing began.

In philosophy, I recall little but Victor Cousin and Coleridge ("The
Friend" and "Aids to Reflection"); among essaysists, besides Addison,
there were Lamb and Macaulay; in the way of travel, I remember chiefly
Arctic explorations. As for fiction, after the eighteenth century
classics, Miss Burney and Scott of course led the list; but,
mysteriously enough, Richardson was lacking, save for an abridged
version of "Clarissa Harlowe" (and a masterly performance that
abridgement was, as I remember it). No doubt Richardson, with Smollett
and Fielding, fell to my uncle's share, and were too much out-of-date to
be thought worth replacing. Thus, except for Scott, there was a great
gap until one came to Washington Irving, that charming hybrid on whom my
parents' thoughts could dwell at ease, because, in spite of the
disturbing fact that he "wrote," he was a gentleman, and a friend of the
family. For my parents and their group, though they held literature in
great esteem, stood in nervous dread of those who produced it.
Washington Irving, Fitz-Greene Halleck and William Dana were the only
representatives of the disquieting art who were deemed uncontaminated by
it; though Longfellow, they admitted, if a popular poet, was
nevertheless a gentleman. As for Herman Melville, a cousin of the Van
Rensselaers, and qualified by birth to figure in the best society, he
was doubtless excluded from it by his deplorable Bohemianism, for I
never heard his name mentioned, or saw one of his books. Banished
probably for the same reasons were Poe, that drunken and demoralized
Baltimorean, and the brilliant wastrel Fitz James O'Brien, who was still
further debased by "writing for the newspapers." But worse still perhaps
in my parents' eyes was the case of such unhappy persons as Joseph
Drake, author of "The Culprit Fay," balanced between "fame and infamy"
as not quite of the best society, and writing not quite the best poetry.
I cannot hope to render the tone in which my mother pronounced the names
of such unfortunates, or, on the other hand, that of Mrs. Beecher Stowe,
who was so "common" yet so successful. On the whole, my mother doubtless
thought, it would be simpler if people one might be exposed to meeting
would refrain from meddling with literature.

Considering the stacks of novels which she, my aunts and my grandmother
annually devoured, their attitude seems singularly ungrateful; but it
was probably prompted by the sort of diffidence which, thank heaven, no
psycho-analyst had yet arisen to call a "complex." In the eyes of our
provincial society authorship was still regarded as something between a
black art and a form of manual labour. My father and mother and their
friends were only one generation away from Sir Walter Scott, who thought
it necessary to drape his literary identity in countless clumsy
subterfuges, and almost contemporary with the Brontes, who shrank in
agony from being suspected of successful novel-writing. But I am sure
the chief element in their reluctance to encounter the literary was an
awestruck dread of the intellectual effort that might be required of
them. They were genuinely modest and shy in the presence of any one who
wrote or painted. To sing was still a drawing-room accomplishment, and I
had two warbling cousins who had studied with the great opera singers;
but authors and painters lived in a world unknown and incalculable. In
addition to its mental atmosphere, its political and moral ideas might
be contaminating, and there was a Kilmeny-touch about those who
adventured into it and came back.

Meanwhile, though living authors were so remote, the dead were my most
living companions. I was a healthy little girl who loved riding,
swimming and romping; yet no children of my own age, and none even among
the nearest of my grown-ups, were as close to me as the great voices
that spoke to me from books. Whenever I try to recall my childhood it is
in my father's library that it comes to life. I am squatting again on
the thick Turkey rug, pulling open one after another the glass doors of
the low bookcases, and dragging out book after book in a secret ecstasy
of communion. I say "secret," for I cannot remember ever speaking to any
one of these enraptured sessions. The child knows instinctively when it
will be understood, and from the first I kept my adventures with books
to myself. But perhaps it was not only the "misunderstood" element, so
common in meditative infancy, that kept me from talking of my
discoveries. There was in me a secret retreat where I wished no one to
intrude, or at least no one whom I had yet encountered. Words and
cadences haunted it like song-birds in a magic wood, and I wanted to be
able to steal away and listen when they called. When I was about fifteen
or sixteen I tried to write an essay on English verse rhythms. I never
got beyond the opening paragraph, but that came straight out of my
secret wood. It ran: "No one who cannot feel the enchantment of 'Yet
once more, O ye laurels, and once more,' without knowing even the next
line, or having any idea whatever of the context of the poem, has begun
to understand the beauty of English poetry." For the moment that was
enough of ecstasy; but I wanted to be always free to steal away to it.

It was obvious that a little girl with such cravings, and to whom the
old Testament, the Apocalypse and the Elizabethan dramatists were open,
could not long pine for Whyte Melville or even Rhoda Broughton. Ah, the
long music-drunken hours on that library floor, with Isaiah and the Song
of Solomon and the Book of Esther, and "Modern Painters," and Augustin
Thierry's Merovingians, and Knight's "Half Hours," and that rich mine of
music, Dana's "Household Book of Poetry"! Presently kind friends began
to endow me with a little library of my own, and I was reading "Faust"
and "Wilhelm Meister," "Philip Van Arteveld," "Men and Women" and
"Dramatis Personae" in the intervals between "The Broken Heart" and "The
Duchess of Malfy," "Phedre" and "Andromaque." And there was one supreme
day when, my mother having despairingly asked our old literary advisor,
Mr. North at Scribner's, "what she could give the child for her
birthday," I woke to find beside my bed Buxton Forman's great editions
of Keats and Shelley! Then the gates of the realms of gold swung wide,
and from that day to this I don't believe I was ever again, in my inmost
self, wholly lonely or unhappy.

By the time I was seventeen, though I had not read every book in my
father's library, I had looked into them all. Those I devoured first
were the poets and the few literary critics, foremost of course
Sainte-Beuve. Ruskin fed me with visions of Italy for which I had never
ceased to pine, and Freeman's delightful "Subject and Neighbour Lands of
Venice," Mrs. Jameson's amiable volumes, and Kugler's "Handbook of
Italian Painting," gave a firmer outline to these visions. But the books
which made the strongest impression on me--doubtless because they
reached a part of my mind that no one had thought of arousing--were two
shabby volumes unearthed among my brother's college text-books: an
abridgement of Sir William Hamilton's "History of Philosophy" and a
totally forgotten work called "Coppee's Elements of Logic." This first
introduction to the technique of thinking developed the bony structure
about which my vague gelatinous musings could cling and take shape; and
Darwin and Pascal, Hamilton And Coppee ranked foremost among my

In a day when youthful innocence was rated so high my mother may be
thought to have chosen a singular way of preserving mine when she
deprived me of the Victorian novel but made me free of the old Testament
and the Elizabethans. Her plan was certainly not premeditated; but had
it been, she could not have shown more insight. Those great pages, those
high themes, purged my imagination; and I cannot recall ever trying to
puzzle out allusions which in tamer garb might have roused my curiosity.
Once, at the house of a little girl friend, rummaging with her through a
neglected collection of books which her parents had acquired with the
property, and never since looked at, we came upon a small volume which
seemed to burst into fiery bloom in our hands.

Forth, ballad, and take roses in both arms,
Even till the top rose touch thee in the throat
Where the least thornprick harms;
And girdled in thy golden singing-coat,
Come thou before my lady and say this:
Borgia, thy gold hair's colour burns in me,
Thy mouth makes beat my blood in feverish rhymes;
Therefore so many as these roses be,
Kiss me so many times.

But this, like all the rest, merely enriched the complex music of my
strange inner world. I do not mean to defend the sheltered education
against the system which expounds physiological mysteries in the
nursery; I am not sure which is best. But I am sure that great
literature does not excite premature curiosities in normally constituted
children; and I can give a comic proof of the fact, for though "The
White Devil," "Faust" and "Poems and Ballads" were among my early
story-books, all I knew about adultery (against which we were warned
every week in church) was that those who "committed" it were penalized
by having to pay higher fares in travelling: a conclusion arrived at by
my once seeing on a ferry-boat the sign: "Adults 50 cents; children 25

This ferment of reading revived my story-telling fever; but now I wanted
to write and not to improvise. My first attempt (at the age of eleven)
was a novel, which began: "'Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Brown?' said Mrs.
Tompkins. 'If only I had known you were going to call I should have
tidied up the drawing-room.'" Timorously I submitted this to my mother,
and never shall I forget the sudden drop of my creative frenzy when she
returned it with the icy comment: "Drawing-rooms are always tidy."

This was so crushing to a would-be novelist of manners that it shook me
rudely out of my dream of writing fiction, and I took to poetry instead.
It was not thought necessary to feed my literary ambitions with
foolscap, and for lack of paper I was driven to begging for the
wrappings of the parcels delivered at the house. After a while these
were regarded as belonging to me, and I always kept a stack in my room.
It never occurred to me to fold and cut the big brown sheets, and I used
to spread them on the floor and travel over them on my hands and knees,
building up long parallel columns of blank verse headed: "Scene: A
Venetian palace," or "Dramatis Personae" (which I never knew how to

My dear governess, seeing my perplexity over the structure of English
verse, gave me a work called "Quackenbos's Rhetoric," which warned one
not to speak of the oyster as a "succulent bivalve," and pointed out
that even Shakespeare nodded when he made Hamlet "take arms against a
sea of troubles." Mr. Quackenbos disposed of the delicate problems of
English metric by squeezing them firmly into the classic categories, so
that Milton was supposed to have written in "iambic pentameters," and
all superfluous syllables were got rid of (as in the eighteenth century)
by elisions and apostrophes. Always respectful of the rules of the game,
I tried to cabin my Muse within these bounds, and once when, in a moment
of unheard-of audacity, I sent a poem to a newspaper (I think "The
World"), I wrote to the editor apologizing for the fact that my metre
was "irregular," but adding firmly that, though I was only a little
girl, I wished this irregularity to be respected, as it was
"intentional." The editor published the poem, and wrote back politely
that he had no objection to irregular metres himself; and thereafter I
breathed more freely. My poetic experiments, however, were destined to
meet with the same discouragement as my fiction. Having vainly attempted
a tragedy in five acts I turned my mind to short lyrics, which I poured
out with a lamentable facility. My brother showed some of these to one
of his friends, an amiable and cultivated Bostonian named Allen
Thorndike Rice, who afterward became the owner and editor of the "North
American Review." Allen Rice very kindly sent the poems to the aged
Longfellow, to whom his mother's family were related; and on the bard's
recommendation some of my babblings appeared in the "Atlantic Monthly."
Happily this experiment was not repeated; and any undue pride I might
have felt in it was speedily dashed by my young patron's remarking to me
one day: "You know, writing lyrics won't lead you anywhere. What you
want to do is to write an epic. All the great poets have written epics.
Homer...Milton...Byron. Why don't you try your hand at something like
'Don Juan'?" This was a hard saying to a dreamy girl of fifteen, and I
shrank back into my secret retreat, convinced that I was unfitted to be
either a poet or a novelist. I did, indeed, attempt another novel, and
carried this one to its close; but it was destined for the private
enjoyment of a girlfriend, and was never exposed to the garish light of
print. It exists to this day, beautifully written out in a thick
copy-book, with a title page inscribed "Fast and Loose," and an epigraph
from Owen Meredith's "Lucile":

Let Woman beware
How she plays fast and loose with human despair,
And the storm in Man's heart.

Title and epigraph were terrifyingly exemplified in the tale, but it
closed on a note of mournful resignation, with the words: "And every
year when April comes the violets bloom again on Georgie's grave."

After this I withdrew to secret communion with the Muse. I continued to
cover vast expanses of wrapping paper with prose and verse, but the
dream of a literary career, momentarily shadowed forth by one miraculous
adventure, soon faded into unreality. How could I ever have supposed I
could be an author? I had never even seen one in the flesh!



In one of the most famous poems of my first literary protector the
Maiden is supposed to arrive with reluctant feet "where the brook and
river meet." I cannot say that my own feet were thus hampered. I was
contented enough with swimming and riding, with my dogs, and my reading
and dreaming, but I longed to travel and see new places, and, short of
that, was by no means averse to seeing new people, and especially to
being regarded as "grown up."

I had not long to wait, for when I was seventeen my parents decided that
I spent too much time in reading, and that I was to come out a year
before the accepted age. The New York mothers of that day usually gave a
series of "coming out" entertainments for debutante daughters, leading
off with a huge tea and an expensive ball. My mother thought this
absurd. She said her daughter could meet all the people she need know
without being advertised by a general entertainment; and as my family
kept open house, and as the younger of my two brothers was very popular
in society, it was easy enough to launch me in this informal way. I was
therefore put into a low-necked bodice of pale green brocade, above a
white muslin skirt ruffled with rows and rows of Valenciennes, my hair
was piled up on top of my head, some friend of the family sent me a
large bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley, and thus adorned I was taken by
my parents to a ball at Mrs. Morton's, in Fifth Avenue. Houses with
ball-rooms were still few in New York: almost the only ones were those
of the Astors, the Mortons, the Belmonts and my cousins the
Schermerhorns. As a rule, hostesses who wished to give a dance hired the
ball-room at Delmonico's restaurant; but my mother would never have
consented to my making my first appearance in a public room, so to Mrs.
Morton's we went. To me the evening was a long cold agony of shyness.
All my brother's friends asked me to dance, but I was too much
frightened to accept, and cowered beside my mother in speechless misery,
unable even to exchange a word with the friendly young men whom I
regarded as elder brothers when they lunched and dined at our house.

This shyness, though it long troubled me in general company, soon
vanished when I was with my friends. New York society was not at that
time divided into water-tight compartments by differences of age. The
pleasantest houses were those of a group of young married women who all
through the season gave a succession of small dinners, informal Sunday
lunches and after-theatre suppers. They were all friendly and welcoming
to any young girl "who could talk," and the great ambition of the
debutante was to be invited to their houses and treated on an equal
footing by them, and by the "older men" whose attentions were thought so
much more flattering than those of callow youths just out of college.
This luck befell me, thanks chiefly to my brother Harry's popularity,
and invitations poured in after my first sad evening. Like all agreeable
societies, ours was small, and the people composing it met almost every
day, and always sought each other out in any larger company. Some of the
hostesses had drawing-rooms big enough for informal dances, and to be
invited to these was the privilege of a half-dozen of the younger girls.
A season of opera at the old Academy of Music was now an established
event of the winter, and on Mondays and Fridays we met each other there;
Wednesday being, for some obscure tribal reason, the night on which
boxes were sent to dull relations and visitors from out of town, while
the inner circle disported itself elsewhere. Our society was, in short,
a little "set" with its private catch-words, observances and amusements,
and its indifference to anything outside of its charmed circle; and no
really entertaining social group has ever been anything else. The ages
of the people composing it ranged from eighteen to fifty; but all were
young in spirit, mostly good-looking, and full of gaiety and humour. The
talk was never intellectual and seldom brilliant, but it was always easy
and sometimes witty, and a charming informality had replaced the
ceremonious dullness of my parents' day. I doubt if New York society was
ever simpler, gayer, or more pleasantly sophisticated, than it was then.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly that winter, and still more so the following
summer, when Pencraig was full of merry young people, and the new game
of lawn tennis, played on our lawn by young gentlemen in tail coats and
young ladies in tight whale-boned dresses, began to supersede the
hitherto fashionable archery. Every room in our house was always full in
summer, and I remember jolly bathing parties from the floating
boat-landing at the foot of the lawn, mackerel-fishing, races in rival
cat-boats, and an occasional excursion up the bay, or out to sea when
the weather was calm enough, on one of the pretty white steam-yachts
which were beginning to be the favourite toys of the rich.

On one of these yachting-parties I made an acquaintance which some
unlucky chance kept me from renewing. A thin young man with intelligent
eyes was brought up and introduced as Cecil Spring-Rice, then, I think,
a secretary at the British Legation in Washington. Spring-Rice was
already--or became soon afterward--the friend of several of my most
intimate friends, and the affectionate nickname of "Springy" was as
familiar to me as that of one of my own intimates. But, to my loss, we
were never to meet again; and I record our single encounter only because
his delightful talk so illuminated an otherwise dull afternoon that I
have never forgotten the meeting. It also left me in possession of two
nearly perfect stories--Spring-Rice was a great story-teller--one of
which I never heard from any one else, while the other is usually
repeated in a far less effective form. Here they are.

A young physician who was also a student of chemistry, and a dabbler in
strange experiments, employed a little orphan boy as assistant. One day
he ordered the boy to watch over, and stir without stopping, a certain
chemical mixture which was to serve for a very delicate experiment. At
the appointed time the chemist came back, and found the mixture
successfully blent--but beside it lay the little boy, dead of the
poisonous fumes.

The young man, who was very fond of his assistant, was horrified at his
death, and in despair at having involuntarily caused it. He could
understand why the fumes should have proved fatal, and wishing to find
out, in the interest of science, he performed an autopsy, and discovered
that the boy's heart had been transformed into a mysterious jewel, the
like of which he had never seen before. The young man had a mistress
whom he adored, and full of grief, yet excited by this strange
discovery, he brought her the tragic jewel, which was very beautiful,
and told her how it had been produced. The lady examined it, and agreed
that it was beautiful. "But," she added carelessly, "you must have
noticed that I wear no ornaments but earrings. If you want me to wear
this jewel, you must get me another one just like it."

The other story is that of a young man who went to spend a week-end at a
big country-house where he had never been before. His train was late,
and when he came down the party had already gone in to dinner. He was
shown into the dining-room, and his hostess asked him to take the only
remaining vacant seat. On one side of him sat a very dull and
disagreeable man, on the other one of the most captivating young women
he had ever met. Naturally it was to her that he devoted all his
attention, and so fascinated was he that he did not even stop to wonder
who she was--he simply felt that he and she must always have been

They wandered delightedly from one subject to another, and toward the
end of dinner the conversation touched on the supernatural. "Do you
believe in ghosts?" the young lady asked. "No," said he with a laugh;
"do you?" "I am one," she replied--and suddenly the seat she had
occupied was empty. After dinner his hostess apologized for putting him
next to an empty chair. "We expected my dear friend, Mrs. ----; but just
as you arrived we had a telegram announcing her sudden death--and there
was not even time to take away her seat."

The regular afternoon diversion at Newport was a drive. Every day all
the elderly ladies, leaning back in victoria or barouche, or the
new-fangled vis-a-vis, a four-seated carriage with a rumble for the
footman, drove down the whole length of Bellevue Avenue, where the most
fashionable villas then stood, and around the newly laid-out "Ocean
Drive," which skirted for several miles the wild rocky region between
Narragansett bay and the Atlantic. For this drive it was customary to
dress as elegantly as for a race-meeting at Auteuil or Ascot. A brocaded
or satin-striped dress, powerfully whale-boned, a small flower-trimmed
bonnet tied with a large tulle bow under the chin, a dotted tulle veil
and a fringed silk or velvet sunshade, sometimes with a jointed handle
of elaborately carved ivory, composed what was thought a suitable toilet
for this daily circuit between wilderness and waves.

If these occupations seem to us insufficient to fill a day, it must be
remembered that the onerous and endless business of "calling" took up
every spare hour. I can hardly picture a lady of my mother's generation
without her card-case in her hand. Calling was then a formidable affair,
since many ladies had weekly "days" from which there was no possible
escape, and others cultivated an exasperating habit of being at home on
the very afternoon when, according to every reasonable calculation, one
might have expected them to be at Polo, or at Mrs. Belmont's archery
party, or abroad on their own sempiternal card-leaving. By the time I
grew up the younger married women had emancipated themselves, and simply
drove from house to house depositing their cards, duly turned down in
the upper left-hand corner, to the indignation of stay-a-home hostesses,
many of whom made their servants keep a list of the callers who "did not
ask," so that these might be struck off the next season's invitation
list--a punishment borne by the young and gay with perfect equanimity,
as it was only the dull hostesses who inflicted it.

In my mother's day, however, there were no palliatives to calling. The
footman had to ask if Mrs. So-and-so was at home, and if she was, there
ensued a half hour's visit in a cool shaded drawing-room, or on a wide
verandah overlooking the sea. As this had to be repeated after every
lunch, dinner or ball, and even the young men were not exempt (though
they usually got a mother or sister to leave their cards for them), it
may be imagined how much those daughters of Danaus, the dowagers leaning
back in their victorias, needed the refreshment of a "turn" around the
Ocean Drive in the intervals of their unending labour.

Still more striking than the dowagers' parade was the sight of the young
ladies, married or single, who, when they were guests at a Newport
villa, expected to be taken for an afternoon drive by the master of the
house or one of his sons. The vehicles of the fashionable young men were
either dog-carts (drawn by a pair driven tandem) or a high four-wheeled
conveyance called a T-cart, which, if I am not mistaken, was drawn by
one big stepper; while the older men drove handsome phaetons, with a
showy pair, and an impressive groom with folded arms in the rumble.

Carriages, horses, harnesses and grooms were all of the latest and most
irreproachable cut, and Bellevue Avenue was a pretty scene when the
double line of glittering vehicles and showy horse-flesh paraded between
green lawns and scarlet geranium-borders. The dress of the young ladies
perched on the precarious height of a dog-cart or phaeton was no less
elegant than that of the dowagers; and I remember, one hot summer
afternoon, seeing one of the damsels who were staying at Pencraig appear
for the drive arrayed in a heavy white silk dress with a broad black
satin stripe, and a huge hat wreathed with crimson roses and draped with
a green veil against the sun. It is only fair to add that my brother,
who helped her to the giddy summit of the T-cart, and climbed to her
side while a tiny groom in snowy breeches clung to the bridle of the
impatient chestnut--my brother, like all the young gentlemen of his day,
was arrayed in a frock-coat, a tall hat and pearl-gray trousers. What
wonder that an eager-eyed little girl, watching these stately comings
and goings from the verandah of Pencraig, still thought that old Mr.
Bedlow's Olympian gods and goddesses must have looked like her brother
Harry and his lovely companion when they started off for a turn along
some supernal Ocean Drive?


Such delights faded before what the next autumn brought. During the long
eight years since our return from Europe, how often had I not said to my
father: "Papa, when are we going back?" and how sadly had I not listened
to his answer: "My dear, whenever we can afford it." Now, unhappily, his
health made it necessary that he should not spend another winter in New
York; but the doctors seemed to think that in a warmer climate he might
live for years, and, dearly as I loved him, the impending joys of travel
were much more vivid to me than any fears for his health.

To my last day I shall never forget how the prospect thrilled me. What
were society and dancing and tennis compared to the rapture of seeing
again all that, for eight years, my eyes had pined for? A happier
pilgrim has never set foot in the November fogs of London; for what I
had dimly loved as a child I was now to look on again with grown-up eyes
(as I then thought them!).

My governess came with us, and I can still retravel with her every step
of our first journey through the National Gallery. It was on that day,
the first after our arrival in London, that I discovered my life-long
friend, Franciabigio, "Knight of Malta," with his poignant motto, Tar
ublia chi bien eima; that day that I fitted the "Santa Conversatione" of
Bellini with the lines which Milton must have meant for it:

There entertain him all the saints above,
In solemn troops and sweet societies--

that day that I was first caught in the airy web of Pinturicchio's
weaving Penelope, and swept upward in the serenely circling heavens of
Botticini's Assumption. But it was not only among pictures that I felt
the stir of old associations. The streets, the houses, the people of the
countries I had lived in as a child, met me with the faces of old
friends, and every voice was music. I longed, of course, to travel,
above all to go to Italy; but on my father's account we had to start
almost immediately for the Riviera. My parents had meant to spend the
winter at Nice, but I could not bear the thought of being pent up in a
city when all the countryside was full of roses and jasmine. I was
allowed to go with my governess to Cannes, then a small colony of villas
in leafy gardens, and there we found a quiet hotel with terraces of
flowers, where I persuaded my parents to establish themselves. My mother
was cheered by discovering in near-by villas two old friends from
Boston, the Countess de Sartiges and the Countess de Banuelos. In both
families there were girls a year or two older than myself; and though my
mother would not go out herself she was persuaded to put me under the
care of the Countess de Banuelos, who took me everywhere with her own
daughters. The small and intimate society we frequented was made up of
French and English families, mostly connected by old friendship, and
some by blood. Our amusements were simple and informal, as social
pleasures were in those days, and picnics on the shore, or among the red
rocks and pine forests of the Esterel, lawn tennis parties and small
dinners, united the same young people day after day, under the
guardianship of a pleasant group of their elders. The wooded background
of Cannes still descended almost to the shore, and my amusements were
diversified by long country walks with my governess, and delightful
rides through the cork and pine-woods with Tonita de Banuelos. I was
received with extreme friendliness into this little circle, which,
allowing for the difference in race and traditions, was so like the one
I had left in New York: made up of kindly and rather frivolous people,
to whom my secret dreams would have been as unintelligible as to my
friends at home. I was very happy among them, however, and twenty-five
years later, when my husband and I went to Paris to spend a winter,
those who remained of the old group welcomed me as affectionately as
though weeks and not years had intervened since our young days in

The following summer we spent at Homburg, then a fashionable but quiet
little watering-place with gardens full of roses, where my mother had
been sent for the cure. My father's health, to my young eyes at least,
seemed neither to improve nor to grow worse; I became accustomed to his
patient inactivity, and probably thought of him as old rather than ill.
That autumn we went to Venice and Florence, and it must have been then
that he gave me "Stones of Venice" and "Walks in Florence," and gently
lent himself to my whim of following step by step Ruskin's arbitrary
itineraries. But probably even this mild sight-seeing was beyond his
strength, for I do not recall many walks with him; and by the time we
returned to Cannes he had grown distinctly worse, and failed slowly
during the winter. He died there in the early spring, suddenly stricken
by paralysis; and I am still haunted by the look in his dear blue eyes,
which had followed me so tenderly for nineteen years, and now tried to
convey the goodbye messages he could not speak. Twice in my life I have
been at the death-bed of someone I dearly loved, who has vainly tried to
say a last word to me; and I doubt if life holds a subtler anguish.

My mother and I went home to Pencraig. In those days the rules of family
mourning were severe, and I went out very little; but in the autumn my
mother hired a house in Washington Square, and subsequently bought one
in West Twenty-Fifth Street, which she altered and added to. My old
friends welcomed me on our return, and there followed two gay but
uneventful New York winters. I had never ceased to be a great reader,
but had almost forgotten my literary dreams. I could not believe that a
girl like myself could ever write anything worth reading, and my friends
would certainly have agreed with me. No one in our set had any
intellectual interests, though most of the men were better read than the
average young American of today. Many of the group, however, were
quicker and more amusing than I was, and though I was popular, and
enjoyed myself in their company, I never dreamed that I was in any way
their superior. Indeed, being much less pretty than many of the girls,
and less quick at the up-take than the young men, I might have suffered
from an inferiority complex had such ailments been known. But my powers
of enjoyment have always been many-sided, and the mere fact of being
alive and young and active was so exhilarating that I could seldom spare
the time to listen to my inner voices. Yet when they made themselves
heard again they had become irresistible.



At the end of my second winter in New York I was married; and
thenceforth my thirst for travel was to be gratified. My husband, whose
family came from Virginia, but whose father had married in Boston and
settled there, was an intimate friend of my brother's, and had long been
an annual visitor at Pencraig. He was thirteen years older than myself,
but the difference in age was lessened by his natural youthfulness, his
good humour and gaiety, and the fact that he shared my love of animals
and out-door life, and was soon to catch my travel-fever. It was not
that, either then or later, I was restless, or eager for change for its
own sake. My first care was to create a home of my own; and a few months
after our marriage my husband and I moved into a little cottage in the
grounds of Pencraig, and rearranged it in accordance with our tastes. I
was never very happy at Newport. The climate did not agree with me, and
I did not care for watering-place mundanities, and always longed for the
real country; but the place and the life suited my husband, and in any
case we could not have afforded to buy a property of our own. So we
settled down at Pencraig Cottage, and for a few years always lived there
from June till February; and I was too busy with my little house and
garden ever to find the time long. But every year we went abroad in
February for four months of travel; and it was then that I really felt
alive. Vernon Lee, John Addington Symonds and "John Inglesant" had added
to my library of Italian travel, and "Euphorion" and "The Italian
Renaissance" had given me joys I should be ungrateful not to record.
Another book, of a totally different kind, figured among my more recent
Awakeners; and that was James Fergusson's "History of Architecture," at
that time one of the most stimulating books that could fall into a young
student's hands. A generation nourished on learned monographs,
monumental histories, and works of reference covering every period of
art from Babylonian prehistory to the present day, would find it hard to
believe how few books of the sort, especially on architecture and
sculpture, were available in my youth. Fergusson's "History of
Architecture" was an amazing innovation in its day. It shed on my misty
haunting sense of the beauty of old buildings the light of historical
and technical precision, and cleared and extended my horizon as
Hamilton's "History of Philosophy," and my little old handbook of logic,
had done in another way.

Hitherto my best beloved companions had been books, and to leave one out
of this record seems like omitting the name of a human friend. But to
enumerate even a fraction would turn my tale into a library catalogue,
for I never stopped reading, and having new adventures in the realms of
gold; and meanwhile the fate which had so long denied me any other
intellectual companionship suddenly relented, and gave me a friend.

Books are alive enough to an imagination which knows how to animate
them; but living companions are more living still, as I was to discover
when I passed for the first time from the somewhat cramping
companionship of the kindly set I had grown up in, and the cool solitude
of my studies, into the warm glow of a cultivated intelligence. The man
to whom I owe this was Egerton Winthrop, an old friend of my family's.
He was a direct descendant of Governor Stuyvesant of New York, and of
John Winthrop, first Colonial Governor of Massachusetts; but he belonged
to the branch of the latter family long established in New York. Having
married early, and been soon left a widower, he had lived for many years
in Paris; but his children were growing up, the time had come for his
sons to enter Harvard, and the year of my marriage he returned to New
York, where he had built himself a charming house. Besides being an
ardent bibliophile he was a discriminating collector of works of art,
especially of the eighteenth century, and his house was the first in New
York in which an educated taste had replaced stuffy upholstery and
rubbishy "ornaments" with objects of real beauty in a simply designed
setting. He delighted to receive his friends, and was one of the most
popular hosts in New York. But the more I ponder over our long
friendship the more I despair of portraying him; for never, I believe,
have an intelligence so distinguished and a character so admirable been
combined with interests for the most part so trivial. In spite of his
worldly tastes he was subject, with all but his intimates, to fits of
shyness which made him appear either stiff or affected; and I always
said that when he came to see me nothing was safe in my small
drawing-room, for if he found other visitors there he invariably
stumbled across a foot-stool, or made straight for any fragile object in
his path. Yet this man, so self-conscious and ill at ease with
insignificant people, was the most stimulating of talkers in a congenial
group. But though he was nervous and preoccupied in the company of the
commonplace, and at his best only with people who shared his deeper
interests, yet he attached far more importance to his merely mundane
relations, and took far more trouble about the finish and perfection of
his dinners than about the choice of his guests. The truth is, he was an
intensely social being, and to such the New York of the day offered few
intellectual resources. As in most provincial societies, the scholars,
artists and men of letters shut themselves obstinately away from the
people they despised as "fashionable," and the latter did not know how
to make the necessary advances to those who lived outside of their
little conventions. It is only in sophisticated societies that the
intellectual recognize the uses of the frivolous, and that the frivolous
know how to make their houses attractive to their betters.

Though, like Egerton Winthrop, I had always lived among the worldly, I
had never been much impressed by them, and he was always pleading with
me to fill the part he thought I ought to play in New York, where my
husband and I now had the smallest of small houses; but I suspect that
he was secretly envious of an indifference to the world of fashion which
he was never able to acquire. Though he was nearly twice my age, in this
one respect I was his senior, and I think he knew it. But the man who
was my friend was so different from the diner-out and ball-giver that I
was aware of the latter's existence only when he took me to task for my
disregard of society. When we were alone I saw only the lover of books
and pictures, the accomplished linguist and eager reader, whose
ever-youthful curiosities first taught my mind to analyse and my eyes to
see. It was too late for me to acquire the mental discipline I had
missed in the schoolroom, but my new friend directed and systematized my
reading, and filled some of the worst gaps in my education. Through him
I first came to know the great French novelists and the French
historians and literary critics of the day; but his chief gift was to
introduce me to the wonder-world of nineteenth century science. He it
was who gave me Wallace's "Darwin and Darwinism," and "The Origin of
Species," and made known to me Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Romanes,
Haeckel, Westermarck, and the various popular exponents of the great
evolutionary movement. But it is idle to prolong the list, and hopeless
to convey to a younger generation the first overwhelming sense of cosmic
vastnesses which such "magic casements" let into our little geocentric

My friendship with Egerton Winthrop was perhaps the happiest I was to
know, since it was the least troubled by the perturbations which mar
most intimacies. From our first meeting to the last--a period of over
thirty years--he was the most perfect of friends. As the years passed,
and the difference in our ages made itself felt, the coming of younger
friends into my life caused us to be less often together; but, though I
knew he suffered from the change, it never lessened his friendly
devotion, and to the day of his death we wrote often and fully to each

I have dwelt on our long comradeship not only because I want to record
my gratitude to so dear a friend, but because, alike in his faults and
his qualities, Egerton Winthrop was typical of the American gentleman of
his day. The type has vanished with the conditions that produced it; but
in my young days New York could show a group of men, such as my old
friend Bayard Cutting, Robert Minturn, John Cadwalader, George Rives,
Stephen Olin and their like, who, without having Egerton Winthrop's
range of interests, combined a cultivated taste with marked social
gifts. Their weakness was that, save in a few cases, they made so little
use of their abilities. A few were distinguished lawyers or bankers,
with busy professional careers, but too many, like Egerton Winthrop,
lived in dilettantish leisure. The best class of New Yorkers had shaken
off the strange apathy following on the Civil War, and begun to develop
a municipal conscience, and all the men I have mentioned were active in
administering the new museums, libraries and charities of New York; but
the idea that gentleman could stoop to meddle with politics had hardly
begun to make its way, and none of my friends rendered the public
services that a more enlightened social system would have exacted of
them. In every society there is the room, and the need, for a cultivated
leisure class; but from the first the spirit of our institutions has
caused us to waste this class instead of using it.

In our little group Egerton Winthrop's was by far the most sensitive
intelligence, and it transformed my life to find my vague enthusiasms
canalized, my roving curiosities supplied with the food they needed, and
a glow of participation reflected back over all my years of solitary
reading. But he helped me also in other ways; for though so easily
entangled in worldly trifles, he was full of wisdom in serious matters.
Sternly exacting toward himself, he was humorously indulgent toward
others. Throughout our friendship I found him, in difficult moments, the
surest of counsellors; and even now that I am old, and he has been so
many years dead, it still happens to me, when faced by a difficulty, to
ask myself: "What would Egerton have done?"


My husband, though a Bostonian by birth, was by blood a Virginian, and
while he was greatly attached to his Boston friends, he did not care for
the place, and had no desire to live there. Like most Bostonians he had
travelled very little; but he soon caught my love of the road, though he
too cared for travelling only as an occasional change from our quiet
months at home.

After several seasons of happy wandering in Italy we both felt the
longing to go farther, and one day I happened to say to our old friend
James Van Alen: "I would give everything I own to make a cruise in the

I was not prepared for his prompt reply: "You needn't do that if you'll
let me charter a yacht, and come with me."

At first we took the suggestion as a joke; but when we found that it was
made in earnest it began to fascinate our imagination. However, though
we were fund of James Van Alen, and grateful for his invitation, we were
not disposed to make so long a voyage as his guests, or that of any
other friend. In so momentous an adventure we preferred to have our say
about the itinerary, the choice of places to be seen (since, alas, it
was necessary to choose), and the general arrangements for the trip. We
asked Van Alen to calculate exactly how much a four months' cruise would
cost, learned that to pay half of the expenses would consume our whole
income for the year--and promptly decided to do so!

Loud was the outcry in our respective families. My brothers, who were my
trustees under my father's will, asked, not unnaturally, what we
proposed to live on for the rest of the year--and there was no answer!
But the most indignant protests came from my husband's family. In Boston
married couples, after a brief honeymoon abroad, were expected to divide
the rest of their lives between Boston in winter and its suburbs, or the
neighbouring sea-shore, in summer; and it was told of an old Mr. Russell
that on driving away from the church on his wedding day he remarked to
his bride, perhaps rather wistfully: "And now, my dear, there is nothing
before us but Mount Auburn" (the family cemetery). For the Bostonians
have never been backward in satirizing their own peculiarities.

But, of all mad schemes, our families protested, why a cruise in the
Mediterranean? Who had ever before heard of such an idea? Though there
were many American yacht owners with swift and beautiful craft, they
cruised mainly in home waters, or if they crossed the Atlantic, did so
not for sight-seeing but to try their luck in international racing. Such
a voyage as we planned was almost unheard of, and in any case only a fad
for the wealthy. I was more impressed than my husband by these
arguments. I had been taught to treat my brothers, who were so much
older than myself, with filial deference, and it seemed a sacrilege to
go against their judgment and my mother's. We could not raise a loan,
since my property was in trust, and my husband had only a small
allowance from his father. In those days it was thought dishonourable to
take financial risks one might be unable to meet; and how were we to
live for the rest of the year, since neither of us could have earned a
penny? But my husband said: "Do you really want to go?" and when I
nodded, he rejoined: "All right. Come along, then." And we went.

Those four months in the Aegean were the greatest step forward in my
making. I shall not enlarge here on the wonders of the cruise, or
expatiate on the inexhaustible memories it left with me; but I must add,
in justification of our families' astonishment at our adventure, that we
met hardly any pleasure craft (and, except in the big ports, no
passenger steamers), and that at Astypalaea, one of the islands we
visited, the parish priest, the mayor and all the inhabitants came out
on the Venetian ramparts in solemn procession to receive us, explaining
that it was a great day for the island, as no steamer had ever before
touched there, and many of the islanders had never seen one in the

I must also say a word of our travelling companion, who not only took on
himself all the trouble of chartering and provisioning our delightful
little yacht, the "Vanadis," but, although he did not altogether share
my archeological ardours, bore with them with unvarying good-nature,
allowing me the necessary time, between Girgenti and Sunium, to see all
but the most inaccessible Greek temples, and to explore nearly every one
of the then little visited Aegean islands.

James Van Alen had travelled all over the Peloponnesus in his youth, and
to my imagination he was a living link with the old trackless dangerous
Greece of Byron's day, for he had been invited to join the ill-fated
party of Englishmen who were seized by brigands near Athens early in the
'seventies, and of whom only one (Lord Muncaster) escaped alive. Van
Alen had accepted the invitation, but at the last moment an attack of
malaria had prevented his going. Those perilous days were over; but at
the time of our cruise their memory was still preserved in the current
edition of Murray's Guide, and when one day, being driven by a gale into
the gulf of Maina (formerly one of the most dangerous regions in Greece)
we consulted that invaluable work to see if the village frowning on the
cliff above were worth visiting, we were rewarded by the following
information: "The Mainotes are a brave, generous and hospitable race,
but much given to acts of treachery, piracy, wreckage, robbery and
murder." The day was hot, the path steep--and we decided to stay on the

My husband and I were so lost in enjoyment that neither of us gave a
thought to the unsolved financial problem awaiting us at the end of the
cruise. Only twice in my life have I been able to put all practical
cares out of my mind for months, and each time it has been on a voyage
in the Aegean. We reached Athens only toward the end of the cruise, and
among the letters which awaited us was one telling me that a little dog
we had left in America was dead, and another announcing the demise of a
cousin of my father's, an old gentleman I had never seen, and hardly
knew by name. This excellent man had lived all his life in one room in
the old New York Hotel, and gone without a fire in winter to save money;
and this enabled him to divide among his many cousins a fortune
enormously increased by his privations--proving (as my sister-in-law
remarked) that what we had always regarded as miserliness was only a
wise economy! My share was more than enough to pay for our taste of
heaven; but my husband complained that in my grief for the dog I forgot
to be grateful to my cousin. It was in fact some time before I grasped
my good luck, and when my gratitude woke it took, as often happens, the
form of doing exactly what my benefactor would most have reproved. He
had been a miser, and he nearly turned me into a spendthrift! At any
rate he taught me that never again, when I had the chance to do
something difficult and wonderful, must I hesitate to trust to my
star--the only condition being that the risk should not be run for
anything not really worth it.

Acting on this conviction we threw our families into fresh alarms by
deciding, a year or two later, to charter a sailing vessel, head for the
West Indies, pick up the trades for the Canaries, and thence, by way of
the Azores, make for Portugal and Spain. The schooner was chosen, the
charter drawn up--and what a glorious adventure it would have been! But,
alas, it was not to come off, for there was cholera at the Canaries or
the Azores, and we were warned that quarantine difficulties would waylay
us everywhere. Our families drew a breath of relief--but we never ceased
to regret our lost adventure.

Our Mediterranean cruise took place in 1888; but, owing to my not having
kept a diary, I find it impossible to disentangle the chronology of our
travels in Italy. We used to go there every spring, and each year we
explored some new and relatively unfamiliar region, choosing in
preference places which offered examples of seventeenth and eighteenth
century architecture. A trifling incident had given this turn to my
studies. Not long after our marriage, my husband asked his old friend
Julian Story, who had a studio in Paris, to paint my portrait. I was
sitting to him one day--restless, and desperately bored, for I saw the
picture was going to be a failure--when my eye lit on an arm-chair, the
most artlessly simple and graceful arm-chair I had ever seen. I knew a
little about French eighteenth century furniture, and saw at once that
this chair was different: less skilful in execution, yet freer and more
individual in movement. I asked where it came from, and Story answered:
"Oh, eighteenth century Venetian. It's a pity no one knows or cares
anything about eighteenth century Italian furniture or architecture. In
fact everybody behaves--the historians as well as the art critics--as if
Italy had ceased to exist at the end of the Renaissance."

The words struck my imagination, for though I had read Vernon Lee's
enchanting "Eighteenth Century in Italy," and soon afterward was to
discover Gurlitt's excellent "Barockstil in Italien," I knew it was true
in the main that, to the traveller of average reading, the eighteenth
century seemed at that time to belong as exclusively to France as the
Cinque Cento to Italy. The new turn thus given to my curiosity made us
devote our subsequent holidays to the study of eighteenth century
painting and architecture in Italy. In these pleasant explorations
Egerton Winthrop was our constant companion, and among comrades of the
road I have known few as responsive to beauty, as patient over
disappointments and discomforts. Among many good wanderings I remember
especially our drive one spring from Florence to Urbino and the
Adriatic, by way of San Marino, San Leo, Loreto, Ancona, Pesaro and
Rimini. Nowadays it is a quick motor-jaunt over smooth roads leading to
comfortable inns, but forty years ago it was a toilsome expedition, in a
heavy carriage drawn by tired horses, a journey full of the enchantments
of discovery but also of fatigue and discomfort, since the
well-organized travel of coaching days was over, and the inns off the
direct railway routes had been almost abandoned.

I was not always patient under such discomfort. Once, in a now defunct
hotel at Parma, where the conditions below stairs were so unappetizing
that we persuaded the waiter to serve our dinner in Egerton's bedroom, I
may have grumbled a little more than usual, for I remember his saying
with gentle irony: "My dear, no doubt your standards of cleanliness are
higher than this hotel-keeper's; but I daresay the Princess of Wales
[Queen Alexandra] would not consider your toilet appointments good
enough for her; and the angels may think even Her Royal Highness
insufficiently clean." Another day, when my irresistible tendency to
improve and organize led me, in some forlorn French hotel, to remark on
the slovenly incompetence of the waiter, my old friend observed: "If the
poor man were as intelligent as he would have to be to please you, he
wouldn't be a waiter in this inn, but President of the French Republic."

Sometimes the Paul Bourgets were our companions on these wanderings.
Bourget, soon after his marriage (about 1893, I think) had been
commissioned by Gordon Bennett to write for the New York "Herald" the
series of articles on the United States subsequently collected in the
volume called "Outremer." The preparation for this book sent him and his
young wife to America, and a friend in Paris gave them a letter for me.
Bourget had been specially instructed to do his "fashionable watering
place" article at Newport, and as soon as he and his wife arrived they
came to lunch, and that very day our long friendship began, a friendship
as close with the brilliant and stimulating husband as with his quiet
and exquisite companion. I shall never forget Minnie Bourget as I first
saw her, with her little aquiline nose, her grave remote gray eyes and
sensitive mouth, in the delicate oval of a small face crowned by heavy
braids of brown hair. I used to call her the "Tanagra Madonna," so
curiously did that little head combine the gravity of a medieval Virgin
with the miniature elegance of a Greek figurine. Everything about her
was shy, elusive and somehow personal to herself. I have never known any
one like her, and can hardly imagine any one more unlike myself; yet
from our very first meeting a deep-down understanding established itself
between us.

When my husband and I first joined the Bourgets for an Italian tour,
Bourget had already published his "Sensations d'Italie," and was still
much interested in the art of mediaeval and Renaissance Italy; but
perhaps his wife was more sensitive to the minor magic of scenes and
places, the little unnoted exquisitenesses that waylaid one at very turn
of the paths we followed. Minnie Bourget was a being so rare, so full of
delicate and secret vibrations, yet so convinced that she had been put
on earth only to be her husband's attentive shadow, that I never knew by
what happy accident I penetrated what might be called her voluntary
invisibility, and found myself made free of her real self. But so it
was; and from our first acquaintance to the day when her last tragic
illness shut her finally into the seclusion she had always sought, I
never knocked at that gate in vain. We disagreed on many subjects, and
she could never tolerate any discussion of a point which her convictions
made sacred; but we agreed so deeply on essentials that the
disagreements did not matter. I am not sure what it was that united
us--perhaps poetry, perhaps pictures, and old storied scenes, and yet
something deeper and more exquisite, of which the visible beauty we
loved was merely a fugitive token. But I find no words delicate and
imponderable enough to describe the Psyche-like tremor of those folded
but never quiet wings of hers; and now that she is dead, and the wings
are shut, there is a part of me which is dead also.

One enchanting journey, which I afterward sketched in a book called
"Italian Backgrounds," carried us to the hills of northern Italy. I had
always maintained that in the choice of an itinerary one should be
guided by the sound of names, and that in doing so I had never been
disappointed. Just then I was under the spell of the phrase "the
Bergamasque Alps" (perhaps because of a recent encounter with Verlaine),
and I persuaded the Bourgets to make an excursion through this
mysterious region. It led us, of course, away from the railways, so we
hired (for the last time, probably) an old-time travelling carriage, and
my husband went ahead as eclaireur on his bicycle, engaging rooms and
ordering dinner for the rest of the party. The excursion was full of
delight, and it was only after it was over, and I returned to the study
of my maps, that I found we had only skirted the magic region of
"Masques et Bergamasques," instead of travelling through it. But its
magic had overflowed on us, and though we agreed to make the real trip
another year, we never dared, lest it should turn out to be less

All this was soon to result in the writing of my first novel, "The
Valley of Decision," and a few years later in my "Italian Villas and
Their Gardens," and "Italian Backgrounds." But before reaching this
stage of my literary life I must turn back and take it up at its odd and
unexpected beginning.


Thanks to my late cousin's testamentary discernment my husband and I had
been able to buy a home of our own at Newport. It was an ugly wooden
house with half an acre of rock and illimitable miles of Atlantic Ocean;
for, as its name, "Land's End," denoted, it stood on the edge of Rhode
Island's easternmost cliffs, and our windows looked straight across to
the west coast of Ireland. I disliked the relaxing and depressing
climate, and the vapid watering-place amusements in which the days were
wasted; but I loved Land's End, with its windows framing the endlessly
changing moods of the misty Atlantic, and the night-long sound of the
surges against the cliffs.

The outside of the house was incurably ugly, but we helped it to a
certain dignity by laying out a circular court with high hedges and
trellis-work niches (the whole promptly done away with by our
successors!); and within doors there were interesting possibilities. My
husband and I talked them over with a clever young Boston architect,
Ogden Codman, and we asked him to alter and decorate the house--a
somewhat new departure, since the architects of that day looked down on
house-decoration as a branch of dress-making, and left the field to the
upholsterers, who crammed every room with curtains, lambrequins,
jardinieres of artificial plants, wobbly velvet-covered tables littered
with silver gew-gaws, and festoons of lace on mantelpieces and

Codman shared my dislike of these sumptuary excesses, and thought as I
did that interior decoration should be simple and architectural; and
finding that we had the same views we drifted, I hardly know how, toward
the notion of putting them into a book.

We went into every detail of our argument: the idea, novel at the time
though now self-evident, that the interior of a house is as much a part
of its organic structure as the outside, and that its treatment ought,
in the same measure, to be based on right proportion, balance of door
and window spacing, and simple unconfused lines. We developed this
argument logically, and I think forcibly, and then sat down to write the
book--only to discover that neither of us knew how to write! This was
excusable in an architect, whose business it was to build in bricks, not
words, but deeply discouraging to a young woman who had in her desk a
large collection of blank verse dramas and manuscript fiction. Happily I
had the saving sense to know that I didn't know--that I literally could
not write out in simple and precise English the ideas which seemed so
clear in my mind.

The year before my marriage I had made friends with a young man named
Walter Berry, the son of an old friend of my family's (and indeed a
distant cousin). We had seen a great deal of each other for a few weeks,
and the encounter had given me a fleeting hint of what the communion of
kindred intelligences might be. But chance separated us, and we were not
to meet again, but for intermittent glimpses, till he happened to come
and stay with us at Land's End the very summer that Codman and I were
struggling with our book. Walter Berry was born with an exceptionally
sensitive literary instinct, but also with a critical sense so far
outweighing his creative gift that he had early renounced the idea of
writing. But though he was already a hard-working young lawyer, with a
promising future at the bar, the service of letters was still his joy in
his moments of leisure. I remember shyly asking him to look at my lumpy
pages; and I remember his first shout of laughter (for he never
flattered or pretended), and then his saying good-naturedly: "Come,
let's see what can be done," and settling down beside me to try to model
the lump into a book.

In a few weeks the modelling was done, and in those weeks, as I
afterward discovered, I had been taught whatever I know about the
writing of clear concise English. The book was reread by my friend, and
found fit for publication; and we proceeded to seek a publisher.

Neither Codman nor I knew any of these formidable people, but my
sister-in-law had her entry at Macmillan's, and she offered to submit
the manuscript to them. It was promptly rejected, with the brief comment
that the architect to whom they had shown it (simply to oblige my
sister-in-law) had received it with cries of derision. Nobody was likely
to buy an amateur work on house-decoration by two totally unknown
writers, and they advised her not to continue her friendly efforts. This
was a blow. To whom should we turn?

The previous year a small literary adventure of my own had introduced me
to "Scribner's Magazine." I had suddenly taken to writing poetry again,
and one day I decided to send three of my poems to three of the leading
magazines of the day: "Scribner's," "Harper's" and the "Century." I can
remember only one of these poems, the longest, called "The Last
Giustiniani," which I chanced to send to "Scribner's." I did not know
how authors communicated with editors, but I copied out the verses in my
fairest hand, and enclosed each in an envelope with my visiting card! A
week or two elapsed, and then I received the three answers, telling me
that all three poems had been accepted. We had a little house in Madison
Avenue that winter (it was our first trial of New York), and as long as
I live I shall never forget my sensations when I opened the first of the
three letters, and learned that I was to appear in print. I can still
see the narrow hall, the letter-box out of which I fished the letters,
and the flight of stairs up and down which I ran, senselessly and
incessantly, in the attempt to give my excitement some muscular outlet!

The letter accepting "The Last Giustiniani" was written by Edward
Burlingame, editor of "Scribner's Magazine," who became one of my most
helpful guides in the world of letters. He not only accepted my verses,
but (oh, rapture!) wanted to know what else I had written; and this
encouraged me to go to see him, and laid the foundation of a friendship
which lasted till his death. It was naturally to him that I turned after
Macmillan's rejection of "The Decoration of Houses"; but I did so with
little hope, since I knew he was not connected with the publishing
department of the firm, and in any case there was little chance of the
Scribners' being interested in a book of so technical a character, and
one already rejected by the Macmillans. However, I took the manuscript
to Mr. Burlingame, he passed it on to the publishing department, where
it fell into the hands of another dear friend-to-be, William
Brownell--and after some hesitation it was accepted, chiefly, I suspect
because Mr. Burlingame and Mr. Brownell liked my poetry.

The Scribners brought out a visual and tentative edition, produced with
great typographical care, probably thinking that the book was more
likely to succeed as a gift book among my personal friends than as a
practical manual. But the first edition was sold out at once; Batsford
immediately asked for the book for England; and from that day to this it
has gone on from edition to edition, and still, after nearly forty
years, brings in an annual tribute to its astonished authors!

Our success was not unmerited. Codman had been at great pains to cite
suitable instances in support of his principles, and revolutionary as
these were, we found that people of taste were only too eager to follow
any guidance that would not only free them from the suffocating
upholsterer, but tell them how to replace him. It became the fashion to
use our volume as a touchstone of taste, and I was often taxed by my
friends with not applying to the arrangement of my own rooms the
rigorous rules laid down in "The Decoration of Houses." The popularity
of the work may be judged by the fact that, a good many years later,
after I had published "The House of Mirth" and several other novels, an
enthusiastic lady one day sailed up to me to say: "I'm so glad to meet
you at last, because Ogden Codman is such an old friend of mine that
I've read everyone of the wonderful novels he and you have written



The doing of "The Decoration of Houses" amused me very much, but can
hardly be regarded as a part of my literary career. That began with the
publishing, in "Scribner's Magazine," of two or three short stories. The
first was called "Mrs. Manstey's View," the second "The Fullness of
Life." Both attracted attention, and gave me the pleasant flutter
incidental to first seeing one's self in print; but they brought me no
nearer to other workers in the same field. I continued to live my old
life, for my husband was as fond of society as ever, and I knew of no
other existence, except in our annual escapes to Italy. I had as yet no
real personality of my own, and was not to acquire one till my first
volume of short stories was published--and that was not until 1899. This
volume, called "The Greater Inclination," contained none of my earlier
tales, all of which I had rejected as not worth reprinting. I had gone
on working hard at the nouvelle form, and the stories making up my first
volume were chosen after protracted consultations with Walter Berry, the
friend who had shown me how to put "The Decoration of Houses" into
shape. From that day until his death, twenty-seven years later, through
all his busy professional life, he followed each of my literary steps
with the same patient interest, and I doubt if a beginner in the art
ever had a sterner yet more stimulating guide.

And now the incredible had happened! Out of the Pelion and Ossa of
slowly accumulating manuscripts, plays, novels and dramas, had blossomed
a little volume of stories--stories which editors had wanted for their
magazines, and a publisher now actually wanted for a volume! I had been
astonished enough to see the stories in print, but the idea that they
might in the course of time be collected in a book never occurred to me
till Mr. Brownell transmitted the Scribner proposal.

_I_ had written short stories that were thought worthy of preservation!
Was it the same insignificant _I_ that I had always known? Any one
walking along the streets might go into any bookshop, and say: "Please
give me Edith Wharton's book," and the clerk, without bursting into
incredulous laughter, would produce it, and be paid for it, and the
purchaser would walk home with it and read it, and talk of it, and pass
it on to other people to read! The whole business seemed too unreal to
be anything but a practical joke played on me by some occult humourist;
and my friends could not have been more astonished and incredulous than
I was. I opened the first notices of the book with trembling hands and a
suffocated heart. What I had done was actually thought important enough
to be not only printed but reviewed! With a sense of mingled guilt and
self-satisfaction I glanced at one article after another. They were
unbelievably kind, but for the most part their praise only humbled me;
and often I found it bewildering. But at length I came on a notice which
suddenly stiffened my limp spine. "When Mrs. Wharton," the condescending
critic wrote, "has learned the rudiments of her art, she will know that
a short story should always begin with dialogue."

"ALWAYS"? I rubbed my eyes. Here was a professional critic who seemed to
think that works of art should be produced by rule of thumb, that there
could be a fixed formula for the design of every short story ever
written or to be written! Even I already knew that this was ridiculous.
I had never consciously formulated the principles of my craft, but
during my years of experimenting I had pondered on them deeply, and this
egregious commentary did me the immense service of giving my ponderings
an axiomatic form. Every short story, I now saw, like every other work
of art, contains within itself the germ of its own particular form and
dimensions, and ab ovo is the artist's only rule. In an instant I was
free forever from the bogey of the omniscient reviewer, and though I was
always interested in what was said of my books, and sometimes (though
rarely) helped by the comments of the professional critics, never did
they influence me against my judgment, or deflect me by a hair's-breadth
from what I knew to be "the real right" way.

In this I was much helped by Walter Berry. No critic was ever severer,
but none had more respect for the artist's liberty. He taught me never
to be satisfied with my own work, but never to let my inward conviction
as to the rightness of anything I had done be affected by outside
opinion. I remember, after writing the first chapters of "The Valley of
Decision," which I had begun in a burst of lyric rapture and didn't know
how to go on with, confessing to him my difficulty and my
discouragement. He looked through what I had written, handed it back,
and said simply: "Don't worry about how you're to go on. Just write down
everything you feel like telling." The advice freed me once for all from
the incubus of an artificially pre-designed plan, and sent me rushing
ahead with my tale, letting each incident create the next, and keeping
in sight only the novelist's essential sign-post; the inner significance
of the "case" selected. Yet when the novel was done, I remember how
meticulously he studied it from the point of view of language, marking
down faulty syntax and false metaphors, smiling away over-emphasis and
unnecessary repetitions, helping me patiently through the beginner's
verbal perplexities, yet never laying hands on what he considered
sacred: the SOUL of the novel, which is (or should be) the writer's own

I suppose there is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a
separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an
interpretation, of one's self, the very meaning of one's soul. Such a
friend I found in Walter Berry, and though the chances of life then
separated us, and later his successful professional career, first in
Washington, afterward as one of the Judges of the International Tribunal
in Cairo, for long years put frequent intervals between our meetings,
yet whenever we did meet the same deep understanding drew us together.
That understanding lasted as long as my friend lived; and no words can
say, because such things are unsayable, how the influence of his
thought, his character, his deepest personality, were interwoven with

He alone not only encouraged me to write, as others had already done,
but had the patience and the intelligence to teach me how. Others
praised, some flattered--he alone took the trouble to analyze and
criticize. The instinct to write had always been there; it was he who
drew it forth, shaped it and set it free. From my first volume of short
stories to "Twilight Sleep," the novel I published just before his
death, nothing in my work escaped him, no detail was too trifling to be
examined and discussed, gently ridiculed or quietly praised. He never
overlooked a defect, and there were times when his silence had the
weight of a page of censure; yet I never remember to have been
disheartened by it, for he had so deep a respect for the artist's
liberty that he never sought to restrict my imagination or to check its
flight. His invariable rule, though he prized above all things concision
and austerity, was to encourage me to write as my own instinct impelled
me; and it was only after the story or the book was done that we set out
together on the "adjective hunts" from which we often brought back such
heavy bags.

Once I had found my footing and had my material in hand, his criticisms
became increasingly searching. With each book he exacted a higher
standard in economy of expression, in purity of language, in the
avoidance of the hackneyed and the precious. Sometimes I was not able to
show him a novel before publication, and in that case he confined
himself to friendly generalities, often helping me to avoid, in my next
book, the faults he gently hinted at. When he could follow my work in
manuscript he left no detail unnoticed; but though I sometimes caught a
faint smile over a situation which he did not see from my angle, or a
point of view he did not share, his only care was to help me do better
whatever I had set out to do.

But perhaps our long, our ever-recurring talks about the masters of
fiction, helped me even more than his advice. I had never known any one
so instantly and unerringly moved by all that was finest in literature.
His praise of great work was like a trumpet-call. I never heard it
without discovering new beauties in the work he praised; he was one of
those commentators who unseal one's eyes. I remember his once saying to
me, when I was very young: "It is easy to see superficial resemblances
between things. It takes a first-rate mind to perceive the differences
underneath." Nothing has ever sharpened my own critical sense as much as

The comrade that he was to me in my work, he was also in the enjoyment
of all things beautiful, stirring and exalting. He was tireless in his
appreciation of beauty--beauty of architecture, of painting, of
landscape. Whatever I saw with him, in the many lands we wandered
through, I saw with a keenness doubled by his, and studied afterward
with an ardour with which his always kept pace. To the end, through
prolonged ill-health and the bitter consciousness of failing powers, his
soul still struggled out to beauty; and I remember that, summoned to him
at the first attack of his fatal illness, I found him lying speechless,
motionless and barely able to look up, but yet able to whisper, as he
recognized me: "Bamberg--in the hall." After a moment's bewilderment I
guessed that he must be speaking of a new book--there was not a day when
they did not pour in to his admirably chosen and ever-growing library;
and going out into the hall I found a newly published quarto on the
sculptures of Bamberg cathedral, which he had received only the day
before. I brought it to him, and as I sat beside him with the open
volume he whispered one by one the names of the most beautiful statues,
and signed to me to hold the book up so that he could see them.

During his arduous professional life we had met only at long intervals;
but when ill-health obliged him to resign from the International
Tribunal of Cairo he came to live in Paris, and after that we were more
often together. During all his working years, frequently interrupted by
months of serious illness, he had managed to find time to read my
manuscripts and send me long letters of criticism and encouragement; but
from the time when he came to Paris, where I was then living, he was
able to follow my work more closely, and his reading of each chapter as
it was written and the listening to his comments as he read, gave fresh
life to my writing.

Another joy was the discovering of the newest and most worthwhile books,
and the talking them over together. He was a good linguist, and one of
the most insatiable readers I have ever known; in science, history,
biography, travels, archaeological explorations, and the newest books on
art and letters, little of real value escaped him. But best of all (when
he could be induced to do it) was his reading of poetry; a reading
wholly different from Henry James's, a thing apart, and unforgettable,
more reticent, less emphatic, yet equally sensitive and moving.

I cannot picture what the life of the spirit would have been to me
without him. He found time when my mind and soul were hungry and
thirsty, and he fed them till our last hour together. It is such
comradeships, made of seeing and dreaming, and thinking and laughing
together, that make one feel that for those who have shared them there
can be no parting.

But I must return to "The Greater Inclination," and to my discovery of
that soul of mine which the publication of my first volume called to
life. At last I had groped my way through to my vocation, and thereafter
I never questioned that story-telling was my job, though I doubted
whether I should be able to cross the chasm which separated the nouvelle
from the novel. Meanwhile I felt like some homeless waif who, after
trying for years to take out naturalization papers, and being rejected
by every country, has finally acquired a nationality. The Land of
Letters was henceforth to be my country, and I gloried in my new

I remember once saying that I was a failure in Boston (where we used to
go to stay with my husband's family) because they thought I was too
fashionable to be intelligent, and a failure in New York because they
were afraid I was too intelligent to be fashionable. An amusing instance
of this point of view happened not long after my first book had come
out, at a moment, that is, when I probably seemed to my New York friends
at once more formidable and less "smart" than before I had appeared in
print. I met a girlfriend, herself the epitome of all "smartness," who
told me that one of New York's most fashionable hostesses had, rather
apologetically, invited her to dine "with a few people who write." "It
will be rather Bohemian, I'm afraid," the inviter added, "but they say
one ought to see something of those people. I hope you won't mind coming
to help me out?" My young friend, who knew something of Paris and London
society, was delighted at an innovation which promised to take us out of
the New York rut, and so was I, for it chanced that I had been invited
for the same evening. "Oh, what fun! Who do you suppose they'll be?" I
exulted, racking my brains to guess how our hostess, who was my cousin,
could have made the acquaintance of the very people I was still vainly
longing to know. The evening came, we assembled in the ornate
drawing-room (one of those from which "The Decoration of Houses" had not
cleared a single gewgaw!) and I discovered that the Bohemians were my
old friend Eliot Gregory, most popular of New York diners-out (but who
had the audacity to write an occasional article in a review or daily
paper), George Smalley, the New York correspondent of the London
"Times"--and myself! To emphasize our common peculiarity we were seated
together, slightly below the salt, while up and down the rest of the
long table the tiara-ed heads and bulging white waistcoats of the most
accredited millionaires glittered between gold plate and orchids. Such
was Fifth Avenue's first glimpse of Bohemia, as personified by myself
and two old friends!

I have often wondered, in looking back at the slow stammering beginnings
of my literary life, whether or not it is a good thing for the creative
artist to grow up in an atmosphere where the arts are simply
non-existent. Violent opposition might be a stimulus--but was it helpful
or the reverse to have every aspiration ignored, or looked at askance? I
have thought over this many times, as I have over most problems of
creative art, in the fascinating but probably idle attempt to discover
HOW IT IS ALL DONE, and exactly what happens at that "fine point of the
soul" where the creative act, like the mystic's union with the
Unknowable, really seems to take place. And as I have grown older my
point of view has necessarily changed, since I have seen more and more
would-be creators, whether in painting, music or letters, whose way has
been made smooth from the cradle, geniuses whose families were prostrate
before them before they had written a line or composed a measure, and
who, in middle age, still sat in ineffectual ecstasy before the blank
page or the empty canvas; while, on the other hand, more and more of the
baffled, the derided or the ignored have fought their way to
achievement. The conclusion is that I am no believer in pampered
vocations, and that Schopenhauer's "Was Einer ist" seems to me the gist
of the matter. But as regards a case like my own, where a development no
doubt naturally slow was certainly retarded by the indifference of every
one about me, it is hard to say whether or no I was really hindered. I
am inclined to think the drawbacks were outweighed by the advantages;
chief among these being the fact that I escaped all premature flattery,
all local celebrity, that I had to fight my way to expression through a
thick fog of indifference, if not of tacit disapproval, and that when at
last I met one or two kindred minds their criticisms were to me as sharp
and searching as if they had been professionals in the exercise of their
calling. Fortunately the fact that they were personal friends did not
affect their judgment, and my craft was held in such small account in
the only world I knew that I was always able to take the severest
criticism without undue sensitiveness, and not unusually to profit by
it. The criticism I have in mind is that given in the course of private
talk, and not imparted by the reviews. I have no quarrel with the
professional critics, who have often praised me beyond my merits; but
the man who has to review fifty books a week, often on a great variety
of subjects, can hardly deal as satisfactorily with any one of them as
the friend talking over a book with a friend, and I have always found
this kind of comment the most helpful.


The publishing of "The Greater Inclination" broke the chains which had
held me so long in a kind of torpor. For nearly twelve years I had tried
to adjust myself to the life I had led since my marriage; but now I was
overmastered by the longing to meet people who shared my interests. I
had found two delightful friends, who had helped to educate me and to
widen my interests; but one was a busy lawyer who did not live in New
York, and who, as his practice grew, had less and less leisure; while
the other, a man many years older than myself, and of very worldly
tastes, could not understand my longing to break away from the world of
fashion and be with my own spiritual kin. What I wanted above all was to
get to know other writers, to be welcomed among people who lived for the
things I had always secretly lived for. I knew only one novelist, Paul
Bourget, one of the most stimulating and cultivated intelligences I have
ever met, and perhaps the most brilliant talker I have known; but we saw
each other for only two or three weeks in the year, and he too was
always rebuking me for my apathy in continuing a life of wearisome
frivolity, and telling me that at the formative stage of my career I
ought to be with people who were thinking and creating. Egerton Winthrop
was too generous not to come round also to this view, and in the end it
was he who urged my husband to go to London with me for a few weeks
every year, so that I might at least meet a few men of letters, and have
a taste of an old society in which the various elements had been fused
for generations.

These arguments prevailed, and we went to London the year that "The
Greater Inclination" appeared. Shortly after our arrival a friend gave
me the address of James Bain, the well-known bookseller, and one day I
dropped in at his shop to ask what interesting new books there were. In
reply Mr. Bain handed me my own little volume, with the remark: "This is
what everybody in London is talking about just now." As Mr. Bain had no
idea who I was, his astonishment on learning my identity was as great as
mine when he tried to sell me my own first-born as the book of the day!
I should have enjoyed intensely following up this first glimpse of
success; but my husband was bored in London, where he would have been
amused only among the sporting set, while I wanted to know the writers.
It is always depressing to live with the dissatisfied, and my powers of
enjoyment are so varied that when I was young I did not find it hard to
adapt myself to the preferences of any one I was fond of. The people
about me were so indifferent to everything I really cared for that
complying with the tastes of others had become a habit, and it was only
some years later, when I had written several books, that I finally
rebelled, and pleaded for the right to something better. Meanwhile we
soon left London to take up again the Italian wanderings which we both
enjoyed, and out of which, in 1904, "The Valley of Decision" was to

Before this happened, another change had come. We sold our Newport
house, and built one near Lenox, in the hills of western Massachusetts,
and at last I escaped from watering-place trivialities to the real
country. If I could have made the change sooner I dare say I should
never have given a thought to the literary delights of Paris or London;
for life in the country is the only state which has always completely
satisfied me, and I had never been allowed to gratify it, even for a few
weeks at a time. Now I was to know the joys of six or seven months a
year among fields and woods of my own, and the childish ecstasy of that
first spring outing at Mamaroneck swept away all restlessness in the
deep joy of communion with the earth. On a slope overlooking the dark
waters and densely wooded shores of Laurel Lake we built a spacious and
dignified house, to which we gave the name of my great-grandfather's
place, the Mount. There was a big kitchen-garden with a grape pergola, a
little farm, and a flower-garden outspread below the wide terrace
overlooking the lake. There for over ten years I lived and gardened and
wrote contentedly, and should doubtless have ended my days there had not
a grave change in my husband's health made the burden of the property
too heavy. But meanwhile the Mount was to give me country cares and
joys, long happy rides and drives through the wooded lanes of that
loveliest region, the companionship of a few dear friends, and the
freedom from trivial obligations which was necessary if I was to go on
with my writing. The Mount was my first real home, and though it is
nearly twenty years since I last saw it (for I was too happy there ever
to want to revisit it as a stranger) its blessed influence still lives
in me.

The country quiet stimulated my creative zeal; and since the publication
of "The Greater Inclination" I was naturally in the first fever of
authorship. A year later, in 1900, I brought out my earliest attempt at
a novel--a long tale, rather--and the year after, a second collection of
short stories, under the title of "Crucial Instances." The long tale,
which was called "The Touchstone"--a quiet title carefully chosen for
one of the quietest of my stories--had little success in America. John
Lane bought the English rights, and thinking the title too colourless he
renamed the book (naturally taking care not to consult me!) "A Gift from
the Grave." This seductive but misleading label must have been exactly
to the taste of the sentimental novel-reader of the day, for to my
mingled wrath and amusement the book sold rapidly in England, and I have
often chuckled to think how defrauded the purchasers must have felt
themselves after reading the first few pages.

My short stories had attracted the attention denied to "the Touchstone,"
and I think it was in reference to a tale in "Crucial Instances" that I
received what is surely one of the tersest and most vigorous letters
ever penned by an amateur critic. "Dear Madam," my unknown correspondent
wrote, "have you never known a respectable woman? If you have, in the
name of decency write about her!" It seems a long way from that
comminatory cry to the point of view of the critic who, referring the
other day to the republication (in an anthology of ghost stories) of one
of my tales, "The Lady's Maid's Bell," scathingly said it was hard to
believe that a ghost created by so refined a writer as Mrs. Wharton
would do anything so gross as to ring a bell! My career began in the
days when Thomas Hardy, in order to bring out "Jude the Obscure" in a
leading New York periodical, was compelled to turn the children of Jude
and Sue into adopted orphans; when the most popular young people's
magazine in America excluded all stories containing any reference to
"religion, love, politics, alcohol or fairies" (this is textual); the
days when a well-known New York editor, offering me a large sum for the
serial rights of a projected novel, stipulated only that no reference to
"an unlawful attachment" should figure in it; when Theodore Roosevelt
gently rebuked me for not having caused the reigning Duke of Pianura (in
"The Valley of Decision") to make an honest woman of the humble
bookseller's daughter who loved him; and when the translator of Dante,
my beloved friend, Professor Charles Eliot Norton, hearing (after the
appearance of "The House of Mirth") that I was preparing another
"society" novel, wrote in alarm imploring me to remember that "no great
work of the imagination has ever been based on illicit passion!"

The poor novelists who were my contemporaries (in English-speaking
countries) had to fight hard for the right to turn the wooden dolls
about which they were expected to make believe into struggling suffering
human beings; but we have been avenged, and more than avenged, not only
by life but by the novelists, and I hope the latter will see before long
that it is as hard to get dramatic interest out of a mob of
irresponsible criminals as out of the Puritan marionettes who formed our
stock-in-trade. Authentic human nature lies somewhere between the two,
and is always there for a new great novelist to rediscover.

The amusing thing about this turn of the wheel is that we who fought the
good fight are now jeered at as the prigs and prudes who barred the way
to complete expression--as perhaps we should have tried to do, had we
known it was to cause creative art to be abandoned for pathology! But I
must return to the reigning Duke of Pianura, who about this time was
more real to me than most of the people I talked and walked with in my
daily life.

I have often been asked whether the writing of "The Valley of Decision"
was not preceded by months of hard study. I had never studied hard in my
life, and it was far too late to learn how when I began to write "The
Valley of Decision"; but whenever I make this reply it is received with
polite incredulity. The truth is that I have always found it hard to
explain that gradual absorption into my pores of a myriad
details--details of landscape, architecture, old furniture and
eighteenth century portraits, the gossip of contemporary diarists and
travellers, all vivified by repeated spring wanderings guided by Goethe
and the Chevalier de Brosses, by Goldoni and Gozzi, Arthur Young, Dr.
Burney and Ippolito Nievo, out of which the tale grew. I did not travel
and look and read with the writing of the book in mind; but my years of
intimacy with the Italian eighteenth century gradually and imperceptibly
fashioned the tale and compelled me to write it; and whatever its
faults--and they are many--it is saturated with the atmosphere I had so
long lived in.

Professor Norton, who had by this time become one of my great friends,
followed the development of the tale with interest, and helped it on by
one of the most graceful gestes ever made by a distinguished scholar to
a beginner. I happened to tell him that, though I had been picking up
second-hand books on eighteenth century Italy whenever I could find them
(hardly any of the classics of the period being then reprinted), there
were a few that I had been unable to buy, and one or two that even the
public libraries could not supply. Among these were the original
(French) version of Goldoni's memoirs, and the memoirs of Lorenzo da
Ponte, published in Boston (of all places!) about 1824. A few weeks
later there came to the Mount a box containing these unattainable
treasures, and many other books, almost as rare, from the great library
of travels at Shady Hill. For a whole summer these extremely valuable
books, some quite irreplaceable, were left at the disposal of a young
scribbler who was just starting on her first novel--and to Charles
Norton it seemed perfectly natural, and almost an obligation, to hold
out such help to a beginner.

The year after the publication of "The Valley of Decision" the "Century
Magazine" asked me, to my great delight, to write the text for a series
of water-colours of Italian villas by Mr. Maxfield Parrish. The
suggestion had originated in the unexpected popularity of "The
Decoration of Houses," and also of "The Valley of Decision," which was
now rewarding me for the long months of toil and perplexity I had
undergone in writing it. I was only beginning to be known as a novelist,
but on Italian seventeenth and eighteenth century architecture, about
which so little had been written, I was thought to be fairly competent.

Armed with this commission I set out with my husband for Rome in the
winter of 1903, and began my work in all seriousness.


Before telling the story of "Italian Villas" I must speak of the friend
whose kindness made its writing possible. Several years earlier, on
starting on our annual pilgrimage to Italy, I had taken with me a letter
from Paul Bourget to Vernon Lee (Miss Violet Paget), the author of
"Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy," "Belcaro" and "Euphorion,"
three of my best-loved companions of the road. Bourget warned me that,
though Miss Paget was an old friend of his, he could not promise that
his introduction would be of any use, as her time was so much taken up
by her invalid half-brother, Eugene Lee-Hamilton, who lived with her,
that she saw very few people, and those only among her intimates. It was
therefore with little hope of success that I drove out from Florence to
Il Palmerino, the long low villa on the hillside of San Domenico where
Miss Paget has so long made her home. I left Bourget's letter, took a
yearning look at the primrose-yellow house-front and the homely
box-scented garden, and drove away with no expectation of ever seeing
them again. But the next day Miss Paget wrote that, though her brother's
illness prevented her receiving visitors, yet if I chanced to be the
Edith Wharton who had written a certain sonnet (I forget its name) which
had attracted his attention in "Scribner's Magazine," she begged me to
come as soon as possible, as he wished to make my acquaintance. Luckily
I WAS the author of the sonnet, and I hastened back to Il Palmerino,
where I was affectionately welcomed by its mistress, and led to the
darkened room where her brother lay on the mattress that seemed so
likely to be a grave.

Eugene Lee-Hamilton, who was then a middle-aged man. Had been one of
Lord Lyons's secretaries of Embassy in Paris during the Franco-Prussian
war. The long period of over-strain and over-work, followed by the
privations and horrors of the siege of Paris, had brought about a bad
nervous breakdown, of a kind which the doctors of that day had not
learned to deal with. Lee-Hamilton, his career cut short, lapsed into
what seemed hopeless invalidism, and for years had lain motionless on
the mattress on which I first saw him. By that time he had grown so weak
that he could see only an occasional visitor, and for a very few
moments. He was one of the most amusing talkers and raconteurs I have
ever known, and a great lover of letters, and especially of poetry; but
when I first met him he could neither read nor write, and was in such a
state of weakness that his sister could only read a few lines to him at
a time. These brief readings were usually chosen among the poets, and
his literary curiosity had remained so alert that, in addition to the
classics, he kept up with the new poets, even with those who had figured
only in the reviews. It was in the course of these explorations that he
happened on the sonnet which did me the great good turn of bringing me
into contact with two of the most brilliant minds I have ever met.

His long years of suffering and helplessness had made Eugene
Lee-Hamilton himself into a poet, and I have never understood why the
poignant verse written during his illness, and published in a volume
called "Sonnets of the Wingless Hours," is not more widely known. I was
proud to have any verse of mine praised by a poet of such quality, and I
look back gratefully to the moments spent at his bedside, talking of the
things of the spirit.

To lighten the gloom of the picture I must add that a few years later he
rose miraculously from his mattress, learned again to walk, to write,
and finally to ride a bicycle, and not long afterward came to America,
where he paid us a visit to Land's End, rejoicing in his recovered
vigour, and keeping us and our guests in shouts of laughter by his high
spirits and inimitable stories. I have often wished that the after-death
resurrection, if it comes to us, might resemble the recovery of lost
youth which made Lee-Hamilton's return to life so exhilarating to all
about him.

Thanks to him, my acquaintance with his sister had grown into a
friendship which has never flagged, though we are so seldom together.
Hitherto all my intellectual friendships had been with men, and Vernon
Lee was the first highly cultivated and brilliant woman I had ever
known. I stood a little in awe of her, as I always did in the presence
of intellectual superiority, and liked best to sit silent and listen to
a conversation which I still think almost the best of its day. I have
been fortunate in knowing intimately some great talkers among men, but I
have met only three women who had the real gift. They were Vernon Lee,
Matilde Serao, the Neapolitan journalist and novelist, and the French
poetess, the Comtesse de Noailles. It is hard to establish any
comparison between beings so unlike in race, traditions and culture--but
one might suggest the difference by saying that Matilde Serao's talk was
like the noonday glow of her own Mediterranean, while Vernon Lee's has
the opalescent play of a northerly sky, and Madame de Noailles'
resembled the most expensive fireworks.

No one welcomed "The Valley of Decision" more warmly than Vernon Lee,
and it was a great encouragement to be praised by a writer whom I so
much admired, and who was so unquestioned an authority on the country
and the period I had dealt with. A year or two later the editor of the
"Nuova Antologia," then the leading Italian literary review, proposed to
me to bring out an Italian translation of my novel, and Vernon Lee at
once offered to write the introduction. For a reason I was never able to
fathom (probably owing to a change in the administration of the review),
the translation never appeared; but Vernon Lee's admirable preface is in
my possession, and I still hope it may serve to introduce Italian
readers to my book.

These years were perhaps the happiest I was to know as regards literary
hopes and achievements. My long experimenting had resulted in two or
three books which brought me more encouragement than I had ever dreamed
of obtaining, and were the means of my making some of the happiest
friendships of my life. The reception of my books gave me the
self-confidence I had so long lacked, and in the company of people who
shared my tastes, and treated me as their equal, I ceased to suffer from
the agonizing shyness which used to rob such encounters of all pleasure.
It was in this mood that I arrived in Italy in 1903, and turned to
Vernon Lee for help in preparing my new book.

Always generous to younger writers, she was doubly so to me because of
my friendship with her brother, and of her interest in the task I had
undertaken. At that time little had been written on Italian villa and
garden architecture, and only the most famous country-seats, mostly
royal or princely, had been photographed and studied. As, in "The
Decoration of Houses," Ogden Codman and I had purposely excluded palaces
and royal chateaux from our list, and directed the attention of our
readers to the study of small and simple houses, so I wished that my new
book should make known the simpler and less familiar type of villa. At
Frascati, for instance, I passed hurriedly over the familiar splendours
of Falconieri and Mondragone in order to give more space to the lovely
Muti gardens, which at that time were almost unknown; and wherever I
went I followed the same plan. At first I found it difficult to get
helpful information from Italians, even from those living on the spot; a
"garden" to them still meant a humpy lawn with oval beds of cannas
encircling a banana-plant, and I wasted a good deal of time before
learning that I must ask for "giardini tagliati," and not be discouraged
by the usual reply: "Oh, you mean the old-fashioned garden with clipped
shrubs? Well, we believe there IS one at the Villa So-and-so--but what
can you find in that to interest you?"

Vernon Lee's long familiarity with the Italian country-side, and the
wide circle of her Italian friendships, made it easy for her to guide me
to the right places, and put me in relation with people who could enable
me to visit them. She herself took me to nearly all the villas I wished
to visit near Florence, and it was thanks to her recommendation that
wherever I went, from the Lakes to the Roman Campagna, I found open
doors and a helpful hospitality.

Among the friendships then made I should like to record with particular
gratitude that of the Countess Papafava of Padua, from whom I first
heard of the fantastic Castle of Cattajo, and through whose kindness the
intricately lovely gardens of Val San Zibio were opened to me; of Don
Guido Cagnola of Varese, an authority on Italian villa architecture, and
himself the owner of La Gazzada, the beautiful villa near Varese of
which there is a painting by Canaletto in the Brera; of the Countess
Rasponi, who lived in the noble villa of Font'allerta, above Florence,
and supplemented Vernon Lee in guiding me among the Florentine and
Sienese villas; of the great Enrico Boito, whose powerful protection
opened the doors of some little-known villas of the Brianza and the
Naviglio; and lastly of Countess Rasponi's sister, my old friend the
Countess Maria Pasolini of Rome and Ravenna, great lover of seventeenth
and eighteenth century architecture, and an indefatigable guide in such
a search as I was making. I have named them all here, because, although
with the exception of the Countess Rasponi and Boito they are still
alive, and I now and then have the pleasure of seeing them, I feel that
I have never properly expressed my appreciation of their helpfulness.
Their intelligent collaboration gave "Italian Villas" its chief value,
and I like to recall the joy I had in making the book by naming the
friends who helped me.

The day of the motor was not yet, and in addition to the difficulty of
discovering the type of villa I was in search of there remained the
problem of how to get to it when found. I never enjoyed any work more
than the preparing of that book, but neither do I remember any task so
associated with physical fatigue. Most of the places I wished to visit
were far from the principal railway lines, and could be reached only by
a combination of slow trains and broken-down horse conveyances, and we
seemed to be always either rushing through the villas in order not to
miss our train, or else, the villas exhaustively inspected, kicking our
heels for hours in some musty railway-station. I remember that once,
after a particularly fatiguing day, we were waiting at the Pavia station
to catch a crowded express back to Milan. We had taken the tea-basket,
but there was no time for tea till we reached the station. There,
feeling on the verge of inanition, I started to brew it, in spite of my
husband's protests; but just as I filled our cups the express roared
into the station, and we had to leap on board and force our way into a
crowded compartment carrying the basket, the plates and the brimming
cups! How we accomplished this I cannot imagine; but we did, to the
astonishment and indignation of our fellow travellers.

I have said there were no motors in 1903; but as a toy of the rich they
were beginning to appear, and my old friend George Meyer, then American
Ambassador in Rome, was the owner of a magnificent specimen. Knowing
that I wished to visit the Villa Caprarola, now familiar to every
sight-seer, but then visible only to the privileged, he suggested taking
me there in his car. I had never been in a motor before, and could
hardly believe that we were to do the run to Caprarola and back (fifty
miles each way) in an afternoon, and still have time to inspect the
villa and gardens; but we did--we did with a vengeance! The car was
probably the most luxurious, and certainly one of the fastest, then
procurable; but that meant only a sort of high-perched phaeton without
hood or screen, or any protection from the wind. My husband was put
behind with the chauffeur, while I had the high seat like a coachman's
box beside the Ambassador. In a thin spring dress, a sailor hat balanced
on my chignon, and a two-inch tulle veil over my nose, I climbed proudly
to my perch, and off we tore across the Campagna, over humps and bumps,
through ditches and across gutters, wind-swept, dust-enveloped, I
clinging to my sailor-hat, and George Meyer (luckily) to the wheel. We
did the run in an hour, and I was able to see the villa and gardens
fairly well before we tore back to Rome, in time for a big dinner to
which he and we happened to be going. It was great fun doing the Witch
of Atlas, and blissful not to have to worry about tired horses or
inconvenient trains; but when I reached the dinner my voice was entirely
gone, and I spent the next days in bed, fighting an acute laryngitis. In
spite of this I swore then and there that as soon as I could make money
enough I would buy a motor; and so I did--and having a delicate throat,
scoured the country in the hottest weather swaddled in a stifling hood
with a mica window, till some benefactor of the race invented the
wind-screen and made motoring an unmixed joy.

Meanwhile my first article had appeared in the "Century," illustrated by
a number of photographs, and by one of Maxfield Parrish's brilliant
idealisations of the Italian scene. Thanks to the latter, the article
attracted much attention, but a note of warning soon came to me in the
form of a distracted letter from the editor of the "Century," Richard
Watson Gilder, an old friend and a country neighbour in the Berkshires.
It appeared that in the editorial offices of the "Century" Mr. Parrish's
fairy-tale pictures were justly admired, but it was agreed that the
accompanying text was too dry and technical. Would I not, Mr. Gilder
pleaded, introduce into the next number a few anecdotes, and a touch of
human interest?

I am afraid my answer was curt. I had prepared for my task
conscientiously; I knew that, at least in English, there was no serious
work on Italian villa and garden architecture, and I meant, as far as I
was able, to fill the want. I wrote back that if the "Century" wanted a
series of sentimental and anecdotic commentaries on Mr. Parrish's
illustrations, I was surprised that one of the authors of "The
Decoration of Houses" should have been commissioned to write them. But I
added that if, on reflection, my articles were thought unsuitable to the
illustrations (as they certainly were!) I was quite willing to annul my
contract. This was not accepted, and the articles continued to appear,
my only punishment being that the Century Company refused (when the
volume came out) to publish the plans of certain little-known but
important gardens, such as those of the Villas Muti at Frascati and Gori
at Siena, which I had taken great pains to procure, because, according
to the publishers, the public "did not care for plans." I mention this
because, when "Italian Villas" became, as it soon did, a working manual
for architectural students and landscape gardeners, I was often
reproached for not having provided the book with plans. In a sense, of
course, the editors of the "Century" were right. My articles were quite
out of keeping with the Parrish pictures, which should have been used to
illustrate some fanciful tale of Lamotte-Fouque, Or Andersen's
"Improvisatore"; but I knew that, even had I had an architectural
draughtsman as illustrator, the editorial scruples would not have been
allayed, for what really roused them was not the lack of harmony between
text and pictures but the fear their readers would be bored by the
serious technical treatment of a subject associated with moonlight and
nightingales. Therefore, having been given the opportunity to do a book
that needed doing, I resolutely took it; and I hope the success of
"Italian Villas," which still has a steady sale, has made the publishers
forgive me.

Again and again in my literary life I have encountered the same kind of
editorial timidity. I think it was Edwin Godkin, then the masterly
editor of the New York "Evening Post," who said that the choice of
articles published in American magazines was entirely determined by the
fear of scandalizing a non-existent clergyman in the Mississippi Valley;
and I made up my mind from the first that I would never sacrifice my
literary conscience to this ghostly censor. Not being obliged to live
solely by my pen I thought I owed it to less lucky colleagues to fight
for the independence they might not always be in a position to assert. A
higher standard of taste in letters can be achieved only if authors will
refuse to write down to the particular Mississippi Valley level of the
day (for there is always a censorship of the same sort, though it is now
at the other end of the moral register), and the greatest service a
writer can render to letters is to follow his conscience.

In the intervals of my work on "Italian Villas" I had published a number
of short articles which I collected and brought out in 1905 in a volume
called "Italian Backgrounds." I do not intend to burden these pages with
an account of every book I have written and I speak of "Italian
Backgrounds" only because it is a convenient peg on which to hang an
interesting discussion. In the 'seventies and 'eighties there had
appeared a series of agreeable volumes of travel and art-criticism of
the cultured dilettante type, which had found thousands of eager
readers. From Pater's "Renaissance," and Symonds' "Sketches in Italy and
Greece," to the deliciously desultory volumes of Vernon Lee, and
Bourget's delicate "Sensations d'Italie," though ranging through varying
degrees of erudition, they all represented a high but unspecialized
standard of culture; all were in a sense the work of amateurs, and based
on the assumption that it is mainly to the cultured amateur that the
creative artist must look for appreciation, and that such appreciation
ought to be, and often is, worth recording.

But while the cultivated reader continued to enjoy these books, and to
ask for more, the voice of the trained scholar was sounding a note of
resistance. Literary "appreciations" of works of art were being smiled
away by experts trained in Bertillon-Morelli methods, and my deep
contempt for picturesque books about architecture naturally made me side
with those who wished to banish sentiment from the study of painting and
sculpture. Then, with the publication of Berenson's first volumes on
Italian painting, lovers of Italy learned that aesthetic sensibility may
be combined with the sternest scientific accuracy, and I began to feel
almost guilty for having read Pater and even Symonds with such zest, and
ashamed of having added my own facile vibrations to the chorus. The
application of scholarly standards to the judgment of works of art
certainly helped to clear away the sentimental undergrowth which had
sprung up in the wake of the gifted amateur; but nowadays, as was almost
certain to happen, the very critics who did the necessary clearing have
come to recognize that, their task once done, there remains the
imponderable something, the very soul of the work contemplated, and that
this something may be felt and registered by certain cultivated
sensibilities, whether or not they have been disciplined by technical
training. There remains a field of observation wherein the mere lover of
beauty can open the eyes and sharpen the hearing of the receptive
traveller, as Pater, Symonds and Vernon Lee had done to readers of my
generation. The combination of gifts required is seldom found, and the
volumes which guided my early wanderings were succeeded by minor
dithyrambs to which I never again felt tempted to add my own pipe of
ecstasy; but there is certainly room for the gifted amateur in the field
of artistic impressions--if only he is sufficiently gifted.



We had now organized our summers at the Mount, and had acquired a small
house--we used to say it was actually the smallest--in New York. I had
grown very weary of our annual wanderings, and now that I had definite
work to do I felt the need of a winter home where I could continue my
writing, instead of having to pack up every autumn, as we had been doing
for over fifteen years. Personally I should have preferred to live all
the year round at the Mount, but my husband's fondness for society, and
his dislike of the New England winter cold, made this impossible; and a
few years later, when he found even the climate of New York too trying,
we decided to spend all our winters abroad. But meanwhile I had the
amusement of adorning our sixteen-foot-wide house in New York with the
modest spoils of our Italian travels, and my summers being quiet I did
not so much mind the social demands of the winter. Besides, life in New
York, with its theatres and opera, and its new interests of all kinds,
was very different from the flat frivolity of Newport; and I was happy
in my work, and in the new sense of confidence in my powers.

My literary success puzzled and embarrassed my old friends far more than
it impressed them, and in my own family it created a kind of constraint
which increased with the years. None of my relations ever spoke to me of
my books, either to praise or blame--they simply ignored them; and among
the immense tribe of my New York cousins, though it included many with
whom I was on terms of affectionate intimacy, the subject was avoided as
though it were a kind of family disgrace, which might be condoned but
could not be forgotten. Only one eccentric widowed cousin, living a life
of lonely invalidism, turned to my novels for occasional distraction,
and had the courage to tell me so.

At first I had felt this indifference acutely; but now I no longer
cared, for my recognition as a writer had transformed my life. I had
made my own friends, and my books were beginning to serve as an
introduction to my fellow-writers. But it was amusing to think that,
whereas in London even my modest achievements would have opened many
doors, in my native New York they were felt only as a drawback and an
embarrassment. The literary life of New York had changed very little
since my youth. The literary men foregathered at the Century Club, and
continued to turn a contemptuous shoulder on society. Our most
distinguished man of letters, William Brownell, led the life of a
recluse, and though he became a dear friend it was chiefly by letter
that we communicated, and only on rare occasions that I could persuade
him to come to our house. I have always regretted that our friendly
meetings were so rare, and so seldom occurred in a more sympathetic
setting than his cramped and crowded office at Scribner's. When he died
in 1928 I tried to put into an article contributed to "Scribner's
Magazine" something of my deep admiration for the scholar and critic;
but I found it difficult to convey the exquisite quality of the man.
There was always an aloofness, an elusiveness in Brownell's manner and
personality, something shy and crepuscular, as though his real self
dwelt in a closely-guarded recess of contemplation from which it emerged
more easily and freely in writing than in speech; and indeed his letters
to me, which were long and frequent, always brought him nearer than our
actual encounters. As these letters concern only, or chiefly, my own
works, their interest for the general reader would obviously be less
than for their recipient; but to me they were a precious link with one
of the rarest intelligences I have ever known.

In writing of Brownell after his death it was inevitable that I should
associate with his name that of Edward Burlingame, for many years
Brownell's colleague in the house of Scribner, where he edited the
magazine. I said of the two: "I do not think I have ever forgotten one
word of the counsels they gave me," and the assertion is as true today
as it would have been in my youth. In Edward Burlingame also I found a
devoted personal friend, as well as a literary advisor. During his
editorship he raised "Scribner's Magazine" to the highest level
compatible with the tastes of the American magazine public--then
apparently a higher one than now. Burlingame, who used to come and dine
now and then with his wife, was far more sociably inclined than his
colleague. He was a man of real cultivation, a good linguist, and
genuinely interested in modern literature. It was thanks to him that
Scribner had published Stevenson's best prose, and Burlingame's ambition
was to keep his magazine on a level with the standard then established.
He was a good-looking man whose quiet dignity of manner masked an acute
sense of humour and a patient cordiality which many a young author must
have had reason to bless as I did. I remember once saying to him (a
propos of some young woman in straitened circumstances, whose manuscript
he had reluctantly had to refuse): "How hard it must be to say 'no' in
such cases!" But he answered quietly: "Not as hard as you think, because
if one isn't cruel at first one has to be so much crueller afterward."
Another of his wise answers was occasioned by my coming to him one day
(in the new flush of my success) bearing with me, as it were, an armful
of unwritten short stories. He listened patiently to my plans, and then
said: "If I were you I wouldn't be in such a hurry. You mustn't risk
becoming A MAGAZINE BORE." Lastly I owe to him the neatest formulation I
know of one of the first principles of every art: "You can ask your
reader to believe whatever you can induce him to believe." These axioms
have remained with me as applicable not only to literature but to life:
and Burlingame abounded in such wisdom.

W.D. Howells was (partly, I believe, owing to his wife's chronic
ill-health) another irreducible recluse, and though I was in a way
accredited to him by my friendship with his two old friends, Charles
Norton and Henry James, I seldom met him. I always regretted this, for I
had a great admiration for "A Modern Instance" and "Silas Lapham," and
should have liked to talk with their author about the art in which he
stood so nearly among the first; and he himself, whenever we met, was
full of a quiet friendliness. But I suppose my timidity and his social
aloofness kept us apart; for though I felt that he was amicably disposed
he remained inaccessible. Once, however, he did me a great kindness. I
invited him to come with us to the first night (in New York) of Clyde
Fitch's dramatization of "The House of Mirth." The play had already been
tried out on the road, and in spite of Fay Davis's exquisite
representation of Lily Bart I knew that (owing to my refusal to let the
heroine survive) it was foredoomed to failure. Howells doubtless knew it
also, and not improbably accepted my invitation for that very reason; a
fact worth recording as an instance of his friendliness to young
authors, and also on account of the lapidary phrase in which, as we left
the theatre, he summed up the reason of the play's failure. "Yes--what
the American public always wants is a tragedy with a happy ending."

Still another friend from the world of letters (and a life-long intimate
of all my husband's family), was Judge Robert Grant of Boston, who, in
his rare moments of escape from the duties of the Probate Court, used to
come to New York on flying visits. I have always had a great admiration
for his early novel, "Unleavened Bread," which, with W.D. Howells's "A
Modern Instance," was the forerunner of "Main Street," of "Babbitt," of
that unjustly forgotten masterpiece "Susan Lenox," of the best of Frank
Norris, and of Dreiser's "American Tragedy." Howells was the first to
feel the tragic potentialities of life in the drab American small town;
but the incurable moral timidity which again and again checked him on
the verge of a masterpiece drew him back even from the logical
conclusion of "A Modern Instance," and left Robert Grant the first in
the field which he was eventually to share with Lewis and Dreiser.

But though there was little change in the attitude of the literary
group, the merely fashionable were beginning to enlarge their interests.
With the coming of the new millionaires the building of big houses had
begun, in New York and in the country, bringing with it (though not
always to those for whom the building was done) a keen interest in
architecture, furniture and works of art in general. The Metropolitan
Museum was waking up from its long lethargy, and the leading picture
dealers from London and Paris were seizing the opportunity of educating
a new clientele, opening branch houses in New York and getting up loan
exhibitions. With the coming of Edward Robinson (formerly of the Boston
Museum) as Director of the Metropolitan, and the growth of the Hewitt
sisters' activities in organizing their Museum of Decorative Art at the
Cooper Union, the doctrines first preached by "The Decoration of Houses"
were beginning to find general expression; and in many houses there was
already a new interest in letters as well as art. Men like my friends
Bayard Cutting and John Cadwalader, in addition to preparing the way for
the great new Public Library, and taking an active part in its creation,
were forming valuable libraries of their own; others were collecting
prints and pictures, and several of the younger architects were
acquiring the important professional libraries which have been one of
the chief elements in forming American taste in architecture, and making
it the foremost influence in modern building. A few men of exceptional
intelligence, such as Egerton Winthrop, Bayard Cutting, John Cadwalader,
Walter Maynard, Charles McKim, Stanford White and Ogden Codman, had at
last stirred the stagnant air of old New York, and in their particular
circle it was full of the dust of new ideas.

This circle had happily always been mine, and I enjoyed its renovated
air all the more now that I had found my own line in life; but though I
liked New York well enough it was only at the Mount that I was really
happy. There, every summer, I gathered about me my own group of
intimates, of whom the number was slowly growing. Chief among the
newcomers was a youth who, though many years my junior, at once became
the closest of comrades. Walter Berry, who lived and exercised his
profession, in Washington, first put me in touch with his young friend,
George Cabot Lodge (always "Bay" to his intimates). We met in
Washington, where I had gone on a short visit; and from that first
encounter till the day of his death Bay and I were fast friends. Bay
Lodge (the eldest son of Henry Cabot Lodge, the Senator from
Massachusetts) was one of the most brilliant and versatile youths I have
ever known. In what direction he would eventually have developed I have
never been sure; his sudden death at the age of thirty-six cut short
such conjectures. He believed himself to be meant for poetry and
letters; and he wrote, and published, several volumes of poetry marked
by a grave rhetorical beauty. Though I admired certain lines and
passages, I felt, as did most of his friends, that they showed only one
side, perhaps not the most personal, of his rich and eager intelligence,
and that if poetry was to be his ultimate form he must pass beyond the
imitative stage into fuller self-expression. But he had a naturally
scholarly mind, and might have turned in the end to history and
archaeology; unless indeed he was simply intended to be the most
sensitive of contemplators, as he was the most varied and dazzling of
talkers. In our hurried world too little value is attached to the part
of the connoisseur and dilettante, and it never occurred to Bay's family
that he was not meant for an active task in letters. His fate, in fact,
was the reverse of mine, for he grew up in a hot-house of intensive
culture, and was one of the most complete examples I have ever known of
the young genius before whom an adoring family unites in smoothing the
way. This kept him out of the struggle of life, and consequently out of
its experiences, and to the end his intellectual precocity was combined
with a boyishness of spirit at once delightful and pathetic. He had
always lived in Washington, where, at the time when he was growing up,
his father, Henry Adams, John Hay, and the eccentric Sturgis Bigelow of
Boston, whose erudition so far exceeded his mental capacity, formed a
close group of intimates. Until Theodore Roosevelt came to Washington
theirs were almost the only houses where one breathed a cosmopolitan
air, and where such men as Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, J.J. Jusserand and
Lord Bryce felt themselves immediately at home. But Washington, even
then, save for the politician and the government official, was a place
to retire to, not to be young in; and Bay often complained of the lack
of friends of his own age. Even more than from the narrowness of his
opportunities he suffered from the slightly rarefied atmosphere of
mutual admiration, and disdain of the rest of the world, that prevailed
in his immediate surroundings. John Hay was by nature the most
open-minded of the group, and his diplomatic years in London had
enlarged his outlook; but the dominating spirits were Henry Adams and
Cabot Lodge, and though they were extremely kind to me, and my
pleasantest hours in Washington were spent at their houses, I always
felt that the influences prevailing there kept Bay in a state of
brilliant immaturity. He was at his best when he came to stay with us at
the Mount, where small parties of congenial friends succeeded each other
through the summer, and he was brought in contact with minds as active
as his own, but more unprejudiced.

Another friend of this time was young Bayard Cutting, the son of my old
friend. He was then recently married, and already menaced by the illness
which cut him off a few years later. Bayard was as different as possible
from his contemporary, Bay Lodge, as quiet and retiring as Bay was
brilliant and exuberant; and his main interests, had he lived, would
probably have been political rather than literary, though he was a great
reader, and a passionate lover of letters. He was extremely intelligent
and eagerly responsive to all intellectual appeals, but his rarest
quality was a sort of quiet radiance which sent its beam through the
dark fog of weakness and pain enveloping the years that ought to have
been his happiest.

During those years, so quickly consumed by suffering, I never once heard
him complain. He never ceased to struggle against his malady, trying
every country and every climate in the effort to throw it off, but at
the same time he took life on the normal terms of a healthy man--doing
his best to get well, yet behaving, talking, and apparently thinking, as
if he WERE well. In his wanderings in the pursuit of health he and his
wife once spent a summer at Lenox, and during those months I learned of
how fine and delicate a substance he was made. We have always needed
such men sorely in American public life, and Bayard Cutting's death was
a loss far beyond the immediate circle of his friends.


About this time we set up a motor, or perhaps I should say a series of
them, for in those days it was difficult to find one which did not
rapidly develop some organic defect; and selling, buying and exchanging
went on continuously, though without appreciably better results. One
summer, when we were all engaged on the first volumes of Madame
Karenine's absorbing life of George Sand, we had a large showy car which
always started off brilliantly and then broke down at the first hill,
and this we christened "Alfred de Musset," while the small but
indefatigable motor which subsequently replaced "Alfred" was naturally
named "George." But those were the days when motor-guides still
contained carefully drawn gradient-maps like fever-charts, and even
"George" sometimes balked at the state of the country roads about Lenox;
I remember in particular one summer night when Henry James, Walter
Berry, my husband and I sat by the roadside till near dawn while our
chauffeur tried to persuade "George" to carry us back to the Mount. The
other day, in going over some old letters written to Bay Lodge by Walter
Berry, I came on one dated from the Mount. "Great fun here," the writer
exulted; "we motor every day, and yesterday WE DID SIXTY-FIVE MILES" (in
triumphant italics). In those epic days roads and motors were an equally
unknown quantity, and one set out on a ten-mile run with more
apprehension than would now attend a journey across Africa. But the
range of country-lovers like myself had hitherto been so limited, and
our imagination so tantalized by the mystery beyond the next blue hills,
that there was inexhaustible delight in penetrating to the remoter parts
of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, discovering derelict villages with
Georgian churches and balustraded house-fronts, exploring slumbrous
mountain valleys, and coming back, weary but laden with a new harvest of
beauty, after sticking fast in ruts, having to push the car up hill, to
rout out the village blacksmith for repairs, and suffer the jeers of
horse-drawn travellers trotting gaily past us. My two New England tales,
"Ethan Frome" and "Summer," were the result of explorations among
villages still bedrowsed in a decaying rural existence, and sad
slow-speaking people living in conditions hardly changed since their
forbears held those villages against the Indians.

A frequent excursion was to Ashfield, where Charles Eliot Norton spent
the summer with his daughters in his little mountain farmhouse, and
where there was always a friendly welcome, and the joy of long hours of
invigorating talk. What I have said of the underrated value of the
connoisseur and disseminator of ideas is even more applicable to a man
like Charles Eliot Norton, whose long life proved what can only be
regretfully surmised in regard to a career as short as Bay Lodge's.
Charles Norton of course led an active life of letters in conjunction
with his teaching as Professor of Fine Arts at Harvard; but his
animating influence on my generation in America was exerted through what
he himself was, and what he made his pupils see and feel with him. Among
those of my intimate friends who came under Norton's influence at
Harvard there was none who did not regard the encounter as a turning
point in his own growth. Norton was supremely gifted as an awakener, and
no thoughtful mind can recall without a thrill the notes of the first
voice which has called it out of its morning dream.

In his prime Charles Norton, to be really known, had to be seen in the
Shady Hill library, at Cambridge, where the ripest years of his
intellectual life were lived. Against that noble background of books his
frail presence, the low voice, the ascetic features so full of scholarly
distinction, acquired their full meaning, and his talk was at its
richest and happiest. But the rusticity of the Ashfield cottage, with
its rocky slopes of orchard and woodland looking out to the blue
distances of his beloved New England, formed an even fitter setting to
his serene old age. It was there that I was oftenest in his company, for
my most intimate friends were his friends also. One such pilgrimage is
delightfully recorded in a letter written from the Mount by Henry James,
and others were made with Walter Berry, Gaillard Lapsley, and divers
devotees and disciples; memories radiant with the beauty of the long
mountain drive from Lenox to Ashfield, with sunsets watched from the
summit of "High Pasture" (where Norton always dreamed of building a
house that should command the wide landscape), and the slow descent
through the orchards at dusk, the lights twinkling under the eaves, a
happy group gathered for high tea, and an evening of quiet talk about
the fire. Charles Norton was not a great talker; he had none of the
sweep and impetus of the born conversationalist; but he was one of the
best guides to good conversation that I have ever known. Every word he
spoke, every question he asked, was like a signal pointing to the next
height, and his silences were of the kind which serve to carry on the

He was too old, when I began to know him intimately, to care to travel.
He often promised to come to the Mount, but I cannot remember that he
ever did, though his daughter Sally was so beloved and frequent a
visitor. I never failed, however, when I was in Boston, to make the
pilgrimage to Shady Hill, or to go to Ashfield in summer; and in the
intervals between our meetings we wrote to each other, or kept in touch
through my correspondence with Sally. He never ceased to interest
himself in my work, or to encourage me to go forward, although the more
I developed the more, in literary matters, our points of view diverged.
He was obviously disturbed by my increasing "realism," my exclusive
interest, as a novelist, in the life about me, which seemed to him so
devoid of the stuff of romance; he would have been happier if I had
never come any nearer to the nineteenth century than I did in "The
Valley of Decision." But no friendly pressure, even from the critics I
most esteemed, could turn me from the way I seemed meant to follow; and
with a magnanimity unusual in a man of his age Charles Norton accepted
this, and kept me in his heart.

In the intervals between our meetings we wrote to each other, and,
though our actual hours together were not many, I had to the end the
warm enveloping sense of his friendship, and the last letter he ever
wrote (or dictated, for he was past writing) was addressed to me.

One of Charles Norton's great friends, Edward Robinson, came often to
the Mount with his wife. Since he had given up the directorship of the
Boston Museum, and been placed at the head of the Metropolitan, I had
naturally more frequent opportunities of seeing him; and he was welcome
not only on his own account but as a link with other Boston friends, the
Nortons, Robert Grant, Barrett Wendell, and many others. Edward
Robinson, tall, spare and pale, with his blond hair cut short "en
brosse," bore the physical imprint of his German University formation,
and might almost have sat for the portrait of a Teutonic Gelehrter but
for the quiet twinkle perceptible behind his eyeglasses. He had, indeed,
an extremely delicate sense of humour, combined with the boyish love of
pure nonsense only to be found in Anglo-Saxons. He was one of the people
for whom I used to hoard up my best stories, but his own were generally
better, for his professional experiences gave him many humorous
sidelights on human nature, and no one could rival the dry pedantic
manner in which he poked fun at pedantry. I remember particularly one
story, not especially relevant to this, but which has remained with me
because of its strangeness, and Robinson's dramatic way of telling it.
The young Heir Apparent of a Far Eastern Empire, who was making an
official tour of the United States, was taken with his suite to the
Metropolitan, and shown about by Robinson and the Museum staff. For two
mortal hours Robinson marched the little procession from one work of art
to another, pausing before each to given the necessary explanations to
the aide-de-camp (the only one of the visitors who spoke English), who
transmitted them to his Imperial master. During the whole of the tour
the latter's face remained as immovable as that of the Emperor
Constantius entering Rome, in Gibbon's famous description. The Prince
never asked a question, or glanced to right or left, and this slow and
awful progress through the endless galleries was beginning to tell on
Robinson's nerves when they halted before a fine piece of fifteenth
century sculpture, a Pieta, or a Deposition, with a peculiarly moving
figure of the dead Christ. Here His Imperial Highness opened his lips to
ask, through his aide-de-camp, what the group represented, and Robinson
hastened to explain: "It is the figure of the dead God, after His
enemies have crucified Him." The prince listened, stared, and then burst
into loud and prolonged laughter. Peal after peal echoed uncannily
through the startled galleries; then his features resumed their imperial
rigidity and the melancholy procession moved on through new vistas of

Edward Robinson's presence in New York helped to centralize the growing
interest in art and architecture, and he was one of the most sympathetic
among the group of friends who used to gather in my small New York
drawing-room, or join in our adventurous motor trips at the Mount. If I
have dwelt chiefly on the homely familiar traits of his character, the
fun, the irony, the gentle malice, leaving it to others to praise his
scholarship and recount his public services, it is because in trying to
tell the story of my life I have found that it is these little personal
characteristics (and above all others, the ironic sense of the pity and
mystery of things) which have always created the closest ties between
myself and my friends.

Robert Minturn, of New York, whom I had known slightly all through my
girlhood, was now frequently at the Mount, or at our house in New York.
He and I belonged by birth to the same "old New York," and I hardly know
what had kept us so long from becoming friends, unless perhaps the
somewhat austere Minturn milieu (with its Boston-Abolitionist
affiliations) regarded mine as incorrigibly frivolous. At any rate, as
soon as I went to live in New York and began to see more of this grave
young man, whose pensive dusky head was so like that of a Titian
portrait, we found that we were meant to be friends--and often have I
grieved that we had not discovered sooner, for Bob Minturn's was one of
the affections I am proudest of having inspired. Once, as a child, I was
severely rebuked for saying of a dull kindly servant, whom my father was
defending because he was "so good": "Of course he's good--he's too
stupid to be bad." The rebuke was no doubt very salutary; yet experience
has shown me that there was a grain of truth in my comment, for the
intellectually eager and enquiring are seldom serenely and
unquestioningly good. But Robert Minturn belonged to the happy few who
have found a way of harmonizing the dissecting intellect with the
accepting soul, and whose daily life reveals the inner harmony "through
chinks that grief has made."

Bob Minturn's grief was his health; it was already menaced when our
friendship began, and during his last years he was an invalid, accepting
infirmity and facing death with complete serenity. One by one he had
given up the activities and enjoyments of a young man's life; but he
never allowed these renunciations to dull his appreciation of what
remained--the love of art and letters, the love of nature, and above
all, exquisitely vigilant and tender, the love of his friends. If he had
kept his health he would no doubt have taken an active part in political
and municipal life, for he had a lively sense of civic obligation and a
natural interest in public affairs; but his activities, deprived of this
outlet, had canalized themselves in an exquisite culture. He was an
accomplished linguist, widely read in certain lines, a sensitive lover
of words, indefatigable in the quest of their uses and meanings,
handling them as a gardener does his flowers, or a collector precious
jewels or porcelain, and deploring above all their barbarous misuse by
our countrymen. Linguistic problems had such a fascination for him that
even the letters to me which he dictated in the last months of his life,
when he was too ill to write, are full of eagerly propounded
etymological questions. To the last his interest in all the worthwhile
things kept his poor worn body aglow, and if ever a craft went down with
colours flying it was that which bore the shining soul of Bob Minturn.


Another visitor of a very different type, but highly endowed with the
sense of humour common to most of our group, was the popular playwright,
Clyde Fitch. Though I had not escaped the novelist's usual temptation to
write for the stage I had never taken my dramatic impulses very
seriously, and after the appearance of my second novel, "The House of
Mirth," I thought no more of the theatre--indeed, as nothing in the way
of drama between the examples of Racine's "Phedre" and "The Private
Secretary" has ever given me much pleasure, I went to the play as seldom
as possible.

Once "The House of Mirth" had started on its prosperous career I was of
course besieged with applications for leave to dramatize it; but I
refused them all, convinced that (apart from the intrinsic weakness of
most plays drawn from books) there was nothing in this particular book
out of which to make a play. Great was my surprise, therefore, when I
heard that Clyde Fitch, then at the height of his career, was eager to
undertake the task, though he had never before consented to adapt any
one else's material. I did not know Clyde Fitch, and had seen, I think,
only one of his plays; but I had read a number of them, and though they
were all disappointing, yet I thought him more gifted than was generally
supposed. His sense of the theatre was keen, but that interested me less
than his sense of the irony of life, his happy choice of the incidents
by means of which he threw light on the human predicament. I still think
the first act of one of his plays (I forget its title), in which the
scene is laid in the rotunda of the Apollo Belvedere, at the Vatican,
one of the most humorous exhibitions of human vacuity that I know of;
and if he had written for a more sensitive and critical public, and been
less tempted by easy success, he might have gone far in both mirth and
pathos. As it was, he was the playwright of the hour in America, and
being naturally flattered by his proposal I accepted it.

He stipulated that I should write every word of the dialogue, and as I
was too much of a novice not to need continual guidance in interpreting
his scenario, this led to many meetings, and to his coming several times
to stay. His visits laid the foundation of a real friendship, and my
husband and I both became very much attached to the plump showily
dressed little man, with his olive complexion, and his beautiful
Oriental eyes full of wit and understanding.

The work was longer and more difficult than he had probably foreseen. We
were both fastidious, and both frank in our criticisms of each other;
and one day I burst out, rather despairingly: "I can't see how you could
ever have thought there was a play in this book!"

"But I never did!" he exclaimed, his beautiful eyes wide with

"You DIDN'T? But they told me you wanted so much to do it."

He gave a sigh of understanding. "Oh, I see! That's exactly what they
told me about YOU. They said you wanted me to dramatize your novel, and
had refused the rights to everybody else in the hope that I could be
induced to do it."

We sat and stared at each other, seeing that we had been tricked into
collaboration by an unscrupulous intermediary. Then we both burst out
laughing. "I was so flattered--" I gasped.

"So was I!" he echoed; and we laughed again.

The play was written, the actors were bespoken, and it was too late to
withdraw; but I don't think either of us had a moment's illusion as to
the ultimate result. Clyde Fitch was leaving the Mount that afternoon;
under my laughter he probably detected my annoyance at having been thus
misrepresented to him, and the next day he sent me one of the kindest
letters that one human being ever wrote to another. He told me how sorry
he was to have taken up so much of my time on false pretenses (as though
I had not taken up as much of his!), and begged me to believe that,
whatever befell the play (and in theatrical matters, he reminded me, one
could never foretell), he would always be grateful for the accident
which had brought us together, since our collaboration had given him so
much pleasure, and taught him so much, that the possible failure of the
play mattered nothing in comparison. From an experienced playwright to
an amateur no words could have been more generous; and he confirmed them
by working over the staging and rehearsing as hard as if nothing had
happened to disillusionize us.

In spite of his loyal efforts, and of Fay Davis's valiant and beautiful
acting, the play failed; but I felt, as he did, that in the attempt I
had gained a friend, and that nothing else greatly mattered.

Clyde Fitch was one of the most amusing story-tellers I ever met, and
his rich treasures of observation and unfailing enjoyment of the human
situation made him a delightful talker. I remember, in particular, one
tale which delighted us. He had built himself a country house in
Connecticut, probably, like his town house, rather over-ornate and too
full of rococo Italian furniture. After a while he decided to sell it
furnished, and a newly-rich Western couple having asked to visit it, his
secretary was delegated to receive them. They liked the house; but the
husband had never heard of the sette cento (or perhaps of Italy) and was
puzzled and put off by the furniture, and his remarks were so
disparaging that his wife was obviously distressed. In one bedroom there
was a delicately carved and gilded four-poster, hung with old brocade,
its tester decorated with amorous allegories. This was the show room of
the house, but the husband said he'd never seen a bed like that, and
what the devil could anybody do with it? The scandalized secretary
replied that Mr. Fitch had brought it back from Venice, and considered
it his best piece; and the wife, to disguise her husband's ignorance,
hastily remarked: "Why, I think it's a perfectly lovely bed! Can't you
just see one of those old monks in it?"

My theatrical contacts having been so few, I had better record them all
here, though the next antedates by many years the production of "The
House of Mirth." It must have been shortly after my marriage that my
husband and I encountered in Paris an old friend of his family's, Arthur
Dexter, a finished specimen of the contemplator-and-appreciator type. He
had always been interested in the theatre, and was intimate with several
of the great actors of the Theatre Francais--in particular with Got,
Coquelin the elder and Delaunay. Delaunay had, I think, already retired,
but I had an exquisite recollection of his last performances in the
Musset comedies (in which I think he succeeded Bressant), and in the
last plays of his modern repertory. My father, who was very fond of the
theatre, often took me to the Francais when I was a girl of eighteen
(the year before his death), and I then saw, in the last faint light of
their setting, the great stars of the old group: Madeleine Brohan,
Delaunay, Got, with their juniors, Reichemberg, Baretta, Worms and

When, therefore, Arthur Dexter asked me if I would like to go to one of
Delaunay's dramatic classes at the Conservatoire, I could hardly believe
my luck. It was not easy to obtain permission to assist at any of these
classes, and to be admitted to Delaunay's was particularly difficult;
but being much attached to Dexter he had consented to make an exception
in my favour. I don't believe he often did so; that day, at any rate, no
one was present in the dreary salle but the young students, men and
girls, and the mothers (seemingly authentic) of the latter--for in those
days even budding actresses were chaperoned when they went to their
classes! They all looked so surprised at our intrusion that shyness
overcame me; but I forgot this as soon as one of the pupils mounted to
the stage, and Delaunay sat down facing it. It was all so long ago that
I recall but few details; but at the moment I had the sense of assisting
at something masterly. Delaunay was very small, very withered, very old
and rheumatic, and the golden voice was cracked; but the old fire still
burned in him. One episode interested me particularly. A young man had
prepared a scene (from Corneille's "Menteur," I think) in which his
dropping his handkerchief formed an important episode. For some time the
would-be comedian failed to drop the handkerchief to Delaunay's
satisfaction: the gesture was not charged with all the significance the
master thought it should contain. Delaunay explained his point
carefully, gave his reasons, took the stage himself to enact the
dropping of the handkerchief, and finally clenched his exposition by
saying: "We know that this was the way in which it has always been
dropped since the play was first acted"--giving the names of the actors
by whom the tradition had been handed down unbroken since the
seventeenth century.

Still more interesting was the great love scene from "Phedre," in which
the unhappy Queen declares (shades of the Mississippi Valley clergyman!)
her unholy passion for her stepson. The young girl who played Phaedra
was beautiful, and had a good voice; but the famous apostrophe which
should have poured from her like lava--"Oui, Prince, je brule, je
languis pour Thesee," and all the rest of it--failed to become
incandescent on the actress's inexperienced lips. Patiently, repeatedly,
Delaunay tried to ignite her with the sacred flame, but it was like
striking a succession of damp matches; she remained blankly lovely and
uncomprehending. At last he took the stage again, pushed her quietly
aside, and saying in a sad but unreproachful voice: "Que voulez-vous,
Mademoiselle? Vous etes trop jeune pour comprendre l'inceste," proceeded
to transform himself into the guilty Queen avowing her desperate desire
to its loved and hated subject. I saw Sarah Bernhardt afterward in
"Phedre"--and she could not woo and cajole, and taunt and curse and
rave, like the old Delaunay.

My other experiences of the stage were few and fleeting. I was once
asked--though how it came about I no longer remember--to make a play out
of "Manon Lescaut" for that delightful actress, Marie Tempest. It must
have happened very long ago, for I have forgotten who the intermediary
was, or how Miss Tempest happened to think of me. There is no doubt that
I did the play, however, for the manuscript still exists; and I
remember, as the chief result, a very pleasant little supper after the
theatre, at Miss Tempest's house near Regent's Park, for the purpose of
talking the matter over. Soon afterward her manager notified me that she
had decided to renounce "costume plays" for modern comedy, a resolve I
could not but applaud; and that was the end of that.

Oddly different was the end of my last theatrical venture, which, like
the others, was thrust on me and not solicited. A good many years after
"Manon"--at the time when we were living in New York--Mrs. Patrick
Campbell asked me to translate for her Sudermann's new play, "Es lebe
das Leben," of which she had acquired the rights. I admired Mrs.
Campbell's acting greatly, but after reading the play I felt obliged to
tell her that I did not see how a tragedy based on the German "point of
honour" in duelling, a convention which had so long since vanished from
our customs, could be intelligible or interesting to English or American
audiences. However she insisted, and the translation was made and
delivered. I told her that the German title ("Long Live Life," in its
most bitterly ironic sense) was virtually untranslatable; but some one
persuaded her that it meant "The Joy of Living!" I protested vehemently,
not wishing the dramatic critics to accuse me of such a flagrant error;
but I was overruled, the play was brought out under that comic title,
and in spite of Mrs. Campbell's brilliant acting, it promptly
failed--not without the critics having seized the occasion to remark
that, if the accuracy of the rest of Mrs. Wharton's translation was on a
par with that of the title, etc., etc...

But the odd conclusion was that, the Scribners having, to my surprise,
proposed to publish my translation, that work, with its absurd title
(which they said it was then too late to change), and its unintelligible
discussions on the technical why-and-why-not of duelling, has gone on
selling steadily in America ever since (a matter of over twenty-five
years); indeed it figured as usual, on a modest scale, in my last
royalty returns a few months ago. I have often, but always vainly, asked
for a credible explanation of this phenomenon, which I am sure is as
unintelligible to my publishers as to me--though they are too polite to
tell me so.

In spite of the ill-success of this experiment I enjoyed my brief
association with Mrs. Campbell; and in fact my experience of the stage
has left me none but kindly memories of the theatre-folk with whom I had
to do, though in each case the doing rendered them so little service.



What is one's personality, detached from that of the friends with whom
fate happens to have linked one? I cannot think of myself apart from the
influence of the two or three greatest friendships of my life, and any
account of my own growth must be that of their stimulating and
enlightening influence. From a childhood and youth of complete
intellectual isolation--so complete that it accustomed me never to be
lonely except in company--I passed, in my early thirties, into an
atmosphere of the rarest understanding, the richest and most varied
mental comradeship. Some of my friends were men exceptionally
distinguished in their own walk of life, without being public figures;
others were already celebrated when I first knew them, and of these I
shall find it difficult to give an adequate account because of my
unhappy lack of verbal memory. Once I had emerged from my long inner
solitude my opportunities, though limited in extent (for I have always
been fundamentally un-"social"), were of a quality so rare that it ought
to illuminate all my pages. I have lived in intimate friendship with two
or three great intelligences; but I am not a Boswell myself, and have
never had a Boswell of my own, both of which facts I deplore, since in
the former case I might have set down the dazzling talk I spent such
enchanted hours in absorbing, and in the latter have handed it on to my
recording satellite. As it is, having a tendency to pass, when in high
company, into a state of exhilaration that precludes anything as precise
as taking notes, I enjoy the commerce with great minds as a painter
enchanted by the glories of an Alpine meadow rather than as a botanist
cataloguing its specimens.

Once, happening to sit next to M. Bergson at a dinner, I confided to him
my distress and perplexity over the odd holes in my memory. How was it,
I asked, that I could remember, with exasperating accuracy, the most
useless and insignificant things, such as the address of every one I
knew, and the author of the libretto of every opera I had ever heard
since the age of eighteen--while, when it came to poetry, my chiefest
passion and my greatest joy, my verbal memory failed me completely, and
I heard only the inner cadence, and could hardly ever fill it out with
the right words?

I had the impression, before I ended, that my problem did not greatly
interest my eminent neighbour; and his reply was distinctly
disappointing. "Mais c'est precisement parce que vous etes eblouie"
("It's just because you are dazzled"), he answered quietly, turning to
examine the dish which was being handed to him, and making no effort to
pursue the subject. It was only afterward that I saw he had really said
all there was to say: that the gift of precision in ecstasy (the best
definition I can find for the highest poetry) is probably almost as rare
in the appreciator as in the creator, and that my years of intellectual
solitude had made me so super-sensitive to the joys of great talk that
precise recording was impossible to me. Good talk seems, instead, to
pass into my mind with a gradual nutritive force sometimes felt only
long afterward; it permeates me as a power, an influence, it encloses my
universe in a dome of many-coloured glass from which I can detach but
few fragments while it builds itself up about me. The reader may here
object that I have taken more than a page to say that I have a bad
memory; but to say only that would not quite cover the case, since the
talk I hear is not forgotten, but stored in some depth from which it
still returns in its essential implications, though so seldom in its
verbal shape.

Since I have already spoken of Henry James's visits to the Mount, it is
perhaps best to put his name first on the list of the friends who
composed my closest group during the years I spent there, and those that
followed. In fact, however, my first meeting with Henry James happened
many years earlier, probably in the late 'eighties; though it is at the
Mount that he first comes into the foreground of the picture.

For a long time there seemed small hope of his ever figuring there, for
when we first met I was still struck dumb in the presence of greatness,
and I had never doubted that Henry James was great, though how great I
could not guess till I came to know the man as well as I did his books.
The encounter took place at the house of Edward Boit, the brilliant
water-colour painter whose talent Sargent so much admired. Boit and his
wife, both Bostonians, and old friends of my husband's, had lived for
many years in Paris, and it was there that one day they asked us to dine
with Henry James. I could hardly believe that such a privilege could
befall me, and I could think of only one way of deserving it--to put on
my newest Doucet dress, and try to look my prettiest! I was probably not
more than twenty-five, those were the principles in which I had been
brought up, and it would never have occurred to me that I had anything
but my youth, and my pretty frock, to commend me to the man whose
shoe-strings I thought myself unworthy to unloose. I can see the dress
still--and it WAS pretty; a tea-rose pink, embroidered with iridescent
beads. But, alas, it neither gave me the courage to speak, nor attracted
the attention of the great man. The evening was a failure, and I went
home humbled and discouraged.

A year or two later, in Venice (probably in 1889 or 1890), the same
opportunity came my way. Another friend of my husband's, Ralph Curtis of
Boston, had the happy thought of inviting us to meet Henry James, who
was, I think, staying either with Curtis at the Palazzo Barbaro, or with
Robert Browning's old friend, Mrs. Arthur Bronson. Again fortune held
out her hand--and again mine slipped out of it. Once more I thought: How
can I make myself pretty enough for him to notice me? Well--this time I
had a new hat; A BEAUTIFUL NEW HAT! I was almost sure it was becoming,
and I felt that if he would only tell me so I might at last pluck up
courage to blurt out my admiration for "Daisy Miller" and "The Portrait
of a Lady." But he noticed neither the hat nor its wearer--and the
second of our meetings fell as flat as the first. When I spoke to him of
them years afterward he owned that he could not even remember having
seen me on either occasion! And as for the date of the meeting which
finally drew us together, without hesitations or preliminaries, we could
neither of us ever recall when or where that happened. All we knew was
that suddenly it was as if we had always been friends, and were to go on
being (as he wrote to me in February 1910) "more and more never apart."

The explanation, of course, was that in the interval I had found myself,
and was no longer afraid to talk to Henry James of the things we both
cared about; while he, always so helpful and hospitable to younger
writers, at once used his magic faculty of drawing out his
interlocutor's inmost self. Perhaps it was our common sense of fun that
first brought about our understanding. The real marriage of true minds
is for any two people to possess a sense of humour or irony pitched in
exactly the same key, so that their joint glances at any subject cross
like interarching search-lights. I have had good friends between whom
and myself that bond was lacking, but they were never really intimate
friends; and in that sense Henry James was perhaps the most intimate
friend I ever had, though in many ways we were so different.

The Henry James of the early meetings was the bearded Penseroso of
Sargent's delicate drawing, soberly fastidious in dress and manner, cut
on the approved pattern of the homme du monde of the 'eighties; whereas
by the time we got to know each other well the compact upright figure
had expanded to a rolling and voluminous outline, and the elegance of
dress given way to the dictates of comfort, while a clean shave had
revealed in all its sculptural beauty the noble Roman mask and the big
dramatic mouth. The change typified something deep beneath the surface.
In the interval two things had happened: Henry James had taken the
measure of the fashionable society which in youth had subjugated his
imagination, as it had Balzac's, and was later to subjugate Proust's,
and had fled from it to live in the country, carrying with him all the
loot his adventure could yield; and in his new solitude he had come to
grips with his genius. Exquisite as the early novels are--and in point
of perfection probably none can touch "The Portrait of a Lady"--yet
measured by what was to come Henry James, when he wrote them, had but
skimmed the surface of life and of his art. Even the man who wrote, in
"The Portrait of a Lady," the chapter in which Isabel broods over her
fate at night by the fire, was far from the man in whom was already
ripening that greater night-piece, the picture of Maggie looking in from
the terrace at Fawns at the four bridge-players, and renouncing her
vengeance as "nothing nearer to experience than a wild eastern caravan,
looming into view with crude colours in the sun, fierce pipes in the
air, high spears against the sky...but turning off short before it
reached her and plunging into other defiles."

But though he had found his genius and broken away from the social
routine, he never emancipated himself in small matters from the
conformities. Though he now affected to humour the lumbering frame whose
physical ease must be considered first, he remained spasmodically
fastidious about his dress, and about other trifling social observances,
and once when he was motoring with use in France in 1907, and suddenly
made up his mind (at Poitiers, of all places!) that he must then and
there buy a new hat, almost insuperable difficulties attended its
selection. It was not until he had announced his despair of ever making
the hatter understand "that what he wanted was a hat like everybody
else's," and I had rather impatiently suggested his asking for a
head-covering "pour l'homme moyen sensuel," that the thought broke
through his indecisions, and to a rich accompaniment of chuckles the hat
was bought.

Still more particular about his figure than his dress, he resented any
suggestion that his silhouette had lost firmness and acquired volume;
and once, when my friend Jacques-Emile Blanche was doing the fine seated
profile portrait which is the only one that renders him AS HE REALLY
WAS, he privately implored me to suggest to Blanche "not to lay such
stress on the resemblance to Daniel Lambert."

The truth is that he belonged irrevocably to the old America out of
which I also came, and of which--almost--it might paradoxically be said
that to follow up its last traces one had to come to Europe; as I
discovered when my French and English friends told me, on reading "The
Age of Innocence," that they had no idea New York life in the 'seventies
had been so like that of the English cathedral town, or the French
"ville de province," of the same date. As for the nonsense talked by
critics of a later generation, who never knew James, much less the world
he grew up in, about his having thwarted his genius by living in Europe,
and having understood his mistake too late, as a witness of his long
sojourns in America in 1904, 1905 and 1910, and of the reactions they
produced (expressed in all the letters written at the time), I can
affirm that he was never really happy or at home there. He came several
times for long visits to the Mount, and during his first visit to
America, in 1904-5, he also stayed with us for some time in New York;
and responsive as he always was, interested, curious, and heroically
hospitable to new ideas, new aspects, new people, the nostalgia of which
he speaks so poignantly in one of his letters to Sir Edmund Gosse
(written from the Mount) was never for a moment stilled. Henry James was
essentially a novelist of manners, and the manners he was qualified by
nature and situation to observe were those of the little vanishing group
of people among whom he had grown up, or their more picturesque
prototypes in older societies. For better or worse he had to seek that
food where he could find it, for it was the only food his imagination
could fully assimilate. He was acutely conscious of this limitation, and
often bewailed to me his total inability to use the "material,"
financial and industrial, of modern American life. Wall Street, and
everything connected with the big business world, remained an
impenetrable mystery to him, and knowing this he felt he could never
have dealt fully in fiction with the "American scene," and always
frankly acknowledged it. The attempt to portray the retired financier in
Mr. Verver, and to relate either him or his native "American City" to
any sort of concrete reality, is perhaps proof enough of the
difficulties James would have found in trying to depict the American
money-maker in action.

On his first visit, however, he was still in fairly good health, and in
excellent spirits, exhilarated (at first) by the novelty of the
adventure, the success of his revolt against his own sedentary habit (he
called me "the pendulum-woman" because I crossed the Atlantic every
year!), and, above all, captivated by the new experience of motoring. It
was the summer when we were experimenting with "Alfred de Musset" and
"George"; in spite of many frustrations there were beautiful tours
successfully carried out "in the Whartons' commodious new motor, which
has fairly converted me to the sense of all the thing may do for one and
one may get from it"; and this mode of locomotion seemed to him, as it
had to me, an immense enlargement of life.


It is particularly regrettable in the case of Henry James that no one
among his intimates had a recording mind, or rather that those who had
did not apply it to noting down his conversation, for I have never known
a case in which an author's talk and his books so enlarged and
supplemented each other. Talent is often like an ornamental excrescence;
but the quality loosely called genius usually irradiates the whole
character. "If he but so much as cut his nails," was Goethe's homely
phrase of Schiller, "one saw at once that he was a greater man than any
of them." This irradiation, so abundantly basked in by the friends of
Henry James, was hidden from those who knew him slightly by a
peculiarity due to merely physical causes. His slow way of speech,
sometimes mistaken for affectation--or, more quaintly, for an artless
form of Anglomania!--was really the partial victory over a stammer which
in his boyhood had been thought incurable. The elaborate politeness and
the involved phraseology that made off-hand intercourse with him so
difficult to casual acquaintances probably sprang from the same defect.
To have too much time in which to weigh each word before uttering it
could not but lead, in the case of the alertest and most sensitive of
minds, to self-consciousness and self-criticism; and this fact explains
the hesitating manner that often passed for a mannerism. Once, in New
York, when I had arranged a meeting between him and the great Mr.
Dooley, whose comments on the world's ways he greatly enjoyed, I
perceived, as I watched them after dinner, that Peter Dunne was
floundering helplessly in the heavy seas of James's parentheses; and the
next time we met, after speaking of his delight in having at last seen
James, he added mournfully: "What a pity it takes him so long to say
anything! Everything he said was so splendid--but I felt like telling
him all the time: 'Just 'pit it right up into Popper's hand'."

To James's intimates, however, these elaborate hesitancies, far from
being an obstacle, were like a cobweb bridge flung from his mind to
theirs, an invisible passage over which one knew that silver-footed
ironies, veiled jokes, tiptoe malices, were stealing to explode a huge
laugh at one's feet. This moment of suspense, in which there was time to
watch the forces of malice and merriment assembling over the mobile
landscape of his face, was perhaps the rarest of all in the unique
experience of a talk with Henry James.

His letters, delightful as they are, give but hints and fragments of his
talk; the talk that, to his closest friends, when his health and the
surrounding conditions were favourable, poured out in a series of images
so vivid and appreciations so penetrating, the whole so sunned over by
irony, sympathy and wide-flashing fun, that those who heard him at his
best will probably agree in saying of him what he once said to me of M.
Paul Bourget: "He was the first, easily, of all the talkers I ever

Of the qualities most impossible to preserve in his letters, because so
impossible to explain with whatever fulness of foot-notes, was the
quality of fun--often of sheer abstract "fooling"--that was the
delicious surprise of his talk. His letter to Walter Berry "on the gift
of a dressing-bag" is almost the only instance of this genial play that
is intelligible to the general reader. From many of the letters to his
most intimate group it was necessary to excise long passages of chaff,
and recurring references to old heaped-up pyramidal jokes, huge cairns
of hoarded nonsense. Henry James's memory for a joke was prodigious;
when he got hold of a good one, he not only preserved it piously, but
raised upon it an intricate superstructure of kindred nonsense, into
which every addition offered by a friend was skilfully incorporated.
Into his nonsense-world, as four-dimensional as that of the Looking
Glass, or the Land where the Jumblies live, the reader could hardly have
groped his way without a preparatory course in each correspondent's
private history and casual experience. The merest hint was usually
enough to fire the train; and, as in the writing of his tales a tidy
mustard-seed of allusion spread into a many-branched "subject," so his
best nonsense flowered out of unremembered trifles.

I recall a bubbling over of this nonsense on one of our happy
motor-trips among the hills of Western Massachusetts. We had motored so
much together in Europe that allusions to Roman ruins and Gothic
cathedrals furnished a great part of the jests with which his mind
played over what he has called "the thin empty lonely American beauty";
and one day, when his eye caught the fine peak rising alone in the vale
between Deerfield and Springfield, with a wooden barrack of a "summer
hotel" on its highest ledge, I told him that the hill was Mount Tom, and
the building "the famous Carthusian monastery." "Yes, where the monks
make Moxie," he flashed back, referring to a temperance drink that was
blighting the landscape that summer from a thousand hoardings.

Sometimes his chaff was not untinged with malice. I remember a painful
moment, during one of his visits, when my husband imprudently blurted
out an allusion to "Edith's new story--you've seen it in the last
'Scribner'?" my heart sank; I knew it always embarrassed James to be
called on, in the author's presence, for an "appreciation." He was
himself so engrossed in questions of technique and construction--and so
increasingly detached from the short-story form as a medium--that very
few "fictions" (as he called them) but his own were of interest to him,
except indeed Mr. Wells's, for which he once avowed to me an incurable
liking, "because everything he writes is so alive and kicking." At any
rate I always tried to keep my own work out of his way, and once accused
him of ferreting out and reading it just to annoy me--to which charge
his sole response was a guilty chuckle. In the present instance, as
usual, he instantly replied: "Oh, yes, my dear Edward, I've read the
little work--of course I've read it." A gentle pause, which I knew boded
no good; then he softly continued: "Admirable, admirable; a masterly
little achievement." He turned to me, full of a terrifying benevolence.
"Of course so accomplished a mistress of the art would not, without
deliberate intention, have given the tale so curiously conventional a
treatment. Though indeed, in the given case, no treatment BUT the
conventional was possible; which might conceivably, my dear lady, on
further consideration, have led you to reject your subject as--er--in
itself a totally unsuitable one."

I will not deny that he may have added a silent twinkle to the shout of
laughter with which--on that dear wide sunny terrace of the Mount--his
fellow-guests greeted my "dressing-down." Yet it would be a mistake to
imagine that he had deliberately started out to destroy my wretched
tale. He had begun, I am sure, with the sincere intention of praising
it; but no sooner had he opened his lips than he was overmastered by the
need to speak the truth, and the whole truth, about anything connected
with the art which was sacred to him. Simplicity of heart was combined
in him with a brain that Mr. Percy Lubbock has justly called robust, and
his tender regard for his friends' feelings was equalled only by the
faithfulness with which, on literary questions, he gave them his view of
their case when they asked for it--and sometimes when they did not. On
all subjects but that of letters his sincerity was tempered by an almost
exaggerated tenderness; but when le metier was in question no gentler
emotion prevailed.

Another day--somewhat later in our friendship, since this time the work
under his scalpel was "The Custom of the Country"--after prolonged and
really generous praise of my book, he suddenly and irrepressibly burst
forth: "But of course you know--as how should you, with your infernal
keenness of perception, NOT know?--that in doing your tale you had under
your hand a magnificent subject, which ought to have been your main
theme, and that you used it as a mere incident and then passed it by?"

He meant by this that for him the chief interest of the book, and its
most original theme, was that of a crude young woman such as Undine
Spragg entering, all unprepared and unperceiving, into the mysterious
labyrinth of family life in the old French aristocracy. I saw his point,
and recognized that the contact between the Undine Spraggs and the
French families they marry into was, as the French themselves would say,
an "actuality" of immense interest to the novelist of manners, and one
which as yet had been little dealt with; but I argued that in "The
Custom of the Country" I was chronicling the career of a particular
young woman, and that to whatever hemisphere her fortunes carried her,
my task was to record her ravages and pass on to her next phase. This,
however, was no argument to James; he had long since lost all interest
in the chronicle-novel, and cared only for the elaborate working out on
all sides of a central situation, so that he could merely answer, by
implication if not openly: "Then, my dear child, you chose the wrong
kind of subject."

Once when he was staying with us in Paris I had a still more amusing
experience of this irresistible tendency to speak the truth. He had
chanced to nose out the fact that, responding to an S.O.S. from the
"Revue des Deux Mondes," for a given number of which a promised
translation of one of my tales had not been ready, I had offered to
replace it by writing a story myself--in French! I knew what James would
feel about such an experiment, and there was nothing I did not do to
conceal the horrid secret from him; but he had found it out before
arriving, and when in my presence some idiot challenged him with: "Well,
Mr. James, don't you think it's remarkable that Mrs. Wharton should have
written a story in French for the 'Revue'?" the twinkle which began in
the corner of his eyes and trickled slowly down to his twitching lips
showed that his answer was ready. "Remarkable--most remarkable! An
altogether astonishing feat." He swung around on me slowly. "I do
congratulate you, my dear, on the way in which you've picked up every
old worn out literary phrase that's been lying about the streets of
Paris for the last twenty years, and managed to pack them all into those
few pages." To this withering comment, in talking over the story
afterward with one of my friends, he added more seriously, and with
singular good sense: "A very creditable episode in her career. BUT SHE

He knew I enjoyed our literary rough-and-tumbles, and no doubt for that
reason scrupled the less to hit straight from the shoulder, but with
others, though he tried to be more merciful, what he really thought was
no less manifest. My own experience has taught me that nothing is more
difficult than to talk indifferently or insincerely on the subject of
one's craft. The writer, without much effort, can reel off polite humbug
about pictures, the painter about books; but to fib about the art one
practises is incredibly painful, and James's over-scrupulous conscience,
and passionate reverence for letters, while always inclining him to
mercy, made deception doubly impossible.

I think it was James who first made me understand that genius is not an
indivisible element, but one variously apportioned, so that the popular
system of dividing humanity into geniuses and non-geniuses is a
singularly inadequate way of estimating human complexity. In connection
with this, I once brought him a phrase culled in a literary review.
"Mr. ---- has ALMOST A STREAK of genius." James, always an eager collector
of verbal oddities, fell on the phrase with rapture, and earnest requests
to every one to define the exact extent of "almost a streak" caused him
amusement for months afterward. I mention this because so few people
seem to have known in Henry James the ever-bubbling fountain of fun
which was the delight of his intimates.

One of our joys, when the talk touched on any great example of prose or
verse, was to get the book from the shelf, and ask one of the company to
read the passage aloud. There were some admirable readers in the group,
in whose gift I had long delighted; but I had never heard Henry James
read aloud--or known that he enjoyed doing so--till one night some one
alluded to Emily Bronte's poems, and I said I had never read
"Remembrance." Immediately he took the volume from my hand, and, his
eyes filling, and some far away emotion deepening his rich and flexible
voice, he began:

Cold in the earth, and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave,
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time's all-severing wave?

I had never before heard poetry read as he read it; and I never have
since. He chanted it, and he was not afraid to chant it, as many good
readers are, who, though they instinctively feel that the genius of the
English poetical idiom requires it to be spoken AS POETRY, are yet
afraid of yielding to their instinct because the present day fashion is
to chatter high verse as though it were colloquial prose. James, on the
contrary, far from shirking the rhythmic emphasis, gave it full
expression. His stammer ceased as by magic as soon as he began to read,
and his ear, so sensitive to the convolutions of an intricate prose
style, never allowed him to falter over the most complex prosody, but
swept him forward on great rollers of sound till the full weight of his
voice fell on the last cadence.

James's reading was a thing apart, an emanation of his inmost self,
unaffected by fashion or elocutionary artifice. He read from his soul,
and no one who never heard him read poetry knows what that soul was.
Another day someone spoke of Whitman, and it was a joy to me to discover
that James thought him, as I did, the greatest of American poets.
"Leaves of Grass" was put into his hands, and all that evening we sat
rapt while he wandered from "The Song of Myself" to "When lilacs last in
the door-yard bloomed" (when he read "Lovely and soothing Death" his
voice filled the hushed room like an organ adagio), and thence let
himself be lured on to the mysterious music of "Out of the Cradle,"
reading, or rather crooning it in a mood of subdued ecstasy till the
fivefold invocation to Death tolled out like the knocks in the opening
bars of the Fifth Symphony.

James's admiration of Whitman, his immediate response to that mighty
appeal, was a new proof of the way in which, above a certain level, the
most divergent intelligences walk together like gods. We talked long
that night of "Leaves of Grass," tossing back and forth to each other
treasure after treasure; but finally James, in one of his sudden
humorous drops from the heights, flung up his hands and cried out with
the old stammer and twinkle: "Oh, yes, a great genius; undoubtedly a
very great genius! Only one cannot help deploring his too-extensive
acquaintance with the foreign languages."


I believe James enjoyed those days at the Mount as much as I did (or
could) anything connected with the American scene; and the proof of it
is the length of his visits and their frequency. But on one occasion his
stay with us coincided with a protracted heat-wave; a wave of such
unusual intensity that even the nights, usually cool and airy at the
Mount, were as stifling as the days. My own dislike of heat filled me
with sympathy for James, whose sufferings were acute and uncontrollable.
Like many men of genius he had a singular inability for dealing with the
most ordinary daily incidents, such as giving an order to a servant,
deciding what to wear, taking a railway ticket, or getting from one
place to another; and I have often smiled to think how far nearer the
truth than he could possibly have known was the author of that
cataclysmic sketch in the famous "If--" series: "If Henry James had
written Bradshaw."

During a heat-wave this curious inadaptability to conditions or
situations became positively tragic. His bodily surface, already broad,
seemed to expand to meet it, and his imagination to become a part of his
body, so that the one dripped words of distress as the other did
moisture. Always uneasy about his health, he became visibly anxious in
hot weather, and this anxiety added so much to his sufferings that his
state was pitiful. Electric fans, iced drinks and cold baths seemed to
give no relief; and finally we discovered that the only panacea was
incessant motoring. Luckily by that time we had a car which would really
go, and go we did, daily, incessantly, over miles and miles of lustrous
landscape lying motionless under the still glaze of heat. While we were
moving he was refreshed and happy, his spirits rose, the twinkle
returned to lips and eyes; and we never halted except for tea on a high
hillside, or for a "cooling drink" at a village apothecary's--on one of
which occasions he instructed one of us to bring him "something less
innocent than Apollinaris," and was enchanted when this was interpreted
as meaning an "orange phosphate," a most sophisticated beverage for that

On another afternoon we had encamped for tea on a mossy ledge in the
shade of great trees, and as he seemed less uneasy than usual somebody
pulled out an anthology, and I asked one of the party to read aloud
Swinburne's "Triumph of Time," which I knew to be a favourite of
James's; but after a stanza or two I saw the twinkle of beatitude fade,
and an agonized hand was lifted up. "Perhaps, in view of the abnormal
state of the weather, our young friend would have done better to choose
a poem of less inordinate length--" and immediately we were all bundled
back into the car and started off again on the incessant quest for air.

James was to leave for England in about a fortnight; but his sufferings
distressed me so much that, the day after this expedition, feeling sure
that there was nothing to detain him in America if he chose to go, I
asked a friend who was staying in the house to propose my telephoning
for a passage on a Boston steamer which was sailing within two days. My
ambassador executed the commission, and hurried back with the report
that the mere hint of such a plan had thrown James into a state of
helpless perturbation. To change his sailing date at two days'
notice--to get from the Mount to Boston (four hours by train) in TWO
DAYS--how could I lightly suggest anything so impracticable? And what
about his heavy luggage, which was at his brother William's in New
Hampshire? And his wash, which had been sent to the laundry only the
afternoon before? Between the electric fan clutched in his hand, and the
pile of sucked oranges at his elbow, he cowered there, a mountain of
misery, repeating in a sort of low despairing chant: "Good God, what a
woman--what a woman! Her imagination boggles at nothing! She does not
even scruple to project me in a naked flight across the Atlantic..." The
heat collapse had been as nothing to the depths into which my rash
proposal plunged him, and it took several hours to quiet him down and
persuade him that, if he preferred enduring the weather to flying from
it, we were only too glad to keep him at the Mount.

A similar perturbation could be produced (I later learned, to my cost)
by asking him to explain any phrase in his books that did not seem quite
clear, or any situation of which the motive was not adequately
developed; and still more disastrous was the effect of letting him know
that any of his writings had been parodied. I had always regarded the
fact of being parodied as one of the surest evidences of fame, and once,
when he was staying with us in New York, I brought him with glee a
deliciously droll article on his novels by poor Frank Colby, the author
of "Imaginary Obligations." The effect was disastrous. I shall never
forget the misery, the mortification even, which tried to conceal itself
behind an air of offended dignity. His ever-bubbling sense of fun failed
him completely on such occasions; as it did also (I was afterward to
find) when one questioned him, in a way that even remotely implied
criticism, on any point in the novels. It was in England, I think--when
he and I, and a party of intimate friends, were staying together at
Howard Sturgis's--that I brought him, in all innocence, a passage from
one of his books which, after repeated readings, I still found
unintelligible. He took the book from me, read over the passage to
himself, and handed it back with a lame attempt at a joke; but I saw--we
all saw--that even this slight, and quite involuntary, criticism, had
wounded his morbidly delicate sensibility.

Once again, and again unintentionally--I was guilty of a similar
blunder. I was naturally much interested in James's technical theories
and experiments, though I thought, and still think, that he tended to
sacrifice to them that spontaneity which is the life of fiction.
Everything, in the latest novels, had to be fitted into a predestined
design, and design, in his strict geometrical sense, is to me one of the
least important things in fiction. Therefore, though I greatly admired
some of the principles he had formulated, such as that of always letting
the tale, as it unfolded, be seen through the mind most capable of
reaching to its periphery, I thought it was paying too dear even for
such a principle to subordinate to it the irregular and irrelevant
movements of life. And one result of the application of his theories
puzzled and troubled me. His latest novels, for all their profound moral
beauty, seemed to me more and more lacking in atmosphere, more and more
severed from that thick nourishing human air in which we all live and
move. The characters in "The Wings of the Dove" and "The Golden Bowl"
seem isolated in a Crookes tube for our inspection: his stage was
cleared like that of the Theatre Francais in the good old days when no
chair or table was introduced that was not RELEVANT TO THE ACTION (a
good rule for the stage, but an unnecessary embarrassment to fiction).
Preoccupied by this, I one day said to him: "What was your idea in
suspending the principal characters in "The Golden Bowl" in the void?
What sort of life did they lead when they were not watching each other,
and fencing with each other? Why have you stripped them of all the HUMAN
FRINGES we necessarily trail after us through life?"

He looked at me in surprise, and I saw at once that the surprise was
painful, and wished I had not spoken. I had assumed that his system was
a deliberate one, carefully thought out, and had been genuinely anxious
to hear his reasons. But after a pause of reflection he answered in a
disturbed voice: "My dear--I didn't know I had!" and I saw that my
question, instead of starting one of our absorbing literary discussions,
had only turned his startled attention on a peculiarity of which he had
been completely unconscious.

This sensitiveness to criticism or comment of any sort had nothing to do
with vanity; it was caused by the great artist's deep consciousness of
his powers, combined with a bitter, a life-long disappointment at his
lack of popular recognition. I am not sure that Henry James had not
secretly dreamed of being a "best seller" in the days when that odd form
of literary fame was at its height; at any rate he certainly suffered
all his life--and more and more as time went on--from the lack of
recognition among the very readers who had most warmly welcomed his
early novels. He could not understand why the success achieved by "Daisy
Miller" and "The Portrait of a Lady" should be denied to the great
novels of his maturity: and the sense of protracted failure made him
miserably alive to the least hint of criticism, even from those who most
completely understood, and sympathized with, his later experiments in
technique and style.


Those long days at the Mount, in the deep summer glow or the crisp
glitter of autumn, the walks in the woods, motor-flights over hill and
dale, evening talks on the moonlit terrace and readings around the
library fire, come back with a mocking radiance as I write--and with
them the figures of our other most beloved guests, Walter Berry, Bay
Lodge, and three dear friends from England, Gaillard Lapsley, Robert
Norton and John Hugh Smith.

Still others, friendly and delightful also, came and went; but these,
with Henry James, if not by the actual frequency of their visits, yet
from some secret quality of participation, had formed from the first the
nucleus of what I have called the inner group. In this group an almost
immediate sympathy had established itself between the various members,
so that our common stock of allusions, cross-references, pleasantries
was always increasing, and new waves of interest in the same book or
picture, or any sort of dramatic event in life or letters, would
simultaneously flood through our minds.

I think I may safely say that Henry James was never so good as with this
little party at the Mount, or when some of its members were reunited, as
often happened in after years, under Howard Sturgis's welcoming roof at
Windsor. The mere fact that we had in common so many topics, and such
innumerable allusions, made James's talk on such occasions easier and
wider-ranging than I ever heard it elsewhere; and the free and rapid
give-and-take of ideas animated his mind, which so easily drooped in
dull company.

In one respect Henry James stood alone among the great talkers I have
known, for while he was inexhaustible in repartee, and never had the
least tendency to monopolize the talk, yet it was really in monologue
that he was most himself. I remember in particular one summer evening,
when we sat late on the terrace at the Mount, with the lake shining
palely through dark trees, and one of us suddenly said to him (in
response to some chance allusion to his Albany relations): "And now tell
us about the Emmets--tell us all about them."

The Emmet and Temple families composed, as we knew, the main element of
his vast and labyrinthine cousinship--"the Emmetry," as he called
it--and for a moment he stood there brooding in the darkness, murmuring
over to himself: "Ah, my dear, the Emmets--ah, the Emmets!" Then he
began, forgetting us, forgetting the place, forgetting everything but
the vision of his lost youth that the question had evoked, the long
train of ghosts flung with his enchanter's wand across the wide stage of
the summer night. Ghostlike indeed at first, wavering and indistinct,
they glimmered at us through a series of disconnected ejaculations,
epithets, allusions, parenthetical rectifications and restatements, till
not only our brains but the clear night itself seemed filled with a
palpable fog; and then, suddenly, by some miracle of shifted lights and
accumulated strokes, there they stood before us as they lived, drawn
with a million filament-like lines, yet sharp as an Ungres, dense as a
Rembrandt; or, to call upon his own art for an analogy, minute and
massive as the people of Balzac.

I often saw the trick repeated; saw figures obscure or famous summoned
to the white square of his magic-lantern, flickering and wavering there,
and slowly solidifying under the turn of his lens; but never perhaps
anything so ample, so sustained, as that summoning to life of
dead-and-gone Emmets and Temples, old lovelinesses, old follies, old
failures, all long laid away and forgotten under old crumbling
grave-stones. I wonder if it may not have been that very night, the
place and his re-awakened associations aiding, that they first came to
him and constrained him to make them live for us again in the pages of
"A Small Boy" and "A Son and Brother?"


In New York James was a different being. He hated the place, as his
letters abundantly testify; its aimless ugliness, its noisy irrelevance,
wore on his nerves; but he was amused by the social scene, and eager to
leave nothing of it unobserved. During his visits, therefore, we invited
many people to the house, and he dined out frequently, and went to the
play--for he was still intensely interested in the theatre. But this
mundane James, his attention scattered, his long and complex periods
breaking against a dull wall of incomprehension, and dispersing
themselves in nervous politenesses, was a totally different being from
our leisurely companion at the Mount. I always enjoyed having him under
my roof, wherever that good fortune befell me; but my hurried
preoccupied New York guest seemed a mere fragment of the great "Henry"
of our country hours.

New York in those days, though more cosmopolitan than in my youth, was
still a small place, with so limited a range of intellectual interests
and allusions that dinner-table talk was a good deal like the "local
items" column in a country newspaper; and I remember depressing evenings
when the hosts, contributing orchids and gold plate, remained totally
unconscious of the royal gifts their guest had brought them in exchange.

James knew that his treasures were largely unmarketable in Fifth Avenue,
but it perplexed and saddened him that they should, as a rule, be
equally so in the world of letters, which he was naturally even more
eager to explore. I remember one occasion when a dinner was especially
arranged to make known to him a brilliant essayist whose books he
greatly enjoyed. Unhappily the essayist's opaque countenance revealed
nothing of the keenness within, and he on his part, though appreciative
of James's genius, was obviously put off by his laborious hesitations.
Their comments on the meeting were, on the essayist's side, a joke about
James's stammer, and on James's the melancholy exclamation: "What a

I suspect that he was much happier, and more at his ease, in Boston than
in New York. At Cambridge, in the houses of his brother, William James,
and of Charles Eliot Norton, and their kindred circles, he had the best
of Boston; and in Boston itself, where the sense of the past has always
been so much stronger than in New York, he found all sorts of old
affinities and relations, and early Beacon Hill traditions, to act as
life-belts in the vast ocean of strangeness. He had always clung to his
cousinage, and to any one who represented old friendly associations,
whether in Albany, New York or Boston, and I remember his once saying:
"You see, my dear, they're so much easier to talk to, because I can
always ask them questions about uncles and aunts, and other cousins." He
had brought this question-asking system to a high state of perfection,
and practised it not only on relations and old friends, but on
transatlantic pilgrims to Lamb House, whom he would literally silence by
a friendly volley of interrogations as to what train they had taken to
come down, and whether they had seen all the cathedral towns yet, and
what plays they had done; so that they went away aglow with the great
man's cordiality, "and, you see, my dear, they hadn't time to talk to me
about my books"--the calamity at all costs to be averted.


"This wielding of the unreal trowel."

"Walter Scott's Diary" (December 26, 1825).


I have hesitated for some time before beginning this chapter, since any
attempt to analyze work of one's own doing seems to imply that one
regards it as likely to be of lasting interest, and I wish at once to
repudiate such an assumption. Every artist works, like the Gobelins
weavers, on the wrong side of the tapestry, and if now and then he comes
around to the right side, and catches what seems a happy glow of colour,
or a firm sweep of design, he must instantly retreat again, if
encouraged yet still uncertain; and once the work is done, and he hopes
to contemplate it dispassionately, the result of his toil too often
presses on his tired eyes with the nightmare weight of a cinema

Nevertheless, no picture of myself would be more than a profile if it
failed to give some account of the teeming visions which, ever since my
small-childhood, and even at the busiest and most agitated periods of my
outward life, have incessantly peopled my inner world. I shall therefore
try to describe, as simply as I can, what seems to have gone to the
making of my books; and there is the more reason for doing so because so
few writers seem to have watched themselves while they wrote, or if they
did, to have set down their observations. Not a few painters have
painted themselves at their easels, but I can think of nothing
corresponding to these self-confessions in the world of letters, or at
any rate of fiction, except the prefaces of Henry James. These, however,
are mainly analyses of the way in which he focussed a given subject, and
of the technical procedure employed, his angle of vision once
determined. Even that deeply moving fragment, the appeal to his Genius,
the knowledge of which we owe to Percy Lubbock, is an invocation to the
goddess and not an objective notation of her descent into his soul. What
I mean to try for is the observation of that strange moment when the
vaguely adumbrated characters whose adventures one is preparing to
record are suddenly THERE, themselves, in the flesh, in possession of
one, and in command of one's voice and hand. It is there that the
central mystery lies, and perhaps it is as impossible to fix in words as
that other mystery of what happens in the brain at the precise moment
when one falls over the edge of consciousness into sleep.

My impression is that, among English and American novelists, few are
greatly interested in these deeper processes of their art; their
conscious investigations of method seldom seem to go deeper than syntax,
and it is immeasurably deeper that the vital interest begins. Therefore
I shall try to depict the growth and unfolding of the plants in my
secret garden, from the seed to the shrub-top--for I have no intention
of magnifying my vegetation into trees!

When I began to talk with novelists about the art of fiction I was
amazed at the frequently repeated phrase: "I've been hunting about for
months for a good subject!" Good heavens! I remember once, when an old
friend of the pen made this rather wistful complaint, carelessly
rejoining: "Subjects? But they swarm about me like mosquitoes! I'm sick
of them; they stifle me. I wish I could get rid of them!" And only years
afterward, when I had learned more from both life and letters, did I
understand how presumptuous such an answer must have sounded. The truth
is that I have never attached much importance to subject, partly because
every incident, every situation, presents itself to me in the light of
story-telling material, and partly from the conviction that the
possibilities of a given subject are--whatever a given imagination can
make of them. But by the time I had written three or four novels I had
learned to keep silence on this point.

The analysis of the story-telling process may be divided into two parts:
that which concerns the technique of fiction (in the widest sense), and
that which tries to look into what, for want of a simpler term, one must
call by the old bardic name of inspiration. On the subject of technique
I have found only two novelists explicitly and deeply interested: Henry
James and Paul Bourget. I have talked long and frequently with both, and
profitably also, I hope, though on certain points we always disagreed. I
have also, to the best of my ability, analyzed this process, as I
understood it, in my book, "The Writing of Fiction"; and therefore I
shall deal here not with any general theory of technique but simply with
the question of how some of my own novels happened to me, how each
little volcanic island shot up from the unknown depths, or each
coral-atoll slowly built itself. But first I will try to capture the
elusive moment of the arrival of the characters.

In the birth of fiction, it is sometimes the situation, the "case,"
which first presents itself, and sometimes the characters who appear,
asking to be fitted into a situation. It is hard to say what conditions
are likely to give the priority to one or the other, and I doubt if
fiction can be usefully divided into novels of situation and of
character, since a novel, if worth anything at all, is always both, in
inextricable combination. In my own case a situation sometimes occurs to
me first, and sometimes a single figure suddenly walks into my mind. If
the situation takes the lead, I leave it lying about, as it were, in a
quiet place, and wait till the characters creep stealthily up and
wriggle themselves into it. All I seem to have done is to say, at the
outset: "This thing happened--but to whom?" Then I wait, holding my
breath, and one by one the people appear and take possession of the
case. When it happens in the other way, I may be strolling about
casually in my mind, and suddenly a character will start up, coming
seemingly from nowhere. Again, but more breathlessly, I watch; and
presently the character draws nearer, and seems to become aware of me,
and to feel the shy but desperate need to unfold his or her tale. I
cannot say in which way a subject is most likely to present
itself--though perhaps in short stories the situation, in novels one of
the characters, generally appears first.

But this is not the most interesting point of the adventure. Compared
with what follows it is not interesting at all, though it has, in my
case, one odd feature I have not heard of elsewhere--that is, that my
characters always appear with their names. Sometimes these names seem to
me affected, sometimes almost ridiculous; but I am obliged to own that
they are never fundamentally unsuitable. And the proof that they are
not, that they really belong to the people, is the difficulty I have in
trying to substitute other names. For many years the attempt always
ended fatally; any character I unchristened instantly died on my hands,
as if it were some kind of sensitive crustacean, and the name it brought
with it were its shell. Only gradually, and in very few cases, have I
gained enough mastery over my creatures to be able to effect the change;
and even now, when I do, I have to resort to hypodermics and oxygen, and
not always successfully.

These names are hardly ever what I call "real names," that is, the
current patronymics one would find in an address-book or a telephone
directory; and it is their excessive oddness which often makes me try to
change them. When in a book by someone else I meet people called by
current names I always say to myself: "Ah, those names were tied on
afterward"; and I often find that the characters thus labelled are less
living than the others. Yet there seems to be no general rule, for in
the case of certain famous novelists whose characters have
out-of-the-way names, many are tied on too. Balzac had to hunt the
streets of Paris for names on shop-signs; and Thackeray and Trollope
bent their genius to the invention of the most laboured and dreary
pleasantries in the pointless attempt to characterize their people in
advance. Yet Captain Deuceace and the Reverend Mr. Quiverful are alive
enough, and I can only suppose that this odd fact of the prenamed
characters is a peculiarity of my own mental make up. But I often wonder
how the novelist whose people arrive without names manages to establish
relations with them!

A still more spectral element in my creative life is the sudden
appearance of names without characters. Several times, in this way, a
name to which I can attach no known association of ideas has forced
itself upon me in a furtive shadowy way, not succeeding in making its
bearer visible, yet hanging about obstinately for years in the
background of my thoughts. The Princess Estradina was such a name. I
knew nothing of its origin, and still less of the invisible character to
whom it presumably belonged. Who was she, what were her nationality, her
history, her claims on my attention? She must have been there, lurking
and haunting me, for years before she walked into "The Custom of the
Country," in high-coloured flesh and blood, cool, dominant and
thoroughly at home. Another such character haunts me today. Her name is
still odder: Laura Testvalley. How I should like to change that name!
But it has been attached for some time now to a strongly outlined
material form, the form of a character figuring largely in an adventure
I know all about, and have long wanted to relate. Several times I have
tried to give Miss Testvalley another name, since the one she bears,
should it appear ever in print, will be even more troublesome to my
readers than to me. But she is strong-willed, and even obstinate, and
turns sulky and unmanageable whenever I hint at the advantages of a
change; and I foresee that she will eventually force her way into my
tale burdened with her impossible patronymic.

But this is a mere parenthesis; what I want to try to capture is an
impression of the elusive moment when these people who haunt my brain
actually begin to speak within me with their own voices. The situating
of my tale, and its descriptive and narrative portions, I am conscious
of conducting, though often unaware of how the story first came to me,
pleading to be told; but as soon as the dialogue begins, I become merely
a recording instrument, and my hand never hesitates because my mind has
not to choose, but only to set down what these stupid or intelligent,
lethargic or passionate, people say to each other in a language, and
with arguments, that appear to be all their own. It is because of this
that I attach such importance to dialogue, and yet regard it as an
effect to be sparingly used. By dialogue I do not mean the pages of
"Yes" and "No," of platitudes and repetitions, of which most actual talk
is composed, and which any writer with a photographic mind and a good
memory can set down by the yard (and does, in most modern fiction). The
vital dialogue is that exchanged by characters whom their creator has
really vitalized, and his instinct will be to record only the
significant passages of their talk, in high relief against the
narrative, and not uselessly embedded in it.

These moments of high tension, when the creature lives and its creator
listens to it, have nothing in common with the "walking away with the
subject," the "settling it in their own way," with which some novelists
so oddly charge their characters. It is always a necessity to me that
the note of inevitableness should be sounded at the very opening of my
tale, and that my characters should go forward to their ineluctable doom
like the "murdered man" in "The Pot of Basil." From the first I know
exactly what is going to happen to every one of them; their fate is
settled beyond rescue, and I have but to watch and record. When I read
that great novelists like Dickens and Trollope "killed off" a character,
or changed the conclusion of a tale, in response to the request or the
criticism of a reader, I am dumbfounded. What then was their own
relation to their subject? But to show how mysterious and incalculable
the whole business is, one has only to remember that Trollope "went home
and killed" Mrs. Proudie because he had overheard some fool at his club
complaining that she had lived long enough; and yet that the death scene
thus arbitrarily brought about is one of the greatest pages he ever
wrote, and places him momentarily on a level with Balzac and Tolstoy!

But these people of mine, whose ultimate destiny I know so well, walk to
it by ways unrevealed to me beforehand. Not only their speech, but what
I might call their subsidiary action, seems to be their very own, and I
am sometimes startled at the dramatic effect of a word or gesture which
would never have occurred to me if I had been pondering over an abstract
"situation," as yet uninhabited by its "characters."

I do not think I can get any nearer than this to the sources of my
story-telling; I can only say that the process, though it takes place in
some secret region on the sheer edge of consciousness, is always
illuminated by the full light of my critical attention. What happens
there is as real and as tangible as my encounters with my friends and
neighbours, often more so, though on an entirely different plane. It
produces in me a great emotional excitement, quite unrelated to the joy
or sorrow caused by real happenings, but as intense, and with as great
an appearance of reality; and my two lives, divided between these
equally real yet totally unrelated worlds, have gone on thus, side by
side, equally absorbing, but wholly isolated from each other, ever since
in my infancy I "read stories" aloud to myself out of Washington
Irving's "Alhambra," which I generally held upside down.


After "The Valley of Decision," and my book on Italian villas, the idea
of attempting a novel of contemporary life in New York began to
fascinate me. Still, I hesitated. "The Valley of Decision" was not, in
my sense of the term, a novel at all, but only a romantic chronicle,
unrolling its episodes like the frescoed legends on the palace-walls
which formed its background; my idea of a novel was something very
different, something far more compact and centripetal, and I doubted
whether I should ever have enough constructive power to achieve anything
beyond isolated character studies, or the stringing together of
picturesque episodes. But my mind was full of my new subject, and
whatever else I was about, I went on, in Tyndall's brooding phrase,
trying to "look into it till it became luminous."

Fate had planted me in New York, and my instinct as a story-teller
counselled me to use the material nearest to hand, and most familiarly
my own. Novelists of my generation must have noticed, in recent years,
as one of the unforeseen results of "crowd-mentality" and standardizing,
that the modern critic requires every novelist to treat the same kind of
subject, and relegates to insignificance the author who declines to
conform. At present the demand is that only the man with the dinner pail
shall be deemed worthy of attention, and fiction is classed according to
its degree of conformity to this rule.

There could be no greater critical ineptitude than to judge a novel
according to WHAT IT OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN ABOUT. The bigger the
imagination, the more powerful the intellectual equipment, the more
different subjects will come within the novelist's reach; and Balzac
spread his net over nearly every class and situation in the French
social system. As a matter of fact, there are but two essential rules:
one, that the novelist should deal only with what is within his reach,
literally or figuratively (in most cases the two are synonymous), and
the other that the value of a subject depends almost wholly on what the
author sees in it, and how deeply he is able to see INTO it. Almost--but
not quite; for there are certain subjects too shallow to yield anything
to the most searching gaze. I had always felt this, and now my problem
was how to make use of a subject--fashionable New York--which, of all
others, seemed most completely to fall within the condemned category.
There it was before me, in all its flatness and futility, asking to be
dealt with as the theme most available to my hand, since I had been
steeped in it from infancy, and should not have to get it up out of
notebooks and encyclopaedias--and yet!

The problem was how to extract from such a subject the typical human
significance which is the story-teller's reason for telling one story
rather than another. In what aspect could a society of irresponsible
pleasure-seekers be said to have, on the "old woe of the world," any
deeper bearing than the people composing such a society could guess? The
answer was that a frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance
only through what its frivolity destroys. Its tragic implication lies in
its power of debasing people and ideals. The answer, in short, was my
heroine, Lily Bart.

Once I had understood that, the tale rushed on toward its climax. I
already had definite ideas as to how any given subject should be viewed,
and from what angle approached; my trouble was that the story kept
drawing into its web so many subordinate themes that to show their
organic connection with the main issue, yet keep them from crowding to
the front, was a heavy task for a beginner. The novel was already
promised to "Scribner's Magazine," but no date had been fixed for its
delivery, and between my critical dissatisfaction with the work, and the
distractions of a busy and hospitable life, full of friends and travel,
reading and gardening, I had let the months drift by without really
tackling my subject. And then, one day, Mr. Burlingame came to my rescue
by asking me to come to his. A novel which was to have preceded mine in
the magazine could not be ready in time, and I was asked to replace it.
The first chapters of my tale would have to appear almost at once, and
it must be completed within four or five months! I have always been a
slow worker, and was then a very inexperienced one, and I was to be put
to the severest test to which a novelist can be subjected: my novel was
to be exposed to public comment before I had worked it out to its
climax. What that climax was to be I had known before I began. My last
page is always latent in my first; but the intervening windings of the
way become clear only as I write, and now I was asked to gallop over
them before I had even traced them out! I had expected to devote another
year or eighteen months to the task, instead of which I was asked to be
ready within six months; and nothing short of "the hand of God" must be
suffered to interrupt my labours, since my first chapters would already
be in print!

I hesitated for a day, and then accepted, and buckled down to my job;
and of all the friendly turns that Mr. Burlingame ever did me, his
exacting this effort was undoubtedly the most helpful. Not only did it
give me what I most lacked--self-confidence--but it bent me to the
discipline of the daily task, that inscrutable "inspiration of the
writing table" which Baudelaire, most untrammelled and nerve-racked of
geniuses, proclaimed as insistently as Trollope. When the first chapters
appeared I had written hardly fifty thousand words; but I kept at it,
and finished and delivered my novel on time.

It was good to be turned from a drifting amateur into a professional;
but that was nothing compared to the effect on my imagination of
systematic daily effort. I was really like Saul the son of Kish, who
went out to find an ass, and came back with a kingdom: the kingdom of
mastery over my tools. When the book was done I remember saying to
myself: "I don't yet know how to write a novel; BUT I KNOW HOW TO FIND

I went on steadily trying to 'find out how to'; but I wrote two or three
novels without feeling that I had made much progress. It was not until I
wrote "Ethan Frome" that I suddenly felt the artisan's full control of
his implements. When "Ethan Frome" first appeared I was severely
criticized by the reviewers for what was considered the clumsy structure
of the tale. I had pondered long on this structure, had felt its
peculiar difficulties, and possible awkwardness, but could think of no
alternative which would serve as well in the given case; and though I am
far from thinking "Ethan Frome" my best novel, and am bored and even
exasperated when I am told that it is, I am still sure that its
structure is not its weak point.

From that day until now I have always felt that I had my material fairly
well in hand, though so often, alas, I am conscious that the strange
beings who have commissioned me to tell their story are not satisfied
with the portraits I have drawn of them. I think it was Sargent who said
that, when a portrait was submitted to the sitter's family, the comment
of the latter was always: "There's something wrong about the mouth." It
is the same with my sitters; though they are free to talk and even to
behave, in their own way, the image of them reflected in my pages is
often, I fear, wavering, or at least blurred. "There is something wrong
about the mouth"--and the great masters of portraiture, Balzac, Tolstoy,
Thackeray, Trollope, have neglected to tell us by what means they not
only "caught the likeness," but carried it on, in all its
flesh-and-blood actuality and changefulness, to the very last page.


All novelists who describe (whether from without or within) what is
called "society life," are pursued by the exasperating accusation of
putting flesh-and-blood people into their books. Any one gifted with the
least creative faculty knows the absurdity of such a charge. "Real
people" transported into a work of the imagination would instantly cease
to be real; only those born of the creator's brain can give the least
illusion of reality. But it is hopeless to persuade the
unimaginative--who make up the bulk of novel-readers--that to introduce
actual people into a novel would be exactly like gumming their snapshots
into the vibrating human throng of a Guardi picture. If one did, they
would be the only dead and unreal objects in a scene quivering with
life. The low order, in fiction, of the genuine roman a clef (which is
never written by a born novelist) naturally makes any serious writer of
fiction indignant at being suspected of such methods. Nothing can be
more trying to the creative writer than to have a clumsy finger point at
one of the beings born in that mysterious other-world of invention, with
the playful accusation: "Of course we all recognize your aunt Eliza!,"
or to be told (and this has more than once happened to me): "We all
thought your heroine must be meant for Mrs. X., BECAUSE THEIR HAIR IS

Of what, then, are the mysterious creatures compounded who come to life
(sometimes) under the novelist's pen? Well, it would be insincere to
deny that there are bits of Aunt Eliza in this one, of Mrs. X. in
that--though in the case of Mrs. X. it is hardly likely that the
psychological novelist would use the colour of her hair as a mark of
identity, and more than probable that the bits of Mrs. X. which have
actually served him are embedded in some character where the reader
alive only to outward signs would never think of seeking them. The
process is in fact inexplicable enough to the author, and doubly so to
his readers. No "character" can be made out of nothing, still less can
it be successfully pieced together out of heterogeneous scraps of the
"real," like dismembered statues of which the fragments have been
hopelessly mixed up by the restorer. The process is more like that by
which sham Tanagra statuettes used formerly, I have been told, to be
manufactured for the unsuspecting. The experts having discovered that
ancient terra-cotta acquires, through long burial, a peculiar flavour,
were in the habit of assuring themselves of the genuineness of the piece
by TASTING IT; and the forgers, discovering this, ground fragments of
old Tanagras into powder, ran the powder into one of the old moulds, and
fearlessly presented the result as an antique. Experience, observation,
the looks and ways and words of "real people," all melted and fused in
the white heat of the creative fires--such is the mingled stuff which
the novelist pours into the firm mould of his narrative. And yet even
this does not wholly solve the problem; it is only a step or two nearer
the truth than the exasperating attributions of the simple-minded...

These attributions are exasperating, no doubt; but they are less so
because of the accidental annoyance that may result in a given case than
because they bring home to the creator, each time with a fresh shock,
the lack of imaginative response to his effort. It is discouraging to
know that the books into the making of which so much of one's soul has
entered will be snatched at by readers curious only to discover which of
the heroes and heroines of the "society column" are to be found in it.
But I made up my mind long ago that it is foolish and illogical to
resent so puerile a form of criticism. If one has sought the publicity
of print, and sold one's wares in the open market, one has sold to the
purchasers the right to think what they choose about one's books; and
the novelist's best safeguard is to put out of his mind the quality of
the praise or blame bestowed on him by reviewers and readers, and to
write only for that dispassionate and ironic critic who dwells within
the breast.



I must go back a long way to recover the threads leading to my earliest
acquaintance with London society. My husband and I took our first dip
into it just after the appearance of "The Greater Inclination"; but a
dip so brief that I brought back from it hardly more than a list of
names. It was then, probably, that I first met Lady Jeune, afterward
Lady St Helier, whose friendly interest put me in relation with her
large and ever-varying throng of guests. The tastes and interests of
Lady St Helier, one of the best-known London hostesses of her day, could
hardly have been more remote from my own. She was a born "entertainer"
according to the traditional London idea, which regarded (and perhaps
still regards) the act of fighting one's way through a struggling crowd
of celebrities as the finest expression of social intercourse. I have
always hated "general society," and Lady St Helier could conceive of no
society that was not general. She took a frank and indefatigable
interest in celebrities, and was determined to have them all at her
house, whereas I was shy, or indifferent, and without any desire to meet
any of them, at any rate on such wholesale occasions, except one or two
of my own craft. Yet Lady Jeune and I at once became fast friends, and
my affection and admiration for her grew with the growth of our
friendship. For many years I stayed with her whenever I went to London,
gladly undergoing the inevitable series of big lunches and dinners for
the sake of the real pleasure I had in being with her. Others have done
justice to her tireless and intelligent activities on the London County
Council, and in every good cause, political, municipal or philanthropic,
which appealed to her wide sympathies. What I wish to record is that
this woman, who figured to hundreds merely as the most indefatigable and
imperturbable of hostesses, a sort of automatic entertaining machine,
had a vigorous personality of her own, and the most generous and
independent character. Psychologically, the professional hostess and
celebrity-seeker will always remain an enigma to me; but I have known
intimately three who were famous in their day, and though nothing could
be more divergent than their tastes and mine, yet I was drawn to all
three by the same large and generous character, the same capacity for
strong individual friendships.

Lady St Helier was perfectly aware of her own foible for hospitality on
a large scale, and I remember her being amused and touched by an
incident which happened just before one of my visits to her. One of her
two married daughters shared her interest in the literary and artistic
figures of the day, and as this daughter lived in the country she
depended on her mother for her glimpses of the passing show. One day she
wrote begging Lady St Helier to invite to dinner, at a date when she,
the daughter, was to be in London, a young writer whose first book had
caused a passing flutter. Lady St Helier, delighted at the pretext,
wrote to the young man, who was a total stranger to her, telling him of
her daughter's admiration, and her own, for his book, and begging him to
dine with her the following week. The novelist replied that he could not
accept her invitation; he hated dining out, and moreover owned no
evening clothes; but he added that he was desperately hard up, and as
Lady St Helier had liked his book he hoped she would not mind lending
him five pounds. His would-be hostess was disappointed at his refusing
her invitation, but delighted with his frankness; and I am certain she
sent him the five pounds--and not as a loan.

She would, I am sure, have been equally amused if she had ever heard (as
I daresay she did) the story of the cannibal chief who, on the point of
consigning a captive explorer to the pot, snatched him back to safety
with the exclamation: "But I think I've met you at Lady St Helier's!"

Among the friends I made at that friendly table I remember chiefly Sir
George Trevelyan, the historian, Lord Haldane and Lord Goschen--the two
latter, I imagine, interested by the accident of my familiarity with
German literature. I saw at Lady St Helier's a long line of men famous
in letters and public affairs, but our meetings were seldom renewed, for
my visits to London were so crowded and hurried, owing to my husband's
unwillingness to remain in England for more than a few days at a time,
that the encounters were at best but passing glimpses. Thomas Hardy,
however, I met several times, and though he was as remote and
uncommunicative as our most unsocial American men of letters, his
silence seemed due to an unconquerable shyness rather than to the great
man's disdain for humbler neighbours. I sometimes sat next to him at
luncheon at Lady St Helier's, and I found it comparatively easy to carry
on a mild chat on literary matters. I remember once asking him if it
were really true that the editor of the American magazine which had the
privilege of publishing "Jude the Obscure" had insisted on his
transforming the illegitimate children of Jude and Sue into adopted
orphans. He smiled, and said yes, it was a fact; but he added
philosophically that he was not much surprised, as the editor of the
Scottish magazine which had published his first short story had objected
to his making his hero and heroine go for a walk on a Sunday, and
obliged him to transfer the stroll to a week-day! He seemed to take
little interest in the literary movements of the day, or in fact in any
critical discussion of his craft, and I felt that he was completely
enclosed in his own creative dream, through which I imagine few voices
or influences ever reached him.

One of the things that most struck me when I began to go into general
society in England was this indifference of the kind and friendly people
whom I met to any but their individual occupations or hobbies. At that
time--over thirty years ago--an interest in general ideas, and indeed in
any topic whatever outside of the political and social preoccupations of
the England of the day, was almost non-existent, except in a small group
with which I was not thrown until later. There were, of course,
brilliant exceptions, and many of the most cultivated and widely ranging
intelligences I have known have been among the Englishmen of that
generation. But in general, in the big politico-worldly society in which
men of all sorts, sportsmen, soldiers, lawyers, scholars and statesmen,
were mingled with the merely frivolous, I found the greater number
rather narrowly confined to their own particular topics, and general
conversation as rigorously excluded as general ideas.

I remember, at one big dinner in this portion of the London world,
hearing some one name Lord Basil Blackwood as we entered the
dining-room, and turning eagerly to my neighbour (a famous polo-player,
I think) with the question: "Oh, CAN you tell me if that is the
wonderful Basil Blackwood who did the pictures for 'The Bad Child's Book
of Beasts'?" My neighbour gave me a glance of undisguised dismay, and
hastily replied: "Oh, please don't ask me that sort of question! I'm not
in the least literary." His hostess, in sending him in with me, had
probably whispered to the unhappy man: "SHE WRITES," and he was
determined to make his position clear from the outset.

On another evening I had as neighbour, at another big dinner in the same
set, a friendly young army officer, evidently much engrossed in his
profession, who at once disarmed me by confessing that he didn't know
how to talk anything but "shop." As I foresaw at least ten courses (I
think the dinner was at Lord Rothschild's) I was somewhat disconcerted;
but the encounter must have taken place not long after the Boer War, and
having just read Conan Doyle's vivid narrative of that campaign I
plunged at once into the subject, and thus kept more or less afloat for
the first half hour. But what in the world were we to talk of next--? My
neighbour knew I was an American, and I thought his manifest interest in
military history might have led him to hear of the American Revolution.
I therefore asked him if he had read Sir George Trevelyan's lately
published history of that event. He had never heard of the book or of
the author, and to rouse his interest I said I had been told that Lord
Wolseley regarded Sir George's account of the battle of Bunker Hill as
the finest description of a military engagement written in our day.

"Ah," said my neighbour, with awakening interest--"the author's a
soldier himself, then, I suppose?"

"No, he's not; which makes it all the more remarkable," I replied
(though at the moment I was not sure that it did!).

My reply plunged the young officer into perplexity; then his face lit
up. "Ah--I see; he was out there as military correspondent, was he?"


Now and then, of course, there were rich compensations for such
evenings. I always said that London dinners reminded me of Clarchen's
song; they could be so "freudvoll" or so "leidvoll"--though
"gedankenvoll" they seldom were. But in the course of my London visits I
gradually made friends with various intelligent people of the world
whose interests were much nearer my own. Most of them figured among the
"Souls," who prided themselves on a title which had been ironically
conferred, or among a kindred set of fashionable cosmopolitans, always
ready to welcome new ideas, though they could seldom spare the time to
understand them. The latter group, though not affiliated to the "Souls,"
yet for the most part had the same interests and amusements, and I
passed some pleasant hours with both.

One night at a dinner in this milieu--I think at Lady Ripon's--I found
myself next to a man of about thirty-five or forty, whose name I had not
caught. We fell into conversation, and within five minutes I was being
whirled away on such a quick current of talk as I had not dipped into
for many a day. My neighbour moved with dazzling agility from topic to
topic, tossing them to and fro like glittering glass balls, always
making me share in the game, yet directing it with a practised hand. We
soon discovered a common love of letters, and I think it was our main
theme that evening. At all events, what I chiefly remember is our having
matched, so to speak, the most famous kisses in literature, and my
producing as my crowning effect, and to my neighbour's great admiration,
the kiss on the stairs in "The Spoils of Poynton" (which I have always
thought one of the most moving love-scenes in fiction), while he quoted
in exchange the last desperate embrace of Troilus:

Injurious Time now with a robber's haste
Crams his rich thievery up, he knows not how;
As many farewells as be stars in heaven...
He fumbles up into a loose adieu,
And scants us with a single famished kiss
Distasted with the salt of broken tears.

Only at the end of the evening did I learn that I had sat next to Harry
Cust, one of the most eager and radio-active intelligences in London,
unhappily too favoured by fortune to have been forced to canalize his
gifts, but a captivating talker and delightful companion in the small
circle of his intimates. We struck up a prompt friendship, and
thereafter I seldom missed seeing him when I was in London, and keep the
memory of delightful lunches and dinners at his picturesque house,
looking out over a quiet rose-garden, a stone's throw from the roar of

Among these fashionable cosmopolitans (of whom Lady Ripon was one of the
most accomplished) I found again an old friend and contemporary, the
beautiful Lady Essex, who had been Adele Grant of New York. She lived at
that time at Bourdon House, Mayfair, the charming little brick manor of
a famous heiress who, in the seventeenth century, brought her immense
estates to the Dukes of Westminster; one of the last, I suppose, of the
old country houses to survive till our day in that intensely urban
quarter. There, in the friendly setting of old pictures and old
furniture of which her friends keep so happy a memory, I met a number of
well-known people, among whom I remember especially Claude Phillips, the
witty and agreeable director of the Wallace collection, Sir Edmund
Gosse, who always showed me great kindness, Mr. H.G. Wells, most
stirring and responsive of talkers, the silent William Archer, dramatic
critic and translator of Ibsen, and Max Beerbohm the matchless. It was
not my good luck to meet the latter often, though he was still living in
London, and far from being the recluse he has since (like myself)
become. But when we did sit next to each other at lunch or dinner, it
was like suddenly growing wings! I don't, alas, after all these years,
remember many of our topics of conversation, or of his lapidary
comments; but one of the latter still delights me. We were discussing
the works of a well-known novelist whose talk was full of irony and
humour, but whose fiction was heavy, and overburdened with unnecessary
detail. I remarked that a woman friend of his, who was aware of this
defect, had once said to me: "I believe X.'s insistence on detail is
caused by his having to look at everything too closely, owing to his
being so shortsighted."

Max looked at me gravely. "Ah, really? She thinks it's because he's so
short-sighted? I should have said it was because he was so long-winded!"

The Essexes at that time were in the habit of entertaining big week-end
parties at Cassiobury, Lord Essex's place near St Albans, and one Sunday
at the end of a brilliant London season, when my husband and I motored
down there to lunch, we found, scattered on the lawn under the great
cedars, the very flower and pinnacle of the London world: Mr. Balfour,
Lady Desborough, Lady Poynder (now Lady Islington), Lady Wemyss (then
Lady Elcho), and John Sargent, Henry James, and many others of that
shining galaxy--but one and all so exhausted by the social labours of
the last weeks, so talked out with each other and with all the world,
that beyond benevolent smiles they had little to give; and I remarked
that evening to my husband that meeting them in such circumstances was
like seeing their garments hung up in a row, with nobody inside.

To Adele Essex, always a devoted friend and responsive companion, and to
Lady Ripon, whose sense of fun and quick enthusiasms always delighted
me, I owed on the whole the pleasantest hours of my London visits;
though I should be ungrateful not to add to their names those of Sir
George Trevelyan, who kept up till his death a friendly interest in my
books, of Mrs. Wilfrid Meynell, Mrs. Humphry Ward and my shrewd and
independent old friend, Mrs. Alfred Austin. Mrs. Meynell, whose poems I
admired far more than her delicate but too self-conscious essays, became
interested in me, I think, through her liking for "The Valley of
Decision," and always showed me great kindness when I was in London. On
one occasion, knowing my admiration for the poetry of Francis Thompson,
she carried her kindness so far as to invite me to lunch with that
elusive being (having previously extracted from him a promise that he
would really come). But, alas, though Mr. Meynell, for greater security,
called at Thompson's lodgings to fetch him, the poor poet was in an
opium dream from which he was not to be roused; and I never met him.

The first time I lunched at Mrs. Meynell's I was struck by the solemnity
with which this tall thin sweet-voiced woman, with melancholy eyes and
rather catafalque-like garb, was treated by her husband and children.
Mr. Meynell, small and brisk, bustled in ahead of her, as though
preceding a sovereign; and all through the luncheon Mrs. Meynell's
utterances, murmured with soft deliberation, were received in an
attentive silence punctuated by: "My wife was saying the other day," "My
wife always thinks"--as though each syllable from those lips were final.

I, who had been accustomed at home to dissemble my literary pursuits (as
though, to borrow Dr. Johnson's phrase about portrait painting, they
were "indelicate in a female"), was astonished at the prestige
surrounding Mrs. Meynell in her own family; and at the Humphrey Wards' I
found the same affectionate deference toward the household celebrity.

I was often a guest of the Wards, in London or at their peaceful
country-house near Tring. There were many ties of old friendship,
English and American, between us, and Mrs. Ward was unfailingly kind in
her estimation of my work, and always eager to make me known to
interesting people. Indeed, whenever I have been in England I have found
there kindness, hospitality, and a disposition to put me at once on a
footing of old friendship. I should be sorry to leave out the names of
any to whom I am thus indebted, and at least must add those of Sir Ian
and Lady Hamilton, still my friends and my kind hosts on my frequent
visits to England, of those dear friends of my childhood, now both dead,
Henry and Margaret White (he was then first secretary of our Embassy in
London), of Lord and Lady Charles Beresford, Sir Edmund Gosse, Lord and
Lady Burghclere, and my husband's hospitable cousin, Mrs. Adair. Of
country life I saw next to nothing, for we were never in England in the
autumn and winter, and at the season when we WERE there my husband's
dates were so unalterable that we once missed a weekend at Mentmore with
Lord Rosebery because it was considered impossible that we should
postpone our sailing for a few days. I have always regretted this, as
well as my having been unable to accept two or three invitations to Lord
Rosebery's house in London; for as a girl of seventeen I had met him
when he came to America after his marriage, and I had a vivid memory of
the light and air he let into the stuffy atmosphere of a Newport season.
Unhappily I never saw him again.

Much as I enjoyed these London glimpses they are now no more than a
golden blur. So many years have gone by, and that old world of my youth
has been so convulsed and shattered, that as I look back, and try to
recapture the details of particular scenes and talks, they dissolve into
the distance. But in any case I was not made to extract more than a
passing amusement from such fugitive dips into a foreign society. My
idea of society was (and still is) the daily companionship of the same
five or six friends, and its pleasure is based on continuity, whereas
the hospitable people who opened their doors to me in London, though of
course they all had their own intimate circles, were as much exhilarated
by the yearly stream of new faces as a successful shot by the size of
his bag. Most of my intimate friendships in England were made later, and
in circumstances more favourable (to me, at any rate) than the rush and
confusion of a London season. Some of the dearest of them I owe to
Howard Sturgis, and to him, and to Queen's Acre, his house at Windsor, I
turn for the setting of my next scene.


A long low drawing-room; white-panelled walls hung with water-colours of
varying merit; curtains and furniture of faded slippery chintz; French
windows opening on a crazy wooden verandah, through which, on one side,
one caught a glimpse of a weedy lawn and a shrubbery edged with an
unsuccessful herbaceous border, on the other, of a not too successful
rose garden, with a dancing faun poised above an incongruously "arty"
blue-tiled pool. Within, profound chintz arm-chairs drawn up about a
hearth on which a fire always smouldered; a big table piled with popular
novels and picture-magazines; and near the table a lounge on which lay
outstretched, his legs covered by a thick shawl, his hands occupied with
knitting-needles or embroidery silks, a sturdily-built handsome man with
brilliantly white wavy hair, a girlishly clear complexion, a black
moustache, and tender mocking eyes under the bold arch of his black

Such was Howard Sturgis, perfect host, matchless friend, drollest,
kindest and strangest of men, as he appeared to the startled eyes of
newcomers on their first introduction to Queen's Acre.

It was not there, but at a dinner at Newport, that I first met him, a
few years after my marriage. I did not even know who he was; but if ever
there was a case of friendship at first sight it was struck up between
us then and there. Like me he was a great lover of good talk, and shared
my inability to enjoy it except in a small and intimate circle.
Continuity in friendship he valued also as much as I did, and from that
day until his death, many years later, he and I shared the same small
group of intimates.

Howard Sturgis was the youngest son of Mr. Russell Sturgis, of the old
Boston family of that name, who for many years had been at the head of
an important American banking-house in London. Mr. Sturgis, as became an
international banker, was rich, popular and hospitable, kept up a large
household, and entertained a great deal in London and at Givens Grove,
his country place near Leatherhead. Howard, I think, was born in
England, and had probably never been to America till he came out on a
visit to his Boston relations, the year I met him at Newport. His
mother, Mr. Sturgis's third wife, was also a Bostonian, and his
cousinage was as large as mine in New York, and far more assiduously
cultivated. Howard's closest associations, however, were English, for he
had been sent to Eton and thence to Cambridge. At Eton he had been a
pupil of Mr. Ainger's, a privilege never forgotten by an Etonian
fortunate enough to have enjoyed it; and Mr. Ainger, whom I often met at
Queen's Acre, had remained one of his most devoted friends. Another
friend of his youth was the eccentric and tragic William Cory Johnson,
an Eton master of a different stamp, and an exquisite poet in a minor
strain; and it is to Howard that I owe my precious first edition of
"Ionica," royally clothed in crimson morocco.

Mr. Russell Sturgis died when Howard was still a youth, and after his
father's death, and the marriages of his brothers and his sister, he
found himself alone at home with his mother. Mrs. Sturgis, whom I never
knew, is said to have been a very beautiful woman. She was as luxurious
in her tastes as her husband, but, I imagine, without his gift of easy
hospitality. She continued to keep up handsome establishments at Givens
and in London; but she and her son, who was her devoted slave, were
frequently absent from England, and when at home kept more and more to
themselves; and her death left him, a middle-aged man, as lost and
helpless as a child.

When I first knew him this sad phase was past; the London house had been
sold, Givens had gone to Howard's eldest half-brother, and Howard was
happily settled in a roomy friendly house on the edge of Windsor Park,
where he had gathered about him a company of devoted friends, some of
whom were soon to become mine. He detested pomp and circumstance as much
as his parents had valued it, and his life was already organized on the
simple easy lines from which it never afterward departed. Some of his
mother's old servants remained with him, and when he went to Windsor he
took with him Hall, the majestic butler. Hall had been with the family
for many years, and was devoted to Howard; but after a few months at
Queen's Acre he announced his intention of leaving. Howard, much
distressed, said he supposed Hall did not care to remain in so small an
establishment; but Hall replied sadly: "Oh, no, sir, it's not that; it's
only that I can't bear never to 'ear you ring a bell, and 'ave you
always putting your 'ead out of the door and 'ollering 'all [Hall] down
the passage."

Howard felt the justice of the rebuke, but also the impossibility of
living up to the old butler's standards. Always impatient of
conventional observances, he could never ring a bell when "'ollering"
brought the necessary response; so Hall departed, and was replaced by a
small thin worried man, more in scale with the reduced household whose
burdens (and they were not light) he was to bear till death relieved
him, soon after the loss of his beloved master. This excellent man,
whose name was Robinson, but who had been baptized by Henry James "the
little saint and angel," was dear to all visitors to Queen's Acre, as
were the admirable cook, Mrs. Lees (shall I ever again eat the like of
her braised tongue?), and the sturdy old Scottish housemaid, Christina.

There was also, I believe, an old family coachman in the stable behind
the shrubbery; but he and his "old family" horses, and the still older
and more decayed family brougham, had reached a decrepitude so advanced
that they hardly ever emerged from the stable-yard, and guests at
Queen's Acre depended chiefly on station flies, or, in motoring days, on
their own cars. Howard, though his means permitted every comfort, would
never introduce electric light into the house, much less the telephone
and central heating; and his reluctance to repair, to repaint or in any
way renovate his dear old house, must have been part of the deep-seated
"complex" which made him unwilling to take any decision on whatever
subject; for he was the most generous of men, and as careless of money
as he was indifferent to all material comforts except good food.

I have sometimes thought that Howard's old servants represented not
inaptly the odd duality of his nature: Robinson his long-suffering
sweetness and unselfishness, and the devoted but dour Christina the
streak of asperity which sometimes came to the surface. Once when I was
staying at Queen's Acre I was at work on a novel, and writing in bed in
the early morning, as my reprehensible habit is, with my inkstand
balanced on a writing board. An inadvertent movement caused me to upset
the ink, and instantly it poured over my sumptuously monogrammed
sheet--doubtless a survival from Mrs. Sturgis's stores of fine linen.
Inkstands and tea-cups are never as full as when one upsets them, and
seeing that the disaster was beyond the help of blotting-paper, I
hastily rang for Christina. At the sight she threw up her hands in
horror, and was seizing the sheet to fly with it to the tub, when I
said: "Just a moment, Christina. I want you first to take the sheet to
Mr. Sturgis, with this note from me."

Christina's jaw fell, and her look said: "Is there no limit to the
craziness of these Americans?"

"Did ye say I was to tek a note, mem, to Mr. Sturgis?"

"WITH the sheet."

"Not the sheet, mem? There's no reason for Mr. Sturgis to be told about
the accident, mem--" in the conciliatory tone of one who remembers that
it is safer to humour lunatics than to oppose them.

"Yes, please, Christina; note AND sheet."

Reluctantly Christina departed on this insane mission. In the note I had
written: "Dearest Howard, the book has been going slowly of late; but
the stimulating air of Queen's Acre has had its usual effect, and as you
will see this morning's chapter has come with a rush."

A jubilant message of congratulation was brought back, with a clean
sheet, by Christina. When the sheet was in place she lingered,
perplexity on her face; then, determined to protect her master's
interests, though suspecting that he would be horrified at her means of
doing so, she broke out in her fiercest Scots: "I dinna suppose ye mean
to replace it, mem? But if ye DID, they coom from Marshall's."

The sheet was promptly duplicated by Marshall and Snelgrove, and when it
arrived Christina's heart was softened, and thereafter we were the best
of friends.

At Queen's Acre some of the happiest hours of my life were passed, some
of my dearest friendships formed or consolidated, and my own old friends
welcomed because they were mine. For Howard Sturgis was not only one of
the most amusing and lovable of companions, but untiring in hospitality
to the friends of his friends. Indolent and unambitious though he was,
his social gifts were irresistible, and his drawing-room--where he spent
most of his hours, not from ill-health but through inertia--was always
full of visitors. There one found all that was most intelligent and
agreeable in the world of Eton, as well as a chosen few from London, and
mingled with them a continual and somewhat incongruous stream of cousins
from Boston and New York--for Howard cherished with sentimental fervour
the ties of consanguinity. There were also other cousins, long
established in England and old habitues of Queen's Acre; chief among
them the three daughters of Motley, the historian, Lily Lady Harcourt,
Mrs. Sheridan, the kindly hostess of Frampton Court, and Mrs. Mildmay;
besides a succession of amiable nieces and nephews, children of Howard's
brothers and sister. But among the transients the chief current was fed
by Bostonians and New Yorkers of the old school, whom Howard welcomed
with effusion, undismayed by the difficulty of harmonizing them at short
notice with the small intimate group who were de fondation about his

This inner group I see now, gathered around him as the lamps are brought
in at the end of a foggy autumn afternoon. In one of the arm-chairs by
the fire is sunk the long-limbed frame of the young Percy Lubbock, still
carrying in his mind the delightful books he has since given us, and
perhaps as yet hardly aware that he was ever to put them on paper; in
another sits Gaillard Lapsley, down for the weekend from his tutorial
duties at Cambridge, while John Hugh-Smith faces Percy across the
fireside, and Robert Norton and I share the corners of the wide chintz
sofa behind the tea-table; and dominating the hearth, and all of us,
Henry James stands, or heavily pads about the room, listening,
muttering, groaning disapproval, or chuckling assent to the paradoxes of
the other tea-drinkers. And then, when tea is over, and the tray has
disappeared, he stops his prowling to lean against the mantelpiece and
plunge into reminiscences of the Paris or London of his youth, or into
some slowly elaborated literary disquisition, perhaps on the art of
fiction or the theatre, on Balzac, on Tolstoy, or, better still, on one
of his own contemporaries. I remember, especially, one afternoon when
the question: "And Meredith--?" suddenly freed a "full-length" of that
master which, I imagine, still hangs in the mental picture-galleries of
all who heard him.

It began, mildly enough, with a discussion of Meredith's importance as a
novelist, in which I think Howard was his principal champion. James,
deep-sunk in an arm-chair and in silence, sat listening, and weighing
our views, till he suddenly pounced on my avowal that, much as I admired
some of the novels, I had never been able to find out what any of them,
except "The Egoist" and "Harry Richmond," were about. I tried to temper
this by adding that in many passages, and especially the descriptive
ones, the author's style rose to a height of poetic imagery which--but
here James broke in with the cry that I had put my finger on the central
weakness of Meredith's art, its unconscious insincerity.
Words--words--poetic imagery, metaphors, epigrams, descriptive passages!
How much did any of them weigh in the baggage of the authentic novelist?
(By this time he was on his feet, swaying agitatedly to and fro before
the fire.) Meredith, he continued, was a sentimental rhetorician, whose
natural indolence or congenital insufficiency, or both, made him, in
life as in his art, shirk every climax, dodge around it, and veil its
absence in a fog of eloquence. Of course, he pursued, neither I nor any
other reader could make out what Meredith's tales were about; and not
only what they were about, but even in what country and what century
they were situated, all these prosaic details being hopelessly befogged
by the famous poetic imagery. He himself, James said, when he read
Meredith, was always at a loss to know where he was, or what causes had
led to which events, or even to discover by what form of conveyance the
elusive characters he was struggling to identify moved from one point of
the globe to another (except, Howard interpolated, that the heroines
always did so on horseback); till at last the practical exigences of the
subject forced the author to provide some specific means of transport,
and suddenly, through the fog of his verbiage, the reader caught the
far-off tinkle of a bell that (here there was a dramatic pause of
suspense)--that turned out to be that of a mere vulgar hansom-cab: "Into
which," James concluded with his wicked twinkle, "I always manage to
leap before the hero, and drive straight out of the story."

Such boutades implied no lack of appreciation of Meredith the poet,
still less of regard for the man. James liked and admired Meredith, and
esteemed him greatly for the courage and dignity with which he endured
the trial of his long illness; but, when the sacred question of the
craft was touched upon, all personal sympathies seemed irrelevant, and
our friend pronounced his judgments without regard to them.


In Howard Sturgis's case, even more than in that of James, the lack of a
Boswell is to be deplored, for in his talk there was the same odd
blending of the whimsical and the shrewd, of scepticism and emotion, as
in his character, and the chosen friends who frequented Qu'acre (as its
intimates called it) were always at their best in his company. But he
has now been dead for over twelve years, and since voices more qualified
to speak are still silent, I cannot part from his dear shade without
trying to call it back for a moment.

Everything in Howard Sturgis's life was contradictory, perplexing, and
in a sense incomplete. He had begun by writing two charming, if slightly
over-sentimental tales, "Tim" and "All That Was Possible," both of which
had been greatly admired by a small circle of appreciative readers,
while the latter had won him a wider public. Thereafter he was silent
for a number of years, and then, about 1906, he published a long novel
called "Belchamber," which to my mind stands very nearly in the first
rank. But "Belchamber" had no success with the public, and less than his
other books with most of his friends. Henry James (never to be trusted
about the value of any "fiction" which was not built according to his
own rigid plan) pointed out with some truth that Howard had failed to
utilize what should have been his central effect, and privately
pronounced the book old-fashioned and feebly Thackerayan; while the
reviewers dismissed it as too "painful" and "unnecessarily
disagreeable," meaning thereby that it "faced the facts" at a time when
English fiction had not begun to practice that now too common exercise.
The book was in truth a striking study of fashionable London in the
'nineties, lifted above the level of anecdote by a touch of tragedy, and
rising in certain scenes to the quiet power of great fiction. But it was
born out of its due time, and sank almost at once into an obscurity from
which I am persuaded it will some day emerge, with that entirely
different but equally neglected masterpiece, Graham Phillips's "Susan

Howard, after the failure of "Belchamber," apparently lost all interest
in writing. He was unduly distressed by Henry James's criticism, and it
was in vain that I pointed out how foolish it was to be discouraged by
the opinion of a novelist who could no longer judge impartially any
novel not built according to his own theories. Howard, by the way, was
to see those theories suddenly demolished when, a good many years later,
I sent James a copy of "Du Cote de chez Swann" on its first appearance,
and all his principles and prejudices went down like straws in the free
wind of Proust's genius; but that was long afterward, and meanwhile,
Howard's native indolence and genuine humility aiding, he accepted
James's verdict and relapsed into knitting and embroidery.

For the joy of his friends this was hardly to be regretted, since it
left him free to give them his whole time. Intellectually he combined a
kind of sentimental socialism with a hard lucidity of judgment,
emotionally he was at once tender and malicious, indulgent and
penetrating, and one felt that he saw through one to the marrow at the
very moment when, in all sincerity, he was smothering one under
exaggerated praise. There was nothing perfidious or calculated in these
sudden changes; his affection for his friends co-existed with a pitiless
discernment of their weaknesses, but his heart always poured balm on
what his tongue could not refrain from lashing.

Howard's days, once he had abandoned literature, were methodically
divided into brief moments of exercise and long hours of immobility.
Every morning at the same hour he took a short toddle in Windsor Park
with the sad little dog Misery and her rickety out-of-wedlock son, who
was the cause of her being so named; Howard's puritan blood having
compelled him to put this brand on his frail pet. He walked very slowly
and potteringly, and I have known few more chilly forms of exercise, on
a cold damp day, than a "constitutional" with him and James, the latter
stopping short every few yards to elaborate a point or propound a
problem, while, just as one had got James moving again, Howard was sure
to dive into the bushes in pursuit of Misery or her illegitimate

The walk ended, and an excellent luncheon enjoyed, Howard returned to
his lounge and his embroidery, seldom leaving the drawing-room again
till it was time to dress for dinner, and gently deriding the vain
activities of those who did. I remember, in particular, one occasion
when he had invited down for the day my friend Jacques-Emile Blanche and
his wife, who were staying in London. It was a lovely summer day, and my
impression is that the charms of the Thames valley were unknown to our
French guests. At any rate, it was suggested that I should take them,
after luncheon, to see the beautiful old alms-houses at Bray, and when
this brief excursion was over, and I had driven them back to the railway
station, I returned to King's Road to find Howard in his usual place on
the lounge. The afternoon was still young, and as I entered the room I
cried out: "Come along, Howard! Put on your bonnet and shawl, and let's
walk down to Eton!"

Cries of dismay and incredulity from Howard. "Walk down to Eton with
you? NOW--at this hour of the day? But you went for a walk this morning;
and you've been motoring all over the place all the afternoon with the
Blanches; and now you're actually suggesting that I should walk all the
way to Eton with you before dinner?"

So horrified was he at my mad proposal that it rankled in him for the
rest of the evening, and every now and then, as we sat in the
drawing-room after dinner, he would appeal plaintively to his other
guests: "Did you ever hear of such a thing? After motoring all over the
place all the afternoon with the Blanches, she actually came back and
said to me: 'Put on your bonnet and shawl, and let's walk down to

In my day Howard's social relations with Eton were limited, at least as
far as his guests were concerned, to taking us to call now and then on
Mrs. Cornish or Mr. Ainger. But on one occasion we were bidden there for
a public ceremony, and one I would not willingly have missed: the
inauguration by King Edward VII of the beautiful hall which had been
recently built in commemoration of the Etonians who fell in the Boer
War. I had never seen King Edward before, and my recollection of the
simple and dignified ceremony is naturally centred in his stout but
stately figure. I remember being at first slightly shocked by the thick
guttural intonation so reminiscent of his Hanoverian descent, and then
captivated by the simplicity of his manner and the genuine emotion which
his words expressed. Between the King's disquietingly Teutonic presence,
and his audience of so deeply English subjects, the mourning relatives
of the dead, one felt at once the current of understanding, the sharing
of private grief and national pride, which gives such symbolic value to
inherited rule.

As far as I can remember I was taken only once to see Mrs. Cornish, and
on this occasion, as so often happened, my incorrigible shyness turned
the meeting into a damp-match affair. Mrs. Cornish, wife of the
distinguished Vice-Provost of Eton, was one of the most striking figures
of that highly specialized world; wherever Eton was mentioned people
always said: "You don't know Mrs. Cornish? Oh, but you MUST know her!"

Mrs. Cornish had once been thrown with the Bourgets, of whom she kept an
admiring recollection, and when she heard that I was an intimate friend
of theirs she instructed Howard to bring me to tea at the Vice-Provost's
lodge. The only day on which I was free was one on which she happened to
have invited a party of Eton boys, and she excused herself for this; but
I thought their rosy faces and shining collars well suited to the serene
and studious beauty of The Cloisters, with its long low-studded
drawing-room, and the flowers and turf of the garden seen through
mullioned windows. Mrs. Cornish was eager to hear all I could tell her
of the Bourgets, but in spite of my desire to enjoy (and be enjoyed),
the silent pink audience communicated its shyness to me. At any rate, no
other topic of interest occurred to me or to my hostess when we had used
up the theme of our serviceable friends; and after a while Mrs. Cornish,
visibly aware of my distress, and herself affected by it, caught at the
Bourgets again, like a man overboard swimming back to the spar he has
abandoned. One of the Eton boys, a dark good-looking lad, who had been
introduced to us as Prince Ruspoli, suddenly fixed her attention, and
she swept around on him with her great dominant air.

"And you, Carlo Ruspoli--have you ever read the novels of Paul Bourget?"
she abruptly challenged him. All the boys turned pinker at the startling
enquiry, and the young prince pinkest.

"I--n-no--I'm afraid I haven't," he stammered, disconcerted.

Mrs. Cornish's inquiring gaze darkened to disapproval. "What, you've not
read them? Not any of them? Then you should, Carlo Ruspoli; you should
read ALL OF THEM immediately," she surprisingly commanded--for a counsel
from Mrs. Cornish was always a command. An inarticulate murmur and a
deeper blush were the only response; and thereafter the conversation so
excitingly begun trailed off again into commonplaces--or I fear it must
have, no doubt through my fault, for I remember of it nothing else of


Not infrequently, on my annual visit to Qu'acre, I "took off" from Lamb
House, where I also went annually for a visit to Henry James. The motor
run between Rye and Windsor being an easy one, I was often accompanied
by Henry James, who generally arranged to have his visit to Qu'acre
coincide with mine. James, who was a frequent companion on our English
motor-trips, was firmly convinced that, because he lived in England, and
our chauffeur (an American) did not, it was necessary that the latter
should be guided by him through the intricacies of the English
country-side. Sign-posts were rare in England in those days, and for
many years afterward, and a truly British reserve seemed to make the
local authorities reluctant to communicate with the invading stranger.
Indeed, considerable difficulty existed as to the formulating of advice
and instructions, and I remember in one village the agitated warning:
"Motorists! Beware of the children!"--while in general there was a
marked absence of indications as to the whereabouts of the next village.

It chanced, however, that Charles Cook, our faithful and skilful driver,
was a born path-finder, while James's sense of direction was
non-existent, or rather actively but always erroneously alert; and the
consequences of his intervention were always bewildering, and sometimes
extremely fatiguing. The first time that my husband and I went to Lamb
House by motor (coming from France) James, who had travelled to
Folkestone by train to meet us, insisted on seating himself next to
Cook, on the plea that the roads across Romney Marsh formed such a
tangle that only an old inhabitant could guide us to Rye. The suggestion
resulted in our turning around and around in our tracks till long after
dark, though Rye, conspicuous on its conical hill, was just ahead of us,
and Cook could easily have landed us there in time for tea.

Another year we had been motoring in the west country, and on the way
back were to spend a night at Malvern. As we approached (at the close of
a dark rainy afternoon) I saw James growing restless, and was not
surprised to hear him say: "My dear, I once spent a summer at Malvern,
and know it very well; and as it is rather difficult to find the way to
the hotel, it might be well if Edward were to change places with me, and
let me sit beside Cook." My husband of course acceded (though with doubt
in his heart), and James having taken his place, we awaited the result.
Malvern, if I am not mistaken, is encircled by a sort of upper
boulevard, of the kind called in Italy a strada di circonvallazione, and
for an hour we circulated about above the outspread city, while James
vainly tried to remember which particular street led down most directly
to our hotel. At each corner (literally) he stopped the motor, and we
heard a muttering, first confident and then anguished. "This--this, my
dear Cook, yes...this certainly is the right corner. But no; stay! A
moment longer, please--in this light it's so difficult...appearances are
so misleading...It may be...yes! I think it IS the next turn...'a little
farther lend thy guiding hand'...that is, drive on; but slowly, please,
my dear Cook; VERY slowly!" And at the next corner the same agitated
monologue would be repeated; till at length Cook, the mildest of men,
interrupted gently: "I guess any turn'll get us down into the town, Mr.
James, and after that I can ask--" and late, hungry and exhausted we
arrived at length at our destination, James still convinced that the
next turn would have been the right one, if only we had been more

The most absurd of these episodes occurred on another rainy evening,
when James and I chanced to arrive at Windsor long after dark. We must
have been driven by a strange chauffeur--perhaps Cook was on a holiday;
at any rate, having fallen into the lazy habit of trusting to him to
know the way, I found myself at a loss to direct his substitute to the
King's Road. While I was hesitating, and peering out into the darkness,
James spied an ancient doddering man who had stopped in the rain to gaze
at us. "wait a moment, my dear--I'll ask him where we are"; and leaning
out he signalled to the spectator.

"My good man, if you'll be good enough to come here, please; a little
nearer--so," and as the old man came up: "My friend, to put it to you in
two words, this lady and I have just arrived here from SLOUGH; that is
to say, to be more strictly accurate, we have recently PASSED THROUGH
Slough on our way here, having actually motored to Windsor from Rye,
which was our point of departure; and the darkness having overtaken us,
we should be much obliged if you would tell us where we now are in
relation, say, to the High Street, which, as you of course know, leads
to the Castle, after leaving on the left hand the turn down to the
railway station."

I was not surprised to have this extraordinary appeal met by silence,
and a dazed expression on the old wrinkled face at the window; nor to
have James go on: "In short" (his invariable prelude to a fresh series
of explanatory ramifications), "in short, my good man, what I want to
put to you in a word is this: supposing we have already (as I have
reason to think we have) driven past the turn down to the railway
station (which, in that case, by the way, would probably not have been
on our left hand, but on our right), where are we now in relation to..."

"Oh, please," I interrupted, feeling myself utterly unable to sit
through another parenthesis, "do ask him where the King's Road is."

"Ah--? The King's Road? Just so! Quite right! Can you, as a matter of
fact, my good man, tell us where, in relation to our present position,
the King's Road exactly IS?"

"Ye're in it," said the aged face at the window.


It would be hard to imagine a greater contrast than between the
hospitality of Queen's Acre and that of Lamb House. In the former a
cheerful lavishness prevailed, and a cook enamoured of her art set a
variety of inviting dishes before a table-full of guests, generally
reinforced by transients from London or the country. At Lamb House an
anxious frugality was combined with the wish that the usually solitary
guest (there were never, at most, more than two at a time) should not
suffer too greatly from the contrast between his or her supposed habits
of luxury, and the privations imposed by the host's conviction that he
was on the brink of ruin. If any one in a pecuniary difficulty appealed
to James for help, he gave it without counting; but in his daily life he
was haunted by the spectre of impoverishment, and the dreary pudding or
pie of which a quarter or half had been consumed at dinner reappeared on
the table the next day with its ravages unrepaired.

We used to laugh at Howard Sturgis because, when any new subject was
touched on in our talks, he always interrupted us to cry out: "Now
please remember that I've read nothing, and know nothing, and am not in
the least quick or clever or cultivated"; and one day, when I prefaced a
remark with "Of course, to people as intelligent as we all are," he
broke in with a sort of passionate terror: "Oh, how can you say such
things about us, Edith?"--as though my remark had been a challenge to
the Furies.

The same scruples weighed on Henry James; but in his case the pride that
apes humility concerned itself (oddly enough) with material things. He
lived in terror of being thought rich, worldly or luxurious, and was
forever contrasting his visitors' supposed opulence and self-indulgence
with his own hermit-like asceticism, and apologizing for his poor food
while he trembled lest it should be thought too good. I have often since
wondered if he did not find our visits more of a burden than a pleasure,
and if the hospitality he so conscientiously offered and we so
carelessly enjoyed did not give him more sleepless nights than happy

I hope not; for some of my richest hours were spent under his roof. From
the moment when I turned the corner of the grass-grown street mounting
steeply between squat brick houses, and caught sight, at its upper end,
of the wide Palladian window of the garden-room, a sense of joyous
liberation bore me on. There HE stood on the doorstep, the
white-panelled hall with its old prints and crowded book-cases forming a
background to his heavy loosely-clothed figure. Arms outstretched, lips
and eyes twinkling, he came down to the car, uttering cries of mock
amazement and mock humility at the undeserved honour of my visit. The
arrival at Lamb House was an almost ritual performance, from those first
ejaculations to the large hug and the two solemn kisses executed in the
middle of the hall rug. Then, arm in arm, through the oak-panelled
morning-room we wandered out onto the thin worn turf of the garden, with
its ancient mulberry tree, its unkempt flower-borders, the gables of
Watchbell Street peeping like village gossips over the creeper-clad
walls, and the scent of roses spiced with a strong smell of the sea. Up
and down the lawn we strolled with many pauses, exchanging news,
answering each other's questions, delivering messages from the other
members of the group, inspecting the strawberries and lettuces in the
tiny kitchen-garden, and the chrysanthemums "coming along" in pots in
the greenhouse; till at length the parlour-maid appeared with a
tea-tray, and I was led up the rickety outside steps to the garden-room,
that stately and unexpected appendage to the unadorned cube of the

In summer the garden-room, with its high ceiling, its triple window
commanding the grass-grown declivity of West Street, and its other
window looking along another ancient street to the Gothic mass of the
Parish church, was the centre of life at Lamb House. Here, in the
morning, James dictated to his secretary, striding incessantly up and
down the room, and in the afternoon and evening, when the weather was
too cool for the garden, sat with outstretched legs in his deep
arm-chair before the hearth, laughing and talking with his guests.

On the whole, he was very happy at Rye, and in spite of the
house-keeping cares which he took so hard the change was all to the good
for a man who could never resist invitations, yet was wearied and
irritated by the incessant strain of social life in London. At Rye, in
summer at least, he had as many guests as his nerves could endure, and
his sociable relations with his neighbours--among whom were, at one
time, his beloved friends, Sir George and Lady Prothero--must have
prevented his feeling lonely. He was very proud of his old house, the
best of its sober and stately sort in the town, and he who thought
himself so detached from material things tasted the simple joys of
proprietorship when, with a deprecating air, he showed his fine Georgian
panelling and his ancient brick walls to admiring visitors.

Like Howard Sturgis he was waited upon by two or three faithful
servants. Foremost among them was the valet and factotum, Burgess,
always spoken of by his employer as "poor little Burgess." Burgess'
broad squat figure and phlegmatic countenance are a familiar memory to
all who frequented Lamb House, and James's friends gratefully recall his
devotion to his master during the last unhappy years of nervous
breakdown and illness. He had been preceded by a man-servant whom I did
not know, but of whom James spoke with regard as an excellent fellow.
"The only trouble was that, when I gave him an order, he had to go
through three successive mental processes before he could understand
what I was saying. First he had to register the fact that he was being
spoken to, then to assimilate the meaning of the order given to him, and
lastly to think out what practical consequences might be expected to
follow if he obeyed it."

Perhaps these mental gymnastics were excusable in the circumstances; but
Burgess apparently soon learned to dispense with them, and without any
outward appearance of having understood what his master was saying,
carried out his instructions with stolid exactitude. Stolidity was his
most marked characteristic. He seldom gave any sign of comprehension
when spoken to, and I remember once saying to my Alsatian maid, who was
always as quick as a flash at the uptake: "Do you know, I think Burgess
must be very stupid. When I speak to him I'm never even sure that he's
heard what I've said."

My maid looked at me gravely. "Oh, no, Madam: Burgess is remarkably
argument was certainly conclusive.

At Lamb House my host and I usually kept to ourselves until luncheon.
Our working hours were the same, and it was only now and then that we
went out before one o'clock to take a look at the green peas in the
kitchen-garden, or to stroll down the High Street to the Post Office.
But as soon as luncheon was despatched (amid unnecessary apologies for
its meagreness, and sarcastic allusions to my own supposed culinary
extravagances) the real business of the day began. Henry James, an
indifferent walker, and incurably sedentary in his habits, had a passion
for motoring. He denied himself (I believe quite needlessly) the
pleasure and relaxation which a car of his own might have given him, but
took advantage, to the last drop of petrol, of the travelling capacity
of any visitor's car. When, a few years after his death, I stayed at
Lamb House with the friend who was then its tenant, I got to know for
the first time the rosy old town and its sea-blown neighbourhood. In
Henry James's day I was never given the chance, for as soon as luncheon
was over we were always whirled miles away, throwing out over the
country-side what he called our "great loops" of exploration. Sometimes
we went off for two or three days. I remember one beautiful pilgrimage
to Winchester, Gloucester and beyond; another long day carried us to the
ancient house of Brede, to lunch with the Morton Frewens, another to
spend a day near Ashford with the Alfred Austins, in their pleasant old
house full of books and flowers. Usually, however, to avoid an
interruption to the morning's work, we lunched at Lamb House, and
starting out immediately afterward pushed our explorations of down and
weald and seashore to the last limit of the summer twilight.

James was as jubilant as a child. Everything pleased him--the easy
locomotion (which often cradled him into a brief nap), the bosky
softness of the landscape, the discovery of towns and villages hitherto
beyond his range, the magic of ancient names, quaint or impressive,
crabbed or melodious. These he would murmur over and over to himself in
a low chant, finally creating characters to fit them, and sometimes
whole families, with their domestic complications and matrimonial
alliances, such as the Dymmes of Dymchurch, one of whom married a
Sparkle, and was the mother of little Scintilla Dymme-Sparkle, subject
of much mirth and many anecdotes. Except during his naps, nothing
escaped him, and I suppose no one ever felt more imaginatively, or with
deeper poetic emotion, the beauty of sea and sky, the serenities of the
landscape, the sober charm of villages, manor-houses and humble
churches, and all the implications of that much-storied corner of

One perfect afternoon we spent at Bodiam--my first visit there. It was
still the old spell-bound ruin, unrestored, guarded by great trees, and
by a network of lanes which baffled the invading charabancs. Tranquil
white clouds hung above it in a windless sky, and the silence and
solitude were complete as we sat looking across at the crumbling towers,
and at their reflection in a moat starred with water-lilies, and danced
over by great blue dragon-flies. For a long time no one spoke; then
James turned to me and said solemnly: "Summer afternoon--summer
afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in
the English language." They were the essence of that hushed scene, those
ancient walls; and I never hear them spoken without seeing the towers of
Bodiam mirrored in their enchanted moat.

Another day was memorable in another way. We were motoring from Rye to
Windsor, to stay, as usual, with Howard Sturgis, and suddenly James
said; "The day is so beautiful that I should like to make a little
detour, and show you Box Hill." I was delighted at the prospect of
seeing a new bit of English scenery, and perhaps catching a glimpse of
George Meredith's cottage on its leafy hillside. But James's next words
chilled my ardour: "I want you to know Meredith," he added.

"Oh, no, no!" I protested. I knew enough, by this time, of my inability
to profit by such encounters. I was always benumbed by them, and unable
to find the right look or the right word, while inwardly I bubbled with
fervour, and the longing to express it. I remember once being taken to
Miss Jekyll's famous garden at Great Warley. On that long-desired day I
had a hundred questions to ask, a thousand things to learn. I went with
a party of fashionable and indifferent people, all totally ignorant of
gardens and gardening; I put one timid question to Miss Jekyll, who
answered curtly, and turned her back on me to point out a hybrid iris to
an eminent statesman who knew neither what a hybrid nor an iris was; and
for the rest of the visit she gave me no chance of exchanging a word
with her.

To see Meredith and talk with him was a more important affair. In spite
of all reservations, my admiration for certain parts of his work was
very great. I delighted in his poetry, and treasured two of his
novels--"The Egoist" and "Harry Richmond"--and I should have enjoyed
telling him just what it was that I most admired in them. But I foresaw
the impossibility of doing so at a first meeting which would probably
also be the last. I told James this, and added that the great man's
deafness was in itself an insurmountable obstacle, since I cannot make
myself heard even by the moderately deaf. James pleaded with me, but I
was firm. For months he had been announcing his visit to Meredith, but
had always been deterred by the difficulty of getting from Rye to Box
Hill without going up to London; and I should really be doing him a
great service by allowing him to call there on the way to Windsor. To
this, of course, I was obliged to consent; but I stipulated that I
should be allowed to wait in the car, and though he tried to convince me
that "just to have taken a look at the great man" would be an
interesting memory, he knew I hated that kind of human sight-seeing, and
did not insist. So we deflected our course to take in Box Hill, and the
car climbed the steep ascent to the garden-gate where James was to get
out. As he did so he turned to me and said: "Come, my dear! I can't
leave you sitting here alone. I should have you on my mind all the time;
and supposing somebody were to come out of the house and find you?"

There was nothing for it but to comply; and somewhat sulkily I followed
him up the narrow path, between clumps of sweetwilliam and Scotch pinks.
It was a tiny garden patch, and a few steps brought us to the door of a
low-studded cottage in a gap of the hanging woods. It was useless to
notify Meredith in advance when one went to see him; he had long since
been immobilized by illness, and was always there, and always,
apparently, delighted to receive his old friends. The maid who announced
us at once returned to say that we were to come in, and we were shown
into a very small low-ceilinged room, so small and so low that it seemed
crowded though there were only four people in it. The four were the
great man himself, white of head and beard, and statuesquely throned in
a Bath chair; his daughter, the handsome Mrs. Henry Sturgis (wife of
Howard's eldest brother), another man who seemed to me larger than life,
perhaps on account of the exiguity of the room, and who turned out to be
Mr. Morley Roberts--and lastly a trained nurse, calmly eating her supper
at a table only a foot or two from her patient's chair.

It was the nurse's presence--and the way she went on steadily eating and
drinking--that I found most disconcerting. The house was very small
indeed; but was it really so small that there was not a corner of it in
which she could have been fed, instead of consuming her evening repast
under our eyes and noses? I have always wondered, and never found the

Meanwhile I was being led up and explained by James and Mrs. Sturgis--a
laborious business, and agonizing to me, as the room rang and rang again
with my unintelligible name. But finally the syllables reached their
destination; and then, as they say in detective novels, the unexpected
happened. The invalid stretched out a beautiful strong hand--everything
about him was strong and beautiful--and lifting up a book which lay open
at his elbow, held it out with a smile. I read the title, and the blood
rushed over me like fire. It was my own "Motor Flight through France,"
then lately published; and he had not known I was to be brought to see
him, and he had actually been reading my book when I came in!

At once, in his rich organ tones, he began to say the kindest, most
appreciative things; to ask questions, to want particulars--but alas, my
unresonant voice found no crack in the wall of his deafness. I longed to
tell him that Henry James had been our companion on most of the travels
described in my modest work; and James, joining in, tried to explain, to
say kind things also; but it was all useless, and Meredith, accustomed
to steering a way through these first difficult moments, had presently
taken easy hold of the conversation, never again letting it go till we

The beauty, the richness, the flexibility of his voice held me captive,
and it is that which I remember, not what he said; except that he was
all amenity, all kindliness, as if the voice were poured in a healing
tide over the misery of my shyness. But the object of the visit was, of
course, to give him a chance of talking with James, and presently I drew
back and chatted with Mrs. Sturgis and Morley Roberts, while the great
bright tide of monologue swept on over my friend. After all, it had been
worth coming for; but the really interesting thing about the visit was
James's presence, and the chance of watching from my corner the nobly
confronted profiles of the two old friends: Meredith's so classically
distinguished, from the spring of the wavy hair to the line of the
straight nose, and the modelling of cheek and throat, but all like a
slightly idealized bas-relief "after" a greater original; and James's
heavy Roman head, so realistically and vigorously his own, not a
bas-relief but a bust, wrought in the round by harsher but more powerful
hands. As they sat there, James benignly listening, Meredith eloquently
discoursing, and their old deep regard for each other burning steadily
through the surface eloquence and the surface attentiveness, I felt I
was in great company, and was glad.

"Well, my dear," James said to me, as we went out into the dusk, "wasn't
I right?" Yes, he had been right, and I had to own it.


Henry James, after buying Lamb House, had given up his flat in London;
but in the autumn and winter he often went up to town for a short visit,
staying at his club (the Athenaeum) and "doing" as many lunches and
dinners as he could crowd in, besides anything new at the theatres--for
his interest in matters theatrical had not waned. Now that he had given
up London he returned to it on these occasions with the zest of a truant
school-boy. Everything he did exhilarated him, every one he saw amused
him, everything he ate agreed with him--and when it was over he would go
back, feeling guilty but rejuvenated, to a long stretch of work, and a
diet of herbs and cold pudding.

When I was in London he generally joined me there for a day or two,
especially if any theatrical event were impending; and I remember going
one evening with him to see Mr. Knoblock's Arabian Nights' fantasy,
"Kismet," then an innovation in stage-setting and lighting. We were
enchanted with this lovely evocation of the bazaars, to which all London
was thronging; it was the first time we had either of us seen what was
in some sort a dematerialized pantomime, freed of its too realistic
trappings--a first bud in the coming springtide of the Russian ballet.
Another evening we went to "Androcles and the Lion," and I think James
laughed as much as I did at that enormous fooling, though doubtless with
more self-restraint. In reality he was a much better theatre-goer than
I, for the material limitations of the stage, and its violent
foreshortenings, which always contract my vision, and cut rudely into my
dream, seemed to stimulate his imagination, however much he found to
criticise in a given play or its acting.

Sometimes, too, our little knot of friends would contrive to be in
London at the same time, and I recall one happy evening when Howard
Sturgis, Walter Berry, Percy Lubbock and Gaillard Lapsley were dining
with me at my hotel. We had hoped that James would join us; but he was
already booked for a fashionable dinner from which it was useless to try
to detach him. Hardly had we sat down when, to our astonishment, in he
walked, resplendent in white waistcoat and white tie, and rubbing his
hands as though he nursed between his palms the smile striking up into
his face. He had made a mistake in his date; had presented himself at
the great house, and been told the dinner was not till the next evening;
so here he was, and did we still want him, and was there room for him at
the table--oh, he could squeeze into the least little corner, if we'd
only let him! And let him we did; and how he enjoyed his dinner, and his
glass of champagne (he who, at Rye, thought he could digest nothing
heavier than a squeeze of orange juice!), and what a good evening of
talk and laughter we had! As I write I yearn back to those lost hours,
all the while aware that those who read of them must take their gaiety,
their jokes and laughter, on faith, yet unable to detach my memory from
them, and loath not to give others a glimpse of that jolliest of
comrades, the laughing, chaffing, jubilant yet malicious James, who was
so different from the grave personage known to less intimate eyes.



A year or two after the publication of "The House of Mirth" my husband
and I decided to exchange our little house in New York for a flat in
Paris. My husband suffered increasingly from the harsh winds and sudden
changes of temperature of the New York winter, and latterly we had spent
the cold months in rather aimless drifting on the French and the Italian
Rivieras. Alassio, San Remo, Bordighera, Menton, Monte Carlo, Cannes; we
knew them all to satiety, and in none could I hope to find the kind of
human communion I cared for. In none, that is, but Hyeres, where we had
begun to go nearly every year since the Paul Bourgets had acquired there
a little peach-coloured villa above the peach-orchards of Costebelle.
But even the companionship of these friends could not fill the emptiness
of life in a Riviera hotel. A house and garden of my own, anywhere on
the coast between Marseilles and Frejus, would have made me happy; since
that could not be, my preference was for a flat in Paris, where I could
see people who shared my tastes, and whence it was easy to go south for
sunshine when the weather grew too damp for my husband. On this,
therefore, we decided in 1907, thereafter spending our winters in Paris,
and going back to the Mount every summer. For two years we occupied an
apartment sublet to us by American friends, in a stately Louis XIV hotel
of the rue de Varenne; then we hired a flat in a modern house in the
same street, and there I remained till 1920, so that my thirteen years
of Paris life were spent entirely in the rue de Varenne; and all those
years rise up to meet me whenever I turn the corner of the street. Rich
years, crowded and happy years; for though I should have preferred
London, I should have been hard to please had I not discovered many
compensations in my life in Paris.

I found myself at once among friends, both old and new. The Bourgets
always spent a part of the winter in the quiet and leafy rue Barbet de
Jouy, a short walk from our door; and in other houses of the old
Faubourg I found three or four of the French girl friends I had known in
my youth at Cannes, and who had long since married, and settled in
Paris. Their welcome, and that of the Bourgets, at once made me feel at
home, and thanks to their kindness I soon enlarged my circle of
acquaintances. My new friends came from worlds as widely different as
the University, the literary and Academic milieux, and the old and aloof
society of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, to which my early companions at
Cannes all belonged. As a stranger and newcomer, not only outside of all
groups and coteries, but hardly aware of their existence, I enjoyed a
freedom not possible in those days to the native-born, who were still
enclosed in the old social pigeon-holes, which they had begun to laugh
at, but to which they still flew back.

If in those days any authentic member of the Faubourg Saint-Germain had
been asked what really constituted Paris society, the answer would
undoubtedly have been; "There is no Paris society any longer--there is
just a welter of people from heaven knows where." In a once famous play
by Alexandre Dumas fils, "L'Etrangere," written, I suppose, in the
'sixties, the Duke (a Duke of the proudest and most ancient nobility)
forces his equally proud and perfectly irreproachable wife to invite his
foreign mistress (Mrs. Clarkson) to an evening party. The duchess is
seen receiving her guests in the high-ceilinged salon of their old
hotel, with tall French windows opening to the floor. Mrs. Clarkson
arrives, elegant, arrogant and nervous; the duchess receives her simply
and courteously; then she rings for the major-domo, and gives the order:
"Ouvrez les fenetres! que tout le monde entre maintenant!"

In the Paris I knew, the Paris of twenty-five years ago, everybody would
have told me that those windows had remained wide open ever since, that
tout le monde had long since come in, that all the old social
conventions were tottering or already demolished, and that the Faubourg
had become as promiscuous as the Fair of Neuilly. The same thing was no
doubt said a hundred years earlier, and two hundred years even, and
probably something not unlike it was heard in the more exclusive salons
of Babylon and Ur.

At any rate, as I look back at it across the chasm of the war, and all
the ruins since heaped up, every convention of that compact and amiable
little world seems still to have been standing, though few were rigid
enough to hinder social enjoyment. I remember, however, one amusing
instance of this rigidity. Soon after coming to Paris my husband and I,
wishing to make some return for the welcome my old friends had given us,
invited a dozen of them to dine. They were all intimate with each other,
and members of the same group; but, being new to the job, and aware of
the delicate problems which beset the question of precedence in French
society, I begged one of the young women I had invited to advise me as
to the seating of my guests. The next day she came to me in perplexity.

"My dear, I really don't know! It's so difficult that I think I'd better
consult my uncle, the Duc de D." That venerable nobleman, who had
represented his country as Ambassador to one or two of the great powers,
was, I knew, the final authority in the Faubourg on ceremonial
questions, and though surprised that he should be invoked in so
unimportant a matter, I gratefully awaited his decision. The next day my
friend brought it. "My uncle was very much perplexed. He THINKS on the
whole you had better place your guests in this way." (she handed me a
plan of the table.) "But he said: 'My dear child, Mrs. Wharton ought
NEVER to have invited them together'"--not that they were not all good
and even intimate friends, and in the habit of meeting daily, but
because the shades of difference in their rank were so slight, and so
difficult to adjust, that even the diplomatist Duke recoiled from the

It took me, naturally, some time to acquire even the rudiments of this
"unwritten law"; to remember, for instance, that an Academician takes
precedence of every one but a Duke or an Ambassador (though what happens
if he is both a Duke and an Academician I can't remember, if I ever
knew); that the next-but-two most honoured guest sits on the right of
the lady who is on the host's right; that a foreigner of no rank
whatever takes precedence of every rank but that of an Academician, a
Cardinal or an Ambassador (or does he? Again I can't remember!); and
that, under the most exquisite surface urbanity, resentment may rankle
for years in the bosom of a guest whose claims have been disregarded. As
almost all the rules are exactly the opposite of those prevailing in
England, my path was no doubt strewn with blunders; but such indulgence
as may have been needed was accorded because of my girlish intimacy with
a small group belonging to the inner circle of the Faubourg, and because
I had written a successful novel, a translation of which had recently
appeared, with a flattering introduction by Bourget. Herein lay one of
the many distinctions between the social worlds of New York and Paris.
In Paris no one could live without literature, and the fact that I was a
professional writer, instead of frightening my fashionable friends,
interested them. If the French Academy had served no other purpose than
the highly civilizing one of linking together society and letters, that
service would justify its existence. But it is a delusion to think that
a similar institution could render the same service in other societies.
Culture in France is an eminently social quality, while in Anglo-Saxon
countries it might also be called anti-social. In France, where politics
so sharply divide the different classes and coteries, artistic and
literary interests unite them; and wherever two or three educated French
people are gathered together, a salon immediately comes into being.


In the numberless books I had read about social life in France--memoirs,
history, essays, from Saint-Beuve to Jules Lemaitre and after--I had
been told that the salon had vanished forever, first with the famous
douceur de vivre of the Old Regime, then with the downfall of the
Bourbons, then with the end of the House of Orleans, and finally on the
disastrous day of Sedan. Each of these catastrophes doubtless took with
it something of the exclusiveness, the intimacy and continuity of the
traditional salon; but before I had lived a year in Paris I had
discovered that most of the old catch-words were still in circulation,
most of the old rules still observed, and that the ineradicable passion
for good talk, and for seeing the same people every day, was as strong
at the opening of the twentieth century as when the Precieuses met at
the Hotel de Rambouillet. When I first went to live in Paris, old ladies
with dowdy cashmere "mantles," and bonnets tied under their chins, were
pointed out to me as still receiving every afternoon or evening, at the
same hour, the same five or six men who had been the "foundation" of
their group nearly half a century earlier. Though circles as small as
these scarcely formed a salon, they were composed of the same elements,
and capable of the same expansion. Occasionally even the most exclusive
felt the need of a blood-transfusion, and more than once it happened to
me to be invited, and as it were tested, by the prudent guardian of the

The typical salon, the salon in action, was of course a larger and more
elastic organization. It presupposed a moderate admixture of new
elements, judiciously combined with the permanent ones, those which were
called de fondation. But these recognized salons were based on the same
belief that intimacy and continuity were the first requisites of social
enjoyment. To attain the perfection of this enjoyment the Parisian
hostess would exercise incessant watchfulness over all the members of
her own group, as well as over other groups which might supply her with
the necessary new blood, and would put up with many whims and humours on
the part of her chief performers; and I remember, when I once said to a
French friend: "How can Madame A. endure the crotchets of Monsieur X.?
Why doesn't she stop inviting him?" his astonished reply: "Mais elle ne
veut pas degarnir son salon!"

This continuity of social relations was what particularly appealed to
me. In London, where another ideal prevailed, and perpetual novelty was
sought for, the stream of new faces rushing past me often made me feel
as if I were in a railway station rather than a drawing-room; whereas
after I had got my bearings in Paris I found myself, as usual, settling
down into a small circle of friends with whom, through all my years in
the rue de Varenne, I kept up a delightful intimacy.

Paul Bourget was then at the height of his social popularity. He was one
of the most interesting and versatile of talkers, and much in demand by
ambitious hostesses; but he too preferred a small group to general
society, and was always at his best among his intimates. Far more than I
was aware of at the time, he smoothed my social path in Paris, bringing
me into contact with the people he thought most likely to interest me,
and putting me at once on a footing of intimacy in the houses where he
was most at home. Through all the changes which have since befallen us
both, his friendship has never failed me; and in looking back at those
mirage-like years I like to think how much of their happiness I owed to
him and to his wife.

Early in our first winter he did me an exceptionally good turn. A new
Academician--I forget who--was to be received under the famous "Cupola,"
and Bourget invited me to the ceremony. I had never seen an Academic
reception--still one of the most unchanged and distinctive events of
Parisian life--and was naturally delighted, as invitations are few, and
much sought after if the candidate happens to be (as he was in this
case) a familiar and popular Parisian figure. For some reason Minnie
Bourget could not go with me, and as I had never been to the Institut,
and did not know how to find my way in, or to manoeuvre for a seat,
Bourget asked an old friend of his, the Comtesse Robert de Fitz-James,
to take me under her wing. She invited me to luncheon, I think--or came
to lunch with us; at any rate, before we had struggled to our places
through the fashionable throng battling in the circuitous corridors of
the Institut, she and I had become friends.

The widowed Comtesse de Fitz-James, known as "Rosa" among her intimates,
was a small thin woman, then perhaps forty-five years old, with a slight
limp which obliged her to lean on a stick, hair prematurely white, sharp
features, eager dark eyes and a disarmingly guileless smile. Belonging
by birth to the wealthy Viennese banking family of the Gutmanns, she had
the easy cosmopolitanism of a rich Austrian Jewess, and though she had
married early, and since her marriage had always lived in Paris, she
spoke English almost perfectly, and was always eager to welcome any
foreigners likely to fit into the carefully-adjusted design of her
salon, which, at that time, was the meeting-place of some of the most
distinguished people in Paris. There were still, among the irreducibles
of the Faubourg, a few who held out, declined to risk themselves among
such international promiscuities, and received the mention of the
hostess's name with raised eyebrows, and an affectation of hearing it
for the first time. But they were few even then, and now that the world
we then knew has come to an end, even they would probably agree that in
the last ten or fifteen years before the war Madame de Fitz-James's
salon had a prestige which no Parisian hostess, since 1918, has
succeeded in recovering.

When I first knew it, the salon in question looked out on the mossy turf
and trees of an eighteenth century hotel standing between court and
garden in the rue de Grenelle. A few years later it was transferred to a
modern building in the Place des Invalides, to which Madame de
Fitz-James had moved her fine collection of eighteenth century furniture
and pictures at the suggestion of her old friends, the Comte and
Comtesse d'Haussonville, who lived on the floor above. The rue de
Grenelle apartment, which had much more character, faced north, and her
Anglo-Saxon friends thought she had left in search of sunlight, and
congratulated her on the change. But she looked surprised, and said:
"Oh, no; I hate the sun; it's such a bore always having to keep the
blinds down." To regard the sun as the housewife's enemy, fader of
hangings and devourer of old stuffs, is common on the continent, and
Madame de Fitz-James' cream-coloured silk blinds were lowered, even in
winter, whenever the sun became intrusive. The three drawing-rooms,
which opened into one another, were as commonplace as rooms can be in
which every piece of furniture, every picture and every ornament is in
itself a beautiful thing, yet the whole reveals no trace of the owner's
personality. In the first drawing-room, a small room hung with red
damask, Madame de Fitz-James, seated by the fire, her lame leg supported
on a foot-rest, received her intimates. Beyond was the big drawing-room,
with pictures by Ingres and David on the pale walls, and tapestry sofas
and arm-chairs; it was there that the dinner guests assembled. Opening
out of it was another small room, lined with ornate Louis XV bookcases
in which rows of rare books in precious bindings stood in undisturbed
order--for Madame de Fitz-James was a book-collector, not a reader. She
made no secret of this--or indeed of any of her idiosyncrasies--for she
was one of the most honest women I have ever known, and genuinely and
unaffectedly modest. Her books were an ornament and an investment; she
never pretended that they were anything else. If one of her guests was
raised to Academic honours she bought his last work and tried to read
it--usually with negative results; and her intimates were all familiar
with the confidential question: "I've just read So-and-So's new book.

This model hostess was almost always at home; in fact she very nearly
realized the definition of the perfect hostess once given me by an old
frequenter of Parisian salons. "A woman should never go out--NEVER--if
she expects people to come to her," he declared; and on my protesting
that this cloistered ideal must, on merely practical grounds, be hard
for a Parisian hostess to live up to, he replied with surprise: "But
why? If a woman once positively resolves never to go to a funeral or a
wedding, why should she ever leave her house?"

Why indeed? And Madame de Fitz-James, though she fell short of this
counsel of perfection, and missed few funerals and weddings, and
occasionally went to an afternoon tea, seldom lunched or dined out. When
she did, she preferred big banquets, where the food and the plate were
more interesting than the conversation. This, I am sure, was not because
she was unduly impressed by the display of wealth, but because it was
less of an effort to talk to the fashionable and the over-fed, and the
crowd gave her the shelter of anonymity which she seemed to crave
outside of her own doors. Occasionally--but very seldom--she came to
dine with us; and these small informal parties, though always composed
of her own friends, seemed to embarrass and fatigue her. She appeared to
feel that she ought to be directing the conversation, signing to the
butler to refill the wine-glasses, trying to reshape the groups into
which the guests had drifted after dinner; and the effort to repress
this impulse was so tiring that she always fled early, with an
apologetic murmur. As with most of the famous hostesses I have known,
her hospitality seemed to be a blind overpowering instinct, hardly ever
to be curbed, and then only with evident distress. When I saw her in
other people's houses she always made me think of the story of the
English naturalist who kept two tame beavers, and one day, having
absented himself for an hour or two, found on his return that the dear
creatures had built a dam across the drawing-room floor. That is exactly
what Madame de Fitz-James blindly yearned to do in other people's


She and Bourget had a real regard for each other, and it was thanks to
him that I soon became an habitual guest at her weekly lunches and
dinners. These always took place on fixed days; a dinner of fourteen or
sixteen, with a small reception afterward, on a certain evening of the
week, a smaller dinner on another, and on Fridays an informal and
extremely agreeable luncheon, at which her accomplished cook served two
menus of equal exquisiteness, one for those who abstained from meat on
Fridays, the other for heretics and non-conformers. More than once, in
the excitement and delight of the good talk, I have eaten my way
unknowlingly through the fat and the lean menus, with no subsequent
ill-effects beyond a slight reluctance to begin again at dinner; and I
was not the only guest whom intellectual enjoyment led into this
gastronomic oversight.

Certainly, in my limited experience, I have never known easier and more
agreeable social relations than at Rosa de Fitz-James'. Lists of names
are not of much help in evoking an atmosphere; but the pre-war society
of the Faubourg Saint-Germain has been so utterly dispersed and wiped
out that as a group the frequenters of Madame de Fitz-James'
drawing-room have an almost historic interest. Among the
Academicians--in such cases, I suppose, entitled to be named
first--were, of course, Bourget himself, the Comte d'Haussonville
(Madame de Stael's grandson and biographer), the two popular
playwrights, Paul Hervieu and the Marquis de Flers, the former gaunt,
caustic and somewhat melancholy, the latter rotund, witty and cordial to
the brink of exuberance; the poet and novelist Henri de Regnier, and my
dear friend the Marquis de Segur, a charming talker in his discreet and
finely-shaded way, and the author, among other historical studies, of a
remarkable book on Julie de Lespinasse. The Institut was represented by
two eminent members, the Comte Alexandre de Laborde, the learned
bibliophile and authority on illuminated manuscripts, whom his old
friend, Gustave Schlumberger, has characterized as "the most worldly of
scholars, and the most scholarly of men of the world"; the other, also a
friend of mine, the Baron Ernest Seilliere, a tall quiet man with keen
eyes under a vertical shock of white hair, who had studied in a German
University, and whose interest in the "Sturm-und-Drang" of the German
Romantics, and its effect on European culture, has resulted in a number
of erudite and interesting volumes.

Diplomacy (combined with the Academy) shone at Madame de Fitz-James' in
the person of the French Ambassador in Berlin, the wise and witty Jules
Cambon, whom I had known since his far-off days in Washington, and who
was a much sought-for guest whenever his leave brought him to Paris; by
Maurice Paleologue, who, after filling important posts at the Foreign
Office, was to be the last French Ambassador at St Petersburg before the
war, and soon after its close to enter the Academy; by the German and
Austrian Ambassadors, Prince Radolin and Count Czechen; by Don Enrique
Larreta, the Argentine Ambassador, a real lover of letters, and author
of that enchanting chronicle-novel, "The Glory of Don Ramiro" (of which
Remy de Gourmont's French version is a triumph of literary
interpretation); and, among Secretaries of Embassy, by Mr. George
Grahame, attached to the British Embassy in Paris, the cultivated and
indefatigably brilliant Charles de Chambrun (now French Ambassador to
the Quirinal), and the gay and ironic Olivier Taigny, whose ill-health
unfortunately shortened his diplomatic career, but left him his incisive

I have probably left out far more names than I have recorded; but I am
impatient to escape from the seats of honour to that despised yet
favoured quarter of the French dining-room, the bout de table. As I have
already said, in France, where everything connected with food is treated
with a proper seriousness, the seating of the guests has a corresponding
importance--or had, at any rate, in pre-war days. In London, even in
those remote times, though the old rules of precedence still prevailed
at big dinners (and may yet, for all I know), they were relaxed on
intimate occasions, and one of the first to go was that compelling host
and hostess always to face each other from the head and foot of the
table. In France, all this is reversed. Host and hostess sit opposite
one another in the middle of the table (a rule always maintained, in my
time, at whatever cost to the harmonious grouping of the party), and the
guests descend right and left in dwindling importance to the table-ends,
where the untitled, unofficial, unclassified, but usually young,
humorous and voluble, are assembled. These bouts de table are at once
the shame and glory of the French dinner-table; the shame of those who
think they deserve a better place, or are annoyed with themselves and
the world because they have not yet earned it; the glory of hostesses
ambitious to receive the quickest wits in Paris, and aware that most of
the brilliant sallies, bold paradoxes and racy anecdotes emanate from
that cluster of independents.

The Parisian table-end deserves a chapter to itself, so many are the
famous sayings originating there, and so various is the attitude of the
table-enders. At first, of course, it is good fun to be among them, and
a sought-after table-ender has his own special prestige; but as the
years pass, he grows more and more ready to make way for the rising
generation, and work upward to the seats of the successful. Not long ago
I met at dinner a new Academician, elected after many efforts and long
years of waiting, and who had risen without intermediate stages from the
table-end to his hostess's right hand. As the guests seated themselves,
an old and unpromoted table-ender, passing behind the new Academician,
laid a hand on his shoulder, and said: "Ah, my dear B., after so many
years of table-end I shall feel terribly lonely without my old
neighbour!" Every one burst out laughing except the Academician, who
silently unfolded his napkin with an acid smile, and the mistress of the
house, who was flurried by this free-and-easy treatment of a guest now
raised to the highest rank. A good story is told of the Comte A. de R.,
a nobleman known as a fierce stickler for the seat to which his armorial
bearings entitled him, and who on one occasion was placed, as he
thought, too near the table-end. He watched for a lull in the talk, and
then, turning to the lady next to him, asked in a piercing voice: "Do
you suppose, chere Madame, the dishes will be handed as far down the
table as this?" (It was this same Comte de R. who, on leaving another
dinner, said to a guest of equally aristocratic descent, who lived in
his neighbourhood: "Are you walking home? Good! Let us walk together,
In those old days at Madame de Fitz-James' there were, I imagine, few
malcontents at the table-ends, for the great rushes of talk and laughter
that swept up from there sent a corresponding animation through all the
occupants of the high seats. The habitual holders of the ends were the
young Andre Tardieu, then the masterly political leader-writer of the
"Temps," his governmental honours still far ahead of him, the young
Andre Chaumeix, in those days also of the "Temps," Abel Bonnard, almost
the only talker I have known in a French salon who was allowed to go on
talking as long as he wanted on the same subject (the conventional
time-allowance being not more than five minutes), Etienne Grosclaude,
the well-known journalist and wit, and only a seat or two farther up
(when the company was small) Alexandre de Gabriac, Charles de Chambrun,
Taigny and the Marquis du Tillet, each alert to catch and send back the
ball flung by their irrepressible juniors.

The whole raison d'etre of the French salon is based on the national
taste for general conversation. The two-and-two talks which cut up
Anglo-Saxon dinners, and isolate guests at table and in the
drawing-room, would be considered not only stupid but ill-bred in a
society where social intercourse is a perpetual exchange, a market to
which every one is expected to bring his best for barter. How often have
I seen such transactions blighted by the presence of an English or
American guest, perhaps full of interesting things to say, but
unpractised in the accustomed sport, and blocking all circulation by
imprisoning his or her restive but helpless neighbour in a relentless

At Madame de Fitz-James' the men always outnumbered the women, and this
also helped to stimulate general talk. The few women present were mostly
old friends, and de fondation; none very brilliant talkers, but all
intelligent, observant and ready to listen. In a French salon the women
are expected to listen, and enjoy doing so, since they love good talk,
and are prepared by a long social experience to seize every allusion,
and when necessary to cap it by another. This power of absorbed and
intelligent attention is one of the Frenchwoman's greatest gifts, and
makes a perfect background for the talk of the men. And how good that
talk is--or was, at any rate--only those can say who have frequented
such a salon as that of Madame de Fitz-James. Almost all the guests knew
each other well, all could drop into the conversation at any stage,
without groping or blundering, and each had something worth saying, from
Bourget's serious talk, all threaded with golden streaks of irony and
humour, to the incessant fire-works of Tardieu, the quiet epigrams of
Henri de Regnier, the anecdotes of Taigny and Gabriac, the whimsical and
half-melancholy gaiety of Abel Bonnard.

The creator of a French salon may be moved by divers ambitions; she may
wish to make it predominantly political, or literary and artistic, or
merely mundane--though the worldly salon hardly counts, and is, at any
rate, not worth commemorating. Any hostess, however, who intends to
specialize, particularly in politics, runs the risk of making her salon
dull; and dullest of all is that exclusively devoted to manufacturing
Academicians, an industry inexhaustibly fascinating to many Frenchwomen.
Few can resist political or academic intrigues as an ingredient in their
social mixture; but the great art is to combine the ingredients so that
none predominates, and to flavour the composition with an occasional
dash of novelty. The transients introduced as seasoning must not be too
numerous, or rashly chosen; they must be interesting for one reason or
another, and above all they must blend agreeably with the "foundation"
mixture. In describing French society one has to borrow one's imaginary
from the French cuisine, so similar are the principles involved, and so
equally minute is the care required, in preparing a souffle or a salon.

Madame de Fitz-James chose her transients with exceptional skill. The
few women she added now and then to her habitual group usually possessed
some striking quality. The most stimulating and vivid was the Princesse
Lucien Murat, and the two most charming were the daughter and the sister
of famous poets; the subtle and exquisite Madame Henri de Regnier (one
of the three daughters of Heredia) and my dear friend Jeanne de
Margerie, sister of Edmond Rostand, and an intimate of old days, for her
husband, until recently French Ambassador in Berlin, had been for many
years secretary of Embassy in Washington. Jeanne de Margerie's gifts
were of a quieter order, but she was exceptionally quick and responsive,
with an unfailing sense of fun; and when she died, not long after the
war, a soft but warm radiance vanished from the Parisian scene, and from
the lives of her friends.

I do not remember ever seeing Madame de Noailles, the poetess, at Madame
de Fitz-James'. Poets are usually shy of salons, and so are monologuists
like Madame de Noailles, whose dazzling talk was always intolerant of
the slightest interruption. Among the women I met there by far the most
remarkable was Matilde Serao, the Neapolitan novelist and journalist.
She was an old friend of Bourget's, by whom she was first introduced to
Madame de Fitz-James, who at once recognized her, in spite of certain
external oddities, as an invaluable addition to her parties. Matilde
Serao, for a number of years before the war, made an annual visit to
Paris, and had many friends there. She was a broad squat woman, with a
red face on a short red neck between round cushiony shoulders. Her black
hair, as elaborately dressed as a Neapolitan peasant's, looked like a
wig, and must have been dyed or false. Her age was unguessable, though
the fact that she was accompanied by a young daughter in short skirts
led one to assume that she was under fifty. This strange half-Spanish
figure, oddly akin to the Meninas of Velasquez, and described by Bourget
as "Dr. Johnson in a ball-dress," was always arrayed in low-necked
dresses rather in the style of Mrs. Tom Thumb's--I remember in
particular a spreading scarlet silk festooned with black lace, on which
her short arms and chubby hands rested like a cherub's on a sunset
cloud. With her strident dress and intonation she seemed an incongruous
figure in that drawing-room, where everything was in half-shades and
semi-tones--but when she began to speak we had found our master. In
Latin countries the few women who shine as conversationalists often do
so at the expense of the rapid give-and-take of good talk. Not so
Matilde Serao. She never tried to vaticinate or to predominate; what
interested her was exchanging ideas with intelligent people. Her
training as a journalist, first on her husband Edoardo Scarfoglio's
newspaper, "Il Mattino," and later as editor of a sheet of her own, "Il
Giorno," had given her a rough-and-ready knowledge of life, and an
experience of public affairs, totally lacking in the drawing-room
Corinnes whom she outrivalled in wit and eloquence. She had a man's
sense of fair play, listened attentively, never dwelt too long on one
point, but placed her sallies at the right moment, and made way for the
next competitor. But when she was encouraged to talk, and given the
field--as, alone with Abel Bonnard, she often was--then her monologues
rose to greater heights than the talk of any other woman I have known.
The novelist's eager imagination (two or three of her novels are
masterly) was nourished on wide reading, and on the varied experience of
classes and types supplied by her journalistic career; and culture and
experience were fused in the glow of her powerful intelligence.

Another of Madame de Fitz-James' distinguished transients was Count
Keyserling, who came often to her house when he was in Paris, as did his
charming sister. There were also not a few agreeable Austrians, Count
Fritz Hoyos and his sisters among them; none perhaps particularly
interested in ideas, but all with that gift of ease and receptivity
which made the pre-war Austrian so accomplished a social being. I
remember, by the way, asking Theodore Roosevelt, at the end of his
triumphal passage across Europe, what type of person he had found most
sympathetic on his travels, and my momentary surprise at his unexpected
reply: "The Austrian gentlemen."

Henry James was another outlander who, when he came to stay with us, at
once became de fondation, as did Walter Berry and my friend Bernard
Berenson; and from Rumania came Princess Marthe Bibesco and her cousin
Prince Antoine (afterward Rumanian Minister in Washington)--but the list
is too long to be continued. Instead, I wish to evoke at its close the
figure of the most beloved, the kindliest and one of the wittiest of
Madame de Fitz-James's "foundation" guests--the Abbe Mugnier (afterward
made a Canon of Notre Dame), without whom no reunion at Rosa's would
have been complete. The Abbe's sensitive intelligence was a solvent for
the conflicting ideas and opinions of the other visitors, since no
matter how much they disagreed with each other, they were one in
appreciating "Monsieur l'Abbe," and at the approach of his small figure,
with eyes always smiling behind their spectacles, and a tuft of gray
hair vibrating flame-wise above his forehead, every group opened to
welcome him.

Even for those who knew the Abbe Mugnier well, it is not easy to define
the qualities which thus single him out. Profound kindness and keen
intelligence are too seldom blent in the same person for a word to have
been coined describing that rare combination. I can only say that as
vicar of the ultra-fashionable church of Sainte Clotilde, and then as
chaplain of a convent in a remote street beyond Montparnasse, he seemed
equally in his proper setting; and his quick sense of fun and irony is
so lined with tender human sympathy that the good priest is always
visible behind the shrewd social observer.

The Abbe Mugnier had an hour of celebrity when he converted Huysmans; he
has since made other noted converts, and his concern for souls, and his
wise dealings with them, cause him to be much sought after as the
consoler of the dying, though those who have met him only in the world
would not at first associate him with such scenes--at least not until
they catch the tone of his voice in speaking of grief and suffering. His
tolerance and sociability have indeed occasionally led people to risk in
his presence remarks slightly inappropriate to his cloth; and it is good
to see the quiet way in which, without the least air of offence, he
gives the talk a more suitable turn.

His wise and kindly sayings--so quietly spoken that they sometimes
escape the inattentive--are celebrated in Paris; but they have doubtless
been recorded by many, and I will cite only two or three, which were
said in my hearing. The Abbe, in spite of his social leanings, has a
Franciscan soul, and is one of the few Frenchmen I have known with a
genuine love of trees and flowers and animals. Before his sight began to
fail he used to come out every year in June to my little garden near
Paris, to see the long walk when the Candidum lilies were in bloom; and
he really DID see them, which is more than some visitors do, who make
the pilgrimage for the same purpose. His tenderness for flowers and
birds is so un-French that he might have imbibed it in the Thuringian
forests where he used to wander on his summer holidays in the path of
Goethe (Goethe and Chateaubriand, both forest-lovers, are his two
literary passions); and it seems appropriate, therefore, that two of his
sayings to me should be about birds.

We were speaking one day of the difficult moral problems which priests
call cas de conscience, and he said; "Ah, a very difficult one presented
itself to me once, for which I knew of no precedent. I was administering
the Sacrament to a dying Parishioner, and at that moment the poor
woman's pet canary escaped from its cage, and lighting suddenly on her
shoulder, pecked at the Host."

"Oh, Monsieur l'Abbe--and what did you do?"

"I blessed the bird," he answered with his quiet smile.

Another day he was talking of the great frost in Paris, when the Seine
was frozen over for days, and of the sufferings it had caused among the
poor. "I shall never forget the feeling of that cold. On one of the
worst nights--or rather at three in the morning, the coldest hour of the
twenty-four--I was called out of bed by the sacristan of Sainte
Clotilde, who came to fetch me to take the viaticum to a poor
parishioner. The sick man lived a long way off, and oh, how cold we were
on the way there, Lalouette and I--the old sacristan's name was
Lalouette (the lark)," he added with a reminiscent laugh.

The play on the name was irresistible, and I exclaimed: "Oh, how tempted
you must have been, when he came for you, to cry out: ''Tis not the
lark, it is the nightingale'--" I broke off, fearing that my quotation
might be thought inappropriate; but with his usual calm smile the Abbe
answered: "Unfortunately, Madame, we were not in Verona."

Once, in another vein, he was describing the marriage of two social
"climbers" who had invited all fashionable Paris to their nuptial Mass,
and had asked the Abbe (much sought after on such occasions also) to
perform the ceremony. At the last moment, when the guests were already
assembled, he discovered (what had perhaps been purposely slurred over),
that the couple were in some way technically disqualified for a church
marriage. "So," said the Abbe drily, "I blessed them in the sacristy,
between two sterilized palms; and of course I could not prevent their
assisting afterward at Mass with the rest of the company."

Another day we were lunching together at a friend's house, and the talk
having turned on the survival in the French provinces of the
old-fashioned village atheist and anti-clerical (in the style of
Flaubert's immortal Monsieur Homais), our hostess told us that she had
known an old village chemist near her father's place in the Roussillon
who was a perfect type of this kind. His family were much distressed by
his sentiments, and when he lay on his death-bed besought him to receive
the parish priest; but he refused indignantly, and to his wife's
question: "But what can you have against our poor Cure?," replied with a
last gust of fury: "Your cures--your cures, indeed! Don't tell me! I
know all about your cures--"

"But what do you know against them?"

"Why, I read in a history book long ago that ten thousand cures died
fighting for the beautiful Helen under the walls of Troy."

A shout of mirth received this prodigious bit of history, and as our
laughter subsided we heard the Abbe's chuckle, and saw the little
flame-like tuft quiver excitedly on his crest.

"Well, Monsieur l'Abbe, what do you think of that?"

"Ah, would to heaven it were true!" the Abbe murmured sadly.

The war broke up that company of friendly people; death followed on war,
and now the whole scene seems as remote as if it had belonged to a past
century, and I linger with a kind of piety over the picture of that
pleasant gray-panelled room with its pictures and soft lights, and
arm-chairs of faded tapestry. I see Bourget and James talking together
before the fire, soon to be joined by the Abbe Mugnier, Bonnard and
Walter Berry; Monsieur d'Haussonville, Hervieu and Larreta listening to
Matilde Serao, and Chambrun, Berenson and Tardieu forming another group,
and in and out among her guests Madame de Fitz-James weaving her quiet
way, leaning on her stick, watching, prodding, interfering, re-shaping
the groups, building and rebuilding her dam, yet somehow never in the
way, because, in spite of her incomprehension of the talk, she always
manages to bring the right people together and diffuses about her such
an atmosphere of kindly hospitality that her very blunders add to the
general ease and good humour.


I have dwelt so long on one pre-war salon that it might seem as if the
greater part of my life in Paris had been spent in it; but I risked
producing this impression because I wished to put first among my
Parisian glimpses the vision of a little society in which the old
douceur de vivre was combined with an intelligent interest in current
ideas and events.

Naturally, in the course of my Parisian years, I saw other typical
scenes, and came to know many people in other circles, and to form
friendships quite outside of Madame de Fitz-James' agreeable
drawing-room; but hers remains with me as peculiarly characteristic of a
vanished order.

One of the first friends I made was Jacques-Emile Blanche, the
distinguished painter and man of letters, in whose house one met not
only most of the worthwhile in Paris, but an interesting admixture of
literary and artistic London. Blanche speaks and writes English
fluently, and he and Madame Blanche often went to London, and had many
English friends in the world of society and letters, as well as among
painters; and before the war their picturesque half-timbered house at
Auteuil welcomed all that was newest and most amusing in cosmopolitan
society. In such houses as the Blanches', and that of another friend,
Monsieur Andre Chevrillon (the nephew of Taine), pre-war Paris was first
brought into familiar contact with English artists, savants and men of
letters, and made aware of the riches of intellectual and artistic life
in England. It is hard to realize now how few those contacts were before
the war, and how completely, except for a handful of Parisians, France
remained enclosed in her own culture.

Blanche, besides being an excellent linguist, and a writer of
exceptional discernment on contemporary art, is also a cultivated
musician; and in those happy days painters, composers, novelists,
playwrights--Diaghilew, the creator of the Russian ballet, Henry
Bernstein, whose plays were the sensation of the hour, George Moore,
Andre Gide, my dear friend Mrs. Charles Hunter, the painters Walter
Sickert and Ricketts, and countless other well-known people, mostly of
the cosmopolitan type--met on Sundays in the delightful informality of
his studio, or about a tea-table under the spreading trees of the
garden. The lofty studio-living-room (his real painting room is tucked
away in a corner upstairs) was in those days the most perfect setting
for such meetings. Everything in it was harmonious in colour and tone,
from the tall Coromandel screens, the old Chinese rugs on the floor, and
the early Chinese bronzes and monochrome porcelains, to the crowning
glory of the walls, hung with pictures by Renoir, Degas, Manet, Corot,
Boudin, Alfred Stevens and Whistler--the "Bathing Women" of Renoir, the
sombre and powerful "Young Woman with the Glove" of Manet (a portrait of
one of Madame Blanche's aunts in her youth), and an early Gainsborough
landscape of a peculiar hazy loveliness; and among them, or else in the
upper gallery, some of the most notable of our host's own portraits; the
perfect study of Thomas Hardy, the Degas, the Debussy, the Aubrey
Beardsley, the George Moore and the young Marcel Proust--for Blanche,
with singular insight, began long ago that unique series of portraits of
his famous contemporaries which ought some day to be permanently grouped
as a whole.

On other afternoons there met at the Blanches' a small company of
music-lovers ("Les Amis de la Musique," I think they were called), and
it was enchanting to listen to Bach and Beethoven, Franck, Debussy or
Chausson, with those great pictures looking down from the walls, and the
glimpse of lawn and shady trees deepening the impression of the music by
enclosing it in a country solitude.

The Blanches, for years, have spent their summers in a charming little
stone manor-house in the village of Offranville, near Dieppe. A garden
bursting with flowers divides the house from the village street, and at
the back the windows look out on a beautiful orchard where the calves
from the neighbouring farm caper under the apple-blossoms. I used to go
there often to stay, and the first time I went I met a young man of
nineteen or twenty, who at that time vibrated with all the youth of the
world. This was Jean Cocteau, then a passionately imaginative youth to
whom every great line of poetry was a sunrise, every sunset the
foundations of the Heavenly City. Excepting Bay Lodge I have known no
other young man who so recalled Wordsworth's "Bliss was it in that dawn
to be alive." Every subject touched on--and in his company they were
countless--was lit up by his young enthusiasm, and it is one of the
regrets of later years to have watched the fading of that light. Life in
general, and Parisian life in particular, is the cause of many such
effacements--or defacements; but in Cocteau's case the pity is
particularly great because his gifts were so many, and his fervours so
genuine. For many years I saw a great deal of him; he came often to the
rue de Varenne, and to many of my friends' houses; but I never enjoyed
his talk as much as in the leafy quiet of Offranville. I wish now that I
had set down a thousand of his sayings; but all have vanished, save one
strangely beautiful story, which he told me he had read somewhere, but
which I have never be able to trace.

One day when the Sultan was in his palace at Damascus a beautiful youth
who was his favourite rushed into his presence, crying out in great
agitation that he must fly at once to Baghdad, and imploring leave to
borrow his Majesty's swiftest horse.

The Sultan asked why he was in such haste to go to Baghdad. "Because,"
the youth answered, "as I passed through the garden of the Palace just
now, Death was standing there, and when he saw me he stretched out his
arms as if to threaten me, and I must lose no time in escaping from

The young man was given leave to take the Sultan's horse and fly; and
when he was gone the Sultan went down indignantly into the garden, and
found Death still there." How dare you make threatening gestures at my
favourite?" he cried; but Death, astonished, answered: "I assure your
Majesty I did not threaten him. I only threw up my arms in surprise at
seeing him here, because I have a tryst with him tonight in Baghdad."

Many of my other encounters at the Blanches' were full of interest; and
so were other adventures in the more specialized world of letters, and
of the University. Bourget one day brought to see me (two years or more
before we came to live in Paris) a young friend of his, Charles Du Bos,
who was anxious to translate my recently published novel, "The House of
Mirth." Charles Du Bos, being Anglo-American on his mother's side, was
exceptionally proficient in English, and he desired to follow a literary
career without yet knowing precisely what turn it would take. Bourget,
who was an old friend of his family, and naturally in sympathy with this
ambition, suggested his getting his hand in by translating my book; and
so it happened that "The House of Mirth" was given to French readers by
the future literary critic, and biographer of Byron, who in the course
of the work became one of my closest friends.


When we finally settled in the rue de Varenne "The House of Mirth," then
appearing in the "Revue de Paris," was attracting attention in its
French dress, partly because few modern English and American novels had
as yet been translated, but chiefly because it depicted a society
utterly unknown to French readers. The success of the book was so great
that translations of my short stories (I had as yet written but two
novels) were in great demand in the principal French reviews, and to
this I owe an interesting glimpse of the Parisian life of letters. Those
were the days when the "Revue de Paris," edited by that remarkable man,
Louis Ganderax, rivalled (if it did not out-rival) the "Revue des Deux
Mondes" in interest and importance, and I was lucky enough to be made
welcome in the editorial groups of both reviews, and to be much invited
out in those agreeable circles.

Oddly enough, it was an old American friend of my husband's who enlarged
my range in this direction. Archibald Coolidge (future Librarian of
Harvard) was giving the Hyde Lectures that winter at the Sorbonne, and
as soon as he found we were in Paris he decided that I must be made
known to his friends in the University. So indefatigable was this kindly
being in bringing to the house the most agreeable among his colleagues,
as well as other acquaintances, that my husband and I christened him
"the retriever." It was thanks to him, I think, that I first met
Monsieur Andre Chevrillon, the author of a number of delightful books on
English literature, and two or three exceptionally sensitive records of
travel in India and North Africa. All the Taine nephews and nieces
inherited the great man's English culture, spoke the language fluently,
and were thoroughly versed in English literature; and it was Monsieur
Chevrillon who first made not only Ruskin but Kipling known to French
readers. It was in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of his house at Saint
Cloud that I first met, among other interesting people, the Comte Robert
d'Humieres, whose translations of Kipling rank with Scott Moncrieff's of
Proust. Robert d'Humieres was one of the most versatile of that alert
and cultivated group; an admirable linguist, quick, well-read and
responsive to new ideas, he combined great social gifts with a real love
of letters. He wrote a brilliant little volume on the English in India,
and another, equally remarkable, on contemporary England. He and his
charming wife went often to England, and on one of their visits I gave
them a letter for James. He asked them down to Lamb House, and a letter
to me (published in Percy Lubbock's edition of the Letters) records his
delighted impression of the pair. Robert d'Humieres and I became great
friends. He came very often to the rue de Varenne, and in 1914 he began
a translation of my recently published novel, "The Custom of the
Country." I had had many offers to translate this book, but had always
refused, as I thought it almost impossible to make a tale so intensely
American intelligible to French readers. But Robert d'Humieres was
perfectly fitted for the task, and judging from the first chapters his
translation would have been masterly. The war sent him at once to the
front; but in 1916 a bad attack of rheumatism obliged him to return to
Paris, and he sent me word to come and see him. I found him, though very
ill and worn, hard at work again on "The Custom of the Country"; but as
soon as he was discharged he asked to go back to the trenches, and
almost immediately fell in leading an attack. His broken-hearted wife
died soon afterward.

Another friend whom I got to know through the devoted "retriever" was
Victor Berard, the eminent director of the "Ecole des Hautes Etudes,"
whose speculative and picturesque interpretation of the Odyssey ("Les
Pheniciens et l'Odyssee") had aroused great interest far beyond
University circles. Victor Berard was a big handsome man, with a brain
bursting with intellectual enthusiasms and rash hypotheses. He had the
indefatigable activity, the almost limitless powers of work, of the
typical French scholar, and his wife told me that, winter and summer, he
was always at his desk at five in the morning, and that his working and
teaching day often did not end till midnight. In spite of this he and
Madame Berard dispensed a tireless hospitality, receiving in their big
old-fashioned house, which overlooked the neighbouring gardens of the
Observatoire, many of the most distinguished men of letters, historians
and archeologists of the day--and eminent painters as well, for Berard
was the intimate friend of Lucien Simon, Cottet and Rene Menard, who
were always great friends of each other, and consequently often to be
seen together at his house.

These gatherings at the Berards', and also at the Ganderaxes', the Rene
Doumics', and other houses in the old closely-shut Parisian world of
science and letters, were naturally of great interest to a stranger like
myself; but they lacked--as such societies have wherever I have known
them--the ease and amenity to be found only where intelligent people of
various callings, with a few cultivated idlers among them, predominate
over the highly-trained specialist. The only completely agreeable
society I have ever known is that wherein the elements are selected and
blent by a woman of the world, instinctively alert for every shade of
suitability, and whose light hand never suffers the mixture to stiffen
or grow heavy. At that time in Paris the appearance of a "foreigner" in
any society not slightly cosmopolitanized still caused a certain
constraint, especially among its womenkind; and I gradually perceived
that in University circles the presence of an American woman was almost
paralyzing to the ladies of the party. As the men, immediately after the
meal was over, always fled with coffee and cigarettes to the farthest
corner of the room, leaving the women to themselves, I was subjected on
such occasions to an hour's desolating conversation, which invariably
began with the three questions: "Are you soon to give us the pleasure of
reading another of your wonderful novels?," "Do you write in French, and
then have your books translated into English?" and "Have you already
seen all the new plays?"--after which the talk languished into silence,
my burdensome presence preventing the natural interchange of remarks on
children, servants and prices which would otherwise have gone on between
the ladies.

In many different sets I continued to make friends, and I keep a special
niche in my memory for some of these. Among the dearest was Gustave
Schlumberger, the celebrated archaeologist and historian of the
Byzantine Empire, who looked like a descendant of one of the Gauls on
the arch of Titus, and who was cherished by a large group of devoted
friends for the inexhaustible interest of his talk as much as he was
dreaded by others for his uncurbed violence of speech. To me he was
invariably kind, partly no doubt because of my interest in the
archaeological wonders of his beloved country; and during the last years
of his life I saw him frequently. Another dear friend, very different in
character though they shared certain artistic interest, was Auguste
Laugel, whose acquaintance I made through Etta Reubell, my old friend,
and Henry James's. Monsieur Laugel, the devoted friend of the Orleans
family, who was especially attached to the Duc d'Aumale, and to whose
learning and taste the Duke was indebted for the creation of the famous
library at Chantilly, was an old man when I first knew him, and lived a
quiet meditative life among his books and his friends. But his early
years had been full of distinguished and successful activities, as a
graduate of Polytechnique, as civil engineer, and professor at the Ecole
des Mines, as a linguist, a traveller, and a writer on scientific
subjects. To these interests he added a keen love of art and letters,
and that highly specialized knowledge of books and of their makers which
made of him one of the most accomplished bibliophiles of his day.

During a long sojourn in America, at the time of our Civil War, he was
in frequent and intimate contact with the leading Northern generals and
statesmen, and the result of those experiences was summed up in a series
of notable articles in the Parisian press. Subsequently he followed the
fortunes of the Duc d'Aumale, twice accompanying him into exile, and
returning to France only when the Prince was finally allowed to
re-establish himself at Chantilly.

Of all these years of labour and adventure there remained, when I knew
him, only the mellowing influences left by a life of fruitful activity.
Monsieur Laugel had married an American lady who had been very
beautiful. They were a devoted couple, and after her death he had
privately printed a small volume of poems, not addressed to the young
bride in her freshness, but to the old and dying wife, as she lay
helpless and motionless, for months, like the statue on her own grave.
He did me the honour of giving me this book, as well as other treasures
from his private library, and in particular one of its most precious
volumes. I happened one day to mention that another of my friends, also
a learned bibliophile, knowing my admiration for Racine, had given me
the rare first editions of "Athalie" and "Esther," but had never been
able to add to them a copy of the far rarer, the almost unfindable,
"Phedre." The next day Monsieur Laugel sent me the missing treasure; and
I never look at the slim exquisite volume without a grateful thought for
my delightful old friend, the perfect model of the distinguished and
cultivated French gentleman of his day.



These new friendships, and many others, added much to my enjoyment of
Paris; but the core of my life was under my own roof, among my books and
my intimate friends. Above all it was in my work, which was growing and
spreading, and absorbing more and more of my time and my imagination.

I had continued steadily at my story-telling, from which nothing could
ever distract me for long, and during the busy happy Parisian years, and
especially after the appearance of "The House of Mirth," a growing sense
of mastery made the work more and more absorbing. In 1908 I published
"The Hermit and the Wild Woman," a volume of short stories, in 1910
another, called "Tales of Men and Ghosts," and between the two the
record of some of our motor journeys in France.

But the book to the making of which I brought the greatest joy and the
fullest ease was "Ethan Frome." For years I had wanted to draw life as
it really was in the derelict mountain villages of New England, a life
even in my own time, and a thousandfold more a generation earlier,
utterly unlike that seen through the rose-coloured spectacles of my
predecessors, Mary Wilkins and Sarah Orne Jewett. In those days the
snow-bound villages of Western Massachusetts were still grim places,
morally and physically: insanity, incest and slow mental and moral
starvation were hidden away behind the paintless wooden house-fronts of
the long village street, or in the isolated farm-houses on the
neighbouring hills; and Emily Bronte would have found as savage
tragedies in our remoter valleys as on her Yorkshire moors. In this
connection, I may mention that every detail about the colony of drunken
mountain outlaws described in "Summer" was given to me by the rector of
the church at Lenox (near which we lived), and that the lonely peak I
have called "the Mountain" was in reality Bear Mountain, an isolated
summit not more than twelve miles from our own home. The rector had been
fetched there by one of the mountain outlaws to read the Burial Service
over a woman of evil reputation; and when he arrived every one in the
house of mourning was drunk, and the service was performed as I have
related it. The rector's predecessor in the fashionable parish of Lenox
had, I believe, once been called for on a similar errand, but had
prudently refused to go; my friend, however, thought it his duty to do
so, and drove off alone with the outlaw--coming back with his eyes full
of horror and his heart of anguish and pity. Needless to say, when
"Summer" appeared, this chapter was received with indignant denial by
many reviewers and readers; and not the least vociferous were the New
Englanders who had for years sought the reflection of local life in the
rose-and-lavender pages of their favourite authoresses--and had
forgotten to look into Hawthorne's.

"Ethan Frome" shocked my readers less than "Summer"; but it was
frequently criticized as "painful," and at first had much less success
than my previous books. I have a clearer recollection of its beginnings
than of those of my other tales, through the singular accident that its
first pages were written--in French! I had determined, when we came to
live in Paris, to polish and enlarge my French vocabulary; for though I
had spoken the language since the age of four I had never had much
occasion to talk it, for any length of time, with cultivated people,
having usually, since my marriage, wandered through France as a tourist.
The result was that I had kept up the language chiefly through reading,
and the favourite French authors of my early youth being Bossuet,
Racine, Corneille and Labruyere, most of my polite locutions dated from
the seventeenth century, and Bourget used to laugh at me for speaking
"the purest Louis Quatorze." To bring my idioms up to date I asked
Charles Du Bos to find, among his friends, a young professor who would
come and talk with me two or three times a week. An amiable young man
was found; but, being too amiable ever to correct my spoken mistakes, he
finally hit on the expedient of asking me to prepare an "exercise"
before each visit. The easiest thing for me was to write a story; and
thus the French version of "Ethan Frome" was begun, and carried on for a
few weeks. Then the lessons were given up, and the copy-book containing
my "exercise" vanished forever. But a few years later, during one of our
summer sojourns at the Mount, a distant glimpse of Bear Mountain brought
Ethan back to my memory, and the following winter in Paris I wrote the
tale as it now stands, reading my morning's work aloud each evening to
Walter Berry, who was as familiar as I was with the lives led in those
half-deserted villages before the coming of motor and telephone. We
talked the tale over page by page, so that its accuracy of "atmosphere"
is doubly assured--and I mention this because not long since, in an
article by an American literary critic, I saw "Ethan Frome" cited as an
interesting example of a successful New England story written by some
one who knew nothing of New England! "Ethan Frome" was written after I
had spent ten years in the hill-region where the scene is laid, during
which years I had come to know well the aspect, dialect, and mental and
moral attitude of the hill-people. The fact that "Summer" deals with the
same class and type as those portrayed in "Ethan Frome," and has the
same setting, might have sufficed to disprove the legend--but once such
a legend is started it echoes on as long as its subject survives.


Almost all my intimate friends from England and America used to come to
stay with us in Paris; Walter Berry, whenever he could escape from his
hard work as one of the Judges of the International Tribunal at Cairo;
Henry James, Howard Sturgis, Percy Lubbock, Gaillard Lapsley, Robert
Norton and John Hugh-Smith. I also continued to see a great deal of
Egerton Winthrop, Robert Minturn, and many other old friends from
America, who came annually to Paris; and usually, before going back to
the Mount for the summer, or on my return from America in the autumn, I
snatched a few weeks in England, dividing them between Lamb House,
Queen's Acre, and Hill Hall, Mrs. Charles Hunter's place in Essex.

Mrs. Charles Hunter was so much a part of my annual English holiday, so
much the centre of my picture of the English world, that when she died
the other day, for me at least, almost the whole fabric went with her.
Henry James, who was her devoted friend, had long wanted us to meet; but
knowing of her only as a fashionable hostess and indefatigable
entertainer, and not wishing to plunge again into the world of big
house-parties and London "crushes," I had evaded all suggestions and
invitations. And then suddenly--I forgot when or where--we met, and
became friends.

Sargent's portrait (given by her to the Tate Gallery) renders Mary
Hunter's fair abundant beauty in all its harvest brightness; and it was
thus that I first knew her--still beautiful, wealthy, hospitable and
boundlessly generous, with no clear idea about money except that, if one
had it, it was to be spent for the pleasure of others. Later, when her
fortune, which was entirely in coal, dwindled to nothing with the other
great English mining-fortunes, she bore the loss with dauntless good
humour, a spirit of "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away," of
which I know few finer examples; but her notion of money remained as
hazy when every penny mattered as when wealth poured uncounted through
her lavish hands. As one of her friends said: "Mary is a cornucopia";
and to the end of her life generosity, pity, eagerness to help and to
make happy, kept spilling out of her in words and deeds when they could
no longer be expressed in cheques.

A year or two before her death we were staying at the same house in the
country, and having broken her motoring spectacles she asked me to take
her to an opticians's to buy another pair. She was already ruined, and
living in such narrow circumstances that I thought it quite natural for
her to consider the price. "How much do you suppose they'll cost, my
dear? Not above two or three pounds?" she asked anxiously. I burst out
laughing. "Bless you, no! Not above two or three shillings." I expected
a sigh of relief; but she gave no sign of seeing any difference, and to
the very end such shades of more-or-less remained too microscopic for
her notice.

The golden waves of prosperity were rolling higher and higher about when
our acquaintance began. Her husband, who adored her, wished her to enjoy
every luxury; but he had always refused to give her a town house,
fearing, as he said, that life in London would lead to extravagance
beyond even his resources. He bestowed on her instead, Hill Hall, a
William-and-Mary house of stately proportions, built about a great
interior quadrangle, and dominating the blue distances of Essex; and for
the London season she hired one of the ornate seventeenth century houses
attached to the Burlington Hotel. This she furnished luxuriously, and
lived in it exactly as if it were her own--save that the upkeep stopped
when she was not in town.

At Hill no limits were set, but the house was not expensively furnished,
though arranged with much taste, and containing a few good pictures.
Life there was on a large scale, for there were many rooms, and in
addition to the perpetual come-and-go of married daughters,
grandchildren, and other relations, there was a succession of friends
for a good part of the year, and a bit house-party for every week-end.

I used sometimes to wonder what Rosa de Fitz-James, with her careful
sense of conformity, of selection, her French cult of the
ce-qui-se-fait, would have thought of those happy-go-lucky week-ends,
with friends tumbling in unexpectedly from everywhere, extra seats being
hastily crowded into the long dining-room, fresh provisions hurried to
the already groaning tea-table, spare-rooms prepared, messages
telephoned, people passing in and out with a sort of smiling fatalism,
no questions asked, no explanations expected, just a continuous surge of
easy good-humoured life through the big house, the broad flagged
terraces and the crowded tennis-courts. I was about to add "and the
gardens" when I remembered that, oddly enough for an Englishwoman, Mary
Hunter was congenitally incapable of interesting herself in
horticulture, her only attempt in that line being a made-to-order
rose-garden of which Percy Lubbock remarked that it looked "as if no one
had ever said a kind word to it."

Mary Hunter's hospitality was more comprehensive than Madame de
Fitz-James', not only because her nature was larger and more impetuous,
but because all the meticulous French discriminations would have been
meaningless to her, and to her world, where numbers had a secret magic,
and even to the intelligent the sense of being in a crowd was more
stimulating than that of being too carefully shielded from it. Mrs.
Hunter's guests, however, were combined with unusual discrimination, for
though she herself had--as far as I could see--no particular pleasure in
good talk, she enjoyed it vicariously, as a good hostess, and, as a
clever one, managed to get together the elements to create it. Even her
most haphazard parties contained a nucleus of intimate friends with
literary and artistic tastes, and this saved the weekends of Hill from
the dullness usual in such assemblages. Moreover, Mrs. Hunter's watchful
solicitude made her combine her inner group with a view to the enjoyment
of all its members, and when I went to Hill I usually found there some
of my own friends, among whom Henry James, Percy Lubbock, and Howard
Sturgis were the most frequent.

In earlier days she had gathered about her many painters and musicians,
and more than once, especially among the painters, her generous
encouragement gave the first impetus to a successful career. Sargent's
portrait of herself, and the famous one of her three daughters (now in
the National Gallery), are known to every one; but she and her family
were also repeatedly painted by Mancini, and by Mrs. Swinnerton; and she
was the lifelong friend of Sargent, Walter Sickert, Rodin (who made a
fine bust of her), Professor Tonks, Mr. Steer, Claude Monet and
Jacques-Emile Blanche. As is usual with hostesses of her kind, the
thought of the illustrious unsociable would not let her sleep, and she
was determined not only to admire and help her celebrities (and help
them she did, in every possible way) but to enjoy their society on her
own terms; that is, in the crowd and tumult of the Hill week-ends. She
had all the tenacity and inventiveness of the celebrity-collector, and
there is a tale of her, already a legend when I heard it, but so
characteristic that it may well be true. She was a great admirer of
Mancini's art, and hearing that he was staying in London she immediately
introduced herself by telephone, and besought him to come down to Hill
for the following Sunday. But he was poor, solitary-minded, and unable
to speak English; and to excuse himself he enumerated all these
objections. Go to stay with Mrs. Hunter--but he couldn't possibly! Why,
to begin with, he didn't even own a dress-coat.

"Is that all? Nonsense! My husband'll lend you one."

"Oh, but that's nothing, I don't speak English--not more than two words.
And I don't understand anything that is said to me."

"Well, that doesn't matter either. So-and-so and so-and-so, who are
coming, both speak Italian perfectly."

"Ah, but you don't understand. I couldn't even buy my railway-ticket, or
find my way from my hotel to the station."

"My dear Signor Mancini, don't worry about that. I have an Italian
footman--a perfect genius of a footman. He'll be at your hotel with a
cab tomorrow afternoon at four; he'll pack your things, take you to the
train, bring you down, and wait on you while you're here."

There was a faint murmur of surrender from Mancini, and Mary Hunter
instantly called up a London tailoring establishment and ordered a
dress-suit (it is not recorded how she obtained the measures). She then
telephoned to an employment agency for an Italian footman, and on being
told that they had none on their list, and could not possibly engage to
produce one at such short notice, replied calmly: "You MUST find me one
at any price, and he must bring Signor Mancini down to Hill tomorrow
afternoon." And he was found, and brought Mancini down--with the
dress-clothes smuggled into the latter's suit-case.

When I first went to Hill those epic days were over. Most of the painter
friends of my hostess's youth were already middle-aged and illustrious,
and except in two or three cases the intimacy, though not the
friendship, had probably declined; or else Mrs. Hunter may have divided
her friends into separate groups, for I seldom met any painters or
musicians at Hill, and the "nucleus" in my time was usually literary.
James was, of course, its central figure, welcomed and delighted in by
all the family, and enveloped by the most discerning affection. The
rival luminary, who hated and envied James, and missed no chance to
belittle and sneer at him, was George Moore. I shall never forget a
luncheon at Hill when John Hugh-Smith with seeming artlessness drew
Moore out on his great contemporaries, and James, Conrad, Hardy, and all
others of any worth, were swept away on a torrent of venom. It was the
tone of "The Dunciad" without its wit. But that was George Moore's way;
and I recall another instance of it at the house of Jacques Blanche, one
of his most devoted and long-suffering friends. My husband and I often
went to the Blanches' literary and artistic luncheons, and one day
George Moore was of the party. When we returned to the big studio after
luncheon, and coffee and cigarettes were served, Moore ostentatiously
drew out his cigar-case, lit a big cigar, and offered one to my husband.
The latter, though he loved a good cigar, declined, and Moore said in a
loud voice: "If you haven't brought any of your own you'd better take
one of mine. They never give them here." "I know," replied my husband
quietly; "that's why I never bring one."

Mary Hunter could not resist baiting her hospitable hook with a name
like James's. She loved and admired him so much that she wanted his
glory to shine over as many of her parties as possible, and forgetting
that its light, if intense, was not far-spread, she sometimes mentioned
him as an inducement to guests who had never even heard his name. I was
at Hill on one such occasion, when, on the arrival of a fashionable
beauty, her hostess welcomed her with: "And tomorrow, you know, you're
going to see Henry James!"

The lady's perplexity was great, but so also was her frankness. Who in
the world, she asked, was Henry James, and why should she particularly
want to see him? Mrs. Hunter was dumbfounded: was it possible that dear
Lady ---- really didn't know? No; she really didn't. But she was
goodnaturedly ready to be enlightened, and having been told that Henry
James was one of the greatest of living novelists, she suffered "The
Wings of the Dove" and "The Golden Bowl" to be pressed into her
submissive hands, and obediently agreed to read them both before the
next afternoon!

When she came down the following day, just before luncheon, I was
sitting in the hall. The four fat volumes were under her arm, and she
thumped them down on the table, and turned her lovely smile on me.
"Well--of all the TOSH!" she said gaily.

Knowing that Henry James, though he suffered acutely from the criticisms
of the literary, would enjoy this fresh breeze out of Philistia, I told
him the tale as soon as he arrived. He welcomed it with a joyful
chuckle; and when he and the lady met that evening they at once became
the best of friends.

This anecdote leads me to two others which I may as well insert at this
point into my English picture. Once when James and I were staying
together in the country our host suggested taking us to call on a
charming neighbour, formerly, I think, a celebrated music-hall artist.
James, I believe, had met the lady at a theatrical supper some twenty
years earlier, and he declared himself delighted to renew the
acquaintance. The lady, who also remembered the far-off supper, welcomed
him cordially; and in the course of the visit, drawing me aside, she
expressed her pleasure at seeing dear Mr. James again after so many
years, and added; "I've so often wondered what had happened to him since.

My other tale concerns Lamb House, but at a much later time, when, after
James's death, it was tenanted for some years by Robert Norton, who had
known James well, and treated the house and its contents with the same
veneration as the guardian of "The Birthplace" treated that shrine in
James's story. Robert Norton happened one day to run across a London
great lady, an old acquaintance of his, who was staying near Rye. She
told him she had been longing for years to visit Lamb House, of which
she had heard so much, and begged him to let her come to see it. She
came, and he took her all over, showing each room, each piece of
furniture, each relic, and explaining: "Here James dictated to his
secretary every morning; under this weeping ash he used to sit in hot
weather; this silver-point was done of him by Sargent before he shaved
his beard; this is a replica of his bust by ----," till finally the great
lady, grateful but bewildered, interrupted him to ask: "I've heard so
much of Lamb House, as a particularly charming specimen of a small
Georgian house--but WOULD you mind telling me who this Mr. Henry James
is, who appears to have lived there?"

The keeper of the "Birthplace" remembered "The Death of the Lion," and
answered her question with a smile.


Henry James's visits to the rue de Varenne were always a busy time for
me. He had been much in Paris in his youth, had frequented the great
generation of the Goncourt "garret," met Flaubert frequently, and been
intimate with Turgeniev, and later with Alphonse Daudet, and of course
with Bourget. His description of taking Daudet down to Box Hill to see
Meredith, and of the two great writers, both stricken with the same
fatal malady, advancing painfully towards each other across the platform
of the little country station, was one of the most moving things I ever
heard him relate. He also piloted Bourget about London and Oxford, on
the latter's first visit to England, when he was preparing the English
impressions afterward included in "Etudes et Portraits"; and all these
contacts had made James's name familiar among French intellectuals long
before they struggled to decipher his books.

James's unusual social gifts, and keen enjoyment of society (once he had
escaped from its tyrannous routine), lent a school-boy's zest to his
Paris visits. The first time he stayed with us there must have been in
1905, before the rue de Varenne days, when my brother Harry, who had a
flat in Paris, lent it to us during a temporary absence. It was in that
year, I think, that James, through my intervention, sat to Blanche for
the admirable portrait which distressed the sitter because of the
"Daniel Lambert" curve of the rather florid waistcoat; and during those
sittings, and on other occasions at the Blanches', he made many new
acquaintances, and renewed some old friendships.

James's simple cordiality would have made him welcome anywhere; but he
was particularly popular among his French friends, not only on account
of his quickness and adaptability, but because his youthful
frequentations in the French world of letters, following on the
school-years in Geneva, had so steeped him in continental culture that
the cautious and inhospitable French intelligence felt at once at ease
with him. This feeling was increased by his mastery of the language.
French people have told me that they had never met an Anglo-Saxon who
spoke French like James; not only correctly and fluently, but--well,
just as they did themselves; avoiding alike platitudes and pomposity,
and using the language as spontaneously as if it were his own.

It was no wonder therefore that James enjoyed his French holidays. He
was invited out continually, and the only difficulty was to capture him
now and then for an evening in the rue de Varenne. The contrast to the
severe winter routine of Rye, the change of scene, of food, of point of
view--the very differences in the houses and streets, in the mental
attitude and the moral conventions--of all these nothing escaped him,
nothing failed to amuse him. In the intervals between dining out he
liked a dash in the motor; and among other jolly expeditions, I remember
a visit to Nohant, when he saw for the first time George Sand's house. I
had been there before, and knew how to ingratiate myself with the tall
impressive guardian of the shrine, a handsome Berrichonne who could
remember, as a very little girl, helping "Madame" to dress Maurice's
marionettes, which still dangled wistfully from their hooks in the
little theatre below stairs.

James, who shared my delight in the enchanting "Histoire de ma Vie" and
the "Lettres d'un Voyageur," had known personally a number of the
illustrious pilgrims--Flaubert, Maupassant, Alexandre Dumas fils and
others--who used to come to Nohant in the serene old age of its
tumultuous chatelaine. He was therefore fascinated by every detail of
the scene, deeply moved by the inscriptions on the family grave-stones
under the wall of the tiny ancient church--especially in the tragic
Solange's: "La Mere de Jeanne"--and absorbed in the study of the family
portraits, from the Elector of Saxony and the Mesdemoiselles Verrier to
Maurice and his children. He lingered delightedly over the puppet
theatre with Maurice's grimacing dolls, and the gay costumes stitched by
his mother; then we wandered out into the garden, and looking up at the
plain old house, tried to guess behind which windows the various famous
visitors had slept. James stood there a long time, gazing and brooding
beneath the row of closed shutters. "And in which of those rooms, I
wonder, did George herself sleep?" I heard him suddenly mutter. "Though
in which, indeed--" with a twinkle--"in which indeed, my dear, did she

A vision especially dear to me is associated with one of James's visits
to the rue de Varenne. It is that of the exquisite picture of Paris by
night in the tale--perhaps the most beautiful of his later short
stories--called "The Velvet Glove." He and I had often talked over the
subject of this story, which was suggested by the fact that a very
beautiful young Englishwoman of great position, and unappeased literary
ambitions, had once tried to beguile him into contributing an
introduction to a novel she was writing--or else into reviewing the
book; I forget which. She had sought from him, at any rate, a literary
"boost" which all his admiration and liking for her could not, he
thought, justify his giving; and they parted, though still friends, with
evidences on her part of visible disappointment--and surprise. The
incident certainly gave him a theme "to his hand"; but it lay unused for
lack of a setting, for he wanted to make of it, not a mere ironic
anecdote--that was too easy--but a little episode steeped in wistfulness
and poetry. And then, one soft spring evening, after we had dined
somewhere out of town--possibly at Versailles, or at a restaurant in the
Bois--knowing his love for motoring at night, I proposed a circuit in
the environs, which finally brought us home by way of Saint Cloud; and
as we hung there, high above the moonlit lamplit city and the gleaming
curves of the Seine, he suddenly "held" his setting, as the painters
say, and, though I knew nothing of it till long afterward, "The Velvet
Glove" took shape that night.

The theatre was of course one of James's great interests when he was in
Paris; but he was so much invited out, and so much amused by his
glimpses of a new and stimulating social scene, that he could seldom
spare an evening. When he did, it was usually for the first night of
some well-known dramatist, such as Paul Hervieu, or in later years Henry
Bataille or Henry Bernstein. James's interest in the theatre was
sustained by the conviction (which it took so many bitter
disappointments to eradicate) that he would one day achieve popular
success as a playwright. It is an illusion often nursed by novelists,
especially those who, like James, are gradually dominated by the sense
of "situation," the strictly scenic element, in their subjects. It is
difficult to understand that there is little connection between the
novelist's sense of a situation and that of the playwright, and James
was persuaded to the end that his constructive instinct ought to have
served in play-building as well as in story-telling. Perhaps it might
have, if he had not been so oddly enslaved by what might be called the
Dumas-fils convention (a tradition from which the French have now so
wholly emancipated themselves). The typical Dumas-fils play was a
miracle of neat joinery, culminating in a "moral" of which all his
characters were merely the subservient tools. It seems odd that James,
whose conception of the novel was so independent and original, regarded
these stage conventions as inevitable. He admired Ibsen, but seems never
to have felt any incongruity between the two conceptions of the theatre,
much less to have contemplated the possibility of creating a formula of
his own for his plays, as he had for his novels.

James's interest in the stage naturally included the world of the
theatre, with its rivalries and scandals, its generosities and
absurdities, and all its grandeurs et miseres. He was always
particularly amused by anecdotes about theatrical people, and I remember
a report of one conversation with a retired actress which delighted his
listeners. The lady in question, in far-off days, had had a brief career
on the London stage in classical tragedy, but long before James's coming
to England she had married a man who had given her a place in the most
conservative circles of early Victorian London. Always irreproachable in
conduct and reputation, she yet yearned now and then for an opportunity
to speak of her theatrical years, and especially to dwell on the perils
to which the virtuous actress is exposed. On one occasion she had been
detailing these at some length to James, and after complacently
enumerating the various forms of temptation she had successfully
resisted, she added: "And would you believe it, Mr. James? ONE FIEND IN

There were many amusing incidents connected with Henry James's visits to
Paris. I was the object of much attention on the part of hostesses who
wished to use him as a social "draw," and of literary ladies who aspired
to translate his novels; and among the advances made by the latter I
remember two over which, when they were reported to him, his chuckles
were particularly prolonged. In one case a fervent translatress besought
me to recommend her to the Master as particularly qualified to translate
"The Golden Bowl" because she had just dealt successfully with a work
called "The Filigree Box"; while another tried to ingratiate herself by
assuring me that her deep appreciation of my own great work, "The House
of the Myrtles," was surpassed only by her unbounded admiration for that
supreme anatomical masterpiece, "The Golden Bowel."

Ah, how we used to come back from those parties bearing our sheaves of
laughter--and how the laughter still rings in my ears as I call up the
scenes that provoked it!


"Well, I am glad to welcome to the White House some one to whom I can
quote 'The Hunting of the Snark' without being asked what I mean!"

Such was my first greeting from Theodore Roosevelt after his accession
to the Presidency--a date so much earlier than that of my sojourn in
Paris that I ought to have introduced it before, had it not seemed
simpler to gather into one chapter the record of our too infrequent
meetings. Though I had known Theodore Roosevelt since my first youth,
and though his second wife is my distant cousin, I had met him only at
long intervals--usually at my sister-in-law's, in New York--and we had
never "hooked" (in the French sense of the atomes crochus) until after
the publication of "The Valley of Decision." He had a great liking for
the book, which he wanted, after his usual fashion, to rearrange in
conformity with his theory of domestic morals and the strenuous life;
but when I pointed out that these ideals did not happen to prevail in
the decadent Italian principalities which Napoleon was so soon to wipe
out or to remodel, he laughingly acknowledged the fact, and thereafter
we became great friends. My intimacy with Bay Lodge, and with the
Jusserands, with whom my friendship dated back to my childhood, created
other links between the Roosevelts and myself, and the first time I went
to Washington after they were installed in the White House I was
promptly summoned to lunch, and welcomed on the threshold by the
President's vehement cry: "At last I can quote 'the Hunting of the

"Would you believe it," he added, "no one in the Administration has ever
heard of Alice, much less of the Snark, and the other day, when I said
to the Secretary of the Navy: 'Mr. Secretary, What I say three times is
true'," he did not recognize the allusion, and answered with an
aggrieved air: 'Mr. President, it would never for a moment have occurred
to me to impugn your veracity'!"

These whirlwind welcomes were very characteristic, for Theodore
Roosevelt had in his mind so clear a vision of each interlocutor's range
of subjects, and his own was so extensive, and so varied, that when he
met any one who interested him he could never bear to waste a moment in

I remember another instance of this impatient desire to get to his
point, however remote from the topics of the moment. Many years ago,
that charming old institution, Williams College, conferred an honorary
degree on Roosevelt, and the college authorities invited me to the
Commencement ceremonies. I motored from the Mount to Williamstown, and
when I appeared at the reception, which took place after the conferring
of the degrees, the President, who probably did not expect to meet me
there, uttered an exclamation of surprise, and cried out; "But you're
the very person I wanted to see! Of course you've read that wonderful
new book of de la Gorce's, the 'History of the Second Empire'? What an
amazing thing! Let's go off into a corner at once and have a good talk
about it."

And go off into a corner we did, and talked about it at some length, to
the visible interruption of the academic formalities; but that was the
President's way, and as everybody loved him, everybody forgave him; and
moreover they all knew that in another ten minutes he would be cornering
somebody else on some other equally absorbing subject. What he could not
and would not endure was talking about things which did not interest him
when there were so many that DID--so far too many for the brief time he
had to spare for them. One feels, in looking back, something premonitory
in this impatience, this thirst to slake an intellectual curiosity
almost as fervent as his moral ardours.

With his faculty of instantly extracting the best that each person had
to give, he seldom failed, when we met, to turn the talk to books. So
much of his time was spent among the bookless that many people never
suspected either the range of his literary culture or his learned
interest in the natural sciences; and in Washington they were probably
fully known only to the small group of people to whom he turned for
intellectual stimulus--such as the Cabot Lodges, Henry Adams, Walter
Berry, the Jusserands and Spring-Rice.

But there was another tie between us. Theodore Roosevelt was one of the
most humorous raconteurs I ever knew, and a very good mimic; and when we
were among a little band of fun-lovers--say with Bay Lodge, the
President's sister, Mrs. Douglas Robinson, and a few other collectors of
good nonsense--he kept us rocking with his cow-boy tales and his
evocations of White House visitors. His liberty of speech, even in mixed
company, was startling. Once, at a moment of acute tension between the
President and the Senate, I was lunching at the White House with a big
and haphazard party, among whom were several guests who had never before
met the President, and at least one journalist; and suddenly I heard him
break out to the assembled table: "Well, yes, I'm tired; I'm terribly
tired. I don't know exactly what's the matter with me; but if only we
could revive the good old Roman customs, I know a bath in Senator ----'s
blood would set me right in no time."

He was noted for speaking recklessly before people incapable of
appreciating either his humour or his irony, and to whom it must often
have been a temptation to quote his personal comments; yet it was always
said that during his two terms of office no public advantage was ever
taken of these indiscretions, and in a country like ours there could be
no greater proof of the degree to which he was loved and respected.

One of our last meetings was in the rue de Varenne, in the course of the
astonishing world-tour of 1909-10, when, after completing his second
term of office as the most famous man in America, he discovered that his
celebrity also embraced the other side of the globe. On this tour,
during which, in spite of his repeated protests that he was only a
private citizen, he was received with sovereign honours by every
European government, he came to Paris to give a lecture at the Sorbonne.
Through his old friend Jusserand, then Ambassador in Washington, who had
arranged to meet him in Paris, I was notified that he would like to come
to the rue de Varenne. He sent me word to invite a few people to meet
him--not governmental or "universitaire," since he was sure to see them
elsewhere, but my own group of friends; and every one I summoned
answered to the call, for the desire to meet him was intense. I tried to
choose, in the literary and academic line, principally those who spoke
English; but unhappily they were few; and though Roosevelt knew French
well, he spoke it badly, and with a rather bewildering pronunciation.
The consequence was that, having found among my guests an Academician (I
forget who) who was a specialist on some subject which particularly
interested him, and could talk to him about it in English, he broke up
the royal "circle" (of which he was of course expected to go the round),
and by isolating himself too long with this particular interlocutor
caused much disappointment to some of my other guests.

Such an omission was not easily understood or forgiven; but it was
difficult to stem the current of the President's eloquence, and the
President he still was, to all intents and purposes. I was made to feel
afterward that Jusserand and I had failed in our duty in not organizing
the party in such a way that each guest should have a few minutes' talk
with the great man; for it was inconceivable to my amiable but highly
disciplined guests that either the President or his hostess should
unintentionally omit a single move of the traditional game they had been
invited to play with him.

I was only once at Sagamore--and I think it was there that I saw
Theodore Roosevelt for the last time. There could not have been a fitter
setting for what turned out to be our goodbye; for it was only at
Sagamore that the least known side of his character was revealed, and
ranchero and statesman both made way for the private man, absorbed in
books and nature, and in the quiet interests of a country life.

What a good day that was! My husband and I went down to lunch, and found
no one but the family (a term which, as in my own house, always included
two or three busy and extremely interested dogs). The house was like one
big library, and the whole tranquil place breathed of the love of books
and of the country, so that I felt immediately at home there. After
luncheon Mr. Roosevelt, with a good deal of simple amusement, showed us
the photographs taken of himself and the Emperor William during the
famous German manoeuvres. He was perfectly aware of the studied
impertinence of the Kaiser's famous inscription on one of the
photographs--it read, I think: "President Roosevelt shows the Emperor of
Germany how to command an attack," or something of the kind--but he
treated it as an imperial appeal to his sense of humour, which indeed it
probably was.

In looking back over my memories of Theodore Roosevelt I am surprised to
find how very seldom I saw him, and yet how sure I am that he was my
friend. He had the rare gift of bridging over in an instant those long
intervals between meetings that so often benumb even the best of
friends, and he was so alive at all points, and so gifted with the rare
faculty of living intensely and entirely in every moment as it passed,
that each of those encounters glows in me like a tiny morsel of radium.


During our first years in Paris the friend of my childhood, Henry White,
was our Ambassador there. He had married our beautiful neighbour at
Newport, Margaret Rutherford, whose two equally beautiful young
brothers, Lewis and Winthrop, had been (with the exception of Madame
Jusserand and Daisy Terry) my earliest playmates. The intimacy between
the two families had never relaxed, and during the years when Henry
White was first Secretary at our London Embassy he and his wife were the
means of my meeting many interesting people whenever I went to England.
The Whites, in their youth, and even in their middle age, were one of
the handsomest couples I have ever seen, and on the Rutherfurd side the
beauty of the whole family was proverbial. The story was told of an
Englishman and an American who were strolling down Piccadilly together,
and discussing the relative degree of good looks of their respective
compatriots. "I grant you," the Englishman said, "that your women are
lovely; perhaps not as regularly beautiful as ours, but often prettier
and more graceful. But your men--yes, of course, I've seen very
good-looking American men; but nothing--if you'll excuse my saying
so--to compare with our young Englishmen of the Public School and
University type, our splendid young athletes: there, like these two who
are just coming toward us--" and the two in question were Margaret
White's brothers, the young Rutherfurds.

Another story, also turning on young masculine beauty, was told to me by
one of two other proverbially handsome brothers, Grafton and Howard
Cushing of Boston. Once, when these two ambrosial youths were staying in
London, the eldest, Grafton, was asked by Queen Victoria's niece, the
Countless Feo Gleichen, who was a sculptor of talent, to sit to her for
a bust. The sittings took place in Countess Gleichen's apartment in
Saint James's Palace; and Howard, who lived in lodgings with his
brother, told me how one morning very early he was awakened by a
hammering at the door, and heard the excited voice of the lodging-house
buttons crying out: "If you please, sir, her Majesty has sent word to
say that she expects you at Buckingham Palace this morning at nine
o'clock sharp, and you're to wear the same shirt that you wore

In Paris our Embassy, as long as the Whites were there, was a second
home to me, and Harry, who was never happier than in contriving
happiness for others, was always arranging for me to meet interesting
people. I remember, in particular, lunching at the Embassy one day with
Orville Wright, the survivor of the two famous brothers, who had come to
Paris, I think, for the inauguration of the statue at Le Mans
commemorative of their first flight on French soil. Walter Berry, who
was also at the lunch, had for many years been the counsel of the French
Embassy in Washington. He was the intimate friend of Jusserand, and
when, in 1905, or there abouts, the French Government sent a military
mission to America to investigate the queer new "flying machine" which
two unknown craftsmen of Dayton, Ohio, had invented. Walter Berry was
requested by the Ambassador to accompany the mission to Dayton as legal
adviser. He stayed there for three weeks, saw the machine "levitate" a
few inches above the earth, and came back awed by the possibility of the
"strange futures beautiful and new" folded up within those clumsy wings,
and much impressed by the two shy taciturn men who had called the
monster into being. I remember his telling me that when he discussed
with Wilbur Wright the future of aviation, the latter said; "I can
conceive that aeroplanes might possibly be of some use in war, but never
for any commercial purpose, or as a regular means of communication."

It must have been about the same time that I was invited by the Marquis
de Polignac to see an exhibition of flying in the aerodrome he had
constructed at Reims. I went there with Walter Berry, and in the
presence of a large assemblage of scientific notabilities we saw several
glorious "aces" (whose names, alas, I have forgotten) execute, at a
height of a few yards above the ground, non-stop flights around the
aerodrome, which, as I remember it, must have had about the dimensions
of an ordinary polo-field. And that was only two or three years before
the war!


Fate seemed to have conspired to fill those last years of peace with
every charm and pleasure. "Eyes, look your last"--in and about Paris all
things seemed to utter the same cry: the smiling suburbs unmarred by
hideous advertisements, the unravaged cornfields of Millet and Monet,
still spreading in sunny opulence to the city's edge, the Champs-Elysees
in their last expiring elegance, and the great buildings, statues and
fountains withdrawn at dusk into silence and secrecy, instead of being
torn from their mystery by the vulgar intrusion of flood-lighting.

One of the loveliest flowers on the bough so soon to be broken was the
dancing of Isadora Duncan. Hardly any one in Paris had heard of her when
she first appeared there, but in me her name woke an old memory. Years
before, a philanthropic Boston lady who spent her summers at Newport had
invited her friends to a garden party at which Isadora Duncan was to
dance. "Isadora Duncan?" people repeated the unknown name, wondering why
it had been used to bait Miss Mason's invitation. Only two kinds of
dancing were familiar to that generation: waltzing in the ball-room and
pirouetting on the stage. I hated pirouetting, and did not go to Miss
Mason's. Those who did smiled, and said they supposed their hostess had
asked the young woman to dance out of charity--as I daresay she did.
Nobody had ever seen anything like it; you couldn't call it dancing,
they said. No other Newport hostess engaged Miss Duncan, and her name
vanished from everybody's mind. And then, nearly twenty years later, I
went one night to the Opera in Paris, to see a strange new dancer about
whom the artists were beginning to talk...

I suppose that liking or not liking the conventional form of
ballet-dancing is as little to be accounted for as one's feeling about
olives or caviar. To me the word "dancing" had always suggested a joyful
abandon, a plastic improvisation, the visual equivalent of

Like to a moving vintage down they came,
Crowned with green leaves, and faces all on flame...

in Keats's glorious bacchanal. The traditional ballet-dancing, the
swollen feet in ugly shoes performing impossible tours de force of
poising and bounding, reminded me, on the contrary, of "But, oh, what
labour--Prince, what pain!," and except in Carpeaux's intoxicating
group, and Titian's "Triumph of Bacchus," I had never seen dancing as I
inwardly imagined it. And then, when the curtain was drawn back from the
great stage of the Opera, and before a background of grayish-green
hangings a single figure appeared--a tall, rather awkwardly made woman,
dragging a scarf after her--then suddenly I beheld the dance I had
always dreamed of, a flowing of movement into movement, an endless
interweaving of motion and music, satisfying every sense as a flower
does, or a phrase of Mozart's.

That first sight of Isadora's dancing was a white milestone to me. It
shed a light on every kind of beauty, and showed me for the first time
how each flows into the other as the music merged with her dancing. All
through the immense rapt audience one felt the rush of her inspiration,
as one feels the blowing open of the door in the "Walkyrie," when
Sieglinde cries out: "Wer ging?" and Sigmund answers: "Einer kam. Es war
der lenz!"

Yes; it was the spring, the bursting into bloom of acres and acres of
silver fruit-blossom where a week before there had been only dead
boughs. And I believe it was that fertilizing magic which evoked our
next and last vision of beauty before the war: the Russian Ballet. Every
one who saw the Imperial ballet in St Petersburg, in its official
setting, has assured me that when Diaghilew brought his dancers to Paris
he infused new life into them, broke down old barriers of convention,
and taught their exquisitely disciplined steps to flow into wild free
measures. It is hard to believe that Isadora's inspiration had no part
in the change.

It seemed as if those years contained some generative fire which called
forth masterpieces; for close on Isadora, and on Diaghilew's dancers,
came Proust's first volume. Proust--a name almost as unfamiliar as
Isadora's, and destined, like hers, to fly through our imaginations on a
shower of spring blossoms: the hawthorn hedge of "Du cote de chez
Swann." At the moment it merely recalled to me some clever skits on
contemporary writers which I had glanced at from time to time in the
"Figaro." I forget who first spoke to me about the book, but it may have
been Blanche, who was one of Proust's earliest friends and admirers. I
began to read languidly, felt myself, after two pages, in the hands of a
master, and was presently trembling with the excitement which only
genius can communicate.

I sent the book immediately to James, and his letter to me shows how
deeply it impressed him. James, at that time, was already an old man
and, as I have said, his literary judgments had long been hampered by
his increasing preoccupation with the structure of the novel, and his
unwillingness to concede that the vital centre (when there was any)
could lie elsewhere. Even when I first knew him he read contemporary
novels (except Wells's and a few of Conrad's) rarely, and with
ill-concealed impatience; and as time passed, and intricate problems of
form and structure engrossed him more deeply, it became almost
impossible to persuade him that there might be merit in the work of
writers apparently insensible to these sterner demands of the art. I
remember, for instance, that when he published his "Notes on Novelists,"
one of our friends, who had been greatly struck by Lawrence's "Sons and
Lovers," reproached James for having dealt so summarily with a new
novelist who was beginning to attract the attention of intelligent
readers. James's reply was evasive and unsatisfactory, and at last his
interlocutor exclaimed: "Come, now! Have you ever read any of Lawrence's
novels--really read them?" James's most mischievous smile crept down
from his eyes to his lips. "I-I have trifled with the exordia," he
murmured with a wicked twinkle.

No one but a novelist knows how hard it is for one of the craft to read
other people's novels; but in the presence of a masterpiece all of
James's prejudices and reluctances vanished. He seized upon "Du cote de
chez Swann" and devoured it in a passion of curiosity and admiration.
Here, in the first volume of a long chronicle-novel--the very type of
the unrolling tapestry which was so contrary to his own conception of
form--he instantly recognized a new mastery, a new vision, and a
structural design as yet unintelligible to him, but as surely there as
hard bone under soft flesh in a living organism. I wonder if in any
other art the joy of such recognition is as great as it is to the born
novelist who loves his craft, and sees its subtle and Protean form so
often stretched out of shape by insensitive hands. I look back with
peculiar pleasure at having made Proust known to James, for the
encounter gave him his last, and one of his strongest, artistic

Neither James nor I ever met Proust. In my case the meeting could have
been easily arranged, for he was the friend of some of my most intimate
friends. But what I heard about him, even from the people who were
fondest of him, did not increase my desire to meet him. I did not then
know how ill he already was--at that time even his intimates scarcely
guessed it--and to be told that the only people who really interested
him were Dukes and Duchesses, and that the only place where one could
hope to find him was at the Ritz, after midnight, was enough to put me
off. When I first read "Du cote de chez Swann" I was on the point of
pouring out my admiration in a letter; but supposing that many readers
must have yielded to the same impulse, I remained silent. When I read
Proust's correspondence, and discovered that "Swann" (on the whole the
most perfect of the series) had fallen flat even among his intimates,
and that a word of praise, though from a casual stranger, would have
been priceless to him, I bitterly regretted my discretion. But by the
time I had found out who he was, and through whom I could have made his
acquaintance, his books were already the fashion in the very circles
least capable of reading or understanding him--and on the whole I am
glad I did not try to pursue him there. His greatness lay in his art,
his incredible littleness in the quality of his social admirations. But
in this, after all, he merely exemplified the tendency not infrequent in
novelists of manners--Balzac and Thackeray among them--to be dazzled by
contact with the very society they satirize. If it is true that pour
comprendre il faut aimer this seeming inconsistency may, in some, be a
deep necessity of the creative imagination.


We still went home every summer to the Mount, and all our old friends
returned year after year to stay with us: chief among them, as usual,
Egerton Winthrop, Walter Berry, Robert Minturn, the Jusserands from
Washington. Robert Grant and his wife from Boston, Bay Lodge and his
beautiful Bessy, and another old Boston friend, William Richardson. But
much as I loved the place, the glowing summer weeks, and the woodland
pageantry of our matchless New England autumn, it was all darkened by my
husband's growing ill-health. Since the first years of our marriage his
condition, in spite of intervals of apparent health, had become steadily
graver. His sweetness of temper and boyish enjoyment of life struggled
long against the creeping darkness of neurasthenia, but all the
neurologists we consulted were of the opinion that there could be no
real recovery; and time confirmed their verdict. Such borderland cases
are notoriously difficult, and for a long time my husband's family would
not see, or at any rate acknowledge, the gravity of his state, and any
kind of consecutive treatment was therefore impossible. But at length
they understood that he could no longer lead a life of normal activity,
and in bringing them to recognize this I had the help of some of his
oldest friends, whose affectionate sympathy never failed me in those
difficult years.

The care of the Mount had been my husband's chief interest and
occupation, and the place had now to be sold, for much as I loved it the
burden would have been too heavy for me to carry alone. It was sad to
leave that lovely country, and for the moment I did not feel like making
another country home for myself; so I lingered on in the rue de Varenne
during the last two or three years before the war, going away only for a
few weeks now and then, to visit friends or to travel.

Among the friends made at this time I must put first the Berensons. I
had known them slightly for some years, but our real friendship dated
from my first visit to their villa near Florence, in 1910, or
thereabouts; and since then a pilgrimage to I Tatti has been one of my
annual joys. I had never before stayed in a house where I could lead
exactly the same life as in my own; working in the morning, and browsing
at all hours in a library which, though incalculably bigger and more
important than mine, was based on the same requirements; abroad and firm
foundation of books of reference constantly replenished and kept up to
date; all the still LIVING classics, in Greek, Latin and the principal
modern languages, and an annual influx of the best in current letters.
Henry James and Howard Sturgis had nothing nearer to a library than a
few dozen shelves of heterogeneous volumes; and indeed, even in houses
commonly held to be "booky" one finds, nine times out of ten, not a
library but a book-dump. But such a library as that of I Tatti is the
book-worm's heaven: the fulfilment of all he has dreamed that a great
working library ought to be, continually weeded out and renewed, "not
made of spent deeds but of doing," not a dusty mausoleum of dead authors
but a glorious assemblage of eternally living ones.

This "great good place," which at first consisted in one noble room,
lined with books to the high vaulted ceiling, and used not only as a
library but as a living-room, was added to the original house by my dear
friend Geoffrey Scott, and Cecil Pinsent, his partner; and they
presently built out from it a wing containing two long conventual
book-rooms with tall doors leading out to a terrace of clipped box.

When I first knew Geoffrey Scott he was still practising as an
architect, and not long afterward he brought out that perfect book--or
shall I say, that perfect introduction to a book?--"The Architecture of
Humanism." My interest in the Italian architecture of the Renaissance,
and the styles deriving from it, created one of the first links between
us, and led to many delightful pilgrimages. Geoffrey Scott was at that
time established in Florence with his partner, and whenever I went to
stay with the Berensons we used to go off on architectural excursions
and garden hunts, to Siena, Montepulciano, and all through Tuscany and
Umbria. But one of our most amusing journeys took us to the Emilia, when
I introduced Geoffrey to the little fairy-tale town of Sabbioneta, then
so far from the beaten-track that it had remained undisturbed in its
decaying beauty. There are people who, wherever they go, attract droll
adventures, little lurking picturesquenesses of incident. Geoffrey was
one of them, and all our excursions were spangled with laughter. At
Sabbioneta, when we arrived, the village boys were having a bicycle race
about the green facing the little garden-palace of the Dukes of
Sabbioneta (a junior branch of the Mantuan Gonzagas). The instant we
appeared racers and spectators abandoned the track for the more novel
sport of hunting us through the deserted grassy streets, yelling out
comments on our nationality, speech and appearance, crowding in upon us
in the crumbling palaces and hushed church, and rudely breaking the
spell of the sleepy place.

Finally I could stand it no longer, and having run down in his den the
local carabiniere, I besought him to come to our protection. Such was my
respect for those beautifully uniformed and highly varnished guardians
of the peace that I doubted not but one word from him would scatter our
enemies; but he was alone, and could not leave his post. He assured me,
however, that he would send his comrade to our relief as soon as the
latter returned.

So on we surged, the mob triumphant at our discomfiture, and finally, in
despair, ended up at the little garden-palace. There, just as our
persecutors were crowding in with us, the promised carabiniere did
appear. He wore spectacles, he carried a book in his hand--but still, he
represented the law in a land accustomed (as I thought) to respect it.
"NOW you'll see!" I triumphed to Geoffrey.

The carabiniere saluted us and turned to face the pack. He looked at
them over his spectacles, he opened his mouth, and spoke. "Bisogna," he
said, "adoperare un po' piu di prudenza." (You must really try to
conduct yourselves with more circumspection.) Whereupon he stretched
one arm across the threshold, pulled us in with the other, and hastily
locked out the yelping band. In the palace he followed us about,
listened attentively to the explanations of the custodian, and studied
his little volume--which was apparently a local guide-book!

During those last pre-war years I travelled more, and in more different
directions than ever before. Breaking with the seductive habit of going
always and only to Italy, I made, one spring, a motor-trip to Spain with
Madame de Fitz-James and a dear friend of hers and mine, Jean du Breuil
de Saint Germain. Before the war motoring in Spain was still something
of an adventure; the roads were notoriously bad, motor-maps were few and
unreliable, the village inns dubious. However, we set forth, and having
carefully worked out our itinerary I was delighted to find that we were
following, stage by stage, Theophile Gautier's route of sixty or seventy
years earlier, and that so little was changed in the character of the
towns and villages through which we passed that his charming "Voyage en
Espagne" was still a perfect guide-book. We went by way of Pamplona,
Burgos, Avila and Salamanca to Madrid; but there we were held up by the
impossibility of going farther south on wheels. Even the few miles from
Madrid to Toledo were impassable, and we were warned that we must make
the trip by train!

Spain was enriched for me by a rush of juvenile memories which made me
exclaim at each step: "But I've been here before! I've seen this
already!" Whenever I go back there everything I see is suffused in this
faint glow of associations, as if my receptive faculties were afloat in
a rich thick medium like the fond de cuisson without which no good
French cook will practise his art. A child of four stores up by
anticipation so much of what the mature self is later to enjoy that the
adventures of a little girl may incalculably enrich the inner life of an
old woman.

I was eager to return to Spain in more adventurous company, and go to
more out of-the-way places; and I made two more Spanish journeys before
1914. Each year the roads were improving, and it was becoming easier to
get information about their condition; and being with a companion who
was not afraid of the unknown, and wanted to see what I did, I managed
to enlarge my map very considerably. These travels took in, on the east
coast, the Seo d'Urgel, Ripoll, Gerona and Barcelona; and we even
motored to Montserrat, though at that time the road thither from
Barcelona was so hard to find, and so nearly impracticable, that the
ascent took the best part of a day, and we had to spend the night at the
monastery. Foreign visitors, other than pilgrims, were still infrequent,
and the brother who received us explained that there were two hostelries
for pilgrims, and asked us to choose between the one with a communal
kitchen, where we could cook our own food, and the other, and more
expensive one, to which a restaurant was attached. Feeling rather vulgar
and purse-proud, we chose the latter, and having asked for four rooms
were shown into an icy vaulted chamber with a stone floor, and four
niches in the walls, each containing a bed. Our Spanish was not adequate
to dealing with this difficulty, but supplementing it by pantomime we
finally induced the brother to give us two four-niched rooms instead of
one! I have never since cared to return to Montserrat, which may now be
reached from Barcelona in an hour, by a perfect road lined with cafes
and places of amusement, and leading to the luxurious hotels on the

Thence we went to Jaca and Huesca, returned to Burgos and Avila, and
managed, on the way back, to get from the Alcalde of Santillana the keys
of the prehistoric cave of Altamira, then still abandoned to the care of
a local peasant, who guided us through it with one smoky candle, which
he held up recklessly to show the brilliant and delicate paintings. I
think it was only after the war that the Duke of Alba succeeded in
convincing King Alfonso of the necessity of giving proper protection to
this incomparable treasure, and lighting it with electricity.

In the summer of 1912 or 1913 I went to Germany with Bernard Berenson.
We motored to Berlin by the lovely route of the Rhine and the Thuringian
forest, and for the first time I saw Weimar, so small and smiling in its
leafy quiet, and Wetzlar, with Lotte's quaint wedge-shaped house,
unchanged without and within since she lived there. In Berlin we spent
eight crowded days, during which I trotted about the great Museums after
my learned companion (who has always accused me of not properly
appreciating the privilege), and was rewarded by a holiday in Dresden,
and a day's dash to the picturesque heights of Saxon Switzerland. But
the evenings in Berlin also brought their reward, for we not only heard
"The Ring" admirably given at the Opera but saw a memorable performance
of Tolstoy's "Living Corpse," and an enchanting one of the first part of
Faust at the Kleines Theatre, with charming scenery by Reinhardt, a
Gretchen of eighteen, a Faust to match, and a Mephistopheles of
twenty-five--budding understudies of the stars who were away on their
summer holiday. But the crowning joy was "Der Rosenkavalier," which
neither Berenson nor I had yet heard, even in snatches on the
gramophone. The sensations of that evening rank with my first sight of
Isadora's dancing, my first Russian ballet, my first reading of "Du cote
de chez Swann." They were vernal hours--es war der Lenz! But already the
sickles were sharpening for the harvest...

One afternoon at the Adlon, just before leaving Berlin, we came upon a
quietly dressed elderly lady who greeted Berenson as an old friend, and
introduced to us the silent and rather sad-looking young man who was
with her. The lady was the Princess of Thurn and Taxis, and the young
man Rainer Maria Rilke, the exquisite poet, whose work I already knew
and admired, though his greatest poems, the "Duineser Elegien," written
at the Princess's castle of Duino, near Trieste, were still in
manuscript. She spoke to me, I remember, of their remote and mysterious
beauty, while Berenson was talking to Rilke; and I longed for a better
chance of seeing him than that hurried encounter over clattering
teacups. The better chance never came. Rilke died soon after the war,
and once more I cursed the shyness which had prevented my telling him
then and there how much I cared for his writings.

I had the luck, in those years, to make two other enchanting journeys.
The first, in 1913, took us through the length and breadth of Sicily, of
which hitherto I had seen only Palermo and the towns of the east coast.
Now we explored also the great central ridge across which Goethe
laboured on horse-back, and from there went to Segesta, Trapani and
Selinonte, then still a desert beach strewn with prone columns and
mighty architectural fragments. The other tour, in the early spring of
1914, was made with Percy Lubbock and Gaillard Lapsley. We started by
motor from Algiers, and after a day at the exquisite oasis of Bou-Saada,
in southern Algeria, turned eastward across the mountains of Kabylia to
Timgad, Constantine and Tunis, and from Tunis, by Sfax and Souss, to
Kairouan the fabulous, and thence to El Djem, Gabes (whence we tried in
vain to cross to Djerba, the Lotus-eaters' island), and southward to the
mysterious town of Medenine, beyond which there were then no roads for

I have yielded to the temptation of setting down these names for the
sake of their magic properties; but such a journey is now a commonplace
of North African travel, and a dash across the desert from Tozeur to
Gardaia less of an adventure than our run from Gabes to Medenine. Though
such recollections constitute the traveller's joy they may easily become
the reader's weariness. In writing one's personal reminiscences it is
not always easy to discriminate between one's self and one's audience,
and the peril of prolixity lies in wait for the writer who begins his
first paragraph with "I remember." As long as the scenes or incidents
remembered are distant enough to revive a lost touch of local colour, or
of vanished customs, to enlarge on them may be excusable; and if I could
recall the details of my diligence journey through Spain at the age of
four I might conceivably produce a tale as captivating as Theophile
Gautier's or Washington Irving's. But to readers who may fly to Ur, or
motor across the Atlas to Timbuctoo, in the course of an ordinary
holiday excursion, it can be of little interest to learn how Timgad
looked to me under a full moon, or what song the siren sang when I tried
to pick up a passage from Gabes to the Lotus-eaters. All this is locked
away in me in a safe place; but I must go there alone to count my
treasures, for if I offered them to other eyes they might turn into a
pinch of dust, like that beautiful Etruscan queen too rashly dragged
from her painted tomb into the daylight.



One beautiful afternoon toward the end of June 1914, I stopped at the
gate of Jacques Blanche's house at Auteuil. It was a perfect summer day;
brightly dressed groups were gathered at tea-tables beneath the
overhanging boughs, or walking up and down the flower-bordered turf.
Broad bands of blue forget-me-nots edged the shrubberies, old-fashioned
corbeilles of yellow and bronze wall-flowers dotted the lawn, the
climbing roses were budding on the pillars of the porch. Outside in the
quiet street stood a long line of motors, and on the lawn and about the
tea-tables there was a happy stir of talk. An exceptionally gay season
was drawing to its close, the air was full of new literary and artistic
emotions, and that dust of ideas with which the atmosphere of Paris is
always laden sparkled like motes in the sun.

I joined a party at one of the tables, and as we sat there a
cloud-shadow swept over us, abruptly darkening bright flowers and bright
dresses. "Haven't you heard? The Archduke Ferdinand
Serajevo...where IS Serajevo? His wife was with him. What was her name?
Both shot dead."

A momentary shiver ran through the company. But to most of use the
Archduke Ferdinand was no more than a name; only one or two elderly
diplomatists shook their heads and murmured of Austrian reprisals. What
if Germany should seize the opportunity--? There would be more
particulars in next morning's papers. The talk wandered away to the
interests of the hour...the last play, the newest exhibition, the
Louvre's most recent acquisitions...

I was leaving in a day for a quick dash to Barcelona and the Balearic
islands, before going to England, where I had taken a house in the
country, carrying out at last my life-long dream of a summer in England.
All my old friends had promised to come and stay; we were to motor to
Scotland, to Wales, to all the places I had longed to see for so many
years. How happy and safe the future seemed!

After some radiant days among the Pyrenees we descended into the burning
summer of Catalonia. Even the transparent Spanish air had never seemed
so saturated with pure light. I remember a day when we picknicked in the
scant shade of a group of cork-trees above a vineyard where an
iridescent heat-shimmer hung visibly over the fiery red earth. But at
Barcelona we had a disappointment. For three weeks ahead not a berth was
to be had on the little boat crossing every night from there to Majorca.
The Balearics had not yet been discovered by foreign trippers, but
Spanish holiday-makers took possession of the islands in summer. It was
too sultry to linger in Barcelona, and the few hotels then existing at
Palma were sure to be crammed with excursionists; so we wandered about
in the Spanish Pyrenees, and then made for the Atlantic coast at Bilbao.
The days were long and shining, the new roads lured us on. We gave
little thought to the poor murdered Archduke, and international politics
seemed as remote as the moon. My servants had already closed my
apartment in Paris, and gone to the house I had taken in England, and I
was to follow early in August. Slowly we began to loiter northward.

During the last days in Spain we felt the chill of the same cold cloud
which had darkened the Blanches' garden-party. The belated French
newspapers were beginning to be disquieting, and we decided to hasten
our return. On July 30th we slept at Poitiers, and all night long I lay
listening to the crowds singing the Marseillaise in the square in front
of the hotel. "What nonsense! It can't be war," we said to each other
the next morning; but we started early and rushed through to Paris,
where the air was already thick with rumours. Everything seemed strange,
ominous and unreal, like the yellow glare which precedes a storm. There
were moments when I felt as if I had died, and waked up in an unknown
world. And so I had. Two days later war was declared.


When I am told--as I am not infrequently--by people who were in the
nursery, or not born, in that fatal year, that the world went gaily to
war, or when I have served up to me the more recent legend that France
and England actually wanted war, and forced it on the peace-loving and
reluctant Central Empires, I recall those first days of August 1914, and
am dumb with indignation.

France was paralyzed with horror. France had never wanted war, had never
believed that it would be forced upon her, had proved her good faith by
the absurd but sublime act of ordering her covering troops ten miles
back from the frontier as soon as she heard of Austria's ultimatum to
Servia! It may be useless to revive such controversies now; but not, I
believe, to put the facts once more on record for a future generation
who may study them with eyes cleared of prejudice. The criminal mistakes
made by the Allies were made in 1919, not in 1914.

I have related, in a little book written during the first two years of
the war, the impressions produced by those dark and bewildering days of
August 1914, and I will not return to them here, except to describe my
personal situation. This was rather absurdly conditioned by the fact
that I had no money--a disability shared at the moment by many other
foreigners in France. When I reached Paris I had about two hundred
francs in my pocket, and was preparing to call at the bank for my usual
remittance when I learned that the banks would make no payments. I
borrowed a small sum from Walter Berry, who happened to have some cash
in hand; but other penniless friends assailed him, and I could not ask
for enough to send to my servants in England, who were expecting me to
arrive with funds to pay the previous month's expenses. My old friend
Frederick Whitridge was staying at his house in Hertfordshire, close to
the place I had hired, and I wired him to give my servants enough to go
on with. He replied: "Very sorry. Have no money." I cabled to my bank in
New York to send me at least a small sum, and the bank cabled back:

At last, after a long delay--I forget how many days it took--I managed
to get five hundred dollars from New York, by paying another five
hundred for the transmission! To re-transmit to England what remained
would have been, if not impossible, at any rate so costly that little
would have been left to settle my tradesmen's bills. I had never had a
house in England before, and accustomed to the suspiciousness of French
tradespeople I was wondering how much longer my poor servants, who were
totally unknown in the neighbourhood, would be able to obtain credit,
and I realized that the only thing to do was to get to England myself as
quickly as possible--not an easy undertaking either.

As I had no money to pay any more hotel bills I moved back to my
shrouded quarters in the rue de Varenne, and camped there until I could
get a permit to go to England. At that time it was believed in the
highest quarters that the war would be fought out on Belgian soil, that
it would last at the longest not more than six weeks, and that one
decisive battle might probably end it sooner. My friends all advised me,
if I could get to England, to stay there "till the war was over"--that
is, presumably, till some time in October; and the first news of the
battle of the Marne made it seem for two or three delirious days as
though this prediction might come true.

While I was waiting to get to England I was asked by the Comtesse
d'Haussonville, President of one of the branches of the French Red Cross
(Secours aux Blesses Militaires) to organize a work-room for such
work-women of my arrondissement as were not yet receiving government
assistance. Almost all the hotels, restaurants, shops and work-rooms had
closed with the drafting of the men for the army, and there remained a
large number of women and children without means of livelihood, for whom
immediate provision had to be made. I was totally inexperienced in every
form of relief work, and not least in the management of anything like a
work-room for seamstresses and lingeres; and I had no money to do it
with! But by this time it was possible for those who had a deposit in a
French bank (which at the moment I had not), to draw it out in small
amounts, and I assailed all my American friends who were either living
in Paris, or still stranded there. I collected about twelve thousand
francs (the first of many raids on the pockets of my compatriots), some
one lent use a big empty flat in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, and luckily
I came across two clever sisters (nieces of Professor Landormy, the
well-known musical critic), who gave the aid of their quick wits and
youthful energy. All this did not teach me how to run a big work-room,
where we soon had about ninety women; but there was an ardour in the air
which made it seem easy to accomplish whatever one attempted. There were
several skilled lingeres among our workers, and we decided to try for
orders for fashionable lingerie, instead of competing with the other
ouvroirs by making hospital supplies; and by dint of badgering my
friends I extracted from them a rush of orders later supplemented by
more from America. Our lingerie soon became well-known, and as I had
told my assistants never on any account to refuse an order, whatever
might be asked for, we were soon doing a thriving trade in unexpected
lines, including men's shirts (in the low-neck Byronic style) for young
American artists from Montparnasse!

This work was barely started when I got my visa for England, and a
permit from the French War Office to motor to Calais (trains being slow
and uncertain). At Folkestone Henry James met me and took me back to
Lamb House for the night; then I hurried on to Stocks, the place I had
hired. It was a charming old house in beautiful gardens, belonging at
that time to the Humphry Wards. I knew the place well, and had looked
forward to seeing all my friends about me in those pleasant rooms. How
little could I have imagined in what conditions I was to arrive there!
The country was deserted, and I was alone in the big echoing rooms,
looking out on gardens radiant with flowers which I had no heart to
enjoy. To the honour of the British race let it be recorded that all
through those agonizing days Mrs. Ward's upper housemaid (whom I had
taken on with the house) kept every room filled with bowls of flowers
arranged with the most exquisite art; also that the local tradesmen had
given my butler and cook unlimited credit, and would probably have gone
on trusting them to the end of the summer. In what other country could
such faith in an unknown customer have been found?

The loneliness of those days at Stocks was indescribable. The wireless
was not yet, and for news we had to await the arrival of the London
papers, which came late and irregularly. Every day I walked to the
village post office to fetch the papers. The hours were endless--for the
first time in my life I could not read, and sat unoccupied in Mrs.
Ward's pleasant library. Henry James came to stay for a day or two; so,
I think, did Percy Lubbock and Gaillard Lapsley. But no one could bear
to remain--it was too far from London and the news, and there was
something oppressive, unnatural, in the serene loveliness of the old
gardens, the cedars spreading wide branches over deserted lawns, the
borders glowing with unheeded flowers. Besides, our separate
lonelinesses seemed to merge in one great sense of solitude, of being
cut off forever from the old untroubled world we had always known, so
that my friends and I felt that our being together was really not much
help to any of us.

I had never intended to follow the advice to stay in England "till the
end of the war." I meant to pay my bills, hand back Stocks to its
owners, and return immediately to Paris, where I could be of use, and
should have the blessed drug of hard work. But suddenly the way back was
barred. I went up to London, I saw Mr. Page at our Embassy, and Monsieur
Paul Cambon at his, and both could only bid me be patient. For the
moment, they told me, even if I succeeded in crossing to Calais I should
not be allowed to go a yard farther. There began to be rumours of a big
battle--THE decisive battle--not far from Paris. As soon as that was
over it might be possible to give me my permit.

My solitude at Stocks became more and more unbearable. Mrs. Ward, who
was at her house in London, understood this, and as she, on the other
hand, had assumed war duties in the country, she proposed that we should
exchange houses, and I gratefully installed myself under her roof in
Grosvenor Place. There at least I could see people who fancied
themselves well-informed, could pick up scraps of news, and could
importune my Embassy and Monsieur Cambon. So the days dragged on, lit up
for a moment by the glorious news of the Marne, but darkened again--only
too soon--by the indecisive results of an action which was at first
believed to have been a final victory. I have but a blurred moment of
those weeks of suspense, and recall distinctly only the last days of my
stay in England. From the moment when I was summoned by Mr. Page, and
told that my return to Paris was authorized, the rushing back and forth
to the two Embassies kept me blissfully busy. Ours was crammed with
travellers waiting for similar permissions, and it was hard to fix the
attention of the over-worked officials. At last one of them told me that
I must have myself photographed for my permit (I imagine there were no
regular passports as yet). He hurriedly gave me the address of the
photographer usually employed by the Embassy, who, he said, being used
to the job, would deliver my photograph the same day.

I hastened to the address given--a vague street somewhere in Millbank.
The houses were all exactly alike, but on the one bearing the number
given me I read the sign "Photographer," and confidently rang the bell.
A small shy man with pale hair and eyes admitted me, and showed me into
a parlour furnished with aspidistras and antimacassars. Thence, after a
long delay, he summoned me with the request to follow him to the roof. I
was slightly surprised, but in those days everything was unexpected, and
I climbed obediently up a ladder to the top of an outbuilding behind the
house. Here this strange photographer seated me on a kitchen chair, and
ducking under his voluminous black draperies took aim. But apparently
something did not work, and after repeated duckings, and rumpled
reappearances, he said in a tone of apology: "I'm so sorry, madam; but
the truth is, I've always specialized in photographing wild beasts, and
this is the first time I've ever done a human being."

I had evidently come to the wrong address; but there was nothing for it
but to receive his excuses with a shout of laughter, and implore him to
go on all the same. He did, and the portrait bore painful witness to the
truth of his statement; but though it looked like a wild-cat robbed of
her young it was sufficiently like to get me safely through to Paris.


On leaving Paris I had entrusted all the money I had collected to a
young lady recommended to me by the Red Cross for the post of treasurer.
During the German advance before the Marne many people had followed the
example of the government, and moved rapidly in the direction of
Bordeaux. Our treasurer was among them--and in the haste of departure
she carried off all our funds! Ready money being still difficult to
obtain, or to transmit, long and complicated negotiations were necessary
before the Red Cross could recover my capital; and thereafter I acted as
my own treasurer. But meanwhile the German advance, which had sent so
many rich residents out of Paris, had driven into it the lamentable
horde of the Belgian and French refugees. The Red Cross was engrossed by
its immense task in the field and in the military hospitals, the
government relief services were disorganized and totally unprepared for
the sudden influx of refugees, and immediate help had to be given.
Charles Du Bos, with a group of French and Belgian friends, had
improvised an emergency work called L'Acceuil Franco-Belge, which had
already rendered great service, but risked being swamped by the
increasing throng of applicants, and the lack of funds. I was asked to
form an American committee, and to raise money; I did both, and speedily
found myself, inexperienced as I was, unable to carry this new burden as
well as my big ouvroir. But friends came to my aid, giving money and
time, and before many months the relief work was on a sound basis,
though none of us (luckily) foresaw the huge proportions it was to
assume, and the repeated appeals for financial aid that our overworked
committee would have to make.

It is unnecessary to chronicle our labours in detail. The Acceuil
Franco-Belge (afterward the Acceuil Franco-Americain) was only one among
many war-charities created to supplement the inadequate and over-tasked
administrative effort; but a few points in its growth and organization
are worth recording. When it became necessary to divide the work into
separate departments--registration bureau, centre for distribution of
clothing, medical dispensary, cheap restaurants, etc.,--we installed our
central bureau in the large and handsome business offices in the
Champs-Elysees which were put at our disposal by the Comtesse de
Behague. Here the refugees were registered, and given tickets for food,
clothing and lodging; and among the hard-worked functionaries who
performed this drudgery were not only Charles Du Bos himself, but Darius
Milhaud, the well-known composer, Geoffrey Scott, Andre Gide and Percy
Lubbock. These were among our punctual and faithful volunteers; but
others--how many!--came and went, speedily overcome by the boredom of
the task, or the inability to keep regular hours (and what hours!--our
office was often open from 9 a.m. till after midnight).

My greatest difficulty was that of divining beforehand on which of our
volunteers we should be able to count. Some would drift in vaguely,
saying: "I'll try for a few days--but don't expect too much from me,"
and would turn out to be the future corner-stones of the building.
Others, lucid, precise and self-confident, would point out our
deficiencies, offer to remedy them, and fade away after a week. I recall
one rich compatriot, long established in Paris, who offered to take over
the management of our chaotic clothes-distribution, where, as she
pointed out, everything needed sorting, listing and superintending. I
was enchanted! Here at last, I thought, is a practical intelligence,
some one who knows instinctively all that I am vainly trying to learn. I
drew a deep breath of relief, and made an appointment to meet her the
next morning at the Vestiaire. She came for about a week, increased the
confusion she had offered to dispel--and then disappeared.

Such experiences were discouraging, and I was beginning to fear that my
lack of discernment in choosing my helpers, and my innate distaste for
anything like "social service," were a hopeless handicap to my
usefulness. But by this time I was President of our committee, and the
work had to be kept going.

One day Mrs. Royall Tyler came to see me. I had met her husband before
the war at the house of my friend Raymond Koechlin, the distinguished
archaeologist and collector, but my acquaintance with her was very
slight. Royall Tyler, already an accomplished archivist, was at that
time employed by the British Record Office in editing the State Papers
bearing on the diplomatic relations between England and Spain in the
sixteenth century. Soon after the outbreak of the war he and his wife
came to Paris, and Mrs. Tyler called on me, and said simply: "My husband
and I want to help you. How can you use us? "I was touched by the offer,
but uncertain what to say. I knew them both too little to guess at their
capacity, and above all at their staying powers. But I had begun to
suspect that intelligence is a valuable asset even in assigning lodgings
and food-tickets to refugees, and I liked the simple way in which the
offer was made. I "took on" both husband and wife, and Royall Tyler
rendered me immense help until our entry into the war enrolled him in
the United States Intelligence service; while of his wife I can only say
that she found the Acceuil a tottering house of cards, and turned it
into solid bricks and mortar. Never once did she fail me for an hour,
never did we disagree, never did her energy flag or her discernment and
promptness of action grow less through those weary years. The real
"Magic City" was that which her inexhaustible resourcefulness raised out
of our humble beginnings, and it was thanks to her that each fresh
emergency was met by new and far-seeing measures of relief, so that in
1918, when the war ended, we had, in addition to five thousand refugees
permanently cared for in Paris, and four big colonies for old people and
children, four large and well-staffed sanatoria for tuberculous women
and children. The most important of these, La Tuyolle, was handed over
in 1920 to the Department of the Seine and is still running under the
staff originally selected and trained by Mrs. Tyler; and it still has
the reputation of being one of the best sanatoria in France.

More and more funds had to be raised for our ever-growing work, and when
the ardour of our supporters began to flag Mrs. Tyler offered to go to
America and beg for more. Beg she did, valiantly and successfully,
returning with spoils beyond my hopes, and the lasting good-will of the
friends to whom I had commended her. Another effort was presently
required, and this time it fell to my lot to put together "The Book of
the Homeless," a collection of original poems, articles and drawings,
contributed by literary and artistic celebrities in Europe and America.
I appealed right and left for contributions, and met with only one
refusal--but I will not name the eminent and successful author who went
by on the other side.

"The Book of the Homeless," and the subsequent auction sale in New York
of the original manuscripts and sketches, brought us in another large
sum; but I ached with the labour of translating (in a few weeks' time)
all but one of the French and Italian contributions! I am at best a slow
worker, and with all the other tasks I had shouldered I could have cried
for weariness at the mere thought of taking up my pen; but the
overwhelming needs of the hour doubled everyone's strength, and the book
was ready on time.

I cannot end this summary of our war-labours without speaking of the
response from America which alone made it possible for me to go on with
the work. From my cousin Lewis Ledyard and his friend Payne Whitney,
whose generosity built for us the sanatorium of La Tuyolle, to the woman
doctor who sold her tiny scrap of radium because she had no other means
of helping, and the French and English servants in New York who again
and again sent us their joint savings, we met on every side with
inexhaustible encouragement and sympathy. "Edith Wharton" committees
were formed in New York, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and
Providence, and friends and strangers worked with me at a distance as
untiringly as those who were close at hand. I should like to tell them
all now that I have never forgotten what they did.


A year or two ago my friend Madame Octave Homberg, President of the
Mozart Society of Paris, brought out to dine with me one summer evening
that most magical of flute-players, Rene Leroy, and Felix Raugel, the
distinguished organizer and conductor of the Mozart Society's concerts.

Rene Leroy I knew already; Raugel was a stranger, except by reputation,
and when he entered the room I had no sense of ever having seen him
before. But he came straight up to me with beaming smile and hands
outstretched. "Madame! What an age since we last met! Do you remember?
It was in August 1915, when you rode up a mountain in the Vosges,
astride on an army mule, and suddenly appeared in the camp of the Blue
Devils [Chasseurs Alpins] on top of the Col de la Chapelotte!"

I stared at him in wonder; and as he spoke the peaceful room vanished,
and the twilight shadows of my suburban garden, and I saw myself, an
eager grotesque figure, bestriding a mule in the long tight skirts of
1915, and suddenly appearing, a prosaic Walkyrie laden with cigarettes,
in the heart of the mountain fastness held by the famous Chasseurs
Alpins, already among the legendary troops of the French army. Seeing
Felix Raugel again brought back to me with startling vividness the
scenes of my repeated journeys to the front; the scarred torn land
behind the trenches, the faces of the men who held it, the terrible and
interminable epic of France's long defence. I remembered the emotion of
my arrival at the posts I was permitted to visit, the speechless
astonishment of officers and men at the sight of a wandering woman,
their friendly greetings, the questions, the laughter, the jolly picnic
lunches around boards resting on trestles, the reluctant goodbyes, the
burden of messages to wives and mothers with which I returned to the

Early in 1915 the French Red Cross asked me to report on the needs of
some military hospitals near the front. Common prudence should have made
me refuse to beg for more money; but in those days it never occurred to
any one to evade a request of that kind. Armed with the needful permits,
and my car laden to the roof with bundles of hospital supplies, I set
out in February 1915 to inspect the fever-hospital at Chalons-sur-Marne.
What I saw there made me feel the urgency of telling my rich and
generous compatriots something of the desperate needs of the hospitals
in the war-zone, and I proposed to Monsieur Jules Cambon to make other
trips to the front, and recount my experiences in a series of magazine

Foreign correspondents were still rigorously excluded from the war-zone;
but Monsieur Cambon, after talking the matter over with General Joffre's
chief-of-staff, General Pelle, succeeded in convincing him that, even if
in my ignorance I should stumble on some important military secret,
there would be little risk of its betrayal in articles which could not
possibly be ready for publication until several months later; while the
description of what I saw might bring home to American readers some of
the dreadful realities of war. I was given leave to visit the rear of
the whole fighting line, all the way from Dunkerque to Belfort, and did
so in the course of six expeditions, some of which actually took me into
the front-line trenches; and, wishing to lose no time in publishing my
impressions, I managed to scribble the articles between my other tasks,
and they appeared in "Scribner's Magazine" in 1915, and immediately
afterwards in a volume called "Fighting France."

When the book was published it was not permissible to give too precise
details about places or people, and I have sometimes thought of bringing
out a new edition in which the gaps should be filled in with more
personal touches: such as the moment when I was received at La Panne, in
a little wind-rocked sand-girt villa, by the Queen of the Belgians, who
had summoned me to talk of the Belgian child-refugees committed to our
care; or the day when Monsieur Paul Boncour (afterward French Minister
of Foreign Affairs), in a particularly impeccable uniform, escorted me
to the first-line trenches in Alsace; or the other when Monsieur Henry
de Jouvenel (lately French Ambassador to Italy), receiving at Sainte
Menehoulde my request to go on to Verdun, at first positively refused,
and then, returning from a consultation with the General of the
division, said with a smile: "Are you the author of 'The House of
Mirth'? If you are, the General says you shall have a pass: but for
heaven's sake drive as fast as you can, for we don't want any civilians
on the road today." (It was on February 28, 1915, the day the French
re-took the heights of Vauquois, on the road to Verdun; and, as I have
related in my book, we actually witnessed the victorious assault from a
cottage garden at Clermont-en-Argonne.)

In Lorraine I was guided by an old friend, Raymond Recouly, then on the
staff of General Humbert, one of the heroes of the Marne; and it was
thanks to Recouly's disobedience of his chief's orders that we had a
risky and exciting hour at Pont-a-Mousson, then close under the German
guns, and rigorously closed to civilians. Nor, if I am giving thanks,
must I omit to record my gratitude to another friend, Jean-Louis
Vaudoyer, the well-known poet and novelist, whom I had already visited
somewhere in a shelter at the rear of the front lines, I think in
Alsace. On our return to Chalons-sur-Marne, after a second trip to
Verdun, it chanced that we found Vaudoyer on the staff of the General in
command in that region. It was a bitter winter evening when we arrived
at Chalons, where we were to spend the night before returning to Paris.
To our dismay we found the place thronged with troops, and were not
surprised to hear, on applying at the hotel of the Haute Mere Dieu, the
only one open, that there was not a single room free. We insisted, and
the landlady at last replied: "We are under military orders always to
keep two rooms at the disposal of staff-officers. If they are not
required tonight you may induce the General in command to let you have

At Headquarters, in the stately Prefecture of Chalons, we found the
great hall and monumental staircase swarming with officers, messengers
and orderlies, and in spite of our high recommendations we were told
that the rooms were not available, and that probably we should not find
one in all Chalons. The only alternative was to sleep in the motor on a
night of bitter frost (as my good chauffeur eventually did), for no
civilian car was allowed on the roads after dark, and we were prisoners
till the next day. Never shall I forget the relief of running across
Jean-Louis Vaudoyer at the very moment when we were disconsolately
leaving the Prefecture, and hearing him hurriedly whisper: "I know what
has happened, and I can lend you my little lodging for the night, for
I'm on duty here at Headquarters. You ought not to be in the streets at
this hour, but I'll give you the password. If you can manage to wake up
the landlady she'll let you in; if you can't--well," his shrug seemed to
say, "there is really nothing else that I can do for you."

We did get to the door of his lodgings unchallenged, we did rouse the
landlady without making too much noise; and oh, the sight of those
peaceful rooms, the clean sheets, the warm stove! I don't think I ever
slept as deeply and completely as that night in Vaudoyer's blessed bed.

The noting of my impressions at the front had the effect of rousing in
me an intense longing to write, at a moment when my mind was burdened
with practical responsibilities, and my soul wrung with the anguish of
the war. Even had I had the leisure to take up my story-telling I should
have had no heart for it; yet I was tormented with a fever of creation.

After two years of war we all became strangely inured to a state which
at first made intellectual detachment impossible. It would be inexact to
say that the sufferings and the suspense were less acutely felt; but the
mysterious adaptability of the human animal gradually made it possible
for war-workers at the rear, while they went on slaving at their job
with redoubled energy, to create within themselves an escape from the
surrounding horror. This was possible only to real workers, as it is
possible for a nurse on a hard case to bear the sight of the patient's
sufferings because she is doing all she can to relieve them. All the
pessimism and the lamentations came from the idlers, while those who
were labouring to the limit possessed their souls, and faced the future
with confidence.

Gradually my intellectual unrest sobered down into activity. I began to
write a short novel, "Summer," as remote as possible in setting and
subject from the scenes about me; and the work made my other tasks seem
lighter. The tale was written at a high pitch of creative joy, but amid
a thousand interruptions, and while the rest of my being was steeped in
the tragic realities of the war; yet I do not remember ever visualizing
with more intensity the inner scene, or the creatures peopling it.

Many women with whom I was in contact during the war had obviously found
their vocation in nursing the wounded, or in other philanthropic
activities. The call on their co-operation had developed unexpected
aptitudes which, in some cases, turned them forever from a life of
discontented idling, and made them into happy people. Some developed a
real genius for organization, and a passion for self-sacrifice that made
all selfish pleasures appear insipid. I cannot honestly say that I was
of the number. I was already in the clutches of an inexorable calling,
and though individual cases of distress appeal to me strongly I am
conscious of lukewarmness in regard to organized beneficence. Everything
I did during the war in the way of charitable work was forced on me by
the necessities of the hour, but always with the sense that others would
have done it far better; and my first respite came when I felt free to
return to my own work.

Such freedom was seldom to be achieved during those terrible years, and
between 1914 and 1918 I had time only for "Fighting France," "Summer," a
short tale called "The Marne," and a series of articles, "French Ways
and Their Meaning," which I was asked to write after our entry into the
war, with the idea of making France and things French more intelligible
to the American soldier. These articles appeared in a volume in 1919.

In 1917 I had my only real holiday. General Lyautey, then Resident
General in Morocco, had held since 1914, in one or another of the
Moroccan cities, an annual industrial exhibition, destined to impress
upon France's North African subjects the fact that the war she was
carrying on in no way affected her normal activities. The idea was
admirable, the result wholly successful. To these exhibitions, which
were carried out with the greatest taste and intelligence, the Resident
annually invited a certain number of guests from allied and neutral
countries. I was among those who were asked to visit the exhibition at
Rabat; and General Lyautey carried his kindness to the extent of sending
me on a three weeks' motor tour of the colony. The brief enchantment of
this journey through a country still completely untouched by foreign
travel, and almost destitute of roads and hotels, was like a burst of
sunlight between storm-clouds. I returned from it to the crushing gloom
of the last dark winter, to the night which was not to lift again until
the following September, and I had no time to set down the story of my
wonderful journey until 1920, when it appeared in a volume called "In


One evening at the end of July 1918 Royall Tyler and I were sitting in
my drawing-room in the rue de Varenne. He had been staying with me for a
few days; and I suppose that as usual we were talking of the war, though
his responsible position in our Paris Intelligence Bureau made
confidential communications impossible. At any rate, as we sat there our
talk was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a distant cannonade. We
broke off and stared at each other.

Four years of war had inured Parisians to every kind of noise connected
with air-raids, from the boom of warning maroons to the smashing roar of
the bombs. The rue de Varenne was close to the Chamber of Deputies, to
the Ministries of War and of the Interior, and to other important
government offices, and bombs had rained about us and upon us since
1914; and as we were on Big Bertha's deathly trajectory her evil roar
was also a well-known sound.

But this new noise came neither from maroon, from aeroplane nor from the
throat of the dark Walkyrie; it was the level throb of distant
artillery, a sound with which my expeditions to the front had made me
painfully familiar. And this was the first time I had heard it in Paris!
The firing along the front was often distinctly audible on the south
coast of England, and sometimes, I believe, at certain points in Surrey;
but though familiar to dwellers in the south-western suburbs of Paris,
it had never before, to my knowledge, reached the city itself. My guest
and I sprang up and rushed to a long window opening on a balcony. There
we stood and listened to that far off rumour, relentless, unbroken,
portentous; and suddenly Tyler turned to me with an illuminated face.
"It's the opening of Foch's big offensive!"

Some three months later, on a hushed November day, another unwonted
sound called me to the same balcony. The quarter I lived in was so quiet
in those days that, except for the crash of aerial battles, few sounds
disturbed it; but now I was startled to hear, at an unusual hour, the
familiar bell of our nearest church, Sainte Clotilde. I went to the
balcony, and all the household followed me. Through the deep expectant
hush we heard, one after another, the bells of Paris calling to each
other; first those of our own quarter, Saint Thomas d'Aquin, Saint Louis
des Invalides, Saint Francois Xavier, Saint Sulpice, Saint Etienne du
Mont, Saint Severin; then others, more distant, joining in from all
around the city's great periphery, from Notre Dame to the Sacre Coeur,
from the Madeleine to Saint Augustin, from Saint Louis-en-l'Ile to
Notre-Dame de Passy; at first, as it seemed, softly, questioningly,
almost incredulously; then with a gathering rush of sound and speed,
precipitately, exultantly, till all their voices met and mingled in a
crash of triumph.

We had fared so long on the thin diet of hope deferred that for a moment
or two our hearts wavered and doubted. Then, like the bells, they
swelled to bursting, and we knew the war was over.



On the 14th of July 1919 I stood on the high balcony of a friend's house
in the Champs Elysees, and saw the Allied Armies ride under the Arch of
Triumph, and down the storied avenue to the misty distance of the Place
de la Concorde and its obelisk of flame.

As I stood there, high over the surging crowds and the great procession,
the midsummer sun blinding my eyes, and the significance of that
incredible spectacle dazzling my heart, I remembered what Bergson had
once said of my inability to memorize great poetry: "You're dazzled by

Yes, I thought; I shan't remember all this except as a golden blur of
emotion. Even now I can't catch the details, I can't separate the massed
flags, or distinguish the famous generals as they ride by, or the names
of the regiments as they pass. I remember thankfully that a grand mutile
for whom I have secured a wheeled chair must have received it just in
time to join his group in the Place de la Concorde...The rest is all a
glory of shooting sun-rays reflected from shining arms and helmets, from
the flanks of glossy chargers, the dark glitter of the 'seventy-fives,
of machine-guns and tanks. But all those I had seen at the front, dusty,
dirty, mud-encrusted, blood-stained, spent and struggling on; when I try
to remember, the two visions merge into one, and my heart is broken with


The war was over, and we thought we were returning to the world we had
so abruptly passed out of four years earlier. Perhaps it was as well
that, at first, we were sustained by that illusion.

My chief feeling, I confess, was that I was tired--oh, so tired! I
wanted first of all, and beyond all, to get away from Paris, away from
streets and houses altogether and for always, into the country, or at
least the near-country of a Paris suburb. In motoring out to visit our
group of refugee colonies to the north of Paris I had sometimes passed
through a little village near Ecouen. In one of its streets stood a
quiet house which I had never noticed, but which had not escaped the
quick eye of my friend Mrs. Tyler. She stopped one day and asked the
concierge if by chance it were for sale. The answer was a foregone
conclusion: of course it was for sale. Every house in the northern
suburbs of Paris was to be bought at that darkest moment of the spring
of 1918. They had all been deserted by their owners since the last
German advance, for they were in the direct line of the approach to
Paris, and the little house in question was also on Bertha's trajectory.
But Mrs. Tyler, the next day, told me she had found just the house for
me, and we drove out to see it. The way there--now, alas, disfigured by
the growth of Paris--was through pleasant market-gardens, and acres of
pear and apple orchard. The orchards were just bursting into bloom, and
we seemed to pass through a rosy snow-storm to reach what was soon to be
my own door. I saw the house, and fell in love with it in spite of its
dirt and squalor--and before the end of the war it was mine. At last I
was to have a garden again--and a big old kitchen-garden as well,
planted with ancient pear and apple trees, espaliered and in cordon, and
an old pool full of fat old gold-fish; and silence and rest under big
trees! It was Saint Martin's summer after the long storm.

The little house has never failed me since. As soon as I was startled in
it peace and order came back into my life. At last I had leisure for the
two pursuits which never palled, writing and gardening; and through all
the years I have gone on gardening and writing. From the day when (to
the scandal of the village!) I chopped down a giant Araucaria on the
lawn, until this moment, I have never ceased to worry and pet and dress
up and smooth down my two or three acres; and when winter comes, and
rain and mud possess the Seine Valley for six months, I fly south to
another garden, as stony and soilless as my northern territory is moist
and deep with loam. But to do justice to my two gardens, or at least to
my enjoyment of them, would require not a chapter but a book; and
pending that I must pass on to the other branch of my activity.


The brief rapture that came with the cessation of war--the blissful
thought: "Now there will be no more killing!"--soon gave way to a
growing sense of the waste and loss wrought by those irreparable years.
Death and mourning darkened the houses of all my friends, and I mourned
with them, and mingled my private grief with the general sorrow. I
myself had lost a charming young cousin, Newbold Rhinelander, shot down
in an aeroplane battle in September 1917, and three dear friends. Of
these, Jean du Breuil de Saint Germain and Robert d'Humieres both fell
leading their men though in each case their age would have assured them
a safe berth as staff officers, had they been willing to accept it. The
third of my friends was a young American, Ronald Simmons, excluded from
active service by a weak heart, and appointed head of the American
Intelligence service at the important post of Marseilles. He did
admirable work there till the Spanish grippe swept over France; then his
heart gave way, and he died in three days.

But sorrows come "not single spies but in battalions," and while I was
mourning the friends killed in the war, more intimate griefs befell me.
In 1916 died Henry James, the perfect friend of so many years, and in
1920 my beloved Howard Sturgis. By the loss of these two friends, and
that of Egerton Winthrop, who died suddenly at about the same time, my
life was greatly impoverished. In recent years I had seen less of
Egerton Winthrop; but a friendship such as ours is made of many
elements, and there remained, I believe, on his side a great affection,
and on mine a gratitude which went back to the first days of what I
might call my conscious life. To the purblind creature he had found me
he had been the first to hold out a wise and tender hand; and the loss
of his wisdom and tenderness made a darkness in my life.

But with Henry James and Howard Sturgis the sorrow was present, was
poignant. They were part of my daily thoughts and plans, and my roots
were torn up with theirs. In Howard Sturgis's case a fatal illness had
declared itself, and much suffering was inevitable; so that his best
friends could only pray for the end to come quickly. Happily it did, and
he faced it with lucid serenity. It added to my grief that it was
impossible for me to go to him; not that a last meeting would have
helped either of us much, but simply because I knew he would have liked
the fact of my coming.

In Henry James's case, though he was so much older, it was harder for
his friends to resign themselves, for it seemed as though a man of his
powerful frame and unimpaired intellectual vitality ought to have lived
longer. We all knew that for years he had suffered from the evil effects
of a dangerous dietary system, called (after the name of its egregious
inventor) "Fletcherizing." The system resulted in intestinal atrophy,
and when a doctor at last persuaded him to return to a normal way of
eating he could no longer digest, and his nervous system had been
undermined by years of malnutrition. The Fletcher fad, moreover, had
bred others, as usually happens; and James's incessant preoccupation
with his health gradually led to periods of nervous depression. The
death of his brother William shook him to the soul, not only because of
their deep attachment to each other, but because Henry, following the
phases of his brother's fatal malady, had become convinced that he had
the same organic heart-disease as William. The intense disappointment
caused by his successive theatrical failures may also have had a share
in weakening his health. Mr. Leon Edel, in his suggestive essay on
James's play-writing, has made out so good a case for him as a dramatist
(if only circumstances had been more favourable) that I sometimes wonder
if I was not wrong in thinking these theatrical experiments a mistake.
James, at any rate, never thought them so. He believed himself gifted
for the drama, and, apart from the creative joy that the writing of his
plays gave him, he longed intensely, incurably, for the shouting and the
garlands so persistently refused to his great novels, and which, had he
succeeded in his theatrical venture, would have come to him in a grosser
but more substantial form. I once said that Anglo-Saxons had no notion
of what the French mean when they speak of la gloire; but in that
respect James was a Latin, and the last infirmity of noble minds was
never quite renounced by his.

His dying was slow and harrowing. The final stroke had been preceded by
one or two premonitory ones, each causing a diminution just marked
enough for the still conscious intelligence to register it, and the
sense of disintegration must have been tragically intensified to a man
like James, who had so often and deeply pondered on it, so intently
watched for its first symptoms. He is said to have told his old friend
Lady Prothero, when she saw him after the first stroke, that in the very
act of falling (he was dressing at the time) he heard in the room a
voice which was distinctly, it seemed, not his own, saying: "So here it
is at last, the distinguished thing!" The phrase is too beautifully
characteristic not to be recorded. He saw the distinguished thing
coming, faced it, and received it with words worthy of all his dealings
with life.

But what really gave him his death-blow was the war. He struggled
through two years of it, then veiled his eyes from the endless
perspective of destruction. It was the gesture of Agamemnon, covering
his face with his cloak before the unbearable.

Before James died he bore witness, in his own moving way, to the depth
of his grief. He loved England, naturally, as his home of many years, as
the scene of his greatest work, and of his dearest friendships; but he
loved America also, and the longing for a better understanding between
his native and his adopted countries possessed him more and more as the
war dragged on. His one consolation was the knowledge that Mr. Page, for
whom he had a great regard, was fighting valiantly in the same cause;
but after the "Lusitania," and the American government's supine attitude
at that time, James felt the need to make manifest by some visible,
symbolic act, his indignant sympathy with England. The only way open to
him, he thought, was to renounce his American citizenship and be
naturalized in England; and he did this. At the time I considered it a
mistake; it seemed to me rather puerile, and altogether unlike him. Not
knowing what to say I refrained from writing to him; and I regret it
now, for I think the act comforted him, and it deeply touched his old
friends in England.

I have never seen any one else who, without a private personal stake in
that awful struggle, suffered from it as he did. He had not my solace of
hard work, though he did all he had strength for, and gave all the
pecuniary help he could. But it was not enough. His devouring
imagination was never at rest, and the agony was more than he could
bear. As far as I know the only letters of mine which he kept were those
in which I described my various journeys to the front, and when these
were sent back to me after his death they were worn with much handing
about. His sensitiveness about his own physical disabilities gave him an
exaggerated idea of what his friends were able to do, and he never tired
of talking of what he regarded as their superhuman activities. But still
the black cloud hung over the world, and to him it was soon to be a
pall. Perhaps it was better so. I should have liked to have him standing
beside me the day the victorious armies rode by; but when I think of the
years intervening between his death and that brief burst of radiance I
have not the heart to wish that he had seen it. The waiting would have
been too bitter.


My spirit was heavy with these losses, but I could not sit still and
brood over them. I wanted to put them into words, and in doing so I saw
the years of the war, as I had lived them in Paris, with a new intensity
of vision, in all their fantastic heights and depths of self-devotion
and ardour, of pessimism, triviality and selfishness. A study of the
world at the rear during a long war seemed to me worth doing, and I
pondered over it till it took shape in "A Son at the Front." But before
I could settled down to this tale, before I could begin to deal
objectively with the stored-up emotions of those years, I had to get
away from the present altogether; and though I began planning and
brooding over "A Son at the Front" in 1917 it was not finished until
four years later. Meanwhile I found a momentary escape in going back to
my childish memories of a long-vanished America, and wrote "The Age of
Innocence." I showed it chapter by chapter to Walter Berry; and when he
had finished reading it he said: "Yes, it's good. But of course you and
I are the only people who will ever read it. We are the last people left
who can remember New York and Newport as they were then, and nobody else
will be interested."

I secretly agreed with him as to the chances of the book's success; but
it "had its fate," and that was--to be one of my rare best-sellers! I
still had the writing-fever on me and the next outbreak came in 1922,
when I published "The Glimpses of the Moon," a still further flight from
the last grim years, though its setting and situation were ultra-modern.
After that I settled down to "A Son at the Front"; and although I had
waited so long to begin it, the book was written in a white heat of
emotion, and may perhaps live as a picture of that strange war-world of
the rear, with its unnatural sharpness of outline and over-heightening
of colour.

After "A Son at the Front" I intended to take a long holiday--perhaps to
cease from writing altogether. It was growing more and more evident that
the world I had grown up in and been formed by had been destroyed in
1914, and I felt myself incapable of transmuting the raw material of the
after-war world into a work of art. Gardening, reading and travel seemed
the only solace left; and during the first years after the war I did a
good deal of all three.

Years earlier, the reading of Monsieur Joseph Bedier's famous book, "Les
Chansons Epiques," had roused in me a longing to follow the medieval
pilgrims across the Pyrenees to the glorious shrine of Compostela; and
after the war this desire, and the resolve to satisfy it, were
reawakened by the appearance of two new books, Kingsley Porter's
"Romanesque Sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads," and Miss Georgeana
King's "The Way of St James."

We began our pilgrimage at Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port, in the western
Pyrenees, and descended thence into Spain by Roncevaux and Jaca. We were
resolved to miss no stage of the ancient way, and from Jaca we went to
Eunate, Logrono, Estella, Puenta de la Reina and Burgos, and thence, by
way of Fromista, Carrion de los Condes and Sahagun, to Leon, and across
the Cantabrian Mountains to Oviedo. The roads in the Asturias and
Galicia were still mediaeval, and our progress was slow; but our
determination to carry out the pilgrimage to its end (or, I should
rather say, to its beginning) bore us on over interminable humps and
bumps to La Coruna, and thence to the solitary and mysterious point of
Finisterre (Nuestra Senora de Finibus Terrae), where, as readers of the
Golden Legend know, the decapitated body of St James the Greater landed
in the boat carved out of stone in which it had been reverently laid on
the distant shore of Palestine. From Finisterre, with imaginations
raised to a high pitch of expectancy, we followed the saint back, past
his halting-place at Padron, to the mighty church which enshrines him;
and on arriving at Santiago de Compostela we found that our expectations
had not been pitched high enough! Perhaps because this was the first
journey of any length which I had made since the war, every mile of the
way seemed fabulous and beautiful. But even the impression left by the
Panteon de los Reyes at Leon, and the incomparable Camara Santa of
Ovideo, faded in the radiance which streams from the singing sculptures
of the Portico de la Gloria. Yet when I returned to Compostela a few
years later, over smooth roads, and without the excitement of plunging
into the unknown, the strange grandeur of that isolated city of palaces
and monasteries, and the glory of its great church, impressed me more
deeply than ever, and I rank Compostela not far behind Rome in the
mysterious power of drawing back the traveller who has once seen it.


For years and years--ever since our first cruise in the Aegean--I had
dreamed the impossible dream of going on another. Youth had passed, and
middle age was going, in the vain cherishing of that dream, when
suddenly, unexpectedly, a stroke of literary luck made it seem that I
might repeat the adventure. In going on our first cruise we had been
reckless to the point of folly; but we were young, we were two, we were
ready to face any financial consequences. Now I was old, I was alone,
and I had learned the necessity of living within one's means. But when a
friend wrote me that he had seen at Southampton a delightful little
yacht of the same tonnage and draught as our dear old "Vanadis," my
prudence vanished like a puff of smoke, and I felt as reckless (and as
young!) as when I had first set foot on the deck of the latter, nearly
forty years earlier.

So the yacht "Osprey" was chartered, and we set out from the old Port of
Hyeres, the same from which Saint Louis, King of France, sailed forth on
his last crusade. The date was March 31 1926, the day serene and sunny,
and we were a congenial party, with lots of books, a full set of
Admiralty charts, a stock of good provisions and vins du pays in the
hold, and happiness in our hearts. From that day until we disembarked at
the same port, two months and one week later, I lived in a state of
euphoria which I suppose would seem inconceivable to most people. But I
am born happy every morning, and during that magical cruise nothing ever
seemed to occur during the day to diminish my beatitude, so that it went
on rolling up like the interest on a millionaire's capital. Now and
then, it is true, a twinge passed through me at the thought of the
reckoning; but I said to myself: "Never mind! As soon as I get home I'll
write the story of the cruise, and call it 'The Sapphire Way,' and it
will be such enchanting reading that it will immediately become a
best-seller, and pay all the expenses of the journey."

Would it have, I wonder? The book is not yet written, and probably never
will be; for I returned to fiction as soon as I got home, as I always do
when no more pressing task prevents. Yet what a charming book it would
have been--like so many that have never been written!

At any rate, the intention of doing it sent my conscience to sleep, and
I lived in unbroken bliss as we wandered from island to island, from
shore to shore, always "under a roof of blue Ionian weather," retracing
the stages of the former cruise, and seeing many new wonders which had
then been difficult to access, such as Delphi, Mistra, Cyprus and Crete.
Not the least interesting part of the adventure was the following out,
stage by stage, of our old itinerary, and noting the changes produced
either by the hand of man (as at Rhodes and the renovated islands of the
Dodecanese), or by that other Hand, always written with a capital, which
scatters earthquakes and volcanic eruptions throughout those lovely
lands as freely as man distributes his administrative changes.

At Rhodes, which I had seen in the depths of Turkish squalor and
laissez-faire, we now found a city magically restored to its ancient
beauty, without the over-doing so irresistible to most restorers; and in
the islands of the Dodecanese, taken over with Rhodes by Italy, the same
touch has given order the cleanliness even to such human rabbit-warrens
as the mediaeval citadel of Astypalaea.

A fortunate change in our travelling equipment was the substitution of
oil for coal as fuel; so that, instead of having to lose hours in
coaling, the "Osprey" glided from port to port without delay or
discomfort; and had her oil-tank been slightly larger we should not even
have had the small inconvenience of replenishing it. Even the Hand of
God fell on us lightly and as it were playfully; for we had the luck to
slip into Santorin and Crete between two earthquakes of considerable
violence, one of which occurred only a few weeks before our visit, and
the other just afterward. So it was that in Santorin's mysterious
harbour we lay close to a new lava-island still visibly edged with
subterranean fires, and at Candia, in Crete, beheld in all their plastic
perfection the glorious Minoan jars garlanded with sea-weed and
sea-monsters, the slim Prince Charming of the lilies, and the frivolous
young ladies leaning from their box above the arena to watch the young
acrobats leap from bull to bull, where, a few weeks after our visit, the
Museum floor was strewn with their shattered fragments.

But I am writing my reminiscences, and not that memorable work, "The
Sapphire Way," which, if ever it is done, will require several hundred
pages, and all the colours of Turner's palette; so I will conclude by
saying that this cruise proved to me again what the first had so fully
shown: that Kein Genuss ist vorubergehend, and that no treasure-house of
Atreus was ever as rich as a well-stored memory.


These and other wanderings have been the high lights of the last years;
when I turn from them the sky darkens. The disappearance of one dear
friend after another must always be the chief sadness of a life bound up
in a few close personal ties. Such losses seem doubly poignant in the
brave new world predicted by Aldous Huxley, and already here in its main
elements--a world in which so many sources of peace and joy are already
dried up that the few remaining have a more piercing sweetness. Saddest
of all is it, as the years pass, to see the premature ending of lives
which seemed meant to widen into usefulness and beauty. Such a life I
had hoped Geoffrey Scott's would be. Since our first meeting, more than
twenty years earlier, I had always found him a delightful comrade. I had
rejoiced, with his other friends, in the appearance of those two
well-nigh perfect books, "The Architecture of Humanism" and "The
Portrait of Zelide," so little appreciated at first beyond a small
circle of readers, so tardily discovered by the general public; yet,
accomplished as these books were, I felt in him something dispersed and
tentative, as though the balance between his creative and critical
faculties had not yet been struck. This discord ran through his whole
character, and though no one could be gayer, more flashingly responsive
to every appeal of life's ironies and beauties (and for him, as for all
subtler intelligences, the two were always interwoven), yet under this
laughing surface lay a desert of gloom and despondency--

A country where the lights are low,
And where the roads are hard to find,

as he once wrote of his own mind. Even his work, though he brought to it
such a scrupulous art, ceased to interest him as soon as he had
exteriorized the emotions producing it; and I used to tell him he was
like an over-fed squirrel, who only cared to crack every nut, and then
threw them away. But I was mistaken; he was not over-fed, but only
groping for the right nourishment.

After the war he used to stay with me for long weeks, and we made
various motor-flights together in Umbria and the North of Italy. In
1926, when he spent a month with me in the country near Paris, he was
planning a book on Benjamin Constant--and what a book it would have
been! I can imagine no subject better suited to him, and no one better
fitted to interpret that unquiet and elusive character. I took him to
the drowsy hill-village of Saint Michel-du-Tertre, where Benjamin
Constant had once lived, and to the Abbaye d'Herivaux, which he had
bought after the Revolution; but all through Geoffrey's eager enquiries,
and his keen interest in the projected work, ran the same streak of
agitation and uncertainty. He had been asked for a life of Boswell for
the English Men of Letters series, and the suggestion delighted him. But
he was reluctant to begin the book because he knew of the existence, in
private hands, of a quantity of unexplored Boswellian material, as yet
inaccessible to scholars, but which, through the friendly intervention
of Sir Edmund Gosse, he hoped one day to examine. I remember his once
saying sadly: "If I put off the Boswell in the hope of seeing those
papers, some one else will write the book instead, and every one will
say, as they always do, that I'm lazy and undecided; yet to set to work
without being able to use this new material seems hardly worthwhile.
What do you advise?"

I answered at once: "Never mind what people say. Don't do the book till
you can consult all the material available. Never do anything against
your better judgment simply to prove that you're not lazy." As far as
his own welfare was concerned, it might have been better for him to tie
himself down to any definite task, rather than drift longer on the old
sea of alternatives; but since the question was one of literary probity
it seemed impossible to hesitate.

I have never seen him more adrift, more undecided and disenchanted, than
during those weeks; and it was a relief to hear, I think that same
autumn, that the Boswell documents had been bought by an American
collector who, at Geoffrey's request, had agreed to let him examine
them. The rest of the story is known; the unforeseen importance of the
discovery, the new owner's invitation to Geoffrey to return to America
with him and edit the whole collection, and Geoffrey's immediate
acceptance. To his friends there is a certain irony in the fact that the
sensitive and imaginative art-critic and biographer, master of a perfect
prose and of a delicate lyrical gift, should have become known to the
general public only through an editorial task. The first Boswell volumes
met with unqualified praise, and Geoffrey's letters showed the steadying
effect of the welcome given to his labours. I had feared the strain, and
the long exile from Europe, in conditions scarcely made for peace of
mind; but I soon felt that he was gaining strength from the effort. His
letters were not altogether happy, but they gave no hint of uncertainty;
he was determined to carry the work through, and buoyed up by knowing
that the need to be near the British Museum must soon bring him back to

One day in London, in July 1929, I suddenly came across Geoffrey. There
was so little trace in his strong erect figure and smiling face of the
worn unquiet being I had parted from three years earlier that at first I
hardly recognized him. He had taken an unexpected holiday from his work,
and as he was not to be in England more than a fortnight he had notified
no one in advance. He told me he was to sail in two days for America,
where he intended to settle down again to a year's work, with the hope,
after that, of continuing his labours in England. We spent the afternoon
together, wandering from one picture gallery to another in happy
talk--the happiest I ever had with him. He had found his work, and
himself. The old irony, the old mockery and subtlety were there, but
tempered by a new and confident hope in the future. He felt his strength
equal to his task, and was happy with that best happiness, the sense of
mastery over one's work. We parted full of plans for the future, and the
next morning he sailed for New York--and ten days later lay there dead.

But he had felt his hand on the wheel, had guided Fortune where he
chose; and his friends, when they remember him, must think of that.


The world is a welter and has always been one; but though all the cranks
and the theorists cannot master the old floundering monster, or force it
for long into any of their neat plans of readjustment, here and there a
saint or a genius suddenly sends a little ray through the fog, and helps
humanity to stumble on, and perhaps up.

The welter is always there, and the present generation hears close
underfoot the growling of the volcano on which ours danced so long; but
in our individual lives, though the years are sad, the days have a way
of being jubilant. Life is the saddest thing there is, next to death;
yet there are always new countries to see, new books to read (and, I
hope, to write), a thousand little daily wonders to marvel at and
rejoice in, and those magical moments when the mere discovery that "the
woodspurge has a cup of three" brings not despair but delight. The
visible world is a daily miracle for those who have eyes and ears; and I
still warm my hands thankfully at the old fire, though every year it is
fed with the dry wood of more old memories.


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