Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/115

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97
His Love for Art

at the same moment, of the auburn head and eager talk of Swinburne, his cup for that day ran over. With the best of introductions to the Rome of Story, the London of Lord Houghton, the highest ambition of James was to establish "connections" of his own with a world in which everything so bristled with connections; and it is he who lets us know with what joy he found himself, on the occasion of his first visit to George Eliot, running for the doctor in her service, since thereby "a relation had been dramatically determined."

But it is only in the light of his other ruling passion that we can rightly understand the force of his passion for Europe. Even more rooted was his love for art, the art of representation. All his pilgriming in London and elsewhere was by way of collecting a fund of material to draw upon as "soon as ever one should seriously get to work." And is it surprising that he should have been impressed with the greater eligibility of the foreign material; that his impressions of New York and Boston seemed to him "negative" or "thin" or "flat" beside the corresponding impressions of London? The old world was one which had been lived in and had taken on the expressive character of places long associated with human use. It was not simply the individual object of observation, but the "cross-references"; or, again, the association of one object with another and with the past, making up altogether a "composition." Whatever person or setting caught his attention, it was always because it "would fall into a picture or a scene." Of the heroine of The American, a young French woman of rank, the hero observed that she was "a kind of historical formation." And along with his material, James found abroad a favourable air in which to do his work. There he found those stimulating contacts, there he could observe from within those movements in the world of art, which were of such prime importance for his own development. Lambert Strether, in The Ambassadors, represents the deprivations of a man of letters, strikingly suggestive in many ways of James himself, condemned to labour in the provincial darkness of "Woollett, Massachusetts."

In all this our American author seems identified with anything but the American scene; and the case is not altered when we consider his stories on the side of form. His form is not American, nor his preoccupation with form. It is as


VOL. Ill—7