Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/126

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108
Henry James

ments with so many qualifications and reservations: impulses giving rise to sentences more curiously complex and of longer breath than were ever penned by writers of like pith and moment. They were both of them averse to that raising of the voice, that vehement or emphatic manner, characteristic of the earlier Victorians and supposed to be associated with strong feelings and firm principles. These reasonable and well-bred writers, if they ever had strong feelings or firm principles, could be trusted to dissimulate them under a tone of quiet urbanity. They abhorred abrupt transitions and violent attitudes. They proceed ever in their discourse smoothly and without marked inflection, softly, as among tea-tables, or like persons with weak hearts who must guard themselves against excitement. There is a kind of hieratic gentleness and fastidiousness,—and yet withal a hint of breathless awe, of restrained enthusiasm,—in the manner in which they celebrate the mysteries of their religion of culture, their religion of art.

This, we say of James, is anything but American, indigenous; this is the Zeitgeist; this is the spirit of England in the "aesthetic nineties" reacting against the spirit of England in the time of Carlyle. But then we think of the "passionate pilgrimage" of Isabel Archer and the others; we think of James's Middle Years; we think, it may be, of ourselves and eastward prostrations of our own. And we realize that what the romancer has conjured up is a world not strange to our experience. His genius is not the less American for presenting us, before all things, this vision of a bride rushing into the arms of her bridegroom: vision of the mystic marriage (shall we say?) of new-world faith and old-world culture.