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Henry James, Himself
by [?]

We have now to record an extraordinary adventure. Our later education was derived in some considerable measure from the writings of Mr. Henry James. This to explain our emotion. We had never expected to behold himself, the illustrious expatriate who had so far enlightened an unkempt mind. But the night before we had been talking of him. Indeed, it is impossible for us to fail to perceive here something of the supernatural.

But hold! “William Edwards,” says a newspaper notice, “who used to drive a post stage between New York and Albany, died on Saturday at his home. He was born in Albany,” and so and so, “and many were the stories he had to tell of incidents connected with the famous men who were his passengers.” Even so. We were ourselves a clerk. That is, for a number of years we waited on customers in a celebrated book shop. This is one of the stories we have to tell of the personages who were, so to say, our passengers. Or perhaps we are more in the nature of those unscrupulous English footmen to high society, of whom we have heard, who “sell out” their observation and information to the society press.

Anyhow, we are of a loquacious, gossipy turn; and we were booksellers, so to speak, to crowned heads. We have recently heard, too, of another precedent to our garrulous performance, the publication in Rome of the memoirs of an old waiter, who carefully set down the relative liberality of prominent persons whom he served. After having served Cardinals Rampolla and Merry del Val, this excellent memoirist entered opposite their names, “Both no good.” With this we drop the defensive.

We noticed Mr. Wharton sitting down, legs crossed, smoking a cigar. Awaiting, we presumed, his wife. A not unpicturesque figure, tall, rather dashing in effect, ruddy visage, dragoon moustache, and habited in a light, smartly-cut sack suit of rather arresting checks, conspicuous grey spats; a gentleman manifesting no interest whatever in his surroundings.

Mr. Brownell, the critic, entered through the front door and moved to the elevator.

There stepped from the elevator car a somewhat portly little man who joined Mr. Wharton. He wore a rather queer looking, very big derby hat, oddly flat on top. His shoulders were hooped up somewhat like the figure of Joseph Choate. A rather funny, square, box-like body on little legs. An English look to his clothes. Under his arm an odd-looking club of a walking-stick. Mr. Brownell turned quickly to this rather amusing though not undistinguished figure, and said, “Mr. James–Brownell.” The quaint gentleman took off his big hat, discovering to our intent curiosity a polished bald dome, and began instantly to talk, very earnestly, steadily, in a moderately pitched voice, gesticulating with an even rhythmic beat with his right hand, raised close to his face.

Joined presently by Mrs. Wharton, the party, bidding Mr. Brownell adieu, took a somewhat humorous departure (we felt) from the shop; Mr. James, with some suddenness, preceding out the door. Moving nimbly up the Avenue, he was overhauled by Mrs. Wharton under full sail, who attached herself to his arm. Her husband by an energetic forward play around the end achieved her other wing. In this formation, sticks flashing, skirt whipping, with a somewhat spirited mien, the august spectacle receded from our rapt view, to be at length obliterated as a unit by the general human scene.

We saw Mr. James after this a number of times. Accompanied again by Mrs. Wharton, and later in the charge (such was the effect) of another lady, who, we understood, drives regularly to her social chariot literary lions. In something like six years’ observation of the human being in a book shop, we have never seen any person so thoroughly in a book store, a magazine, that is, of books, as Mr. James. One can be, you know–it is most common, indeed–in a book store and at the same time not be in a book store–any more than if one were in a hotel lobby. Mr. James “snooked” around the shop. He ran his nose over the tables, and inch by inch (he must be very shortsighted) along the walls, stood on tiptoe and pulled down volumes from high places, rummaged in dark corners, was apparently oblivious of the presence of anything but the books. He was not the slightest in a hurry. He would have been, we felt, content and quite happy, like a child with blocks, to play this way by himself all day.