Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
or
to get started!
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Preface

    • Rate it:
    • Average Rating: 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating
    • 1 Favorite on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 1
    Nothing is more easy than to state the subject of "The Ambassadors,"
    which first appeared in twelve numbers of _The North American Review_
    (1903) and was published as a whole the same year. The situation
    involved is gathered up betimes, that is in the second chapter of
    Book Fifth, for the reader's benefit, into as few words as possible--
    planted or "sunk," stiffly and saliently, in the centre of the current,
    almost perhaps to the obstruction of traffic. Never can a composition
    of this sort have sprung straighter from a dropped grain of suggestion,
    and never can that grain, developed, overgrown and smothered, have yet
    lurked more in the mass as an independent particle. The whole case,
    in fine, is in Lambert Strether's irrepressible outbreak to little Bilham
    on the Sunday afternoon in Gloriani's garden, the candour with which he
    yields, for his young friend's enlightenment, to the charming admonition
    of that crisis. The idea of the tale resides indeed in the very fact
    that an hour of such unprecedented ease should have been felt by him AS
    a crisis, and he is at pains to express it for us as neatly as we could
    desire. The remarks to which he thus gives utterance contain the essence of
    "The Ambassadors," his fingers close, before he has done, round the
    stem of the full-blown flower; which, after that fashion, he continues
    officiously to present to us. "Live all you can; it's a mistake not to.
    It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular so long as you
    have your life. If you haven't had that what HAVE you had? I'm too
    old--too old at any rate for what I see. What one loses one loses;
    make no mistake about that. Still, we have the illusion of freedom;
    therefore don't, like me to-day, be without the memory of that illusion.
    I was either, at the right time, too stupid or too intelligent to have it,
    and now I'm a case of reaction against the mistake. Do what you like
    so long as you don't make it. For it WAS a mistake. Live, live!"
    Such is the gist of Strether's appeal to the impressed youth, whom
    he likes and whom he desires to befriend; the word "mistake" occurs
    several times, it will be seen, in the course of his remarks--
    which gives the measure of the signal warning he feels attached
    to his case. He has accordingly missed too much, though perhaps
    after all constitutionally qualified for a better part, and he wakes up
    to it in conditions that press the spring of a terrible question.
    WOULD there yet perhaps be time for reparation?--reparation, that is,
    for the injury done his character; for the affront, he is quite ready to
    say, so stupidly put upon it and in which he has even himself had
    so clumsy a hand? The answer to which is that he now at all events SEES;
    so that the business of my tale and the march of my action, not to say
    the precious moral of everything, is just my demonstration of this
    process of vision.

    Nothing can exceed the closeness with which the whole fits again
    into its germ. That had been given me bodily, as usual, by the
    spoken word, for I was to take the image over exactly as I
    happened to have met it. A friend had repeated to me, with great
    appreciation, a thing or two said to him by a man of distinction,
    much his senior, and to which a sense akin to that of Strether's
    melancholy eloquence might be imputed--said as chance would have,
    and so easily might, in Paris, and in a charming old garden
    attached to a house of art, and on a Sunday afternoon of summer,
    many persons of great interest being present. The observation
    there listened to and gathered up had contained part of the "note"
    that I was to recognise on the spot as to my purpose--had contained
    in fact the greater part; the rest was in the place and the time
    and the scene they sketched: these constituents clustered
    and combined to give me further support, to give me what I may
    call the note absolute. There it stands, accordingly, full in the
    tideway; driven in, with hard taps, like some strong stake for the
    noose of a cable, the swirl of the current roundabout it. What
    amplified the hint to more than the bulk of hints in general was
    the gift with it of the old Paris garden, for in that token were
    sealed up values infinitely precious. There was of course the seal
    to break and each item of the packet to count over and handle and
    estimate; but somehow, in the light of the hint, all the elements
    of a situation of the sort most to my taste were there. I could
    even remember no occasion on which, so confronted, I had found it
    of a livelier interest to take stock, in this fashion, of
    suggested wealth. For I think, verily, that there are degrees of
    merit in subjects--in spite of the fact that to treat even one of
    the most ambiguous with due decency we must for the time, for the
    feverish and prejudiced hour, at least figure its merit and its
    dignity as POSSIBLY absolute. What it comes to, doubtless, is that
    even among the supremely good--since with such alone is it one's
    theory of one's honour to be concerned--there is an ideal BEAUTY
    of goodness the invoked action of which is to raise the artistic
    faith to its maximum. Then truly, I hold, one's theme may be said
    to shine, and that of "The Ambassadors," I confess, wore this glow
    for me from beginning to end. Fortunately thus I am able to
    estimate this as, frankly, quite the best, "all round," of all my
    productions; any failure of that justification would have made
    such an extreme of complacency publicly fatuous.

    I recall then in this connexion no moment of subjective
    intermittence, never one of those alarms as for a suspected hollow
    beneath one's feet, a felt ingratitude in the scheme adopted,
    under which confidence fails and opportunity seems but to mock.
    If the motive of "The Wings of the Dove," as I have noted, was to
    worry me at moments by a sealing-up of its face--though without
    prejudice to its again, of a sudden, fairly grimacing with
    expression--so in this other business I had absolute conviction
    and constant clearness to deal with; it had been a frank
    proposition, the whole bunch of data, installed on my premises
    like a monotony of fine weather. (The order of composition, in
    these things, I may mention, was reversed by the order of
    publication; the earlier written of the two books having appeared
    as the later.) Even under the weight of my hero's years I could
    feel my postulate firm; even under the strain of the difference
    between those of Madame de Vionnet and those of Chad Newsome, a
    difference liable to be denounced as shocking, I could still feel
    it serene. Nothing resisted, nothing betrayed, I seem to make out,
    in this full and sound sense of the matter; it shed from any side
    I could turn it to the same golden glow. I rejoiced in the promise
    of a hero so mature, who would give me thereby the more to bite
    into--since it's only into thickened motive and accumulated
    character, I think, that the painter of life bites more than a
    little. My poor friend should have accumulated character,
    certainly; or rather would be quite naturally and handsomely
    possessed of it, in the sense that he would have, and would always
    have felt he had, imagination galore, and that this yet wouldn't
    have wrecked him. It was immeasurable, the opportunity to "do" a
    man of imagination, for if THERE mightn't be a chance to "bite,"
    where in the world might it be? This personage of course, so
    enriched, wouldn't give me, for his type, imagination in
    PREDOMINANCE or as his prime faculty, nor should I, in view of
    other matters, have found that convenient. So particular a luxury
    --some occasion, that is, for study of the high gift in SUPREME
    command of a case or of a career--would still doubtless come on
    the day I should be ready to pay for it; and till then might, as
    from far back, remain hung up well in view and just out of reach.
    The comparative case meanwhile would serve--it was only on the
    minor scale that I had treated myself even to comparative cases.

    I was to hasten to add however that, happy stopgaps as the minor
    scale had thus yielded, the instance in hand should enjoy the
    advantage of the full range of the major; since most immediately
    to the point was the question of that SUPPLEMENT of situation
    logically involved in our gentleman's impulse to deliver himself
    in the Paris garden on the Sunday afternoon--or if not involved by
    strict logic then all ideally and enchantingly implied in it. (I
    say "ideally," because I need scarce mention that for development,
    for expression of its maximum, my glimmering story was, at the
    earliest stage, to have nipped the thread of connexion with the
    possibilities of the actual reported speaker. HE remains but the
    happiest of accidents; his actualities, all too definite,
    precluded any range of possibilities; it had only been his
    charming office to project upon that wide field of the artist's
    vision--which hangs there ever in place like the white sheet
    suspended for the figures of a child's magic-lantern--a more
    fantastic and more moveable shadow.) No privilege of the teller of
    tales and the handler of puppets is more delightful, or has more
    of the suspense and the thrill of a game of difficulty
    breathlessly played, than just this business of looking for the
    unseen and the occult, in a scheme half-grasped, by the light or,
    so to speak, by the clinging scent, of the gage already in hand.
    No dreadful old pursuit of the hidden slave with bloodhounds and
    the rag of association can ever, for "excitement," I judge, have
    bettered it at its best. For the dramatist always, by the very law
    of his genius, believes not only in a possible right issue from
    the rightly-conceived tight place; he does much more than this--he
    believes, irresistibly, in the necessary, the precious "tightness"
    of the place (whatever the issue) on the strength of any
    respectable hint. It being thus the respectable hint that I had
    with such avidity picked up, what would be the story to which it
    would most inevitably form the centre? It is part of the charm
    attendant on such questions that the "story," with the omens true,
    as I say, puts on from this stage the authenticity of concrete
    existence. It then is, essentially--it begins to be, though it may
    more or less obscurely lurk, so that the point is not in the least
    what to make of it, but only, very delightfully and very damnably,
    where to put one's hand on it.

    In which truth resides surely much of the interest of that
    admirable mixture for salutary application which we know as art.
    Art deals with what we see, it must first contribute full-handed
    that ingredient; it plucks its material, otherwise expressed, in
    the garden of life--which material elsewhere grown is stale and
    uneatable. But it has no sooner done this than it has to take
    account of a PROCESS--from which only when it's the basest of the
    servants of man, incurring ignominious dismissal with no
    "character," does it, and whether under some muddled pretext of
    morality or on any other, pusillanimously edge away. The process,
    that of the expression, the literal squeezing-out, of value is
    another affair--with which the happy luck of mere finding has
    little to do. The joys of finding, at this stage, are pretty well
    over; that quest of the subject as a whole by "matching," as the
    ladies say at the shops, the big piece with the snippet, having
    ended, we assume, with a capture. The subject is found, and if the
    problem is then transferred to the ground of what to do with it
    the field opens out for any amount of doing. This is precisely the
    infusion that, as I submit, completes the strong mixture. It is on
    the other hand the part of the business that can least be likened
    to the chase with horn and hound. It's all a sedentary part--
    involves as much ciphering, of sorts, as would merit the highest
    salary paid to a chief accountant. Not, however, that the chief
    accountant hasn't HIS gleams of bliss; for the felicity, or at
    least the equilibrium of the artist's state dwells less, surely,
    in the further delightful complications he can smuggle in than in
    those he succeeds in keeping out. He sows his seed at the risk of
    too thick a crop; wherefore yet again, like the gentlemen who
    audit ledgers, he must keep his head at any price. In consequence
    of all which, for the interest of the matter, I might seem here to
    have my choice of narrating my "hunt" for Lambert Strether, of
    describing the capture of the shadow projected by my friend's
    anecdote, or of reporting on the occurrences subsequent to that
    triumph. But I had probably best attempt a little to glance in
    each direction; since it comes to me again and again, over this
    licentious record, that one's bag of adventures, conceived or
    conceivable, has been only half-emptied by the mere telling of
    one's story. It depends so on what one means by that equivocal
    quantity. There is the story of one's hero, and then, thanks to
    the intimate connexion of things, the story of one's story itself.
    I blush to confess it, but if one's a dramatist one's a dramatist,
    and the latter imbroglio is liable on occasion to strike me as
    really the more objective of the two.

    The philosophy imputed to him in that beautiful outbreak, the hour
    there, amid such happy provision, striking for him, would have
    been then, on behalf of my man of imagination, to be logically
    and, as the artless craft of comedy has it, "led up" to; the
    probable course to such a goal, the goal of so conscious a
    predicament, would have in short to be finely calculated. Where
    has he come from and why has he come, what is he doing (as we
    Anglo-Saxons, and we only, say, in our foredoomed clutch of exotic
    aids to expression) in that galere? To answer these questions
    plausibly, to answer them as under cross-examination in the
    witness-box by counsel for the prosecution, in other words
    satisfactorily to account for Strether and for his "peculiar
    tone," was to possess myself of the entire fabric. At the same
    time the clue to its whereabouts would lie in a certain principle
    of probability: he wouldn't have indulged in his peculiar tone
    without a reason; it would take a felt predicament or a false
    position to give him so ironic an accent. One hadn't been noting
    "tones" all one's life without recognising when one heard it the
    voice of the false position. The dear man in the Paris garden was
    then admirably and unmistakeably IN one--which was no small point
    gained; what next accordingly concerned us was the determination
    of THIS identity. One could only go by probabilities, but there
    was the advantage that the most general of the probabilities were
    virtual certainties. Possessed of our friend's nationality, to
    start with, there was a general probability in his narrower
    localism; which, for that matter, one had really but to keep under
    the lens for an hour to see it give up its secrets. He would have
    issued, our rueful worthy, from the very heart of New England--at
    the heels of which matter of course a perfect train of secrets
    tumbled for me into the light. They had to be sifted and sorted,
    and I shall not reproduce the detail of that process; but
    unmistakeably they were all there, and it was but a question,
    auspiciously, of picking among them. What the "position" would
    infallibly be, and why, on his hands, it had turned "false"--these
    inductive steps could only be as rapid as they were distinct. I
    accounted for everything--and "everything" had by this time become
    the most promising quantity--by the view that he had come to Paris
    in some state of mind which was literally undergoing, as a result
    of new and unexpected assaults and infusions, a change almost from
    hour to hour. He had come with a view that might have been figured
    by a clear green liquid, say, in a neat glass phial; and the
    liquid, once poured into the open cup of APPLICATION, once exposed
    to the action of another air, had begun to turn from green to red,
    or whatever, and might, for all he knew, be on its way to purple,
    to black, to yellow. At the still wilder extremes represented
    perhaps, for all he could say to the contrary, by a variability so
    violent, he would at first, naturally, but have gazed in surprise
    and alarm; whereby the SITUATION clearly would spring from the
    play of wildness and the development of extremes. I saw in a
    moment that, should this development proceed both with force and
    logic, my "story" would leave nothing to be desired. There is
    always, of course, for the story-teller, the irresistible
    determinant and the incalculable advantage of his interest in the
    story AS SUCH; it is ever, obviously, overwhelmingly, the prime
    and precious thing (as other than this I have never been able to
    see it); as to which what makes for it, with whatever headlong
    energy, may be said to pale before the energy with which it simply
    makes for itself. It rejoices, none the less, at its best, to seem
    to offer itself in a light, to seem to know, and with the very
    last knowledge, what it's about--liable as it yet is at moments to
    be caught by us with its tongue in its cheek and absolutely no
    warrant but its splendid impudence. Let us grant then that the
    impudence is always there--there, so to speak, for grace and
    effect and ALLURE; there, above all, because the Story is just the
    spoiled child of art, and because, as we are always disappointed
    when the pampered don't "play up," we like it, to that extent, to
    look all its character. It probably does so, in truth, even when
    we most flatter ourselves that we negotiate with it by treaty.

    All of which, again, is but to say that the STEPS, for my fable,
    placed themselves with a prompt and, as it were, functional
    assurance--an air quite as of readiness to have dispensed with
    logic had I been in fact too stupid for my clue. Never,
    positively, none the less, as the links multiplied, had I felt
    less stupid than for the determination of poor Strether's errand
    and for the apprehension of his issue. These things continued to
    fall together, as by the neat action of their own weight and form,
    even while their commentator scratched his head about them; he
    easily sees now that they were always well in advance of him. As
    the case completed itself he had in fact, from a good way behind,
    to catch up with them, breathless and a little flurried, as he
    best could. THE false position, for our belated man of the world--
    belated because he had endeavoured so long to escape being one,
    and now at last had really to face his doom--the false position
    for him, I say, was obviously to have presented himself at the
    gate of that boundless menagerie primed with a moral scheme of the
    most approved pattern which was yet framed to break down on any
    approach to vivid facts; that is to any at all liberal
    appreciation of them. There would have been of course the case of
    the Strether prepared, wherever presenting himself, only to judge
    and to feel meanly; but HE would have moved for me, I confess,
    enveloped in no legend whatever. The actual man's note, from the
    first of our seeing it struck, is the note of discrimination, just
    as his drama is to become, under stress, the drama of
    discrimination. It would have been his blest imagination, we have
    seen, that had already helped him to discriminate; the element
    that was for so much of the pleasure of my cutting thick, as I
    have intimated, into his intellectual, into his moral substance.
    Yet here it was, at the same time, just here, that a shade for a
    moment fell across the scene.

    There was the dreadful little old tradition, one of the platitudes
    of the human comedy, that people's moral scheme DOES break down in
    Paris; that nothing is more frequently observed; that hundreds of
    thousands of more or less hypocritical or more or less cynical
    persons annually visit the place for the sake of the probable
    catastrophe, and that I came late in the day to work myself up
    about it. There was in fine the TRIVIAL association, one of the
    vulgarest in the world; but which give me pause no longer, I
    think, simply because its vulgarity is so advertised. The
    revolution performed by Strether under the influence of the most
    interesting of great cities was to have nothing to do with any
    betise of the imputably "tempted" state; he was to be thrown
    forward, rather, thrown quite with violence, upon his lifelong
    trick of intense reflexion: which friendly test indeed was to
    bring him out, through winding passages, through alternations of
    darkness and light, very much IN Paris, but with the surrounding
    scene itself a minor matter, a mere symbol for more things than
    had been dreamt of in the philosophy of Woollett. Another
    surrounding scene would have done as well for our show could it
    have represented a place in which Strether's errand was likely to
    lie and his crisis to await him. The LIKELY place had the great
    merit of sparing me preparations; there would have been too many
    involved--not at all impossibilities, only rather worrying and
    delaying difficulties--in positing elsewhere Chad Newsome's
    interesting relation, his so interesting complexity of relations.
    Strether's appointed stage, in fine, could be but Chad's most
    luckily selected one. The young man had gone in, as they say, for
    circumjacent charm; and where he would have found it, by the turn
    of his mind, most "authentic," was where his earnest friend's analysis
    would most find HIM; as well as where, for that matter, the former's
    whole analytic faculty would be led such a wonderful dance.

    "The Ambassadors" had been, all conveniently, "arranged for"; its
    first appearance was from month to month, in the _North American
    Review_ during 1903, and I had been open from far back to any
    pleasant provocation for ingenuity that might reside in one's
    actively adopting--so as to make it, in its way, a small compositional
    law--recurrent breaks and resumptions. I had made up my mind here
    regularly to exploit and enjoy these often rather rude jolts--
    having found, as I believed an admirable way to it; yet every question
    of form and pressure, I easily remember, paled in the light of the
    major propriety, recognised as soon as really weighed; that of
    employing but one centre and keeping it all within my hero's compass.
    The thing was to be so much this worthy's intimate adventure that
    even the projection of his consciousness upon it from beginning to end
    without intermission or deviation would probably still leave a part of
    its value for him, and a fortiori for ourselves, unexpressed.
    I might, however, express every grain of it that there would be
    room for--on condition of contriving a splendid particular economy.
    Other persons in no small number were to people the scene, and each
    with his or her axe to grind, his or her situation to treat, his or her
    coherency not to fail of, his or her relation to my leading motive,
    in a word, to establish and carry on. But Strether's sense of these
    things, and Strether's only, should avail me for showing them;
    I should know them but through his more or less groping knowledge
    of them, since his very gropings would figure among his most interesting
    motions, and a full observance of the rich rigour I speak of would
    give me more of the effect I should be most "after" than all other
    possible observances together. It would give me a large unity,
    and that in turn would crown me with the grace to which the
    enlightened story-teller will at any time, for his interest,
    sacrifice if need be all other graces whatever. I refer of course
    to the grace of intensity, which there are ways of signally achieving
    and ways of signally missing--as we see it, all round us, helplessly
    and woefully missed. Not that it isn't, on the other hand, a virtue
    eminently subject to appreciation--there being no strict, no absolute
    measure of it; so that one may hear it acclaimed where it has quite
    escaped one's perception, and see it unnoticed where one has gratefully
    hailed it. After all of which I am not sure, either, that the immense
    amusement of the whole cluster of difficulties so arrayed may not operate,
    for the fond fabulist, when judicious not less than fond, as his best of
    determinants. That charming principle is always there, at all events,
    to keep interest fresh: it is a principle, we remember, essentially
    ravenous, without scruple and without mercy, appeased with no cheap
    nor easy nourishment. It enjoys the costly sacrifice and rejoices
    thereby in the very odour of difficulty--even as ogres, with their
    "Fee-faw-fum!" rejoice in the smell of the blood of Englishmen.

    Thus it was, at all events, that the ultimate, though after all so
    speedy, definition of my gentleman's job--his coming out, all
    solemnly appointed and deputed, to "save" Chad, and his then
    finding the young man so disobligingly and, at first, so
    bewilderingly not lost that a new issue altogether, in the
    connexion, prodigiously faces them, which has to be dealt with in
    a new light--promised as many calls on ingenuity and on the higher
    branches of the compositional art as one could possibly desire.
    Again and yet again, as, from book to book, I proceed with my
    survey, I find no source of interest equal to this verification
    after the fact, as I may call it, and the more in detail the
    better, of the scheme of consistency "gone in" for. As always--
    since the charm never fails--the retracing of the process from
    point to point brings back the old illusion. The old intentions
    bloom again and flower--in spite of all the blossoms they were to
    have dropped by the way. This is the charm, as I say, of adventure
    TRANSPOSED--the thrilling ups and downs, the intricate ins and
    outs of the compositional problem, made after such a fashion
    admirably objective, becoming the question at issue and keeping
    the author's heart in his mouth. Such an element, for instance, as
    his intention that Mrs. Newsome, away off with her finger on the
    pulse of Massachusetts, should yet be no less intensely than
    circuitously present through the whole thing, should be no less
    felt as to be reckoned with than the most direct exhibition, the
    finest portrayal at first hand could make her, such a sign of
    artistic good faith, I say, once it's unmistakeably there, takes
    on again an actuality not too much impaired by the comparative
    dimness of the particular success. Cherished intention too
    inevitably acts and operates, in the book, about fifty times as
    little as I had fondly dreamt it might; but that scarce spoils for
    me the pleasure of recognising the fifty ways in which I had
    sought to provide for it. The mere charm of seeing such an idea
    constituent, in its degree; the fineness of the measures taken--a
    real extension, if successful, of the very terms and possibilities
    of representation and figuration--such things alone were, after
    this fashion, inspiring, such things alone were a gage of the
    probable success of that dissimulated calculation with which the
    whole effort was to square. But oh the cares begotten, none the
    less, of that same "judicious" sacrifice to a particular form of
    interest! One's work should have composition, because composition
    alone is positive beauty; but all the while--apart from one's
    inevitable consciousness too of the dire paucity of readers ever
    recognising or ever missing positive beauty--how, as to the cheap
    and easy, at every turn, how, as to immediacy and facility, and
    even as to the commoner vivacity, positive beauty might have to be
    sweated for and paid for! Once achieved and installed it may
    always be trusted to make the poor seeker feel he would have
    blushed to the roots of his hair for failing of it; yet, how, as
    its virtue can be essentially but the virtue of the whole, the
    wayside traps set in the interest of muddlement and pleading but
    the cause of the moment, of the particular bit in itself, have to
    be kicked out of the path! All the sophistications in life, for
    example, might have appeared to muster on behalf of the menace--
    the menace to a bright variety--involved in Strether's having all
    the subjective "say," as it were, to himself.

    Had I, meanwhile, made him at once hero and historian, endowed him
    with the romantic privilege of the "first person"--the darkest
    abyss of romance this, inveterately, when enjoyed on the grand
    scale--variety, and many other queer matters as well, might have
    been smuggled in by a back door. Suffice it, to be brief, that the
    first person, in the long piece, is a form foredoomed to looseness
    and that looseness, never much my affair, had never been so little
    so as on this particular occasion. All of which reflexions flocked
    to the standard from the moment--a very early one--the question of
    how to keep my form amusing while sticking so close to my central
    figure and constantly taking its pattern from him had to be faced.
    He arrives (arrives at Chester) as for the dreadful purpose of
    giving his creator "no end" to tell about him--before which
    rigorous mission the serenest of creators might well have quailed.
    I was far from the serenest; I was more than agitated enough to
    reflect that, grimly deprived of one alternative or one substitute
    for "telling," I must address myself tooth and nail to another. I
    couldn't, save by implication, make other persons tell EACH OTHER
    about him--blest resource, blest necessity, of the drama, which
    reaches its effects of unity, all remarkably, by paths absolutely
    opposite to the paths of the novel: with other persons, save as
    they were primarily HIS persons (not he primarily but one of
    theirs), I had simply nothing to do. I had relations for him none
    the less, by the mercy of Providence, quite as much as if my
    exhibition was to be a muddle; if I could only by implication and
    a show of consequence make other persons tell each other about
    him, I could at least make him tell THEM whatever in the world he
    must; and could so, by the same token--which was a further luxury
    thrown in--see straight into the deep differences between what
    that could do for me, or at all events for HIM, and the large ease
    of "autobiography." It may be asked why, if one so keeps to one's
    hero, one shouldn't make a single mouthful of "method," shouldn't
    throw the reins on his neck and, letting them flap there as free
    as in "Gil Blas" or in "David Copperfield," equip him with the
    double privilege of subject and object--a course that has at
    least the merit of brushing away questions at a sweep. The answer
    to which is, I think, that one makes that surrender only if one is
    prepared NOT to make certain precious discriminations.

    The "first person" then, so employed, is addressed by the author
    directly to ourselves, his possible readers, whom he has to reckon
    with, at the best, by our English tradition, so loosely and
    vaguely after all, so little respectfully, on so scant a
    presumption of exposure to criticism. Strether, on the other hand,
    encaged and provided for as "The Ambassadors" encages and
    provides, has to keep in view proprieties much stiffer and more
    salutary than any our straight and credulous gape are likely to
    bring home to him, has exhibitional conditions to meet, in a word,
    that forbid the terrible FLUIDITY of self-revelation. I may seem
    not to better the case for my discrimination if I say that, for my
    first care, I had thus inevitably to set him up a confidant or
    two, to wave away with energy the custom of the seated mass of
    explanation after the fact, the inserted block of merely
    referential narrative, which flourishes so, to the shame of the
    modern impatience, on the serried page of Balzac, but which seems
    simply to appal our actual, our general weaker, digestion.
    "Harking back to make up" took at any rate more doing, as the
    phrase is, not only than the reader of to-day demands, but than he
    will tolerate at any price any call upon him either to understand
    or remotely to measure; and for the beauty of the thing when done
    the current editorial mind in particular appears wholly without
    sense. It is not, however, primarily for either of these reasons,
    whatever their weight, that Strether's friend Waymarsh is so
    keenly clutched at, on the threshold of the book, or that no less
    a pounce is made on Maria Gostrey--without even the pretext,
    either, of HER being, in essence, Strether's friend. She is the
    reader's friend much rather--in consequence of dispositions that
    make him so eminently require one; and she acts in that capacity,
    and REALLY in that capacity alone, with exemplary devotion from
    beginning to and of the book. She is an enrolled, a direct, aid to
    lucidity; she is in fine, to tear off her mask, the most
    unmitigated and abandoned of ficelles. Half the dramatist's art,
    as we well know--since if we don't it's not the fault of the
    proofs that lie scattered about us--is in the use of ficelles; by
    which I mean in a deep dissimulation of his dependence on them.
    Waymarsh only to a slighter degree belongs, in the whole business,
    less to my subject than to my treatment of it; the interesting
    proof, in these connexions, being that one has but to take one's
    subject for the stuff of drama to interweave with enthusiasm as
    many Gostreys as need be.

    The material of "The Ambassadors," conforming in this respect
    exactly to that of "The Wings of the Dove," published just before
    it, is taken absolutely for the stuff of drama; so that, availing
    myself of the opportunity given me by this edition for some
    prefatory remarks on the latter work, I had mainly to make on its
    behalf the point of its scenic consistency. It disguises that
    virtue, in the oddest way in the world, by just LOOKING, as we
    turn its pages, as little scenic as possible; but it sharply
    divides itself, just as the composition before us does, into the
    parts that prepare, that tend in fact to over-prepare, for scenes,
    and the parts, or otherwise into the scenes, that justify and
    crown the preparation. It may definitely be said, I think, that
    everything in it that is not scene (not, I of course mean,
    complete and functional scene, treating ALL the submitted matter,
    as by logical start, logical turn, and logical finish) is
    discriminated preparation, is the fusion and synthesis of picture.
    These alternations propose themselves all recogniseably, I think,
    from an early stage, as the very form and figure of "The
    Ambassadors"; so that, to repeat, such an agent as Miss Gostrey
    pre-engaged at a high salary, but waits in the draughty wing with
    her shawl and her smelling-salts. Her function speaks at once for
    itself, and by the time she has dined with Strether in London and
    gone to a play with him her intervention as a ficelle is, I hold,
    expertly justified. Thanks to it we have treated scenically, and
    scenically alone, the whole lumpish question of Strether's "past,"
    which has seen us more happily on the way than anything else could
    have done; we have strained to a high lucidity and vivacity (or at
    least we hope we have) certain indispensable facts; we have seen
    our two or three immediate friends all conveniently and profitably
    in "action"; to say nothing of our beginning to descry others, of
    a remoter intensity, getting into motion, even if a bit vaguely as
    yet, for our further enrichment. Let my first point be here that
    the scene in question, that in which the whole situation at
    Woollett and the complex forces that have propelled my hero to
    where this lively extractor of his value and distiller of his
    essence awaits him, is normal and entire, is really an excellent
    STANDARD scene; copious, comprehensive, and accordingly never
    short, but with its office as definite as that of the hammer on
    the gong of the clock, the office of expressing ALL THAT IS IN the
    hour.

    The "ficelle" character of the subordinate party is as artfully
    dissimulated, throughout, as may be, and to that extent that, with
    the seams or joints of Maria Gostrey's ostensible connectedness
    taken particular care of, duly smoothed over, that is, and
    anxiously kept from showing as "pieced on;" this figure doubtless
    achieves, after a fashion, something of the dignity of a prime
    idea: which circumstance but shows us afresh how many quite
    incalculable but none the less clear sources of enjoyment for the
    infatuated artist, how many copious springs of our never-to-be-slighted
    "fun" for the reader and critic susceptible of contagion, may
    sound their incidental plash as soon as an artistic process begins
    to enjoy free development. Exquisite--in illustration of this--
    the mere interest and amusement of such at once "creative" and
    critical questions as how and where and why to make Miss Gostrey's
    false connexion carry itself, under a due high polish, as a real one.
    Nowhere is it more of an artful expedient for mere consistency
    of form, to mention a case, than in the last "scene" of the book,
    where its function is to give or to add nothing whatever,
    but only to express as vividly as possible certain things quite
    other than itself and that are of the already fixed and appointed
    measure. Since, however, all art is EXPRESSION, and is thereby
    vividness, one was to find the door open here to any amount of
    delightful dissimulation. These verily are the refinements and
    ecstasies of method--amid which, or certainly under the influence
    of any exhilarated demonstration of which, one must keep one's head
    and not lose one's way. To cultivate an adequate intelligence
    for them and to make that sense operative is positively to find
    a charm in any produced ambiguity of appearance that is not
    by the same stroke, and all helplessly, an ambiguity of sense.
    To project imaginatively, for my hero, a relation that has
    nothing to do with the matter (the matter of my subject) but has
    everything to do with the manner (the manner of my presentation
    of the same) and yet to treat it, at close quarters and for fully
    economic expression's possible sake, as if it were important and
    essential--to do that sort of thing and yet muddle nothing may
    easily become, as one goes, a signally attaching proposition;
    even though it all remains but part and parcel, I hasten to
    recognise, of the merely general and related question of expressional
    curiosity and expressional decency.

    I am moved to add after so much insistence on the scenic side of
    my labour that I have found the steps of re-perusal almost as much
    waylaid here by quite another style of effort in the same signal
    interest--or have in other words not failed to note how, even so
    associated and so discriminated, the finest proprieties and charms
    of the non-scenic may, under the right hand for them, still keep
    their intelligibility and assert their office. Infinitely
    suggestive such an observation as this last on the whole
    delightful head, where representation is concerned, of possible
    variety, of effective expressional change and contrast. One would
    like, at such an hour as this, for critical licence, to go into
    the matter of the noted inevitable deviation (from too fond an
    original vision) that the exquisite treachery even of the
    straightest execution may ever be trusted to inflict even on the
    most mature plan--the case being that, though one's last
    reconsidered production always seems to bristle with that
    particular evidence, "The Ambassadors" would place a flood of such
    light at my service. I must attach to my final remark here a
    different import; noting in the other connexion I just glanced at
    that such passages as that of my hero's first encounter with Chad
    Newsome, absolute attestations of the non-scenic form though they
    be, yet lay the firmest hand too--so far at least as intention
    goes--on representational effect. To report at all closely and
    completely of what "passes" on a given occasion is inevitably to
    become more or less scenic; and yet in the instance I allude to,
    WITH the conveyance, expressional curiosity and expressional
    decency are sought and arrived at under quite another law. The
    true inwardness of this may be at bottom but that one of the
    suffered treacheries has consisted precisely, for Chad's whole
    figure and presence, of a direct presentability diminished and
    compromised--despoiled, that is, of its PROPORTIONAL advantage;
    so that, in a word, the whole economy of his author's relation
    to him has at important points to be redetermined. The book,
    however, critically viewed, is touchingly full of these disguised
    and repaired losses, these insidious recoveries, these intensely
    redemptive consistencies. The pages in which Mamie Pocock gives
    her appointed and, I can't but think, duly felt lift to the whole
    action by the so inscrutably-applied side-stroke or short-cut of
    our just watching and as quite at an angle of vision as yet
    untried, her single hour of suspense in the hotel salon, in our
    partaking of her concentrated study of the sense of matters
    bearing on her own case, all the bright warm Paris afternoon, from
    the balcony that overlooks the Tuileries garden--these are as
    marked an example of the representational virtue that insists here
    and there on being, for the charm of opposition and renewal, other
    than the scenic. It wouldn't take much to make me further argue
    that from an equal play of such oppositions the book gathers an
    intensity that fairly adds to the dramatic--though the latter is
    supposed to be the sum of all intensities; or that has at any rate
    nothing to fear from juxtaposition with it. I consciously fail to
    shrink in fact from that extravagance--I risk it rather, for the
    sake of the moral involved; which is not that the particular
    production before us exhausts the interesting questions it raises,
    but that the Novel remains still, under the right persuasion, the
    most independent, most elastic, most prodigious of literary forms.

    HENRY JAMES.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 1
    If you're writing a Henry James essay and need some advice, post your Henry James essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?