The End of the Correspondence


H'ry returned to Lamb House, and he and Wm and wife Alice all promptly left for Chocorua.  Wm died shortly after they arrived, H'ry lived another five years.  No further letters were exchanged, and Wm's collected letters weren't first published until 1920.

The brothers' complete correspondence, from which this blog draws, was not published in full until 1994.


H'ry to Wm, Aug. 7, 1910. Age: 67

H'ry's final letter, written from London and delivered to Wm at Lamb House, hopes the garden will offer something of a cure:

"Today has all the promise of beauty...& I devoutly hope you wil have profited by [it] in the garden, to the blessed confirmation of your so improved nights."

Wm died three weeks later, at his home in Chocorua, NH, his brother by his side.

The rose garden at Lamb House


H'ry to Wm, Aug. 7, 1910. Age: 67

H'ry writes the last letter of the correspondence from the Reform Club in London.  Even others are aware now that Wm has begun a descent:

"I dined last p.m. with 'Minnie' Jones & [Edith Wharton] at Symonds, where, by the way, the litte manageress & the ruddy headwaiter were eager with inquiries for your health."

Edith Wharton and Mary Cadwalader Jones, many years earlier:


H'ry to Wm, June 5, 1910. Age: 67

Even before it was apparent that Wm's condition had turned, for the last time, for the worse, H'ry has decided to leave Lamb House and return to America with his brother, so as to pursue "salvation":

"I unspeakably long to see you -- & to make a long, long break with this place.  There is no 'enjoying' of it now -- I so want not to be in it.  I am in a funk about our journey, but such feelings will yield to courage & to braving it."

They sailed home together aboard the Empress of Britain.

The Empress of Britain

Empress of Britain, interior


Wm to H'ry, June 2, 1910. Age: 68

A good number of Wm's final weeks were spent alone in rooms at the Hotel Hohenzollern in Nauheim:

"My own change of lodging has been good.  I find the table very suited to my case, and tho my life is more respectable and lonely than it was, the weeks slip away."

This is Wm's final letter to his brother.

Hotel Hohenzollern, Nauheim


H'ry to Wm, May 31, 1910. Age: 67

H'ry writes from Hill Hall, which put him on a new regime of food and movement:

"I am very definitely better, & 18 days of this place have done it.  The great difference is that the change of cuisine & conditions has put me on steady feeding -- that steady feeding has made it possible to walk, & that walking (the very most possible -- with movement, & not long sits & lyings, but doing things, generally) tends to mitigate -- dissipate, rather -- my 'apprehension,' trepidations, and general nervousness, & so essentially alter my state."

Hill Hall, Theydon Bois, Epping


Wm to H'ry, May 28, 1910. Age: 68

On arriving in England, Wm made directly for Nauheim -- the passage had laid him low -- and wife Alice went to tend to H'ry, who was on the mend.  Wm now has a diagnosis of the ailment that will kill him:

"It's a comfort to me to have a definite diagnosis of aortic enlargement to explain my symptoms by, and banish the reproach of 'mere nervousness' by which I myself, no less than others, had been fain to treat the case....The baths here can't cure the condition, but can 'adapt' the heart to meet it better."


H'ry to Wm, April 4, 1910. Age: 66

Wm has booked passage aboard the Megantic, ostensibly to save his brother from his stomach.  For his part, H'ry is more pleased that Wm's wife is coming too:

"The news of Alice's coming is a boundless blessing -- though your won't find me, alas, in any state to boast of.  But an immense change for the better will come, I feel, with your advent -- that will be my cure."

The Megantic.
By comparison, cruise ships today have broken the 200,000 ton barrier.


H'ry to Wm, March 4, 1910. Age: 66

The last bit in the correspondence containing what might be called H'ry's emetic honesty re: his stomach:

"It is still the same simple, vicious abominable thing: the refusal of my stomach to act -- toward anything but the briefest revivals & the most miserable returning sicknesses.  I don't vomit -- but I wish I could;  am deadly sick without it."


Wm to H'ry, Feb. 18, 1910. Age: 68

H'ry's Fletcherism bane -- which amounted to his almost starving himself -- is for Wm a philosophical reminder that subjectivity can't be trusted for everything:

"Starvation in you had evidently thrown the alimentary function quite out of gear.  I find myself asking if you still had kept corpulent thruout the ordeal?  It is discouragingly mysterious, and shows, I think that one's subjective feelings, appetite, etc, are not altogether trustworthy guides."


H'ry to Wm, Feb. 8, 1910. Age: 66

After a period of renewed faith in "Fletcherism," H'ry prefaces a long description of his latest woes:

"It has been, frankly & briefly, the last rude reminder of the heritage of woe of too prolonged & too-consistent Fletcherism -- a final & conclusive (I trust) debt of suffering to that fond excess to be paid off."

Wm would in his next letter describe H'ry's symptoms as identical to those of starvation.


Wm to H'ry, Feb. 4, 1910. Age: 68

"It seems queer that our indications should be so opposed to each other!"

Wm refers to the fact that his heart feels at peace while H'ry is suffering -- but he's right, Wm will die within a few months, and H'ry will live six more years.


Wm to H'ry, Feb. 4, 1910. Age: 68

Wm learns from H'ry's secretary that H'ry is fine:

"We are thrilled by a note from Miss Bosanquet, just arriving..., telling us that Dr. Skinner says there is 'no cause for anxiety, & that you are much better' -- this to us who didn't know that you were ill, & without telling the nature of the complaint!...Meanwhile I will hope for the best -- there evidently has been no funeral!"

Bosanquet went on to write a memoir about her days working for H'ry, Henry James at Work.

Theodora Bosanquet


Wm to H'ry, Jan. 7, 1910. Age: 67

Wm sits for another portrait:

"Bay Emmett returns next week to put the finishing touches to my portrait.  I hope they will make it 'good' -- for so far I don't like it much."


H'ry to Wm, Oct. 31, 1909. Age: 66

Wm was never able to enjoy H'ry's most ambitious books; not true the reverse, as H'ry gives a surprisingly intimate read to Wm's The Meaning of Truth:

"I find it of thrilling interest, triumphant & brilliant, & am lost in admiration of your wealth & power.  I palpitate as you make out your case,...as I under no romantic spell ever palpitate now....I find you nowhere as difficult as you surely make everything for your critics.  Clearly you are winning a great battle & great will be your fame."


Wm to H'ry, Oct. 9, 1909. Age: 67

Wm writes from Flume House in the White Mountains:

"I think it is the finest season for colour that has ever been.  A sort of chromatic frenzy, as if fireworks, jewelry, rainbows, glitter, could go no farther."


H'ry to Wm, July 18, 1909. Age: 66

And Wm wasn't the only one interested of late in old Lives...

"Awfully interesting what you tell me of Plutarch -- whom I reopened -- with extreme interest, to the extent of 3 or 4 Greek Lives -- a year or two ago; not having looking into him since old Newport days."


Wm to H'ry, June 23, 1909. Age: 67

A little more than a year before his death, Wm is still acquainting himself with the ancient past:

"I have just finished 3 vols. of Plutarch's lives -- great stuff to read, more everlasting human business, more 'rammed with life' than any book I know."



Wm to H'ry, Feb. 13, 1909. Age: 67

Wm suspects that letter-writing might be at the heart of H'ry's heart problems:

"But moderate your efforts in other ways!  Write little eigenhändig, and write shorter letters than you habitually do!  No need of writing at all to younger members of this family.  I find the act of writing to be a great tax."

"Eigenhändig" means, I believe, by hand.


H'ry to Wm, Feb. 5, 1909. Age 65

False alarm -- the cure was worse than the disease:

"I am feeling so infinitely & promptly better that I blush for the depressed letter that I wrote to you Tuesday last....I was simply sickined for 48 hours by Skinner's drugs -- 'tonics,' whiskeys, liquor-brandies & the like (which he doesn't in the least mind one's not taking however) -- & and I have qute cleared it with him that I take nothing."

The following year, H'ry's symptoms will return again, and it won't appear to be a false alarm this time.


Wm to H'ry. Feb. 3, 1909. Age: 65

Is this the beginning of the end?

"My dear William. I am making up my mind to tell you, with every precaution, that my 'pectoral' trouble has of late been giving ou ome rather worrying heart-symptoms....It was only 11 or 12 days ago that my consciousness -- rather uncomfortable, ever since you left England -- became rather suddenly aggravated, in respect to panting, gasping, getting generally out of breath in respect to minor efforts &...the past 6 years of Fletcherizing -- with no shadow or strain  or overdoing -- it was in a manner the result of my gradual but more & more increasing cessation of 'exercise.'"


Wm to H'ry, Jan. 24, 1909. Age: 67

Perhaps an example of why the James family wanted many of the brothers' letters burned:

"I also read your article on C[harles]. E[liot]. N[orton]., in the Burlington, with great gusto.  He has been so magnified by everyone here...that I began to wonder if I had been stone-blind to his greatness, and the way in which you subtly killed him was inimitable.  But only the few will understand the neatness."

Charles Eliot Norton in 1903


Wm to H'ry, Jan. 24, 1909. Age: 67

I'll second this observation, from Wm to H'ry:

"I have just written 'contents & 'Index' to my Oxford lectures, (you may thank your stars that the kind of books you write require no indexes)..."


Wm to H'ry, Dec. 19, 1908. Age: 66

Wm rises early to catch an dawn:

"I write this at 6:30, in the library which the blessed hard coal fir has kept warm all night long.  The night has been still, thermometer 20, and the dawn is breaking in a pure red line behind Grace Norton's House, into a sky empty save for a big morning star and the crescent of the waning moon."

Wm's Cambridge library


H'ry to Wm, Nov. 2, 1908. Age: 65

H'ry offers an eloquent lament for the hurried public age:

"But of the challenges from London the end seems never.  Mrs [Edith] Wharton arrives on the 5th returning -- from the antipodes -- at the end of [only] three months." 

A very early portrait od H'ry's long time friend, Edith Wharton.


Wm to H'ry, Oct. 21, 1908. Age:66

Wm tries to capture a New England autumn in words:

"The smoky haze, the windless heat, the litter of the leaves on the ground in their rich colors, with enough remaining on the trees to make the whole scene red and yellow, the penury & shabbiness of everything human, the delicate emaciated morbidness, and feminine secretness of all nature's effects was so pathetic!"


Wm to H'ry, Sept. 1, 1908. Age: 66

Wm, in Bruges, appreciates the Memlings in their gallery and the presentation of the art itself:

"We were especially delighted byt the Memling's at St Jean Hospital.  That's the way the museums of the future will show pictures, innumerable rooms, few in a room and full light."

The St. Jean Hospital, Bruges

Sacra Conversazione with Saints John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Catherine of Alexandria, and Barbara
                                                                                      Hans Memling


Wm to H'ry, June 3, 1908. Age: 66

Wm hosts a famous doctor:

"Richard Cabot M.D., and his wife are here he one of the most orignal minds & characters in Boston, and very good, altho' he hates my philosophy....He is really in spite of his contemptible appearance -- perhaps because of it -- a great moral force."

Dr. Richard Cabot


H'ry to Wm, May 3, 1908. Age: 65

H'ry sits for a portrait:

"I sit & sit, too, to Blanche -- probably to my honour & his, alike."

Jacques-Emile Blanche, Henry James, 1908


Wm to H'ry, April 29, 1908. Age: 66

Wm, rested on his journey, takes aim at Hegel:

"I have been sleeping like a top, and feel in good fighting trim again eager for the scalp of the Absolute.  My lectures will put his wretched clerical defenders on the defensive."

Wm, c. 1905-1910


Wm to H'ry, April 28, 1908. Age: 66

Wm did finish his lectures before sailing on the R.M.S. Invernia:

"We have had a good voyage strong westerly winds, and only one day of gale -- ultra comfortable ship, and almost no sociability, so we both feel quite rested and fit.  The security of having one's lectures practically all written out is tremenjus.  How different would be my state of mind were they not."