Friday, October 12, 2007

Imbecility and the Absolute

The autumn harvest of my verbal vegetable garden seems to have been decimated by some mysterious sort of pestilence - which is to say, my ha'penny writing's worth even less than that these days - so I'll just pass along a couple of amusing anecdotes about the James brothers.

The first, an anecdote about Henry James, Ford Madox Ford (then known as Ford Madox Hueffer), another writer (name not given), and a dog named Maximilian, is related in Javier Marias's Written Lives, a series of brief sketches of famous writers:

"He [James] spoke with so many interpolations and parentheses that this occasionally got him into difficulties: one afternoon, he went out for a walk along the Rye road, as was his custom, with Hueffer and another writer and with his dog Maximilian, who liked to chase sheep and who was , for this reason, kept on a leash, but one long enough to allow him considerable freedom of movement. At one point, in order to conclude one particularly immense sentence with due emphasis, James stopped and planted his walking stick firmly in the ground, and in that position held forth for a long time while his companions listened in reverential silence, and the dog Maximilian, running about, back and forth, as the fancy took him, wound his leash around the walking stick and the gentlemen's legs, leaving them trapped. The Master finished his speech and wanted to continue on his way, but found himself immobilised. When he did, with some difficulty, extricate himself, he turned, eyes blazing, to Hueffer, reproachfully brandished his walking stick and cried: 'Heuffer! You are painfully young, but at no more than the age to which you have attained, the playing of such tricks is an imbecibility! An im . . . be . . . cility!' "

The second involves pictures. William James and Josiah Royce were being photographed by James's daughter Peggy. Here are the two pictures:

Peggy took the pictures one after the other. After the click of the first shot, James said to Royce, "Royce, you're being photographed! Look out! Damn the Absolute!"



Levi said...

The Marias book is one of my favorites of recent years. He has exactly the eye for interesting incidents that I look for in a biographer.

Mithridates said...

Yes. I liked the James section, along with the sections on Sterne, Joyce, Rilke, and Faulkner (Marias, I think, translated WF's collection of poetry). I also liked very much "Perfect Artists," particularly the reflections on Bernhard and on Blake's "death mask," which was actually taken while Blake was still alive. What a wonderful ending to a wonderful book--meditations on the photographs of artists.

Ithaca said...

Sounds amazing. I have ordered it off Abebooks over stiff opposition from the Abebooks team.

Mithridates said...

GREAT! Even better is the Richardson bio of W. James. Richardson wrote a great bio of Emerson with the GREATEST subtitle ever EVER ever: "Emerson: The Mind on Fire." It opens with Emerson prying open the coffin of his dead wife. The James begins with his experiencing an earthquake in Palo Alto in 1906 or 05, I can't remember, and feeling INVIGORATED, his view of the radical instability of things being firmly reconfirmed by the quake. I'm totally effing drunk right now and hoping you are well--no more than well: REINVIGORATED, quake-like, by your trip down Morocco way. Sorry for not posting more; feeling unfecund of late. I have a few fetal posts that need a few days to develop, if you're interested. But it was nice graffitying your lovely blog.

Mithridates said...

Correction: I obviously did not mean to say that I wished you were no more than well; I meant to say "no, more than well." Damned pixies what pixilated me!