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Lot 51: James, Henry. A significant collection of eleven letters documenting important events in history.
July 11, 2014
Calabasas, CA, USALive Auction
51. James, Henry. A significant collection of eleven letters documenting important events in history through personal letters to friends and family members. A prolific writer and born to a prominent American family, James’ letters clearly reveal his exemplary writing style. Highlights include:
Autograph letter signed, 2 pages quarto, Rye, Sussex, 17 April 1912, on black-bordered stationery with envelope to Dearest Alice.
Henry James writes to his brother’s wife, Alice, regarding the Titanic. Frank Millet was a sculptor and painter who perished on the RMS Titanic on 15 April 1912. Clearly, James is still emotional over the loss of his friend.
James writes in full: Just a word, late tonight, to thank you for your good letter, & Bill for his note about his coming up on Thursday. Kindly say to him for me that I count on his lunching with me on Thursday, but that if he will make it 1.45 I shall have had a little more time to get back from my Chelsea working-place, where I shall have spent the morning. Let him come in & sit down & wait, I shall not try his patience, & shall be so delighted to see him. I am also so glad you are going to lunch with the Arthur Butlers. This black horror of the Titanic almost crushes one with the tragedy of it. It haunts & dismays, sickens & overwhelms. I knew but one of the victims, dear Frank Millet, yet it is too horrible. But I shall see you right soon, I have been intending Friday. But I will settle it with Bill. All my love, I’m so glad your Father recuperates. Ever your affectionate… Autograph letter signed, 2 pages quarto, Pall Mall, S.W., 29 April 1912 to Dearest Bill. James writes in full: I have your good note, as I had a dear genial letter from Alice on Saturday & I shall tenderly welcome you tomorrow. Your mother’s letter is a blessing as always, though she does want you to go furniture-hunting in bleak Lancashire or Yorkshire or wherever it is; & I shall bring it back to you. I shall have you alone tomorrow till 7:45, when I shall call for you promptly & take you to dinner. I shall want to know all about Brickwall & the dear Prother’s (who will greatly feel your absence, but I suppose they also are all but back here,) & everything else. Let your journey be placid & your circulation (here) cautious. My Army & Navy store number is: 37098… Dearest Bill is the brother of Henry James and also a talented philosopher, psychologist and trained physician.
Autograph letter signed, 1 page quarto, Carlyle Mansions, Cheyne Walk, 20 August 1915, on black-bordered stationery with envelope.
The author writes in full: I ought before this—much before—to have thanked you for your greeting, but I have had such a high tide of warm friendliness to breast—great is the luxury of being kept so afloat, or made so to feel that one will be fished up again if one sinks! It was extraordinary that there was still so much of me left outstanding to be absorbed, but I feel absolutely engulfed and assimilated now…
A significant letter written a month after James made an important personal decision. He was living in England since 1869 without becoming a citizen, but his adopted country’s entry into the First World War called forth his patriotism. He became a naturalized British subject in July 1915. The present letter, in characteristically convoluted style, is evidently James’ reply to Russell’s letter of welcome and congratulation.
Typed letter signed, five pages quarto, [London], 29 May 1915 on his imprinted stationery to Dearest Alice. James comments on America’s position after the Lusitania horror.
One aches with envy of any other possible view than the one assaulting us in this distracted hemisphere. Of course we are at my present writing as much in the dark here about Germany’s possible black designs upon the U.S. as you were twelve days ago, and even this new assault, the apparent torpedoing of the Nebraskan, of such recent occurrence, does as yet little to illuminate. If it shall truly appear, on complete investigation, that it is really the atrocious torpedo act that it seems, it will be conclusive to my poor mind that those blackguards do wish to drag us into the War by planned outrage, in order to impair the tremendous financial solvency that we enjoy and the sight of which, in her own virtually bankrupt state, fills her with rage and hate, as representing a command of the situation on our part at the design of diminishing so far as possible. However, these next days will show something, and odious, verily hideous, as it may be to have up to a certain point to temporize with the brutes, I can’t but be considerably affected by what I believe to be true here, viz: the fact that the Allies really for their own sakes want America to keep out far more than they want her to come in, believing that she can, for months to come, help them much more. It is all very dark and mixed and portentous—but part of it will be ancient history by the time you get this; so I won’t say more...
In closing, James notes about family matters and the battle wounds which his housekeeper, Burgess Noakes, sustained during World War I. Within the collection are two letters from Burgess Noakes on 21 and 28 May 1915 where he gives a vivid account of fighting in the trenches, and of Noakes’ wounding and hospitalization. The collection of letters has recipients such as Roger Quilter, the English composer and additional letters to his sister-in-law. He continues to mention dinners while listening to Percy Granger perform or commenting on the perils of war.
$8,000 - $12,000