Many accuse James of being prolix, abstruse, and obtuse. They mistake elegance and stateliness in prose for meandering and they do not give their minds to the subtle currents that pervade the deep waters of his short stories, novels, and, yes, even travel writing. Take for example this excerpt:
from Italian Hours--"The Autumn in Florence"
Florence too has its “season,” not less than Rome, and I have been rejoicing for the past six weeks in the fact that this comparatively crowded parenthesis hasn't yet been opened. Coming here in the first days of October I found the summer still in almost unmenaced possession, and ever since, till within a day or two, the weight of its hand has been sensible. Properly enough, as the city of flowers, Florence mingles the elements most artfully in the spring—during the divine crescendo of March and April, the weeks when six months of steady shiver have still not shaken New York and Boston free of the long Polar reach. But the very quality of the decline of the year as we at present here feel it suits peculiarly the mood in which an undiscourageable gatherer of the sense of things, or taster at least of “charm,” moves through these many-memoried streets and galleries and churches. Old things, old places, old people, or at least old races, ever strike us as giving out their secrets most freely in such moist, grey, melancholy days as have formed the complexion of the past fortnight. With Christmas arrives the opera, the only opera worth speaking of—which indeed often means in Florence the only opera worth talking through; the gaiety, the gossip, the reminders in fine of the cosmopolite and watering-place character to which the city of the Medici long ago began to bend her antique temper.
The refinement of the piece in its final form (present here in its entirety) is only known from acquaintance with its earlier incarnation as a piece in either The Independent or The Nation (The website that yielded these originals has subsequently vanished along with the wonderful texts. I have preserved the memory of it in the form of an e-book for PDA). The subtle twists of phrase and the delicate irony and humor that are so prominent here stand out from the rather more bold reportorial front that shows up in the articles. One can spend time with James and come to know Italy very little, but have a profound knowledge of a man of great sensibility and sense. Too bad as a society we spend so little time with those who have so much to tell us about how to observe, how to write, how to go about thinking, and how to analyze. It is unfortunate that we are often in too great a hurry for the majestic pace at which James moves. But given my druthers, I'd rather tour Italy with James or Hawthorne than with Michelin. What companionable company, what rare insights, and what refined humor. I have come to love Henry James more and more as I read more of the work. It is not for one who needs to come to the point, but rather for the person who relishes the journey as much or perhaps even more than the destination. Surely that is the first lesson in how to travel.