Henry James on the U.S.

| | Comments (2)

The American Scene, by Henry James

From Boston to Florida, the impressions of Henry James on a trip through America. I don't think I realized that he had written about Florida. 1907 publication.

An excerpt from his disquistion on St. Augustine:

from The American Scene
Henry James

That perhaps was all that had been the matter with it in presence of the immemorial legend of St. Augustine as a mine of romance; St. Augustine proving primarily, and of course quite legitimately, but an hotel, of the first magnitude--an hotel indeed so remarkable and so pleasant that I wondered what call there need ever have been upon it to prove anything else. The Ponce de Leon, for that matter, comes as near producing, all by itself, the illusion of romance as a highly modern, a most cleverly-constructed and smoothly-administered great modern caravansery can come; it is largely "in the Moorish style" (as the cities of Spain preserve the record of that manner); it breaks out, on every pretext, into circular arches and embroidered screens, into courts and cloisters, arcades and fountains, fantastic projections and lordly towers, and is, in all sorts of ways and in the highest sense of the word, the most "amusing" of hotels. It did for me, at St. Augustine, I was well aware, everything that an hotel could do--after which I could but appeal for further service to the old Spanish Fort, the empty, sunny, grassy shell by the low, pale shore; the mild, time-silvered quadrilateral that, under the care of a single exhibitory veteran and with the still milder remnant of a town-gate near it, preserves alone, (460) to any effect of appreciable emphasis, the memory of the Spanish occupation. One wandered there for meditation--it is not congruous with the genius of Florida, I gathered, to permit you to wander very far; and it was there perhaps that, as nothing prompted, on the whole, to intenser musings, I suffered myself to be set moralizing, in the manner of which I have just given an example, over the too "thin" projection of legend, the too dry response of association. The Spanish occupation, shortest of ineffectual chapters, seemed the ghost of a ghost, and the burnt-out fire but such a pinch of ashes as one might properly fold between the leaves of one's Baedeker. Yet if I made this remark I made it without bitterness; since there was no doubt, under the influence of this last look, that Florida still had, in her ingenuous, not at all insidious way, the secret of pleasing, and that even round about me the vagueness was still an appeal. The vagueness was warm, the vagueness was bright, the vagueness was sweet, being scented and flowered and fruited; above all, the vagueness was somehow consciously and confessedly weak. I made out in it something of the look of the charming shy face that desires to communicate and that yet has just too little expression. What it would fain say was that it really knew itself unequal to any extravagance of demand upon it, but that (if it might so plead to one's tenderness) it would always do its gentle best. I found the plea, for myself, I may declare, exquisite and irresistible: the Florida of that particular tone was a Florida adorable.

Bookmark and Share


If I remember correctly, St. Augustine is the oldest city if Florida is it not?

Dear Tom,

Indeed, the oldest continually occupied European city in North America--people tend to forget that the Spanish are the ones who had the first colonial presence in the U.S. And in that quotation, it seems that it may even have slipped the memory of Mr. James.





About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 10, 2006 10:15 AM.

Cool Beyond Words was the previous entry in this blog.

A Voice Cries Out in the Wilderness is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll