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Within the Rim
BY HENRY JAMES
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY ELIZABETH ASQUITH
T has been suggested to me that I should explain how “Within the Rim” came to
be written. Those who knew Henry James, not as a name, but as a man, will approach this sketch less with the detached interest of critics than with the warm sympathy of friends, and to them these few details of its origin may be of interest. "Within the Rim' was one of the last things Henry James ever wrote, and one of the few things he wrote about the war.
In November, 1914, I organized a matinée which laid the financial foundations of the Arts Fund—a scheme started by Miss Constance Collier for the relief of artists in distress owing to the war.
We had naturally relied on dramatic and musical entertainments as our chief sources of income, but as all the four arts had benefited equally by our fund, we wished to give to painting and literature an opportunity of making their contributions through the medium of an album. I was lunching with Henry James in February, 1915, and he promised to write something for us. “It must be about the war," he said. “I can think of nothing else.” Three weeks later he asked me to lunch with him again in order that he might read me what he had written.
I can see him now, sitting in front of the fire, his tongue caressing the words - conducting his verbal orchestration with his foot, as if by beating time he could force his complicated passages into a shape intelligible to the listener.
After it was over he brushed aside my thanks and began talking about the war and then the younger generation till gradually, under the spell of his conversation, lunch faded into tea and it was time for me to go. I asked for the precious manuscript, but he told me he would send it round by messenger, as I was certain to leave it in the taxi. Í assured him that I would look after it and cherish it as if it were a child. So he confided it to my care.
Ultimately the Committee of the Arts Fund abandoned the idea of an album.
I told Henry James and asked him if he would like me to return him his manuscript, but he said, “It is yours, my dear child, to do what you will with."
The last time I saw him was in November, 1915, at a view of my sister's wedding-presents. I again asked him whether he really wanted me to keep “Within the Rim," and he assured me that he did. He then inquired what I would wear as a bridesmaid. "Orange," I told him. “I shall see you tomorrow as a flame," he said. Thirty-six hours later he had his stroke and I never saw him again.
Now that he is dead, I am publishing “Within the Rim” for the purpose for which he originally intended it.
It is his legacy to the literature of the war and to the English nation, for it shows him not only as a great artist, but as a great soldier fighting our battles.
been fired upon in South Carolina living again, with a tragic strangeness of recurrence, in the interval during which the fate of Belgium hung in the scales and the possibilities of that of France looked this country harder in the face, one recognised,_than any possibility, even that of the England of the Armada, even that of the long Napoleonic menace, could be imagined to have looked her. The analogy quickened and deepened with every elapsing hour; the drop of the balance under the invasion of Belgium reproduced with intensity the agitation of the New England air by
Mr. Lincoln's call to arms, and I went North had been so delayed and yet so about for a short space as with the queer complete, that our struggle had worn secret locked in my breast of at least upon the world of the time, and quite already knowing how such occasions to exasperation, as could well be rehelped and what a big war was going to membered, by its length; if the present mean. That this was literally a light in complication should but begin to be as the darkness, or that it materially helped long as it was broad no term of comthe prospect to be considered, is perhaps parison borrowed from the past would more than I can say; but it at least so much as begin to fit it. I might have added the strangest of savours, an in found it humiliating, in fact however I expressible romantic thrill, to the harsh found it of the most commanding intaste of the crisis: I found myself lit terest, whether at certain hours of dire erally knowing. "by experience” what apprehension or at certain others of the immensities, what monstrosities, what finer probability, that the biggest like revelations of what immeasurabilities, convulsion our generations had known our affair would carry in its bosom-a was still but too clearly to be left far knowledge that flattered me by its hint behind for exaltations and terrors, for of immunity from illusion. The sudden effort and result, as a general exhibition new tang in the atmosphere, the flagrant of the perversity of nations and of the difference, as one noted, in the look of energy of man. Such at least was the everything, especially in that of people's turn the comparison took at a given faces, the expressions, the hushes, the moment in a remembering mind that clustered groups, the detached wonder had been steeped, so far as its restricted ers, and slow-paced public meditators, contact went but in the Northern story; were so many impressions long before I did, I confess, cling awhile to the received and in which the stretch of fancy that what loomed perhaps for more than half a century had still left a England, what already did so much sharpness. So I took the case in and more than loom for crucified Belgium, drew a vague comfort, I can scarce say
what was let loose in a torrent upon why, from recognition; so, while recog
indestructible France, might correspond nition lasted, I found it come home to more or less with the pressure of the old me that we, we of the ancient day, had terrible time as the fighting South had known, had tremendously learnt, what had to know it, and with the grim condithe awful business is when it is “long, tions under which she had at last given when it remains for months and months way. For the rest of the matter, as I bitter and arid, void even of any great say, the difference of aspect produced by honour. In consequence of which, un the difference of intensity cut short very der the rapid rise of presumptions of soon my vision of similitude. The indifficulty, to whatever effect of dismay tensity swallowed up everything; the or of excitement, my possession of some rate and the scale and the speed, the unthing like a standard of difficulty, and, precedented engines, the vast incalculas I might perhaps feel too, of success, able connections, the immediate presbecame in its way a private luxury. ence, as it were, of France and Belgium,
My point is, however, that upon this whom one could hear pant, through the luxury I was allowed after all but ever summer air, in their effort and their so scantly to feed. I am unable to say alarm, these things, with the prodigious when exactly it was that the rich anal- might of the enemy added, made me ogy, the fine and sharp identity between say, dropping into humility in a manner the faded and the vivid case broke down, that resembled not a little a drop into with the support obscurely derived from still greater depths, “Oh no, that surely them; the moment anyhow came soon can't have been a patch' on this!" enough at which experience felt the Which conclusion made accordingly for ground give way and that one swung off a new experience altogether, such as I into space, into history, into darkness, gratefully embrace here an occasion not with every lamp extinguished and every to leave unrecorded. abyss gaping. It ceased quite to matter It was in the first place, after the for reassurance that the victory of the strangest fashion, a sense of the extraor
dinary way in which the most benign as many as would serve the purpose, conditions of light and air, of sky and some individual dignity and some form. sea, the most beautiful English summer It came indeed largely of itself, my conceivable, mixed themselves with all main help to the reparatory, the rethe violence of action and passion, the identifying process; came by this very other so hideous and piteous, so heroic chance that in the splendor of the seaand tragic facts, and flouted them as son there was no mistaking the case or with the example of something far the plea. “This, as you can see better superior. Never were desperate doings than ever before," the elements kept so blandly lighted up as by the two conspiring to say, “is the rare, the sole, unforgettable months that I was to the exquisite England whose weight spend so much of in looking over from now hangs in the balance and your apthe old rampart of a little high-perched preciation of whose value, much as in the Sussex town at the bright blue streak of
easy years you may have taken it for the Channel, within a mile or two of us granted, seems exposed to some fresh at its nearest point, the point to which and strange and strong determinant, it had receded after washing our rock- something that breaks in like a character base in its earlier ages; and staring at of high color in a play.” Nothing the bright mystery beyond the rim of could have thrilled me more,
recognize, the furthest opaline reach. Just on the than the threat of this irruption or than other side of that finest of horizon-lines the dramatic pitch; yet a degree of pain history was raging at a pitch new under attached to the ploughed-up state it the sun; thinly masked by that shame- implied so that, with an elderly dread less smile the Belgian horror grew; the of a waste of emotion, I fear I almost curve of the globe toward these things pusillanimously asked myself why a was of the scantest, and
the hither sentiment from so far back recorded as spaces of the purest, the interval repre- lively should need to become any livelier, senting only charm and calm and ease. and in fact should hesitate to beg off One grew to feel that the nearer ele from the higher diapason. I felt as the ments, those of land and water and sky quiet dweller in a tenement so often at their loveliest, were making thus, day feels when the question of “structural after day, a particular prodigious point, improvements’
" 'is thrust upon him; insisting in their manner on a sense and my house of the spirit, amid everything a wondrous story which it would be the about me, had become more and more restless watcher's fault if he didn't take the inhabited, adjusted, familiar home, in. Not that these were hints or arts quite big enough and sound enough for against which he was in the least degree the spirit's uses and with any intrinsic proof; they penetrated with every hour inconvenience corrected long since by deeper into the soul, and, the contem that principle's having cultivated and plations I speak of aiding, irresistibly formed, at whatever personal cost (since worked out an endless volume of refer my spirit was essentially a person) the ences. It was all somehow the history right habits, and so settled into the of the hour addressing itself to the indi- right attitude, for practical, for convidual mind-or to that in any case of tented occupation. If, however, such the person, at once so, appalled and was my vulgar apprehension, as I put so beguiled, of whose response to the it, the case was taken out of my
hands whole appeal I attempt this brief ac by the fate that so often deals with count. Roundabout him stretched the these accidents, and I found myself scene of his fondest frequentation as before long building on additions and time had determined the habit; but it
upper storeys, throwing out extensions was as if every reason and every senti and protrusions, indulging even, all ment conducing to the connection had, recklessly, in gables and pinnacles and under the shock of events, entered into battlements—things that had presently solution with every other, so that the transformed the unpretending place into only thinkable approach to rest, that is I scarce know what to call it, a fortress of to the recovery of an inward order, the faith, a palace of the soul, an exwould be in restoring them each, or to travagant, bristling, flag-flying structure
Vol. CXXXVI.-No. 811.-8.
which had quite as much to do with the sea defense as the other, the harried, air as with the earth. And all this, countries were behind such bulwarks as when one came to return upon it in a they could throw up—was the central considering or curious way, because to fact of consciousness and the one to and fro one kept going on the old ram which every impression and every apprepart, the town "look-out," to spend hension more or less promptly related one's aching wonder again and again on themselves; it made of itself the comthe bright sky-line that at once held pany in which for the time the mind and mocked it. Just over that line most naturally and yet most importuwere unutterable things, massacre and nately lived. One walked of course in ravage and anguish, all but irresistible the shade of the ambiguous contrastassault and cruelty, bewilderment and ambiguous because of the dark question heroism all but overwhelmed; from the of whether it was the liabilities of Belsense of which one had but to turn one's gium and France, to say nothing of their head to take in something unspeakably awful actualities, that made England's different and that yet produced, as by state so rare, or England's state that some extraordinary paradox, a pang showed her tragic sisters for doubly outalmost as sharp.
raged: the action of the matter was at It was of course by the imagination least that of one's feeling in one's hand that this latter was quickened to an and weighing it there with the last intensity thus akin to pain-but the tenderness, for fullest value, the golden imagination had doubtless at every key that unlocked every compartment turn, without exception, more to say to of the English character. one's state of mind, and dealt more Clearly this general mystery or mixtwith the whole unfolding scene, than ure was to be laid open under stress of any other contributive force. Never in fortune as never yet--the unprecedentall my life, probably, had I been so glad edness was above all what came over us to have opened betimes an account with again and again, armaments unknown this faculty and to be able to feel for to human experience looming all the the most part something to my credit while larger and larger; but whatever there; so vivid I mean had to be one's face or succession of faces the genius of prevision of the rate at which drafts the race should most turn up the main on that source would require cashing mark of them all would be in the differAll of which is a manner of saying that ence that, taken together, couldn't fail in face of what during those horrible to keep them more unlike the peoples days seemed exactly over the way the off there beyond than any pair even of old inviolate England, as to whom the the most approved of these peoples are fact that she was inviolate, in every
unlike each other. "Insularity!"-one valid sense of the term, had become, had spent no small part of one's past with long acquaintance, so common and time in mocking or in otherwise fingering dull, suddenly shone in a light never the sense out of that word; yet here it caught before and which was for the was in the air wherever one looked and next weeks, all the magnificence of as stuffed with meaning as if nothing August and September, to reduce a had ever worn away from it, as if its thousand things to a sort of merciless full force on the contrary amounted to distinctness. It was not so much that inward congestion. What the term esthey leaped forth, these things, under sentially signified was in the oddest the particular recognition, as that they way a question at once enormous and multiplied without end and abounded, irrelevant; what it might show as sigalways in some association at least that nifying, what it was in the circumstances caught the eye, all together overscoring actively and most probably going to, the image as a whole or causing the old seemed rather the true consideration, accepted synthesis to bristle with ac indicated with all the weight of the cents. The image as a whole, thus evidence scattered about. richly made up of them-or of the fixed look of England under the August numberless testifying touches to the sky, what was this but the most vivid effect that we were not there on our exhibition of character conceivable and
the face turned up, to repeat my ex
genius was other, other at almost every pression, with a frankness that really point; it had always in the past and on left no further inquiry to be made? the spot, one remembered, expressed That appearance was of the exempt things, confessed things, with a differstate, the record of the long safe cen ence, and part of that difference was of turies, in its happiest form, and even if course the difference of history, the fact any shade of happiness at such an hour of exemption, as I have called it, the might well seem a sign of profanity or fact that a blest inviolacy was almost perversity. To that there were all sorts exactly what had least flourished. of things to say, I could at once reflect, France and Belgium, to refer only to however; wouldn't it be the thing su them, became dear accordingly, in the premely in character that England light I speak of, because, having sufshould look most complacently herself, fered and suffered, they were suffering irradiating all her reasons for it, at the yet again, while precisely the opposite very crisis of the question of the true process worked for the scene directly toughness, in other words the further beneath my eyes. England was interestduration, of her identity? I might ob- ing, to put it mildly-which is but a serve, as for that matter I repeatedly shy evasion of putting it passionately, and unspeakably did while the two because she hadn't suffered, because months lasted, that she was pouring there were passages of that sort she had forth this identity, as atmosphere and publicly declined and defied; at the aspect and picture, in the very measure same time that one wouldn't have the and to the very top of her consciousness case so simple as to set it down wholly of how it hung in the balance. Thus to her luck. France and Belgium, for one arrived, through the succession of the past, confessed, to repeat my term; shining days, at the finest sense of the while England, so consistently harcase the interesting truth that her con monised, with all her long unbrokenness sciously not being as her tragic sisters thick and rich upon her, seemed never were in the great particular was virtually to do that, nor to need it, in order to just her genius, and that the very practice on a certain fine critical, not to straightest thing she could do would mention a certain fine prejudiced, sensinaturally be not to finch at the dark bility. It was the season of sensibility hour from any profession of her genius. now, at any rate for just those days and Looking myself more askance at the just that poor place of yearning, of dark hour (politically speaking I mean) merely yearning, vigil; and I may add than I after my fashion figured her as with all emphasis that never had I doing in her mass, I found it of an had occasion so to learn how far sensiextreme of quite an endless fascination bility may go when once well wound up. to trace as many as possible of her felt It was saying little to say I did justice idiosyncrasies back to her settled sea easiest at once and promptest to the confidence, and to see this now in turn most advertised proposal of the enemy, account for so many other things, the his rank intention of clapping down the smallest as well as the biggest, that, to spiked helmet, than which no form of give the fewest hints of illustration, the headgear, by the way, had ever struck mere spread of the great trees, the mere one as of a more graceless, a more tellgathers in the little bluey-white curtains tale platitude, upon the priceless genius of the cottage windows, the mere curl of France; far from new, after all, was of the tinted smoke from the old chim that measure of the final death in him neys matching that note, became a sort of the saving sense of proportion which of exquisite evidence.
only gross dementia can abolish. Those Exquisite evidence of a like general of my generation who could remember class, it was true, didn't on the other the detected and frustrated purpose of a side of the Channel prevent the awful renewed Germanic pounce upon the liability to the reach of attack-its hay country which, all but bled to death in ing borne fruit and been corrected or 1871, had become capable within five averted again was in fact what half the years of the most penetrating irony of foreign picture meant; but the foreign revival ever recorded, were well aware