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Title: A Most Unholy Trade - Being Letters on the Drama by Henry James
Author: James, Henry
Language: English
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                         “A MOST UNHOLY TRADE”


                         “A MOST UNHOLY TRADE”
                         BEING LETTERS ON THE
                         DRAMA BY HENRY JAMES


                           THE SCARAB PRESS
                           PRIVATELY PRINTED

                   Copyright, 1923, by Dunster House
                  Bookshop, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


The four letters here printed for the first time are part of Henry
James’s informal correspondence with William Heinemann, the publisher.
They are selected for their unity of subject, in that they concern
themselves with James’s impressions of Ibsen’s “Little Eyolf” and
contain some general remarks on the drama. Written about the time of
the publication of the first and second series of James’s Theatricals,
they indicate his ideas at the time when his consideration of the
subject was most intense. Acknowledgment is made to Mrs. J. Tucker
Murray and to Pierre de Chaignon la Rose, Esq., for permission to print
two of these letters.


                                                34, De Vere Gardens. W.

My dear Heinemann,

I feel as if I couldn’t thank you enough for introducing me to Ibsen’s
prodigious little performance! I return it to you, by the same post
conscientiously after two breathless perusals,――which leave me with a
yearning as impatient, an appetite as hungry, for the rest, as poor
Rita’s yearning & appetite are for the missing caresses of her Alfred.
Do satisfy me better or more promptly than he satisfied her. The thing
is immensely characteristic & immensely――immense. I quite agree with
you that it takes hold as nothing else of his has as yet done――it
appeals with an immoderate intensity & goes straight as a dose of
castor oil! I hope to heaven the thing will reach the London stage:
there ought to be no difficulty, if Rita, when she offers herself, can
be restricted to a chair, instead of lying on her back on the sofa.
Let her _sit_, and the objection vanishes――I mean let her eschew the
sofa. Of course I don’t know what the rest brings forth――but this act
& a half are a pure――or an impure――perfection. If he really carries
on the whole play simply with these four people――& at the same high
pitch (it’s the _pitch_ that’s so magnificent!) it will be a feat more
extraordinary than any he’s achieved――it will beat “Ghosts.” Admirable,
gallant old man! The success of this would be high! I greatly enjoyed
our “lovely luxurious” (as Rita wd. say), _fin de soirée_, on Monday.
Tree is as dewily infantine as Eyolf!

                             Yours truly,
                                                            Henry James

P.S. _Do_ remember that I’m on the sofa, with my hair down――and pink
lamp shades!


                                                34, De Vere Gardens, W.
                                                   November 22nd, 1894.

My dear Heinemann,

All thanks for your prompt and adequate relief――the last “go” at Act
II. It is a very great little affair. If Act III doesn’t drop, it will
be Ibsen’s crown of glory――I mean the whole thing will. It is a little
masterpiece. It seems to me that he doesn’t make quite enough――(in
form, in the pause to take it in, and the indication of the amazement
and emotion of Allmers)――of the revelation of the non-relationship; but
that is a detail, and the stroke itself――coming where it does――immense.
The thing must and _can_ be represented. This Act 2 is such a crescendo
on 1. that if 3 is an equal crescendo on 2, the fortune of the thing
will be made, and it will be a big fortune. I hope 3 is already on the
stocks of translation. It’s a fine case for the British manager’s fine
old demand for a “happy ending!” What I seem dimly to divine is that
the she-Eyolf goes the same way as the He! i. e. the way of the fiord.

I don’t see what _complete_ tragedy there is for it _but_ that. But the
Devil knows what queer card the old Roué has up his sleeve!――Perhaps
Rita “has” the roadmaster publicly on the stage, while Asta throws
herself into the fiord. Yes, Eyolf No. 2 does by design what Eyolf No. 1
did by accident――and does it conjointly _with_ Alfred (at the risk of
repeating Rosmersholm and Hedda and the Wild Duck), while Rita falls
upon Borgheim and the Rat wife returns leading in a wild dance of
rodents! That, at least, is the way it _should_ be. But come to my aid!
I was so full of it yesterday that, being near you, I popped in――tho’ I
had already written, but only missed you.

                              Yours ever,
                                                                  H. J.

                                                       Nov. 28th. 1894.
                                                34, De Vere Gardens. W.

Dear Mr. Pawling,

Many thanks for your missive of yesterday & the message from the
publisher-dramatist, whose friendly thought of sending me the play
I much appreciate. I have read it, and, having done so, feel that
such reflections as it may have engendered had better be imparted to
Heinemann directly. Therefore I will write to him by the time he shall
have returned from Manchester――& I will in returning him the sheets
also send back the 3d. act of Ibsen, which I ought already to have
restored & of which I spoke perhaps a little too despairingly on Sunday
night at Gosse’s. On reading it over more deliberately the next day,
I saw more its great intention of beauty. It is meagre & inconclusive,
I think; but none the less I can imagine that, played with some real
effort――& in a scenic Scandinavian twilight, it may have a certain fine
solemnity & poetry of effect.

                           Yours very truly
                                                            Henry James


                                                34, De Vere Gardens. W.
                                                   November 30th, 1894.

My dear Heinemann,

All thanks for the privilege of perusal――which I greatly appreciate.
I applaud the boldness with which you attack _de front_ all the
difficulties of the damnable little art, and which ought to bring you
all honour. It is refreshingly courageous of you, for example, to have
staked your fortune on a dramatis personae of 3, when you might, like
H.A. Jones, have sought safety in 30 or so. I think the idea of the
_First Step_ interesting――the situation of the girl who has become a
man’s mistress, but rises in arms at the idea that her sister should
do so――but I am not certain that it stands forth, as the _subject_,
with that big dotting of the big _i_, that the barbarous art of the
actable drama requires. In that art one must specify one’s subject as
unmistakeably as one orders one’s _di_nner――I mean leave the audience
no trouble to disengage or disentangle it. Forget not that you write
for the stupid――that is, that your maximum of refinement must meet
the minimum of intelligence of the audience――the intelligence, in
other words, of the biggest ass it may conceivably contain. It is a
most unholy trade! But you are very brave and gay and easy with it.
You have attempted a _tour de force_ in trying to carry on 2 acts
with only three people (I can think of no other case but Maupassant’s
_Paix du Ménage_――performed at the Français after his death by Bartet,
Le Bargy & Worms), and with only one question, as it were, to create
in the bosom of the spectator that principle of _suspense_ which is
the essence of the function of a theatrical action――the suspense as
to whether or no, and _how_, by what means or by what catastrophe, a
certain thing will happen or fail. The particular thing, in the _First
Step_, is the fate of the young sister’s chastity, the “question”
whether or no Annie shall lose her or save her. It is interesting but
I am not sure it _fills_ the play enough――and whether in your very
laudable desire to be unconventional and real you haven’t simplified
too much. However, this will show in the test――though I pity you for
the ordeal of interpretation. I can’t help wishing Annie were rather
worse herself, for the dramatic effect of the contrast between her
own life and character and her intensity about the other girl; in
other words, I think you have made her too good and the man she lives
with too bad. The situation would have had a fuller force if his
entanglement with the actress had been more _represented_――so that
(with the actress _introduced_) the action would have been closer and
the effect of the circumstances leading Frank to sacrifice the girl
more pictured, more dramatic. Excuse this preachment. I didn’t mean to
pick holes in your so serious and honourable attempt――but only to show
you with what care I have read it and how much it has made me reflect!

I owe you also long-delayed thanks for the Ibsen――I mean Act III, which
I also return. It is a great――a very great _drop_; but it has distinct
beauty and it could, in representation, I think be made fine.

All success to your own tragic Muse. She is evidently much in earnest
and she is altogether in the movement. Do take with her also, after
this, another turn.

                    Yours ever, my dear Heinemann,
                                                           Henry James.

P.S. I long to hear about Manchester.


Of this, the first book printed by The Scarab Press, one hundred
copies are for sale at Dunster House, 26 Holyoke Street & Mt. Auburn,
Cambridge, Massachusetts. [Illustration] The frontispiece was engraved
on wood by Waldo Murray of Cambridge, after a drawing by John S.
Sargent inscribed to his friend Henry James and published in The Yellow
Book, 1894. [Illustration] The cover was designed by Waldo Murray and
also cut by him on linoleum.


Copy Number 35

       *       *       *       *       *

 Transcriber’s Notes:

 ――Underlined text is enclosed by underscores (_underline_).

 ――Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected, except
   when they occur in the four correspondence letters.

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