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Preface

(_underscores_ denote italics)

--


I profess a certain vagueness of remembrance in respect to the origin
and growth of _The Tragic Muse_, which appeared in the _Atlantic
Monthly_ again, beginning January 1889 and running on, inordinately,
several months beyond its proper twelve. If it be ever of interest and
profit to put one's finger on the productive germ of a work of art, and
if in fact a lucid account of any such work involves that prime
identification, I can but look on the present fiction as a poor
fatherless and motherless, a sort of unregistered and unacknowledged
birth. I fail to recover my precious first moment of consciousness of
the idea to which it was to give form; to recognise in it--as I like to
do in general--the effect of some particular sharp impression or
concussion. I call such remembered glimmers always precious, because
without them comes no clear vision of what one may have intended, and
without that vision no straight measure of what one may have succeeded
in doing. What I make out from furthest back is that I must have had
from still further back, must in fact practically have always had, the
happy thought of some dramatic picture of the "artist-life" and of the
difficult terms on which it is at the best secured and enjoyed, the
general question of its having to be not altogether easily paid for. To
"do something about art"--art, that is, as a human complication and a
social stumbling-block--must have been for me early a good deal of a
nursed intention, the conflict between art and "the world" striking me
thus betimes as one of the half-dozen great primary motives. I remember
even having taken for granted with this fond inveteracy that no one of
these pregnant themes was likely to prove under the test more full of
matter. This being the case, meanwhile, what would all experience have
done but enrich one's conviction?--since if, on the one hand, I had
gained a more and more intimate view of the nature of art and the
conditions therewith imposed, so the world was a conception that clearly
required, and that would for ever continue to take, any amount of
filling-in. The happy and fruitful truth, at all events, was that there
was opposition--why there _should_ be was another matter--and that the
opposition would beget an infinity of situations. What had doubtless
occurred in fact, moreover, was that just this question of the essence
and the reasons of the opposition had shown itself to demand the light
of experience; so that to the growth of experience, truly, the treatment
of the subject had yielded. It had waited for that advantage.

Yet I continue to see experience giving me its jog mainly in the form of
an invitation from the gentle editor of the _Atlantic_, the late Thomas
Bailey Aldrich, to contribute to his pages a serial that should run
through the year. That friendly appeal becomes thus the most definite
statement I can make of the "genesis" of the book; though from the
moment of its reaching me everything else in the matter seems to live
again. What lives not least, to be quite candid, is the fact that I was
to see this production make a virtual end, for the time, as by its
sinister effect--though for reasons still obscure to me--of the pleasant
old custom of the "running" of the novel. Not for many years was I to
feel the practice, for my benefit, confidingly revive. The influence of
_The Tragic Muse_ was thus exactly other than what I had all earnestly
(if of course privately enough) invoked for it, and I remember well the
particular chill, at last, of the sense of my having launched it in a
great grey void from which no echo or message whatever would come back.
None, in the event, ever came, and as I now read the book over I find
the circumstance make, in its name, for a special tenderness of charity;
even for that finer consideration hanging in the parental breast about
the maimed or slighted, the disfigured or defeated, the unlucky or
unlikely child--with this hapless small mortal thought of further as
somehow "compromising." I am thus able to take the thing as having quite
wittingly and undisturbedly existed for itself alone, and to liken it to
some aromatic bag of gathered herbs of which the string has never been
loosed; or, better still, to some jar of potpourri, shaped and
overfigured and polished, but of which the lid, never lifted, has
provided for the intense accumulation of the fragrance within. The
consistent, the sustained, preserved _tone_ of _The Tragic Muse_, its
constant and doubtless rather fine-drawn truth to its particular sought
pitch and accent, are, critically speaking, its principal merit--the
inner harmony that I perhaps presumptuously permit myself to compare to
an unevaporated scent.

After which indeed I may well be summoned to say what I mean, in such a
business, by an appreciable "tone" and how I can justify my claim to
it--a demonstration that will await us later. Suffice it just here that
I find the latent historic clue in my hand again with the easy recall of
my prompt grasp of such a chance to make a story about art. _There_ was
my subject this time--all mature with having long waited, and with the
blest dignity that my original perception of its value was quite lost in
the mists of youth. I must long have carried in my head the notion of a
young man who should amid difficulty--the difficulties being the
story--have abandoned "public life" for the zealous pursuit of some
supposedly minor craft; just as, evidently, there had hovered before me
some possible picture (but all comic and ironic) of one of the most
salient London "social" passions, the unappeasable curiosity for the
things of the theatre; for every one of them, that is, except the drama
itself, and for the "personality" of the performer (almost any performer
quite sufficiently serving) in particular. This latter, verily, had
struck me as an aspect appealing mainly to satiric treatment; the only
adequate or effective treatment, I had again and again felt, for most of
the distinctively social aspects of London: the general artlessly
histrionised air of things caused so many examples to spring from behind
any hedge. What came up, however, at once, for my own stretched canvas,
was that it would have to be ample, give me really space to turn round,
and that a single illustrative case might easily be meagre fare. The
young man who should "chuck" admired politics, and of course some other
admired object with them, would be all very well; but he wouldn't be
enough--therefore what should one say to some other young man who would
chuck something and somebody else, admired in their way too?

There need never, at the worst, be any difficulty about the things
advantageously chuckable for art; the question is all but of choosing
them in the heap. Yet were I to represent a struggle--an interesting
one, indispensably--with the passions of the theatre (as a profession,
or at least as an absorption) I should have to place the theatre in
another light than the satiric. This, however, would by good luck be
perfectly possible too--without a sacrifice of truth; and I should
doubtless even be able to make my theatric case as important as I might
desire it. It seemed clear that I needed big cases--small ones would
practically give my central idea away; and I make out now my still
labouring under the illusion that the case of the sacrifice for art
_can_ ever be, with truth, with taste, with discretion involved,
apparently and showily "big." I daresay it glimmered upon me even then
that the very sharpest difficulty of the victim of the conflict I should
seek to represent, and the very highest interest of his predicament,
dwell deep in the fact that his repudiation of the great obvious, great
moral or functional or useful character, shall just have to consent to
resemble a surrender for absolutely nothing. Those characters are all
large and expansive, seated and established and endowed; whereas the
most charming truth about the preference for art is that to parade
abroad so thoroughly inward and so naturally embarrassed a matter is to
falsify and vulgarise it; that as a preference attended with the honours
of publicity it is indeed nowhere; that in fact, under the rule of its
sincerity, its only honours are those of contradiction, concentration
and a seemingly deplorable indifference to everything but itself.
Nothing can well figure as less "big," in an honest thesis, than a
marked instance of somebody's willingness to pass mainly for an ass. Of
these things I must, I say, have been in strictness aware; what I
perhaps failed of was to note that if a certain romantic glamour (even
that of mere eccentricity or of a fine perversity) may be flung over the
act of exchange of a "career" for the esthetic life in general, the
prose and the modesty of the matter yet come in with any exhibition of
the particular branch of esthetics selected. Then it is that the
attitude of hero or heroine may look too much--for the romantic
effect--like a low crouching over proved trifles. Art indeed has in our
day taken on so many honours and emoluments that the recognition of its
importance is more than a custom, has become on occasion almost a fury:
the line is drawn--especially in the English world--only at the
importance of heeding what it may mean.

The more I turn my pieces over, at any rate, the more I now see I must
have found in them, and I remember how, once well in presence of my
three typical examples, my fear of too ample a canvas quite dropped. The
only question was that if I had marked my political case, from so far
back, for "a story by itself," and then marked my theatrical case for
another, the joining together of these interests, originally seen as
separate, might, all disgracefully, betray the seam, show for mechanical
and superficial. A story was a story, a picture a picture, and I had a
mortal horror of two stories, two pictures, in one. The reason of this
was the clearest--my subject was immediately, under that disadvantage,
so cheated of its indispensable centre as to become of no more use for
expressing a main intention than a wheel without a hub is of use for
moving a cart. It was a fact, apparently, that one _had_ on occasion
seen two pictures in one; were there not for instance certain sublime
Tintorettos at Venice, a measureless Crucifixion in especial, which
showed without loss of authority half-a-dozen actions separately taking
place? Yes, that might be, but there had surely been nevertheless a
mighty pictorial fusion, so that the virtue of composition had somehow
thereby come all mysteriously to its own. Of course the affair would be
simple enough if composition could be kept out of the question; yet by
what art or process, what bars and bolts, what unmuzzled dogs and
pointed guns, perform that feat? I had to know myself utterly inapt for
any such valour and recognise that, to make it possible, sundry things
should have begun for me much further back than I had felt them even in
their dawn. A picture without composition slights its most precious
chance for beauty, and is, moreover, not composed at all unless the
painter knows _how_ that principle of health and safety, working as an
absolutely premeditated art, has prevailed. There may in its absence be
life, incontestably, as _The Newcomes_ has life, as _Les Trois
Mousquetaires_, as Tolstoi's _Peace and War_, have it; but what do such
large, loose, baggy monsters, with their queer elements of the
accidental and the arbitrary, artistically _mean_? We have heard it
maintained, we well remember, that such things are "superior to art";
but we understand least of all what _that_ may mean, and we look in vain
for the artist, the divine explanatory genius, who will come to our aid
and tell us. There is life and life, and as waste is only life
sacrificed and thereby prevented from "counting," I delight in a
deep-breathing economy and an organic form. My business was accordingly
to "go in" for complete pictorial fusion, some such common interest
between my two first notions as would, in spite of their birth under
quite different stars, do them no violence at all.

I recall with this confirmed infatuation of retrospect that through the
mild perceptions I here glance at there struck for _The Tragic Muse_ the
first hour of a season of no small subjective felicity; lighted mainly,
I seem to see, by a wide west window that, high aloft, looked over near
and far London sunsets, a half-grey, half-flushed expanse of London
life. The production of the thing, which yet took a good many months,
lives for me again all contemporaneously in that full projection, upon
my very table, of the good fog-filtered Kensington mornings; which had a
way indeed of seeing the sunset in and which at the very last are merged
to memory in a different and a sharper pressure, that of an hotel
bedroom in Paris during the autumn of 1889, with the Exposition du
Centenaire about to end--and my long story, through the usual
difficulties, as well. The usual difficulties--and I fairly cherish the
record as some adventurer in another line may hug the sense of his
inveterate habit of just saving in time the neck he ever
undiscourageably risks--were those bequeathed as a particular vice of
the artistic spirit, against which vigilance had been destined from the
first to exert itself in vain, and the effect of which was that again
and again, perversely, incurably, the centre of my structure would
insist on placing itself _not_, so to speak, in the middle. It mattered
little that the reader with the idea or the suspicion of a structural
centre is the rarest of friends and of critics--a bird, it would seem,
as merely fabled as the phoenix: the terminational terror was none the
less certain to break in and my work threaten to masquerade for me as an
active figure condemned to the disgrace of legs too short, ever so much
too short, for its body. I urge myself to the candid confession that in
very few of my productions, to my eye, _has_ the organic centre
succeeded in getting into proper position.

Time after time, then, has the precious waistband or girdle, studded and
buckled and placed for brave outward show, practically worked itself,
and in spite of desperate remonstrance, or in other words essential
counterplotting, to a point perilously near the knees--perilously I mean
for the freedom of these parts. In several of my compositions this
displacement has so succeeded, at the crisis, in defying and resisting
me, has appeared so fraught with probable dishonour, that I still turn
upon them, in spite of the greater or less success of final
dissimulation, a rueful and wondering eye. These productions have in
fact, if I may be so bold about it, specious and spurious centres
altogether, to make up for the failure of the true. As to which in my
list they are, however, that is another business, not on any terms to be
made known. Such at least would seem my resolution so far as I have
thus proceeded. Of any attention ever arrested by the pages forming the
object of this reference that rigour of discrimination has wholly and
consistently failed, I gather, to constitute a part. In which fact there
is perhaps after all a rough justice--since the infirmity I speak of,
for example, has been always but the direct and immediate fruit of a
positive excess of foresight, the overdone desire to provide for future
need and lay up heavenly treasure against the demands of my climax. If
the art of the drama, as a great French master of it has said, is above
all the art of preparations, that is true only to a less extent of the
art of the novel, and true exactly in the degree in which the art of the
particular novel comes near that of the drama. The first half of a
fiction insists ever on figuring to me as the stage or theatre for the
second half, and I have in general given so much space to making the
theatre propitious that my halves have too often proved strangely
unequal. Thereby has arisen with grim regularity the question of
artfully, of consummately masking the fault and conferring on the false
quantity the brave appearance of the true.

But I am far from pretending that these desperations of ingenuity have
not--as through seeming _most_ of the very essence of the problem--their
exasperated charm; so far from it that my particular supreme predicament
in the Paris hotel, after an undue primary leakage of time, no doubt,
over at the great river-spanning museum of the Champ de Mars and the
Trocadero, fairly takes on to me now the tender grace of a day that is
dead. Re-reading the last chapters of _The Tragic Muse_ I catch again
the very odour of Paris, which comes up in the rich rumble of the Rue de
la Paix--with which my room itself, for that matter, seems
impregnated--and which hangs for reminiscence about the embarrassed
effort to "finish," not ignobly, within my already exceeded limits; an
effort prolonged each day to those late afternoon hours during which the
tone of the terrible city seemed to deepen about one to an effect
strangely composed at once of the auspicious and the fatal. The "plot"
of Paris thickened at such hours beyond any other plot in the world, I
think; but there one sat meanwhile with another, on one's hands,
absolutely requiring precedence. Not the least imperative of one's
conditions was thus that one should have really, should have finely and
(given one's scale) concisely treated one's subject, in spite of there
being so much of the confounded irreducible quantity still to treat. If
I spoke just now, however, of the "exasperated" charm of supreme
difficulty, that is because the challenge of economic representation so
easily becomes, in any of the arts, intensely interesting to meet. To
put all that is possible of one's idea into a form and compass that will
contain and express it only by delicate adjustments and an exquisite
chemistry, so that there will at the end be neither a drop of one's
liquor left nor a hair's breadth of the rim of one's glass to
spare--every artist will remember how often that sort of necessity has
carried with it its particular inspiration. Therein lies the secret of
the appeal, to his mind, of the successfully _foreshortened_ thing,
where representation is arrived at, as I have already elsewhere had
occasion to urge, not by the addition of items (a light that has for its
attendant shadow a possible dryness) but by the art of figuring
synthetically, a compactness into which the imagination may cut thick,
as into the rich density of wedding-cake. The moral of all which indeed,
I fear, is, perhaps too trivially, but that the "thick," the false, the
dissembling second half of the work before me, associated throughout
with the effort to weight my dramatic values as heavily as might be,
since they had to be so few, presents that effort as at the very last a
quite convulsive, yet in its way highly agreeable, spasm. Of such mild
prodigies is the "history" of any specific creative effort composed!

But I have got too much out of the "old" Kensington light of twenty
years ago--a lingering oblique ray of which, to-day surely quite
extinct, played for a benediction over my canvas. From the moment I made
out, at my high-perched west window, my lucky title, that is from the
moment Miriam Rooth herself had given it me, so this young woman had
given me with it her own position in the book, and so that in turn had
given me my precious unity, to which no more than Miriam was either Nick
Dormer or Peter Sherringham to be sacrificed. Much of the interest of
the matter was immediately, therefore, in working out the detail of that
unity and--always entrancing range of questions--the order, the reason,
the relation, of presented aspects. With three _general_ aspects, that
of Miriam's case, that of Nick's and that of Sherringham's, there was
work in plenty cut out; since happy as it might be to say, "My several
actions beautifully become one," the point of the affair would be in
_showing_ them beautifully become so--without which showing foul failure
hovered and pounced. Well, the pleasure of handling an action (or,
otherwise expressed, of a "story") is at the worst, for a storyteller,
immense, and the interest of such a question as for example keeping Nick
Dormer's story his and yet making it also and all effectively in a large
part Peter Sherringham's, of keeping Sherringham's his and yet making it
in its high degree his kinsman's too, and Miriam Rooth's into the
bargain; just as Miriam Rooth's is by the same token quite operatively
his and Nick's, and just as that of each of the young men, by an equal
logic, is very contributively hers--the interest of such a question, I
say, is ever so considerably the interest of the system on which the
whole thing is done. I see to-day that it was but half a system to say,
"Oh Miriam, a case herself, is the _link_ between the two other cases";
that device was to ask for as much help as it gave and to require a good
deal more application than it announced on the surface. The sense of a
system saves the painter from the baseness of the _arbitrary_ stroke,
the touch without its reason, but as payment for that service the
process insists on being kept impeccably the right one.

These are intimate truths indeed, of which the charm mainly comes out
but on experiment and in practice; yet I like to have it well before me
here that, after all, _The Tragic Muse_ makes it not easy to say which
of the situations concerned in it predominates and rules. What has
become in that imperfect order, accordingly, of the famous centre of
one's subject? It is surely not in Nick's consciousness--since why, if
it be, are we treated to such an intolerable dose of Sherringham's? It
can't be in Sherringham's--we have for that altogether an excess of
Nick's. How, on the other hand, can it be in Miriam's, given that we
have no direct exhibition of hers whatever, that we get at it all
inferentially and inductively, seeing it only through a more or less
bewildered interpretation of it by others. The emphasis is all on an
absolutely objective Miriam, and, this affirmed, how--with such an
amount of exposed subjectivity all round her--can so dense a medium be a
centre? Such questions as those go straight--thanks to which they are, I
profess, delightful; going straight they are of the sort that makes
answers possible. Miriam _is_ central then to analysis, in spite of
being objective; central in virtue of the fact that the whole thing has
visibly, from the first, to get itself done in dramatic, or at least in
scenic conditions--though scenic conditions which are as near an
approach to the dramatic as the novel may permit itself and which have
this in common with the latter, that they move in the light of
_alternation_. This imposes a consistency other than that of the novel
at its loosest, and, for one's subject, a different view and a different
placing of the centre. The charm of the scenic consistency, the
consistency of the multiplication of _aspects_, that of making them
amusingly various, had haunted the author of _The Tragic Muse_ from far
back, and he was in due course to yield to it all luxuriously, too
luxuriously perhaps, in _The Awkward Age_, as will doubtless with the
extension of these remarks be complacently shown.

To put himself at any rate as much as possible under the protection of
it had been ever his practice (he had notably done so in _The Princess
Casamassima_, so frankly panoramic and processional); and in what case
could this protection have had more price than in the one before us? No
character in a play (any play not a mere monologue) has, for the right
expression of the thing, a _usurping_ consciousness; the consciousness
of others is exhibited exactly in the same way as that of the "hero";
the prodigious consciousness of Hamlet, the most capacious and most
crowded, the moral presence the most asserted, in the whole range of
fiction, only takes its turn with that of the other agents of the story,
no matter how occasional these may be. It is left, in other words, to
answer for itself equally with theirs: wherefore (by a parity of
reasoning if not of example) Miriam's might without inconsequence be
placed on the same footing; and all in spite of the fact that the "moral
presence" of each of the men most importantly concerned with her--or
with the second of whom she at least is importantly concerned--_is_
independently answered for. The idea of the book being, as I have said,
a picture of some of the personal consequences of the art-appetite
raised to intensity, swollen to voracity, the heavy emphasis falls where
the symbol of some of the complications so begotten might be made (as I
judged, heaven forgive me!) most "amusing": amusing I mean in the best
very modern sense. I never "go behind" Miriam; only poor Sherringham
goes, a great deal, and Nick Dormer goes a little, and the author, while
they so waste wonderment, goes behind _them_: but none the less she is
as thoroughly symbolic, as functional, for illustration of the idea, as
either of them, while her image had seemed susceptible of a livelier and
"prettier" concretion. I had desired for her, I remember, all manageable
vividness--so ineluctable had it long appeared to "do the actress," to
touch the theatre, to meet that connexion somehow or other, in any free
plunge of the speculative fork into the contemporary social salad.

The late R. L. Stevenson was to write to me, I recall--and precisely on
the occasion of _The Tragic Muse_--that he was at a loss to conceive how
one could find an interest in anything so vulgar or pretend to gather
fruit in so scrubby an orchard; but the view of a creature of the stage,
the view of the "histrionic temperament," as suggestive much less,
verily, in respect to the poor stage _per se_ than in respect to "art"
at large, affected me in spite of that as justly tenable. An objection
of a more pointed order was forced upon me by an acute friend later on
and in another connexion: the challenge of one's right, in any pretended
show of social realities, to attach to the image of a "public
character," a supposed particular celebrity, a range of interest, of
intrinsic distinction, greater than any such display of importance on
the part of eminent members of the class as we see them about us. There
_was_ a nice point if one would--yet only nice enough, after all, to be
easily amusing. We shall deal with it later on, however, in a more
urgent connexion. What would have worried me much more had it dawned
earlier is the light lately thrown by that admirable writer M. Anatole
France on the question of any animated view of the histrionic
temperament--a light that may well dazzle to distress any ingenuous
worker in the same field. In those parts of his brief but inimitable
_Histoire Comique_ on which he is most to be congratulated--for there
are some that prompt to reserves--he has "done the actress," as well as
the actor, done above all the mountebank, the mummer and the _cabotin_,
and mixed them up with the queer theatric air, in a manner that
practically warns all other hands off the material for ever. At the same
time I think I saw Miriam, and without a sacrifice of truth, that is of
the particular glow of verisimilitude I wished her most to benefit by,
in a complexity of relations finer than any that appear possible for the
gentry of M. Anatole France.

Her relation to Nick Dormer, for instance, was intended as a superior
interest--that of being (while perfectly sincere, sincere for _her_, and
therefore perfectly consonant with her impulse perpetually to perform
and with her success in performing) the result of a touched imagination,
a touched pride for "art," as well as of the charm cast on other
sensibilities still. Dormer's relation to herself is a different matter,
of which more presently; but the sympathy she, poor young woman, very
generously and intelligently offers him where most people have so
stinted it, is disclosed largely at the cost of her egotism and her
personal pretensions, even though in fact determined by her sense of
their together, Nick and she, postponing the "world" to their conception
of other and finer decencies. Nick can't on the whole see--for I have
represented him as in his day quite sufficiently troubled and
anxious--why he should condemn to ugly feebleness his most prized
faculty (most prized, at least, by himself) even in order to keep his
seat in Parliament, to inherit Mr. Carteret's blessing and money, to
gratify his mother and carry out the mission of his father, to marry
Julia Dallow in fine, a beautiful imperative woman with a great many
thousands a year. It all comes back in the last analysis to the
individual vision of decency, the critical as well as the passionate
judgement of it under sharp stress; and Nick's vision and judgement, all
on the esthetic ground, have beautifully coincided, to Miriam's
imagination, with a now fully marked, an inspired and impenitent, choice
of her own: so that, other considerations powerfully aiding indeed, she
is ready to see their interest all splendidly as one. She is in the
uplifted state to which sacrifices and submissions loom large, but loom
so just because they must write sympathy, write passion, large. Her
measure of what she would be capable of for him--capable, that is, of
_not_ asking of him--will depend on what he shall ask of _her_, but she
has no fear of not being able to satisfy him, even to the point of
"chucking" for him, if need be, that artistic identity of her own which
she has begun to build up. It will all be to the glory, therefore, of
their common infatuation with "art": she will doubtless be no less
willing to serve his than she was eager to serve her own, purged now of
the too great shrillness.

This puts her quite on a different level from that of the vivid monsters
of M. France, whose artistic identity is the last thing _they_ wish to
chuck--their only dismissal is of all material and social over-draping.
Nick Dormer in point of fact asks of Miriam nothing but that she shall
remain "awfully interesting to paint"; but that is _his_ relation,
which, as I say, is quite a matter by itself. He at any rate, luckily
for both of them it may be, doesn't put her to the test: he is so busy
with his own case, busy with testing himself and feeling his reality.
He has seen himself as giving up precious things for an object, and that
object has somehow not been the young woman in question, nor anything
very nearly like her. She, on the other hand, has asked everything of
Peter Sherringham, who has asked everything of _her_; and it is in so
doing that she has really most testified for art and invited him to
testify. With his professed interest in the theatre--one of those deep
subjections that, in men of "taste," the Comédie Française used in old
days to conspire for and some such odd and affecting examples of which
were to be noted--he yet offers her his hand and an introduction to the
very best society if she will leave the stage. The power--and her having
the sense of the power--to "shine" in the world is his highest measure
of her, the test applied by him to her beautiful human value; just as
the manner in which she turns on him is the application of her own
standard and touchstone. She is perfectly sure of her own; for--if there
were nothing else, and there is much--she has tasted blood, so to speak,
in the form of her so prompt and auspicious success with the public,
leaving all probations behind (the whole of which, as the book gives it,
is too rapid and sudden, though inevitably so: processes, periods,
intervals, stages, degrees, connexions, may be easily enough and barely
enough named, may be unconvincingly stated, in fiction, to the deep
discredit of the writer, but it remains the very deuce to _represent_
them, especially represent them under strong compression and in brief
and subordinate terms; and this even though the novelist who doesn't
represent, and represent "all the time," is lost, exactly as much lost
as the painter who, at his work and given his intention, doesn't paint
"all the time").

Turn upon her friend at any rate Miriam does; and one of my main points
is missed if it fails to appear that she does so with absolute
sincerity and with the cold passion of the high critic who knows, on
sight of them together, the more or less dazzling false from the
comparatively grey-coloured true. Sherringham's whole profession has
been that he rejoices in her as she is, and that the theatre, the
organised theatre, will be, as Matthew Arnold was in those very days
pronouncing it, irresistible; and it is the promptness with which he
sheds his pretended faith as soon as it feels in the air the breath of
reality, as soon as it asks of him a proof or a sacrifice, it is this
that excites her doubtless sufficiently arrogant scorn. Where is the
virtue of his high interest if it has verily never _been_ an interest to
speak of and if all it has suddenly to suggest is that, in face of a
serious call, it shall be unblushingly relinquished? If he and she
together, and her great field and future, and the whole cause they had
armed and declared for, have not been serious things they have been base
make-believes and trivialities--which is what in fact the homage of
society to art always turns out so soon as art presumes not to be vulgar
and futile. It is immensely the fashion and immensely edifying to listen
to, this homage, while it confines its attention to vanities and frauds;
but it knows only terror, feels only horror, the moment that, instead of
making all the concessions, art proceeds to ask for a few. Miriam is
nothing if not strenuous, and evidently nothing if not "cheeky," where
Sherringham is concerned at least: these, in the all-egotistical
exhibition to which she is condemned, are the very elements of her
figure and the very colours of her portrait. But she is mild and
inconsequent for Nick Dormer (who demands of her so little); as if
gravely and pityingly embracing the truth that _his_ sacrifice, on the
right side, is probably to have very little of her sort of recompense. I
must have had it well before me that she was all aware of the small
strain a great sacrifice to Nick would cost her--by reason of the strong
effect on her of his own superior logic, in which the very intensity of
concentration was so to find its account.

If the man, however, who holds her personally dear yet holds her
extremely personal message to the world cheap, so the man capable of a
consistency and, as she regards the matter, of an honesty so much higher
than Sherringham's, virtually cares, "really" cares, no straw for his
fellow-struggler. If Nick Dormer attracts and all-indifferently holds
her it is because, like herself and unlike Peter, he puts "art" first;
but the most he thus does for her in the event is to let her see how she
may enjoy, in intimacy, the rigour it has taught him and which he
cultivates at her expense. This is the situation in which we leave her,
though there would be more still to be said about the difference for her
of the two relations--that to each of the men--could I fondly suppose as
much of the interest of the book "left over" for the reader as for
myself. Sherringham, for instance, offers Miriam marriage, ever so
"handsomely"; but if nothing might lead me on further than the question
of what it would have been open to us--us novelists, especially in the
old days--to show, "serially," a young man in Nick Dormer's quite
different position as offering or a young woman in Miriam's as taking,
so for that very reason such an excursion is forbidden me. The trade of
the stage-player, and above all of the actress, must have so many
detestable sides for the person exercising it that we scarce imagine a
full surrender to it without a full surrender, not less, to every
immediate compensation, to every freedom and the largest ease within
reach: which presentment of the possible case for Miriam would yet have
been condemned--and on grounds both various and interesting to trace--to
remain very imperfect.

I feel, moreover, that I might still, with space, abound in remarks
about Nick's character and Nick's crisis suggested to my present more
reflective vision. It strikes me, alas, that he is not quite so
interesting as he was fondly intended to be, and this in spite of the
multiplication, within the picture, of his pains and penalties; so that
while I turn this slight anomaly over I come upon a reason that affects
me as singularly charming and touching and at which indeed I have
already glanced. Any presentation of the artist _in triumph_ must be
flat in proportion as it really sticks to its subject--it can only
smuggle in relief and variety. For, to put the matter in an image, all
we then--in his triumph--see of the charm-compeller is the back he turns
to us as he bends over his work. "His" triumph, decently, is but the
triumph of what he produces, and that is another affair. His romance is
the romance he himself projects; he eats the cake of the very rarest
privilege, the most luscious baked in the oven of the gods--therefore he
mayn't "have" it, in the form of the privilege of the hero, at the same
time. The privilege of the hero--that is, of the martyr or of the
interesting and appealing and comparatively floundering _person_--places
him in quite a different category, belongs to him only as to the artist
deluded, diverted, frustrated or vanquished; when the "amateur" in him
gains, for our admiration or compassion or whatever, all that the expert
has to do without. Therefore I strove in vain, I feel, to embroil and
adorn this young man on whom a hundred ingenious touches are thus
lavished: he has insisted in the event on looking as simple and flat as
some mere brass check or engraved number, the symbol and guarantee of a
stored treasure. The better part of him is locked too much away from us,
and the part we see has to pass for--well, what it passes for, so
lamentedly, among his friends and relatives. No, accordingly, Nick
Dormer isn't "the best thing in the book," as I judge I imagined he
would be, and it contains nothing better, I make out, than that
preserved and achieved unity and quality of tone, a value in itself,
which I referred to at the beginning of these remarks. What I mean by
this is that the interest created, and the expression of that interest,
are things kept, as to kind, genuine and true to themselves. The appeal,
the fidelity to the prime motive, is, with no little art, strained clear
(even as silver is polished) in a degree answering--at least by
intention--to the air of beauty. There is an awkwardness again in having
thus belatedly to point such features out; but in that wrought
appearance of animation and harmony, that effect of free movement and
yet of recurrent and insistent reference, _The Tragic Muse_ has struck
me again as conscious of a bright advantage.

HENRY JAMES.

Henry James