Henry James on Culture: Collected Essays on Politics and the American Social Scene

Henry James on Culture: Collected Essays on Politics and the American Social Scene

Henry James on Culture: Collected Essays on Politics and the American Social Scene

Henry James on Culture: Collected Essays on Politics and the American Social Scene

Synopsis

A collection of 18 articles by novelist James on the social and political issues of his day. The essays explore such issues as the possibility of life after death; British imperial politics and crises in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and South Africa, questions of gender in the United States, and the meaning of World War I.

Excerpt

I allude to the British soldier, more especially, as I lately observed and admired him at Aldershot, where, just now, he appears to particular advantage; but at any time during the past twelvemonth—since England and Russia have stood glaring at each other across the prostrate body of the expiring yet reviving Turk—this actually ornamental and potentially useful personage has been picturesquely, agreeably conspicuous. I say "agreeably," speaking from my own humble point of view, because I confess to a lively admiration of the military class. I exclaim, cordially, with Offenbach's Grand Duchess, "Ah, oui, j'aime les militaires!" Mr. Ruskin has said somewhere, very naturally, that he could never resign himself to living in a country in which, as in the United States, there should be no old castles. Putting aside the old castles, I should say, like Mr. Ruskin, that life loses a certain indispensable charm in a country destitute of an apparent standing army. Certainly, the army may be too apparent, too importunate, too terrible a burden to the state and to the conscience of the philosophic observer. This is the case, without a doubt, just now in the bristling empires of the Continent. In Germany and France, in Russia and Italy, there are many more soldiers than are needed to make the taxpayer thrifty or the lover of the picturesque happy. The huge armaments of continental Europe are an oppressive and sinister spectacle, and I have rarely derived a high order of entertainment from the sight of even the largest masses of homesick conscripts. The chair à canon—the cannonmeat—as they aptly term it in French, has always seemed to me dumbly, appealingly conscious of its destiny. I have seen it in course of preparation—seen it salted and dressed and packed and labelled, as it were, for consumption. In that

From Lippincott's Magazine 22 (Aug. 1878): 214-21.

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