JAMES, Henry, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts



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JAMES, Henry (1843-1916). Writer.
Autograph Letter Signed to [William] Archer (drama critic, 1856-1924), 3 pages 8vo on conjoint leaves (some slight foxing), Florence, 1 January 1886. Thanking Archer for the text of a document from which he plans to quote, and referring to the 'London misfortunes' [of Robert Louis Stevenson].
'... One doesn't easily obtain news of Skerryvore, but I gather, dimly, that its master has somewhat recovered his London misfortunes. He returns from the dead so often that I can't but think that some really fruitful life is in store for him yet. ...'
'It was very kind of you to supply me with the very text of the desired document & a trouble I didn't mean to impress upon you. I have much enjoyed reading it again, & shall take the liberty of keeping it awhile, as the spirit will probably move me to quote from it. ...'


William Archer (1856-1924) was an influential theatre critic at the time, and was eager to encourage novelists to work on the stage. He was fluent in Norwegian and his translations of Henrik Ibsen's work brought social drama to the English stage. From 1890 onwards, James turned to the theatre in order to sustain his income, and rewrote his early novel The American for Edward Compton's Compton Comedy Theatre. He found play writing a struggle compared with novels, complaining to a colleague that it was 'The thirst for gold that is pushing me along this dishonourable path.' Archer came to the opening of the production at Southport - his support did much to allay James' anxieties for his play (Henry James: The Middle Years, 1884-1894, by Leon Edel).

The 'Skerryvore' acquaintance is undoubtedly Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson lived in Bournemouth with his wife Fanny between 1884 and 1887, and James was one of the first and most frequent visitors to Skerryvore, the property that Thomas Stevenson brought as a wedding gift for his daughter-in-law. James and Stevenson had become close acquaintances after James' publication Art of Fiction in Longman's Magazine, in which James defended the true purpose of the novel. Stevenson followed up with A Humble Remonstrance, and his supportive manifesto led to an exchange of letters followed by a meeting in 1885. It was in 1886 that Stevenson achieved world-wide success with his 'shilling shocker', Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Skerryvore was the home of Robert Louis Stevenson from 1885 to 1887, most of that time spent in ill health. James and Stevenson met when the latter replied to an essay by the former published in Longman's Magazine in 1884. They became close friends and James became a frequent and most welcome visitor to Skerryvore.
[No: 26538]


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