Henry James Sr. Sweeps his Family off to Europe

June 24th, 2008 Posted in Meet the Jameses

“Though small, spare, and unbalanced in his gait, Henry James Sr. loved to pit himself against the uncomprehending world.  Sometimes he walked with canes, to cope with a childhood injury, but more often this self-appinted prophet of social reform cast away all artificial forms of support and navigated on his own.  Such was the case on this steamy and momentous June day in 1855, when the forty-four-year-old patriarch lowered himself down the steps of his Fourteenth Street brownstone, ready to take on just about everyone.

“The James family party was leaving New York: one lame man, Henry himself; three bonneted women; five young children; and a Himalaya of luggage.  On this ‘thoroughly hot’ summer morning, as the New York Tribune described it, they were striking out toward a Europe that, thanks to the lithographs and novels that had stoked their imaginations, felt more real to them, in a sense, than the scorching streets of Manhattan.  It was as if they were going home, though the places they envisioned were as yet unknown.  Defiantly, Henry was preparing to snatch his young family–Alice, his smallest child, was only six–away from the city that had counted as the only genuine home they’d ever known.  The Jameses were moving to the lake country of Switzerland, where, Henry insisted, his children would blossom in the experimental hothouses of Swiss schools.  He was, after all, a social engineer of sorts.  His children, he believed, should be the beneficiaries of the world’s most enlightened thinking.”

(c) Paul Fisher 2008 – All Rights Reserved

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