Henry James Jr.’s Injury Keeps Him Out of the Civil War

July 10th, 2008 Posted in Meet the Jameses

“In the middle of the night on April 17, 1861, with ‘the smoke of Charleston bay still acrid in the air,’ Harry, perhaps stimulated by the atmosphere of excitement, pitched in with a crowd of young men who were fighting a fire that had broken out at the Newport armory.

“With others, Harry strained to bring to life an old rusty pump in the stable yard.  As he worked doggedly to draw water, he got crowded into an awkward position, ‘jammed into an acute angle between two high fences.’  Then something tore.  In a spasm of agony, Harry did himself what he later called a ‘horrid even if an obscure hurt.’  Because Harry remained cryptic in his later memoirs, describing this mishap as an embarassing and ‘extraordinarily intimate,’ biographers speculated for a long time that Harry’s injury was genital.  Historical sources, however, confirm only a back problem . . .

“This ‘hurt’ strangely mimicked Henry Senior’s earlier leg injury.  Both accidents occurred during fires in stables, both struck in adolescence, and both severed the men, father and son, from the ease of ‘normal’ lives.  Harry’s accident, anyway, marked him as disabled in some way.  The ‘hurt’ amounted to a gash he’d carry not only through the Civil War but also on into his adulthood.”

(c) Paul Fisher 2008 – All Rights Reserved

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