At the outset of his novel The Ambassadors, Henry James describes a couple meandering through Chester, England, once a Roman town, near today’s industrial city of Liverpool. His description evokes the subtleties of living architecture as well as I have ever seen it expressed. Not long ago I blogged passages from The Princess Casamassima. There is a book that compiles the best of James’s writing about cities – mostly from his novels, I suppose. I will not rest until I find that book, and when I find it I will be able, when the muse is on strike, to fill a quick post with a dear passage. Like this one:
The tortuous wall – girdle, long since snapped, of the little swollen city, half held in place by careful civic hands – wanders in narrow file between parapets smoothed by peaceful generations, pausing here and there for a dismantled gate or a bridged gap, with rises and drops, steps up and steps down, queer twists, queer contacts, peeps into homely streets and under the brows of gables, views of cathedral towers and waterside fields, of huddled English town and ordered English country. Too deep almost for words was the delight of these things to Strether.
In English Hours, which James wrote, according to a note at the rear of The Ambassadors, in 1905, he further adumbrates the joys of “the tortuous wall”:
The civic consciousness, sunning itself thus on the city’s rim and glancing at the little swarming towered and gabled city within, and then at the blue undulations of the near Welsh border, may easily deepen to delicious complacency.