In the following passage, from Notes of a Son and Brother, the second of his autobiographical volumes, James tells how in the Spring of 1869 when he was 26 years old, he met his idol George Eliot and four other authors and artists. I have transcribed it from the Project Gutenberg online edition, adding links, images, and italicized titles. — George P. Landow

I found the Charles Nortons settled for the time in London, with social contacts and penetrations, a give and take of hospitality, that I felt as wondrous and of some elements of which they offered me, in their great kindness, the benefit; so that I was long to value having owed them in the springtime of '69 five separate impressions of distinguished persons, then in the full flush of activity and authority, that affected my young provincialism as a positive fairytale of privilege. I had a Sunday afternoon hour with Mrs. Lewes [George Eliot] at North Bank, no second visitor but my gentle introducer, the younger Miss Norton, sharing the revelation, which had some odd and for myself peculiarly thrilling accompaniments; and then the opportunity of dining with Mr. Ruskin at Denmark Hill, an impression of uneffaced intensity and followed by a like—and yet so unlike—evening of hospitality from William Morris in the medieval mise-en-scène of Queen Square. This had been preceded by a luncheon with Charles Darwin, beautifully benignant, sublimely simple, at Down; a memory to which I find attached our incidental wondrous walk—Mrs. Charles Norton, the too near term of her earthly span then smoothly out of sight, being my guide for the happy excursion—across a private park of great oaks, which I conceive to have been the admirable Holwood and where I knew my first sense of a matter afterwards, through fortunate years, to be more fully disclosed: the springtime in such places, the adored footpath, the first primroses, the stir and scent of renascence in the watered sunshine and under spreading boughs that were somehow before aught else the still reach of remembered lines of Tennyson, ached over in nostalgic years. The rarest hour of all perhaps, or at least the strangest, strange verily to the pitch of the sinister, was a vision, provided by the same care, of D. G. Rossetti in the vernal dusk of Queen's House Chelsea—among his pictures, amid his poetry itself, his whole haunting "esthetic," and yet above all bristling with his personality, with his perversity, with anything, as it rather awfully seemed to me, but his sympathy, though it at the same time left one oddly desirous of more of him. These impressions heaped up the measure, goodness knew, of what would serve for Minnie's curiosity—she was familiarly Minnie to us; the point remaining all along, however, that, impatient at having overmuch to wait, I rejoiced in possession of the exact vivid terms in which I should image George Eliot to her. I was much later on to renew acquaintance with that great lady.

Related material


James, Henry. in Autobiography. Ed. F. W. Dupee/ New York: Criterion Books, 1956.

James, Henry. Notes of a Son and Brother. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913. Project Gutenberg online version produced by Chuck Greif and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

Last modified 16 April 2020