There is something still more comic than this, however, to be got out of his visits to George Eliot. The visit he paid her at Witley under the “much-waved wing” of the irrepressible Mrs. Greville, who “knew no law but that of innocent and exquisite aberration,” had a superb conclusion, which “left our adventure an approved ruin.” As James was about to leave, and indeed was at the step of the brougham with Mrs. Greville, G.H. Lewes called on him to wait a moment. He returned to the doorstep, and waited till Lewes hurried back across the hall, “shaking high the pair of blue-bound volumes his allusion to the uninvited, the verily importunate loan of which by Mrs. Greville had lingered on the air after his dash in quest of them":—
“Ah, those books—take
them away, please, away, away!” I hear him
unreservedly plead while he thrusts them again at me, and I scurry
back into our conveyance.
The blue-bound volumes happened to be a copy of Henry James’s own new book—a presentation copy he had given to Mrs. Greville, and she, in turn, with the best intentions, had tried to leave with George Eliot, to be read and admired. George Eliot and Lewes had failed to connect their young visitor with the volumes. Hence a situation so comic that even its victim could not but enjoy it:—
Our hosts hadn’t so much as connected book with author, or author with visitor, or visitor with anything but the convenience of his ridding them of an unconsidered trifle; grudging, as they so justifiedly did, the impingement of such matters on their consciousness. The vivid demonstration of one’s failure to penetrate there had been in the sweep of Lewes’s gesture, which could scarcely have been bettered by his actually wielding a broom.
Henry James Was more fortunate in Tennyson as a host. Tennyson had read at least one of his stories and liked it. All the same, James was disappointed in Tennyson. He expected to find him a poet signed and stamped, and found him only a booming bard. Not only was Tennyson not Tennysonian: he was not quite real. His conversation came as a shock to his guest:—
He struck me as neither knowing nor communicating knowledge.
As Tennyson read Locksley Hall to his guests, Henry James had to pinch himself, “not at all to keep from swooning, but much rather to set up some rush of sensibility.” What a lovely touch of malice there is in his description of Tennyson on an occasion on which the ineffable Mrs. Greville quoted some of his own verse to him:—
He took these things
with a gruff philosophy, and could always
repay them, on the spot, in heavily-shovelled coin of the same
mint, since it was a question of his genius.