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Politics

Henry James Knew Washington Square
Part 1

By J. Owen Grundy

Originally appeared in the Villager on December 13, 1945

The revival of interest in the works of Henry James continues this Fall with the publication of "The Short Stories of Henry James," edited by Clifton Fadiman, which was published by Random House, September 28. The late, great Villager was born April 15, 1843, at 5 Washington Place, corner of Mercer Street. Two years later his family removed to 58 West 14th Street, but Washington Square remained the playground of the famous novelist and his distinguished brother William James.

In his "Memoirs of a Son and Brother" (1914), Henry James tells of his friends, William Cullen Bryant, Washington Irving, George W. Curtis, Edgar Allen Poe, and other famous Villagers and Village visitors. Another friend. John LaFarge, who comes into his memories, later created some of the stained glass windows in the Church of the Ascension. Henry James died in London February 28, 1916.

James describes his native Washington Square in his novel of that name. "The ideal of genteel retirement was found in Washington Square," he wrote, where the Doctor (the hero of the story) built himself a handsome modern 1835 house, with a big balcony before the drawing room windows, and a flight of white marble steps ascending to the portal, which was also faced with white marble. This structure, and many of its neighbors, which it exactly resembled, was supposed, 40 yearst after, to embody the last results of architectural science, and they remain to this day very solid and honorable dwellings. In front of them was the Square containing a considerable quantity of inexpensive vegetation enclosed by a wooden paling, and around the corner was the more august precinct of Fifth Avenue, taking its origins at this point with a spacious and confident air which already marked it for higher destinies."

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