Had I, meanwhile, made him at once hero and historian, endowed him with the romantic privilege of the "first person"--the darkest abyss of romance this, inveterately, when enjoyed on the grand scale--variety, and many other queer matters as well, might have been smuggled in by a back door.Suffice it, to be brief, that the first person, in the long piece, is a form foredoomed to looseness and that looseness, never much my affair, had never been so little so as on this particular occasion.All of which reflexions flocked to the standard from the moment--a very early one--the question of how to keep my form amusing while sticking so close to my central figure and constantly taking its pattern from him had to be faced.
He arrives (arrives at Chester) as for the dreadful purpose of giving his creator "no end" to tell about him--before which rigorous mission the serenest of creators might well have quailed.
I was far from the serenest; I was more than agitated enough to reflect that, grimly deprived of one alternative or one substitute for "telling," I must address myself tooth and nail to another.Icouldn't, save by implication, make other persons tell EACH OTHERabout him--blest resource, blest necessity, of the drama, which reaches its effects of unity, all remarkably, by paths absolutely opposite to the paths of the novel: with other persons, save as they were primarily HIS persons (not he primarily but one of theirs), I had simply nothing to do.I had relations for him none the less, by the mercy of Providence, quite as much as if my exhibition was to be a muddle; if I could only by implication and a show of consequence make other persons tell each other about him, I could at least make him tell THEM whatever in the world he must; and could so, by the same token--which was a further luxury thrown in--see straight into the deep differences between what that could do for me, or at all events for HIM, and the large ease of "autobiography." It may be asked why, if one so keeps to one's hero, one shouldn't make a single mouthful of "method," shouldn't throw the reins on his neck and, letting them flap there as free as in "Gil Blas" or in "David Copperfield," equip him with the double privilege of subject and object--a course that has at least the merit of brushing away questions at a sweep.The answer to which is, I think, that one makes that surrender only if one is prepared NOT to make certain precious discriminations.
The "first person" then, so employed, is addressed by the author directly to ourselves, his possible readers, whom he has to reckon with, at the best, by our English tradition, so loosely and vaguely after all, so little respectfully, on so scant a presumption of exposure to criticism.Strether, on the other hand, encaged and provided for as "The Ambassadors" encages and provides, has to keep in view proprieties much stiffer and more salutary than any our straight and credulous gape are likely to bring home to him, has exhibitional conditions to meet, in a word, that forbid the terrible FLUIDITY of self-revelation.I may seem not to better the case for my discrimination if I say that, for my first care, I had thus inevitably to set him up a confidant or two, to wave away with energy the custom of the seated mass of explanation after the fact, the inserted block of merely referential narrative, which flourishes so, to the shame of the modern impatience, on the serried page of Balzac, but which seems simply to appal our actual, our general weaker, digestion.
"Harking back to make up" took at any rate more doing, as the phrase is, not only than the reader of to-day demands, but than he will tolerate at any price any call upon him either to understand or remotely to measure; and for the beauty of the thing when done the current editorial mind in particular appears wholly without sense.It is not, however, primarily for either of these reasons, whatever their weight, that Strether's friend Waymarsh is so keenly clutched at, on the threshold of the book, or that no less a pounce is made on Maria Gostrey--without even the pretext, either, of HER being, in essence, Strether's friend.She is the reader's friend much rather--in consequence of dispositions that make him so eminently require one; and she acts in that capacity, and REALLY in that capacity alone, with exemplary devotion from beginning to and of the book.She is an enrolled, a direct, aid to lucidity; she is in fine, to tear off her mask, the most unmitigated and abandoned of ficelles.Half the dramatist's art, as we well know--since if we don't it's not the fault of the proofs that lie scattered about us--is in the use of ficelles; by which I mean in a deep dissimulation of his dependence on them.
Waymarsh only to a slighter degree belongs, in the whole business, less to my subject than to my treatment of it; the interesting proof, in these connexions, being that one has but to take one's subject for the stuff of drama to interweave with enthusiasm as many Gostreys as need be.
The material of "The Ambassadors," conforming in this respect exactly to that of "The Wings of the Dove," published just before it, is taken absolutely for the stuff of drama; so that, availing myself of the opportunity given me by this edition for some prefatory remarks on the latter work, I had mainly to make on its behalf the point of its scenic consistency.It disguises that virtue, in the oddest way in the world, by just LOOKING, as we turn its pages, as little scenic as possible; but it sharply divides itself, just as the composition before us does, into the parts that prepare, that tend in fact to over-prepare, for scenes, and the parts, or otherwise into the scenes, that justify and crown the preparation.It may definitely be said, I think, that everything in it that is not scene (not, I of course mean, complete and functional scene, treating ALL the submitted matter, as by logical start, logical turn, and logical finish) is discriminated preparation, is the fusion and synthesis of picture.