Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, July 22, 2017

How did walking inspire Henry James?

How did walking inspire Henry James?
In Frédéric Gros’s A Philosophy of Walking, he describes the fourth stage of life’s journey per Hindu philosophy. It is that of a pilgrim in which, “The sage has now renounced everything and attained the highest level of freedom: that of perfect detachment. He is no longer involved, either in himself or in the world.”[1] Even as a young child, it was reported that Henry “liked ‘the joy of lonely walks.’ He also liked company, though he had a sense of the company of his imagination and the pleasure of sentient observation.”[2]
In Chapter VII, An English Easter, James stated, “I walked down to Westminster Abbey on Good Friday afternoon – walked from Piccadilly across the Green Park and through that of St. James.”[3] Later in this chapter, he describes a cathedral at Canterbury, “It is a long walk, beneath the walls, from the gateway of the close to the farther end of the last chapel. Of all that there is to observe in this upward-gazing stroll I can give no detailed account; I can, in my fear to pretend to dabble in the esoteric constructional question – often so combined with an absence of other felt relations – speak only of the picture, the mere builded scene. This is altogether delightful.”[4] In Chapter IX, Two Excursions, he reflected on Oxford, “Before going to bed I took a turn through the streets and renewed in the silent darkness that impression of the charm imparted to them by the quiet college-fronts which I had gathered in former years. The college-fronts were now quieter than ever, the streets were empty, and the old scholastic city was sleeping in the warm starlight.”[5] Almost every chapter contains some reference to walking as in Chapter X, In Warwickshire, “Of course, however, I did walk over to the castle; and of course the walk led me through leafy lanes and beside the hedgerows that make a tangled screen for large lawn-like meadows.”[6]

[1] Frédérick Gros, A Philosophy of Walking, (London, Verso, 2015), 8-9.
[2] Fred Kaplan, Henry James: The Imagination of Genius A Biography (New York, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992), 17.
[3] Henry James, English Hours (New York, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989), 95.
[4] Ibid., 104.
[5] Ibid., 129.
[6] Ibid., 136.


  1. Happy is the walker who can enjoy "a sense of the company of his imagination and the pleasure of sentient observation" - as Henry evidently could. He also enjoyed a good bikeride.

  2. Henry “liked ‘the joy of lonely walks but later stated that was always happy in his own company. I can relate