“The old charm of Mount Vernon Street, for instance, wandering up the hill, almost from the waterside, to the rear of the State House, and fairly hanging about there to rest like some good flushed lady, of more than middle age…—this ancient grace was not only still to be felt, but was charged…with intenser ghostly presences, the rich growth of time, which might have made the ample slope, as one mounted, appear as beautifully peopled as Jacob’s Ladder.”
The above was taken from a late, nonfiction work of the author Henry James, who rose to prominence around the turn of the 20th century for novels such as The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, and The Turn of the Screw. Though James spent much of his life and career in Europe, he and his family lived in Boston at various times and James revisited New England while touring the United States for his book of travel writing, The American Scene (excerpted above).
Largely known as a transatlantic writer, James was born in New York City in 1843 and made his first trip to Europe the same year. The family then moved between Albany, New York; Manhattan; Geneva, Switzerland; London; Paris; and Newport, Rhode Island. After attending many schools—including a polytechnic institute and Harvard Law—James turned seriously to writing, had several short stories and reviews published in The Atlantic Monthly and elsewhere, and, by his early thirties, had gained a substantial reputation.
Still in the first phase of his career, James wrote The Portrait of a Lady and Daisy Miller, both about American women in Europe. He was himself moving between New England, Paris, and London at the time and expatriates and travelers populated many of his novels. Shortly after these triumphs, he turned his hand to playwriting, at which he saw only moderate success, and published The Bostonians, about suffragettes and abolitionists in Boston.
After moving to Europe with some permanence late in his life, James completed his final major novel, The Golden Bowl. He suffered several major strokes in 1915 and died the following year. Throughout his life, he maintained friendships with figures Charles Dickens, George Eliot, John Singer Sargent, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ivan Turgenev, and Émile Zola.