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Love, Marriage, and Divorce (1853/1889)


by Henry James, Sr. (1811-1882), Horace Greeley (1811-1872)
and Stephen Pearl Andrews (1812-1886)


XIV.

STRICTURES ON AN ARTICLE FROM HENRY JAMES

IN THE NEW YORK TRIBUNE OF FEB. 12, 1853.

[I can not, perhaps, better close this controversy than by the insertion of the following Communication suggested by it, and which will show how differently the Doctrine of “The Sovereignty of the Individual” lies in some people’s minds from what it appears to do in the minds of Mr. Greeley and Mr. James. – S. P. A.]


MY DEAR ANDREWS:
LMD-14.1 I have read James’ stuff in response to your article, and have no doubt that you will appreciate it. I saw, as I anticipated and mentioned to you, that your article required intelligence and candor in the reader, equal to those in the writer, to do it justice.
LMD-14.2 Mr. James appears to possess neither, to the degree required for a controversy so important as this is in the present crisis. He has, however, been driven by your clear and definite statement of a great principle, to dabble with it, and so to open the way for its introduction. His very perversion of your formula demands correction, and calls for a discrimination that he seems not to comprehend.
LMD-14.3 He misquotes your formula as saying that one “may do as he pleases, provided he will accept the consequences of so doing.” He says he finds it thus propounded. This is a misrepresentation. He does not find it “thus propounded,” but has perverted it, either through carelessness, or ignorance, or a less excusable design, to misrepresent; but this matters not – it is his practical applications that interest us. Having furnished his own formula, he then goes on to show how ridiculous it is; but at the same time shows that the plane of his morality (although a teacher of the public) is even below that of the humble and unpretending. he seems to see no other consequences of stealing than what he finds in the penitentiary! no other consequences of lying than the violation of one of the commands of the Decalogue! no other consequences of “prostituting your neighbor’s daughter” “but the scorn of every honest nature!” Had he read your formula intelligently and candidly, I think he could not have failed to see that the “exercise of my Sovereignty at my own Cost,” while it would give me supreme control over my own property within my own sphere, equally prohibits any use of it to the injury of another. The same formula would regulate the acquisition of property. I may acquire as much as I please at my own cost, but if I steal another’s I acquire it at his “Cost,” which is a violation of his Sovereignty and of the formula. Again, had society been formed under the influence of such a regulating principle, Mr. James and his readers might have been spared his coarse allusion to seduction. No one whose habits had been formed upon this simple but sublime principle, would ever think of involving “a neighbor’s daughter,” nor any other person, in suffering by the pursuit of his happiness. This would be acting at their “Cost,” instead of his own; it would be a violation of their Sovereignty and of the formula. When a strict and sacred regard to the “Sovereignty of the Individual” shall begin to regulate the acts of Mankind, innocence and confiding love will begin to be safe, and find protectors in all who surround them. Thus, the readers of Mr. James (if not Mr. James himself) will see that this simple formula, which he says “is as old as the foundation of the world,” opens to view a plane of morality as much higher than the vision of Mr. James as it is new and necessary to the world.




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