A dearth of topics would have been as unheard of as a lapse in the service.
Brooksmith in short was the artist! We felt this covertly at the time, without formulating it, and were conscious, as an ordered and prosperous community, of his even-handed justice, all untainted with flunkeyism. He had none of that vulgarity — his touch was infinitely fine. The delicacy of it was clear to me on the first occasion my eyes rested, as they were so often to rest again, on the domestic revealed, in the turbid light of the street, by the opening of the house-door.
I saw on the spot that though he had plenty of school he carried it without arrogance — he had remained articulate and human. Offord used laughingly to call him when, later on, it happened more than once that we had some conversation about him. But I remember accusing Mr. Offord of not doing him quite ideal justice. The utility of his class in general is estimated by the foot and the inch, and poor Brooksmith had only about five feet three to put into circulation. If HE had been Mr.
Offord he certainly would have found Brooksmith wanting, and indeed the laxity of his employer on this score was one of many things he had had to condone and to which he had at last indulgently adapted himself. This was written to a certain extent in his appearance; in his spare brisk little person, in his cloistered white face and extraordinarily polished hair, which told of responsibility, looked as if it were kept up to the same high standard as the plate; in his small clear anxious eyes, even in the permitted, though not exactly encouraged, tuft on his chin.
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Offord alluded to was a participation more intense than any speech could have represented — that of being perpetually present on a hundred legitimate pretexts, errands, necessities, and breathing the very atmosphere of criticism, the famous criticism of life. It was indeed an education, but to what was this sensitive young man of thirty-five, of the servile class, being educated?
Practically and inevitably, for the time, to companionship, to the perpetual, the even exaggerated reference and appeal of a person brought to dependence by his time of life and his infirmities and always addicted moreover — this was the exaggeration — to the art of giving you pleasure by letting you do things for him. There were certain things Mr. This was precisely the way he acted as moderator; he averted misunderstandings or cleared them up. He had been capable, strange as it may appear, of acquiring for this purpose an insight into the French tongue, which was often used at Mr.
I know Mr. Offord used to read passages to him from Montaigne and Saint—Simon, for he read perpetually when alone — when THEY were alone, that is — and Brooksmith was always about. I often noticed that if an anecdote or a quotation, much more a lively discussion, was going forward, he would, if busy with the fire or the curtains, the lamp or the tea, find a pretext for remaining in the room till the point should be reached. Then I became conscious that Mr. Nothing would induce me to reproduce it here, but Brooksmith had been in danger of losing it.
If I ever should venture to reproduce it I shall feel how much I lose in not having my fellow auditor to refer to.
It was raining hard and my umbrella was wet, but Brooksmith received it from me exactly as if this were a preliminary for going upstairs. I observed however that instead of putting it away he held it poised and trickling over the rug, and I then became aware that he was looking at me with deep acknowledging eyes — his air of universal responsibility.
I immediately understood — there was scarce need of question and answer as they passed between us. Offord came down again, but the spell was broken, the great sign being that the conversation was for the first time not directed. Offord said when he reappeared; and then I recognised what a note of change that would be — for he had never tolerated anything so provincial. The talk became ours, in a word — not his; and as ours, even when HE talked, it could only be inferior. There were better hours, and he was more in and out of the room, but I could see he was conscious of the decline, almost of the collapse, of our great institution.
He seemed to wish to take counsel with me about it, to feel responsible for its going on in some form or other. He had a resigned philosophic sense of what his guests — our guests, as I came to regard them in our colloquies — would expect.
Tuesday Reading Room – Brooksmith by Henry James
Offord; but he was so saturated with the religion of habit that he would have made, for our friends, the necessary sacrifice to the divinity. He would take them on a little further and till they could look about them.
I think I saw him also mentally confronted with the opportunity to deal — for once in his life — with some of his own dumb preferences, his limitations of sympathy, WEEDING a little in prospect and returning to a purer tradition. At last it came to be the case that we all found the closed door more often than the open one; but even when it was closed Brooksmith managed a crack for me to squeeze through; so that practically I never turned away without having paid a visit.
The difference simply came to be that the visit was to Brooksmith. But it was always interesting — it always gave me something to think about. No doubt Mr. Offord would provide for him, but WHAT would he provide? I must add that he never showed a symptom of what I may call sordid solicitude — anxiety on his own account. He had the solemnity of a person winding up, under depressing circumstances, a long-established and celebrated business; he was a kind of social executor or liquidator.
But his manner seemed to testify exclusively to the uncertainty of OUR future. One of the most assiduous members of our circle had been Lady Kenyon, and I remember his telling me one day that her ladyship had in spite of her own infirmities, lately much aggravated, been in person to inquire. In answer to this I remarked that she would feel it more than any one. Several times he took me upstairs — always by his own proposal — and our dear old friend, in bed in a curious flowered and brocaded casaque which made him, especially as his head was tied up in a handkerchief to match, look, to my imagination, like the dying Voltaire held for ten minutes a sadly shrunken little salon.
I felt indeed each time as if I were attending the last coucher of some social sovereign. He was royally whimsical about his sufferings and not at all concerned — quite as if the Constitution provided for the case about his successor. He glided over OUR sufferings charmingly, and none of his jokes — it was a gallant abstention, some of them would have been so easy — were at our expense.
Where would the speech of his betters have been if proper service had been a manifestation of sound?
In that case the fundamental difference would have had to be shown by their dumbness, and many of them, poor things, were dumb enough without that provision. Brooksmith took an unfailing interest in the preservation of the fundamental difference; it was the thing he had most on his conscience. What had become of it however when Mr. Offord passed away like any inferior person — was relegated to eternal stillness after the manner of a butler above-stairs?
When everything was over — it was late the same day — I knocked at the door of the house of mourning as I so often had done before. I could never call on Mr. Offord again, but I had come literally to call on Brooksmith. I wanted to ask him if there was anything I could do for him, tainted with vagueness as this inquiry could only be.
My offer could only be to help him to find another place, and yet there was an indelicacy, as it were, in taking for granted that his thoughts would immediately be fixed on another. I had a hope that he would be able to give his life a different form — though certainly not the form, the frequent result of such bereavements, of his setting up a little shop. That would have been dreadful; for I should have wished to forward any enterprise he might embark in, yet how could I have brought myself to go and pay him shillings and take back coppers, over a counter?
My visit then was simply an intended compliment. He took it as such, gratefully and with all the tact in the world. The executors were in possession, as was still more apparent when he made me pass for a few minutes into the dining-room, where various objects were muffled up for removal.
Two definite facts, however, he had to communicate; one being that he was to leave the house for ever that night servants, for some mysterious reason, seem always to depart by night , and the other — he mentioned it only at the last and with hesitation — that he was already aware his late master had left him a legacy of eighty pounds. Eighty pounds are always eighty pounds, and no one has ever left ME an equal sum; but, all the same, for Brooksmith, I was disappointed. It would be a help to my getting him off my mind to be able to pretend I COULD find the right place, and that help he wished to give me, for it was doubtless painful to him to see me in so false a position.
I interposed with a few words to the effect of how well aware I was that wherever he should go, whatever he should do, he would miss our old friend terribly — miss him even more than I should, having been with him so much more. This led him to make the speech that has remained with me as the very text of the whole episode.
You have others, sir, I daresay — not that I would have you understand me to speak of them as in any way tantamount. He had given me his address — the place where he would be to be heard of. For a long time I had no occasion to make use of the information: he proved on trial so very difficult a case. The people who knew him and had known Mr. In plain terms a certain embarrassment, a sensible awkwardness when they thought of it, attached to the idea of using him as a menial: they had met him so often in society. Many of them would have asked him, and did ask him, or rather did ask me to ask him, to come and see them, but a mere visiting-list was not what I wanted for him.
He was too short for people who were very particular; nevertheless I heard of an opening in a diplomatic household which led me to write him a note, though I was looking much less for something grand than for something human.
Brooksmith / Henry James
Five days later I heard from him. The note had a P. I wonder if I would have liked him any better if he had been writing today [1. Probably not. The first thing I admired about this story was the way he pulled me in right from the first sentence. You might not think of the slow-paced Henry James novels as belonging on the same shelf as Ian Fleming or James Patterson, but there is, nonetheless, plenty of suspense to keep the reader hooked:. We are scattered now, the friends of the late Mr. Oliver Offord, but whenever we chance to meet I think we are conscious of a certain esoteric respect for each other.
Who was the late Mr. The story turns out not to be about Mr Offord at all, but about his butler, Brooksmith and the perils of allowing the servant class to rise above their station. It really struck me — after putting down this book with a sneer on my face and a punchy urge in my fist — that my writing could benefit from a bit more loathesomeness. But being well-brought-up can create a tendency to be too nice to my characters, too forgiving. I love loathsome characters. My view on making characters real is simply to look at real flaws.
If everyone knew everything and took absolute truth to heart without subjecting it to their own personal preferences, we would all be, practically the same person. Your email address will not be published. Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.