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The Ambassadors

Preface
Nothing is more easy than to state the subject of "The Ambassadors," which first
appeared in twelve numbers of _The North American Review_ (1903) and was
published as a whole the same year. The situation involved is gathered up betimes, that
is in the second chapter of Book Fifth, for the reader's benefit, into as few words as
possible-- planted or "sunk," stiffly and saliently, in the centre of the current, almost
perhaps to the obstruction of traffic. Never can a composition of this sort have sprung
straighter from a dropped grain of suggestion, and never can that grain, developed,
overgrown and smothered, have yet lurked more in the mass as an independent
particle. The whole case, in fine, is in Lambert Strether's irrepressible outbreak to little
Bilham on the Sunday afternoon in Gloriani's garden, the candour with which he yields,
for his young friend's enlightenment, to the charming admonition of that crisis. The idea
of the tale resides indeed in the very fact that an hour of such unprecedented ease
should have been felt by him AS a crisis, and he is at pains to express it for us as neatly
as we could desire. The remarks to which he thus gives utterance contain the essence
of "The Ambassadors," his fingers close, before he has done, round the stem of the full-
blown flower; which, after that fashion, he continues officiously to present to us. "Live all
you can; it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular so long
as you have your life. If you haven't had that what HAVE you had? I'm too old--too old at
any rate for what I see. What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that. Still, we
have the illusion of freedom; therefore don't, like me to-day, be without the memory of
that illusion. I was either, at the right time, too stupid or too intelligent to have it, and
now I'm a case of reaction against the mistake. Do what you like so long as you don't
make it. For it WAS a mistake. Live, live!" Such is the gist of Strether's appeal to the
impressed youth, whom he likes and whom he desires to befriend; the word "mistake"
occurs several times, it will be seen, in the course of his remarks-- which gives the
measure of the signal warning he feels attached to his case. He has accordingly missed
too much, though perhaps after all constitutionally qualified for a better part, and he
wakes up to it in conditions that press the spring of a terrible question. WOULD there
yet perhaps be time for reparation?--reparation, that is, for the injury done his character;
for the affront, he is quite ready to say, so stupidly put upon it and in which he has even
himself had so clumsy a hand? The answer to which is that he now at all events SEES;
so that the business of my tale and the march of my action, not to say the precious
moral of everything, is just my demonstration of this process of vision.
Nothing can exceed the closeness with which the whole fits again into its germ. That
had been given me bodily, as usual, by the spoken word, for I was to take the image
over exactly as I happened to have met it. A friend had repeated to me, with great
appreciation, a thing or two said to him by a man of distinction, much his senior, and to
which a sense akin to that of Strether's melancholy eloquence might be imputed--said
as chance would have, and so easily might, in Paris, and in a charming old garden
attached to a house of art, and on a Sunday afternoon of summer, many persons of
great interest being present. The observation there listened to and gathered up had
 
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