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The Portrait of a Lady — Volume 1 by Henry James
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suggestion, of some better phrase, of the next happy twist of my
subject, the next true touch for my canvas, mightn't come into
sight. But I recall vividly enough that the response most
elicited, in general, to these restless appeals was the rather
grim admonition that romantic and historic sites, such as the
land of Italy abounds in, offer the artist a questionable aid to
concentration when they themselves are not to be the subject of
it. They are too rich in their own life and too charged with
their own meanings merely to help him out with a lame phrase;
they draw him away from his small question to their own greater
ones; so that, after a little, he feels, while thus yearning
toward them in his difficulty, as if he were asking an army of
glorious veterans to help him to arrest a peddler who has given
him the wrong change.

There are pages of the book which, in the reading over, have
seemed to make me see again the bristling curve of the wide Riva,
the large colour-spots of the balconied houses and the repeated
undulation of the little hunchbacked bridges, marked by the rise
and drop again, with the wave, of foreshortened clicking
pedestrians. The Venetian footfall and the Venetian cry--all
talk there, wherever uttered, having the pitch of a call across
the water--come in once more at the window, renewing one's old
impression of the delighted senses and the divided, frustrated
mind. How can places that speak IN GENERAL so to the imagination
not give it, at the moment, the particular thing it wants? I
recollect again and again, in beautiful places, dropping into
that wonderment. The real truth is, I think, that they express,
under this appeal, only too much--more than, in the given case,
one has use for; so that one finds one's self working less