Today is

   "A word to the wise ain't necessary --  
          it's the stupid ones that need the advice."
					-Bill Cosby

Monday, August 14, 2006

The other James brothers

No, I don't mean Frank and Jesse. I don't mean William and Henry, either. I'm talking about William and Henry's "little brothers," Garth Wilkinson James and Robertson James -- Wilky and Bob.

This past weekend, I've begun reading Leon Edel's five-volume biography of Henry James, and I've been struck -- for the first time, I'm ashamed to admit, though I already knew Wilky and Bob's stories -- by the way the younger James brothers have been ignored, except insofar as their lives and biographies intersect with and shed light upon the lives of their genius older siblings. Even younger sister Alice, an acerbic wit, admirable diarist, and latter day feminist icon, has had her day in the sun. Wilky and Bob have remained, for the most part, in the shadows, emerging every now and then when someone wants to paint a richer, more detailed portrait of the family that produced those American giants, William and Henry.

Indeed, William and Henry were -- are -- giants of American letters. William was a remarkable writer, philosopher, and psychologist, and Henry . . . well, Henry was the greatest novelist this country has ever produced, as well as being, by most accounts, a kind and decent man. But their brothers, Wilky and Bob, made a contribution to American history that William and Henry did not. Wilky and Bob -- who were, like the rest of the James family, passionate abolitionists -- fought for the Union in the Civil War. Both brothers served in black regiments. Wilky fought in the Massachusetts 54th, led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and was gravely wounded in the historic attack on Fort Wagner.

I greatly admire what Henry James achieved with his art. It's a shame, though, for me to ignore what Wilky and Bob -- and hundreds of thousands of others who have never figured, even indirectly, in anyone's biography -- achieved with their lives and their blood. What Henry and William, and all the great American artists who came after them, produced looks paltry alongside the sacrifice of those mostly anonymous men who stormed Fort Wagner, who fell at Antietam, Cold Harbor, Gettysburg, . . . Belleau Wood, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Normandy, Chosin, Khe Sanh . . .

Fort Wagner will always be the place where the "other" James brothers were William and Henry.


Blogger Wonderdog said...

"Give 'em hell 54!!"

August 17, 2006 12:05 AM  

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