Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hudson in Literature

Henry James, The American Scene (1907)
Returning to America after twenty-one years, expatriate Henry James discovers Hudson on an autumn motoring excursion with Edith and Teddy Wharton.

To be on the lookout for differences was, not unusually, to begin to meet them just over the border and see them increase and multiply; was, indeed, with a mild consistency, to feel it steal over us that we were, as we advanced, in a looser, shabbier, perhaps even rowdier world, where the roads were of an easier virtue and the "farms" of a scantier pride, where the absence of the ubiquitous sign-post of New England, joy of lonely corners, left the great spaces with an accent the less; where, in fine, the wayside bravery of the commonwealth of Massachusetts settled itself, for memory, all serenely, to suffer by no comparison whatever. And yet it wasn't, either, that this other was not also a big, bold country, with ridge upon ridge and horizon by horizon to deal with, insistently, pantingly, puffingly, pausingly, before the great river showed signs of taking up the tale with its higher hand; it wasn't, above all, that the most striking signs by which the nearness of the river was first announced, three or four fine old houses overlooking the long road, reputedly Dutch manors, seats of patriarchs and patroons, and unmistakably rich "values" in the vast, vague scene, had not a nobler archaic note than even the best of the New England colonial; it wasn't that, finally, the Hudson, when we reached the town that repeats in so minor a key the name of the stream, was not autumnal indeed, with majestic impenetrable mists that veiled the waters almost from sight, showing only the dim Catskills, off in space, as perfunctory graces, cheaply thrown in, and leaving us to roam the length of a large, straight street which was, yes, decidedly, for comparison, for curiosity, not as the streets of Massachusetts.

The best here, to speak of, was that the motor underwent repair and that its occupants foraged for dinner--finding it indeed excellently at a quiet cook-shop, about the middle of the long-drawn way, after we had encountered coldness at the door of the main hotel by reason of our French poodle. . . . The hospitality of the cook-shop was meanwhile touchingly, winningly unconditioned, yet full of character, of local, of national truth, as we liked to think: documentary, in a high degree--we talked it over--for American life. Wasn't it interesting that with American life so personally, so freely affirmed, the superstition of cookery should yet be so little denied? It was the queer old complexion of the long straight street, however, that most came home to me: Hudson, in the afternoon quiet, seemed to stretch back, with fumbling friendly hand, to the earliest outlook of my consciousness. Many matters had come and gone, innumerable impressions had supervened; yet here, in the stir of the senses, a whole range of small forgotten things revived, things intensely Hudsonian, more than Hudsonian; small echoes and tones and sleeping lights, small sights and sounds and smells that made one, for an hour, as small--carried one up the rest of the river, the very river of life indeed, as a thrilled, roundabouted pilgrim, by primitive steamboat, to a mellow, mediaeval Albany.

Nicholas Evans, The Horse Whisperer (1995)
Tom Booker, the whisperer, arrives in Hudson by train, bound for Chatham.

There were no cabs at Hudson station when the train got in. It was starting to drizzle and Tom had to wait for five minutes under the dripping iron-pillared canopy over the platform till one arrived. When it did, he climbed into the back with his bag and gave the driver the address of the stables.

Hudson looked as though it might once have been pretty, but now it seemed a sorry sort of place. Once grand old buildings were rotting away. Many of the shops along what Tom supposed was its main street were boarded up and those that weren't seemed mostly to be selling junk. People tramped the sidewalks with their shoulders hunched against the rain.


  1. 'Tainted Lady' lounge - now that's a name for a Hudson Biz - said it all

  2. Long a fan of Henry James, when I came across this same excerpt on Hudson a few years ago, I was inspired to frame a quote and hang it near my front door. It's not something I just pass as I come and go; I often take time to re-read and think on it. James said so well how I feel about this lovely town.