THE bookstores are stacked with dismal evidence that travel writing calls for something more than curiosity and an itch for motion. Whatever that may be — a wellfurnished mind, a well-tempered pen, a unique way of seeing things — Henry James had it. These essays, written in the late seventies, would be hard to match as company for a trip to Europe or as armchair travel. The itinerary covers Italy, France, and England. As a personal record, the Portraits fill out the middle ground between James’s letters and his fiction. George Alvin Finch contributes a sound introduction to this very pleasing volume.