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William James 1842–1910

  • Peter Jones

Extract

He was about five feet eight inches tall, rather thin, and for the last thirty or so years of his life sported a bushy beard and moustache, fashionable for the time. His pleasing low-pitched voice, ideal for conversation, did not carry well to large audiences, and although he was much in demand as a public speaker he rarely spoke from the floor at faculty or professional meetings. As a young man, within the family or with close friends, he was frequently the source and centre of fun, vying with his father in devising practical jokes or in generating lively argument. Like his father he was the victim of his moods, and his own wife and children had much to contend with; typically, he assigned the hour of his evening meal to student consultation, and would refuse to see invited guests if he suddenly felt antisocial. He hated what he called ‘loutish’ informality in dress, and the American way of eating boiled eggs; he loved bright neckties, animals and hill walking. He had no exotic tastes in food, avoided tea and coffee, and drank no alcohol—one of his brothers became an alcoholic, like their father in his younger days. From his early twenties until the end of his life he experienced, and perhaps savoured, a series of physical and mental depressions; remarkably, so did his father, his four brothers, and even more dramatically, his sister.

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1 The biographical sketch is derived mainly from Perry, , and Letters; but see also James, Henry, Autobiography, Dupee, F. W. (ed.) (London: W. H. Allen, 1956).

2 See Strouse, Jean, Alice James (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1980).

3 Perry, , I, 15.

4 ERM, 5: ‘I have often tried to imagine what sort of a figure my father might have made, had he been born in a genuinely theological age’. See also, Young, F. H., The Philosophy of Henry James, Sr. (New York: Bookman Associates, 1951); and PU, 29.

5 Letters, I, 14.

6 Ibid., I, 10.

7 Ibid., I, 66.

8 Ibid., I, 78.

9 Ibid., I, 129.

10 Ibid., I, 147.

11 Perry, , I, 324.

12 Letters, II, 227; Perry, , I, 450, 442443.

13 Letters, II, 165, 79.

14 Essays, 89.

15 Perry, , I, 331, 329.

16 Letters, I, 14; Perry, I, 407. On ‘over-sentimentalism’, see Talks, 258.

17 Perry, , II, 258: ‘The weight of the past world here is fatal,—one ends by becoming its mere parasite instead of its equivalent. This worship, this dependence on other men is abnormal. The ancients did things by doing the business of the day, not by gaping at their grandfathers’ tombs,—and the normal man today will do likewise' (1873, from Rome). See also Talks, 300: ‘those philosophers are right who contend that the world is a standing thing, with no progress, no real history. The changing conditions of history touch only the surface of the show. The altered equilibriums and redistributions only diversify our opportunities and open chances to us for new ideals’.

18 Letters, I, 131. He goes on to say: ‘The stoic feeling of being a sentinel obeying orders without knowing the general's plan is a noble one’.

19 WB, 70. The versions in WB and Essays differ: I refer to both.

20 Essays, 86, 84; WB, 9293.

21 WB, 95.

22 Essays, 434.

23 Principles, I, 218, 104, 139, 224, 237; II, 3.

24 Ibid., I, 444, 463.

25 Ibid., I, 236, 237, 471. For apparent recognition of the chemical source of the model, ERE, 6.

26 Principles, II, 44; I, 221: II, 295: I, 402: II, 295: II, 319 and note.

27 Ibid., II, 677, 672; I, 134.

28 Ibid., II, 671.

29 On consciousness see Principles, I, 273, 275, 400; ERE, 3, 14, 23, 137: on classification see Principles, II, 335, 333.

30 Principles, I, 488.

31 Ibid., II, 672, 674.

32 WB, 184, 208, 177.

33 See my Philosophy and the Novel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), Ch. 4; cf. Principles, I, 291292, 354, 360, 400.

34 Talks, 29, 52, 204205, 206207.

35 Ibid., 54–55. See Newman, J. H., ‘Discourses on the Scope and Nature of University Education’, in Newman, Tillotson, G. (ed.) (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957), 491, 442443.

36 Ibid., 268–272.

37 Perry, , II, 195.

38 Talks, v.

39 Letters, II, 146.

40 Ibid., II, 127.

41 ERM, 4, 60: James regarded it ‘not only a filial but a philosophical duty’ to make public his father's ideas. See also a letter of 1891 to his sister: ‘These inhibitions, these split-up selves, all these new facts that are gradually coming to light about our organization, these enlargements of the self in trance, etc., are bringing me to turn for light in the direction of all sorts of despised spiritualistic and unscientific ideas. Father would find in me today a much more receptive listener—all that philosophy has got to be brought in’ (Letters, I, 310).

42 Letters, II, 165.

43 Ibid., II, 149–150.

44 Ibid., II, 155, 196.

45 Ibid., II, 213–215.

46 Varieties, 31, 18, 53, 109, 74.

47 Ibid., 329.

48 See my Hume's Sentiments (Edinburgh University Press, 1982) Ch. 2.

49 Varieties, 334.

50 Ibid., 379–380, 387, 428, 431.

51 Ibid., 485–486.

52 Ibid., 519, 444, 508, 458–461.

53 MT, 189190 n.

54 Essays, 504505.

55 Pragmatism, 12.

56 Ibid., 51, 53, 58.

57 Ibid., 59–61. See Quine, W. V. O., ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ (1951), in From a Logical Point of View (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961), 42.

58 Pragmatism, 159, 69, 169170, 172, 178.

59 Ibid., 201, 207–208.

60 Ibid., 215, 245, 255.

61 MT, xiixiii

62 Ibid., 90, 117, 153.

63 Ibid., 182–215.

64 Ibid., 202, 204, 229, 243.

65 PU, 1619.

66 Ibid., 235.

67 Ibid., 244, 248, 246, 253.

68 Ibid., 288–289; WB, 69.

69 ERM, 72. James's younger brother Garth Wilkinson (Wilky) was Adjutant of the 54th Massachusetts, and was wounded in the attack on Fort Wagner during which Shaw was killed.

70 ERM, 122123, 170172.

71 Letters, I, 66; Perry, , I, 297, 259.

72 Letters, I, 347. In 1883 he writes from London to his brother Henry: ‘Then the theatres, and the hippopotamus-like satisfaction of their audiences! … Then the determination on the part of all who write … to do it as amateurs, and never to use the airs and language of a professional; to be first of all a layman and a gentleman, and to pretend that your ideas came to you accidentally as it were, and are things you care nothing about’ (Perry, , 1, 387).

73 Letters, II, 152, 100; and 153—‘The eternal fight of liberalism has now to be fought by us on much the same terms as in the older countries’.

74 Talks, 212, 215; and 217—‘We must change ourselves from a race that admires jerk and snap for their own sakes … to one that, on the contrary, has calm for its ideal, and for their own sakes loves harmony, dignity, and ease’.

75 For James's first response to Eliot's election as President in 1869, see Perry, , I, 296; for background, Kuklick, B., The Rise of American Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), esp. 131.

76 Problems, 6.

77 Perry, , I, 443.

78 Letters, II, 164.

79 Perry, , II, 418; Pragmatism, 197; also Letters, II, 164, and remarks on Boutroux's lectures at Harvard in the Nation, 1910 (James, W., Essays in Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978), 167).

80 Perry, , II, 422.

81 Ayer, A. J., The Origins of Pragmatism (London, 1968), 184185. On ‘technical interests’, see PU, 14.

82 Perry, , I, 128; II, 189–190. In 1905 he asserts that the humanism he supports ‘has to renounce sincerely rectilinear arguments and ancient ideals of rigour and finality’—ERE, 247.

83 See my Hume's Sentiments, passim.

84 ERE, 136; PU, 15.

85 James even quotes Cicero in his 1879 article, WB, 92.

86 Letters, II, 164.

87 Varieties, 20; Principles, I, 125—the first sentence is repeated, verbatim, Talks, 70; on the ‘anti-sexual instinct … of personal isolation’ (Ibid., II, 437).

88 Letters, II, 204; Talks, v.

89 Varieties, 45, 368, 46.

90 Letters, II, 105; cf. 305.

91 Talks, 143; PU, 15.

92 Essays, 435.

93 Hume, D., The Philosophical Works, Green, and Grose, (eds) (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1875), IV, 368; the quotation is from Hume's essay of 1742, ‘Of Essay Writing’.

94 Letters, II, 279.

95 Ibid., II, 129. The coy spelling alludes to his own genuine interest in spelling reform (ibid., II, 319).

96 Perry, , II, 256—‘the good thing about a work of art is that it tells all sorts of things to different spectators, of none of which the artist ever knew a word’. Perry surmises that James shrank from discussing aesthetic experiences precisely because he had them, but discussed religious experiences because he borrowed already verbalized versions (ibid.). But James certainly had experiences which he regarded as extra-ordinary, and possibly mystical.

97 Perry, , II, 328.

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