Familiar Letters of William James, Iii
EDITED BY HIS SON, HENRY JAMES
[THE letters which have been selected for this number of the Atlantic were all written during the last ten years of William James’s life.
In 1899 he went abroad. When he sailed he had no conception of the point of exhaustion to which the previous years of unremitting work had brought him, and he expected to spend a few months at a German watering-place and then write out the lectures on ‘Natural Religion,’ which he had agreed to deliver on the Gifford Foundation in Edinburgh. A heart-strain, due to over-exertion in the Adirondacks just before he sailed, brought on a general collapse as soon as he was out of harness. The Gifford lectures were postponed until 1901 and 1902, and James led the life of an exile and completely inactive invalid for two years. To certain friends at home who wrote to him fully and often he was touchingly grateful; and though he could do no work, he sometimes wrote, and more often dictated to his wife, replies that were remarkably copious. The first letter that follows was sent from Professor Charles Richet’s Château de Carqueiranne, near Hyères on the south coast of France. Professor Richet had put his country place at the disposal of William James and of F. W. H. Myers, who also had been ‘invalided south,’and for a few weeks the two were together under the same hospitable roof.
Francis Boott was nearly a generation older than James, and was spending his last years in Cambridge. He was the subject of one of James’s papers, which may be found in Memories and Studies.]
To Francis Boott
CHÂTEAU DE CARQUEIRANNE,
Jan. 31, 1900,
DEAR OLD FRIEND,—
Every day for a month past I have said to Alice, ‘Today we must get off a letter to Mr. Boott’; but every day the available strength was less than the call upon it. Yours of the 28th December reached us duly at Rye and was read at the cheerful little breakfast table. I must say that you are the only person who has caught the proper tone for sympathizing with an invalid’s feelings. Everyone else says, ‘We are glad to think that you are by this time in splendid condition, richly enjoying your rest, and having a great success at Edinburgh ’ — this when what one craves is mere pity for one’s unmerited sufferings! You say, ‘It is a great disappointment, more I should think than you can well bear. I wish you could give up the whole affair and turn your prow toward home.’ That, dear sir, is the proper note to strike, ‘La voix du cœur qui seul au cœur arrive’; and I thank you for recognizing that it is a case of agony and patience. I, for one, should be too glad to turn my prow homewards, in spite of all our present privileges in the way of simplified life and glorious climate.
What would n’t I give at this moment to be partaking of one of your recherchés déjeuners à la fourchette, ministered to by the good Kate. From the bed on which I lie I can ‘sense’ it as if present — the succulent roast pork, the apple sauce, the canned asparagus, the cranberry pie, the dates, the To Kalon 1 — above all the rire en barbe of the ever-youthful host. Will they ever come again?
Don’t understand me to be disparaging our present meals, which, cooked by a broad-built sexagenarian Provençale, leave nothing to be desired. Especially is the fish good, and the artichokes, and the stewed lettuce. Our commensaux, the Myerses, form a good combination. The house is vast and comfortable and the air just right for one in my condition, neither relaxing nor exciting, and floods of sunshine.
Do you care much about the war? For my part, I think Jehovah has run the thing about right, so far, though on utilitarian grounds it will be very likely better if the English win. When we were at Rye an interminable controversy raged about a national day of humiliation and prayer. I wrote to the Times to suggest, in my character of traveling American, that both sides to the controversy might be satisfied by a service arranged on the principle suggested by the anecdote of the Montana settler who met a grizzly so formidable that he fell on his knees, saying, ‘O Lord, I hain’t never asked ye for help and ain’t a-going to ask ye for none now. But for pity’s sake, O Lord, don’t help the bear.’ The solemn Times never printed my letter, and thus the world lost an admirable epigram. You, I know, will appreciate it.
I hope you are getting through the winter without any bronchial trouble, and I hope that neither the influenza nor the bubonic plague have got to Cambridge yet. The former is devastating Europe. If you see dear Dr. Driver, give him our warmest regards. One ought to stay among one’s own people. I seem to be mending, though very slowly, and the least thing knocks me down. This noon I am still in bed; a little too much talking with the Myers yesterday giving me a strong pectoral distress which is not yet over. This dictation begins to hurt me, so I will stop. My spirits now are first-rate, which is a great point gained.
Good-bye, dear old man; we both send our warmest love and are,
Ever affectionately yours,
[The next letter is included in its entirety. The reader is not expected to be particularly interested in the way in which the members of the Harvard Philosophical Department divided up the departmental work in the year 1900, but the first page of the letter is too expressive of the warmth of James’s interest in the College and his colleagues to be omitted.]
To George H. Palmer
CARQUEIRANNE, Apr. 2, 1900.
GLORIOUS OLD PALMER,—
I had come to the point of feeling that my next letter must be to you, when in comes your delightful ‘favor’ of the 18th, with all its news, its convincing clipping, and its enclosures from Bakewell and Sheldon. I have had many impulses to write to Bakewell, but they have all aborted — my powers being so small and so much in Anspruch genommen by correspondence already under way. I judge him to be well and happy. What think you of his wife? I suppose she is no relation of yours. I should n’t think any of your three candidates would do for that conventional Bryn Mawr. She stoneth the prophets, and I wish she would get Xand get stung. He made a deplorable impression on me many years ago. The only comment I heard when I gave my address there lately (the last one in my ‘Talks’) was that -had hoped for something more technical and psychological! Nevertheless, some good girls seem to come out at Bryn Mawr. I am awfully sorry that Perry is out of place. Unless he gets something good, it seems to me that we ought to get him for a course in Kant. He is certainly the soundest, most normal all-round man of our recent production.
Your list for next year interests me muchly. I am glad of Münsterberg’s and Santayana’s new courses, and hope they’ll be good. I’m glad you’re back in Ethics, and glad that Royce has ‘Epistemology’ — portentous name, and small result, in my opinion, but a substantive discipline which ought, par le temps qui court, to be treated with due formality. I look forward with eagerness to his new volume.2 What a colossal feat he has performed in these two years — all thrown in by the way, as it were. Certainly Gifford lectures are a good institution for stimulating production. They have stimulated me so far to produce two lectures of wishywashy generalities. What is that for a ‘showing’ in six months of absolute leisure? The second lecture used me up so that I must be off a good while again. No! dear Palmer, the best I can possibly hope for at Cambridge after my return is to be able to carry one half-course. So make all calculations accordingly. As for Windelband, how can I ascertain anything except by writing to him? I shall see no one, nor go to any University environment. My impression is that we must go in for budding genius, if we seek a European. If an American, we can get a sommité! But who? in either case? Verily there is room at the top. Z- seems to be the only Britisher worth thinking of. I imagine we had better train up our own men. A— , B-, C-, either would no doubt do, especially A-if his health improves. D-is our last card, from the point of view of policy, no doubt, but from that of inner organization it seems to me that he may have too many points of coalescence with both Münsterberg and Royce, especially the latter.
The great event in my life recently has been the reading of Santayana’s book.3 Although I absolutely reject the platonism of it, I have literally squealed with delight at the imperturbable perfection with which the position is laid down on page after page; and grunted with delight at such a thickening up of our Harvard atmosphere. If our students now could begin really to understand what Royce means with his voluntaristic-pluralistic monism, what Münsterberg means with his dualistic scientificism and platonism, what Santayana means by his pessimistic platonism (I wonder if he and Mg. have had any close mutuallyencouraging intercourse in this line?), what I mean by my crass pluralism, what you mean by your ethical idealism, that these are so many religions, ways of fronting life, and worth fighting for, we should have a genuine philosophic universe at Harvard. The best condition of it would be an open conflict and rivalry of the diverse systems. (Alas! that I should be out of it, just as my chance begins!) The world might ring with the struggle, if we devoted ourselves exclusively to belaboring each other.
I now understand Santayana, the man. I never understood him before. But what a perfection of rottenness in a philosophy! I don’t think I ever knew the anti-realistic view to be propounded with so impudently superior an air. It is refreshing to see a representative of moribund Latinity rise up and administer such reproof to us barbarians in the hour of our triumph. I imagine Santayana’s style to be entirely spontaneous. But it has curious classic echoes. Whole pages of pure Hume in style; others of pure Renan. Nevertheless, how fantastic a philosophy!— as if the ‘world of values’ were independent of existence. It is only as being, that one thing is better than another. The idea of darkness is as good as that of light, as ideas. There is more value in light’s being. And the exquisite consolation, when you have ascertained the badness of all fact, in knowing that badness is inferior to goodness, to the end — it only rubs the pessimism in. A man whose eggs at breakfast turn out always bad, says to himself, ‘Well, bad and good are not the same, anyhow.’ That is just the trouble! Moreover, when you come down to the facts, what do your harmonious and integral ideal systems prove to be? in the concrete? Always things burst by the growing content of experience. Dramatic unities; laws of versification; ecclesiastical systems; scholastic doctrines. Bah! Give me Walt Whitman and Browning ten times over, much as the perverse ugliness of the latter at times irritates me, and intensely as I have enjoyed Santayana’s attack. The barbarians are in the line of mental growth and those who do insist that the ideal and the real are dynamically continuous are those by whom the world is to be saved. But I’m nevertheless delighted that the other view, always existing in the world, should at last have found so splendidly impertinent an expression among ourselves. I have meant to write to Santayana; but on second thoughts, and to save myself, I will just ask you to send him this. It saves him from what might be the nuisance of having to reply, and on my part it has the advantage of being more freespoken and direct. He is certainly an extraordinarily distingué writer. Thank him for existing!
As a contrast, read Jack Chapman’s ‘Practical Agitation.’ The other pole of thought, and a style all splinters — but a gospel for our rising generation — I hope it will have its effect.
Send me your Noble lectures. I don’t see how you could risk it without a MS. If you did fail (which I doubt) you deserved to. Anyhow, the printed page makes everything good.
I can no more! Adieu! How is Mrs. Palmer this winter ? I hope entirely herself again. You are impartially silent of her and of my wife! The Transcript continues to bless us. We move from this hospitable roof to the hotel at Costebelle to-day. Thence after a fortnight to Geneva, and in May to Nauheim once more, to be reëxamined and sentenced by Schott.
To Josiah Royce
BAD-NAUHEIM, Sept. 26, 1900.
Great was my, was our pleasure in receiving your long and delightful letter last night. Like the lioness in Æsop’s fable, you give birth to one young one only in the year, but that one is a lion. I give birth mainly to guinea-pigs in the shape of postcards; but despite such diversities of epistolary expression, the heart of each of us is in the right place. I need not say, my dear old boy, how touched I am at your expressions of affection or how it pleases me to hear that you have missed me. I too miss you profoundly. I do not find in the hotel waiters, chambermaids and bath-attendants, with whom my lot is chiefly cast, that unique mixture of erudition, originality, profundity and vastness, and human wit and leisureliness, by accustoming me to which during all these years you have spoilt me for inferior kinds of intercourse. You are still the centre of my gaze, the pole of my mental magnet. When I write, ’t is with one eye on the page, and one on you. When I compose my Gifford lectures mentally, ’t is with the design exclusively of overthrowing your system, and ruining your peace. I lead a parasitic life upon you, for my highest flight of ambitious ideality is to become your conqueror, and go down into history as such, you and I rolled in one another’s arms and silent (or rather loquacious still) in one last death-grapple of an embrace. How then, O my dear Royce, can I forget you, or be contented out of your close neighborhood? Different as our minds are, yours has nourished mine, as no other social influence ever has, and in converse with you I have always felt that my life was being lived importantly. Our minds, too, are not different in the Object which they envisage. It is the whole paradoxical physicomoral-spiritual Fatness, of which most people single out some skinny fragment, which wc both cover with our eye. We ‘aim at him generally’ — and most others don’t. I don’t believe that we shall dwell apart forever, though our formulas may.
Home and Irving Street look very near when seen through these few winter months, and though it is still doubtful what I may be able to do in college, for social purposes I shall be available for probably numerous years to come. I have n’t got at work yet, — only four lectures of the first course written (strange to say),—but I am decidedly better to-day than I have been for the past ten months, and the matter is all ready in my mind, so that when, a month hence, I get settled
down in Rome, I think the rest will go off fairly quickly. The second course I shall have to resign from, and write it out at home as a book. It must seem strange to you that the way from the mind to the pen should be as intraversable as it has been in this case of mine — you in whom it always seems so easily pervious. But Miller will be able to tell you all about my condition, both mental and physical, so I will waste no more words on that to me decidedly musty subject.
I fully understand your great aversion to letters and other off-writing. You have done a perfectly Herculean amount of the most difficult productive work, and I believe you to be much more tired than you probably yourself suppose or know — both mentally and physically. I imagine that a long vacation, in other scenes, with no sense of duty, would do you a world of good. I don’t say the full fifteen months, for I imagine that one summer and one academic half-year would perhaps do the business better. You could preserve the relaxed and desultory condition as long as that probably, whilst later you ’d begin to chafe; and then you’d better be back in your own library. If my continuing abroad is hindering this, my sorrow will be extreme. Of course I must some time come to a definite decision about my own relations to the College, but I am reserving that till the end of 1900, when I shall write to Eliot in full. There is still a therapeutic card to play, of which I will say nothing just now, and I don’t want to commit myself before that has been tried.
You say nothing of the second course of Aberdeen lectures, nor do you speak at all of the Dublin course. Strange omissions, like your not sending me your Ingersoll Lecture! I assume that the publication of [your] Gifford vol. II will not be very long delayed. I am eager to read them. I can read philosophy now, and have just road the first three Lieferungen of K. Fischer’s Hegel. I must say I prefer the original text. Fischer’s paraphrases always flatten and dry things out; and he gives no rich sauce of his own to compensate. I have been sorry to hear from Palmer that he also has been very tired. One can’t keep going forever! P. has been like an archangel in his letters to me, and I am inexpressibly grateful. Well! everybody has been kinder than I deserve.
[In the August number, a letter to Henry W. Rankin dealt with ‘demon possession ’ and Christian miracles. As was there explained, Mr. Rankin had supplied James with references to many books that had interested him while he was preparing for the Gifford Lectures. The next letter is addressed to the same correspondent, at a date when the first ‘course’ was drawing to its close in Edinburgh. It will be recalled that these lectures appeared in book form as the Varieties of Religious Experience.]
To Henry W. Rankin
EDINBURGH, June 16, 1901.
DEAR MR. RANKIN,-
... You have been so extraordinarily brotherly to me in writing of your convictions and in furnishing me ideas, that I feel ashamed of my churlish and chary replies. You, however, have forgiven me. Now, at the end of this first course, I feel my ‘matter’ taking firmer shape, and it will please you less to hear me say that I believe myself to be (probably) permanently incapable of believing the Christian scheme of vicarious salvation, and wedded to a more continuously evolutionary mode of thought. The reasons you from time to time have given me, never better expressed than in your letter
before the last, have somehow failed to convince. In these lectures the ground I am taking is this: The mother-sea and fountain-head of all religions lies in the mystical experiences of the individual, taking the word mystical in a very wide sense. All theologies and all ecclesiasticisms are secondary growths superimposed; and the experiences make such flexible combinations with the intellectual prepossessions of their subjects, that one may almost say that they have no proper intellectual deliverance of their own, but belong to a region deeper, and more vital and practical, than that which the intellect inhabits. For this they are also indestructible by intellectual arguments and criticisms. I attach the mystical or religious consciousness to the possession of an extended subliminal self, with a thin partition through which messages make irruption. We are thus made convincingly aware of the presence of a sphere of life larger and more powerful than our usual consciousness, with which the latter is nevertheless continuous. The impressions and impulsions and emotions and excitements which we thence receive help us to live; they found invincible assurance of a world beyond the sense; they melt our hearts and communicate significance and value to everything and make us happy. They do this for the individual who has them, and other individuals follow him. Religion in this way is absolutely indestructible. Philosophy and theology give their conceptual interpretations of this experiential life. The farther margin of the subliminal field being unknown, it can be treated, as by Transcendental Idealism, as an Absolute mind with a part of which we coalesce, or by Christian theology, as a distinct deity acting on us. Something not our immediate self does act on our life! So I seem doubtless to my audience to be blowing hot and cold, explaining away Christianity, yet defending the more general basis from which I say it proceeds. I fear that these brief words may be misleading, but let them go! When the book comes out you will get a truer idea. Believe me, with profound regard,
Yours always truly,
To Henry L. Higginson
CAMBRIDGE, NOV. 1, 1902.
I am emboldened to the step I am taking by the consciousness that though we are both at least sixty years old and have known each other from the cradle, I have never but once (or possibly twice) traded on your wellknown lavishness of disposition to swell any ‘subscription’ which I was trying to raise.
Now the doomful hour has struck. The altar is ready, and I take the victim by the ear. I choose you for a victim because you still have some undesiccated human feeling about you and can think in terms of pure charity — for the love of God, without ulterior hopes of returns from the investment.
The subject is a man of fifty, who can be recommended to no other kind of a benefactor. His story is a long one, but it amounts to this, that Heaven made him with no other power than that of thinking and writing, and he has proved by this time a truly pathological inability to keep body and soul together. He is abstemious to an incredible degree, is the most innocent and harmless of human beings, is n’t propagating his kind, has never had a dime to spend except for vital necessities, and never has had in his life an hour of what such as we call freedom from care, or of ‘pleasure’ in the ordinary exuberant sense of the term. He is refinement itself mentally and morally; and his writings have all been printed in first-rate periodicals, but are too scanty to ‘pay.’ There’s no excuse for him, I admit. But God made him; and after kicking and cuffing and prodding him for twenty years, I have now come to believe that he ought to be treated in charity pure and simple (even though that be a vice), and I want to guarantee him $350 a year as a pension to be paid to the Mills Hotel in Bleecker Street, New York, for board and lodging and a few cents weekly over and above. I will put in $150. I have secured $100 more. Can I squeeze $50 a year out of you for such a non-public cause? If not, don’t reply and forget this letter. If ‘ja,’ and you think you really can afford it, and it is n’t wicked, let me know, and I will dun you regularly every year for the $50.
Yours as ever,
It is a great compliment that I address you. Most men say of such a case, ‘Is the man deserving?’ Whereas the real point is ‘Does he need us?’ What is ‘ deserving ’ nowadays ?
[After delivering the last Gifford Lectures James had returned to Cambridge, with the resolution to devote his remaining years to the formulation of his philosophy. His working powers has been permanently impaired. He had passed his sixtieth birthday. But the writing and correspondence in which he engaged between 1902 and 1910 were none the less marked by a truly youthful enthusiasm and élan. He gradually freed himself from college duties, and, in the full consciousness of his ample preparation and ripened judgment, turned to the philosophic questions which had always been most fascinating to his imagination. The discussion that was aroused by his pragmatism, by his later papers on pluralism and radical empiricism, and by his definition of truth, excited him; and he threw himself into controversy in a spirit that somehow combined the rough exuberance of a boy at play with a mellow good-nature that was of the essence of his own mature genius.]
To Theodore Flournoy
CAMBRIDGE, Mar. 26, 1907.
Your dilectissime [sic] letter of the 16th arrived this morning and I must scribble a word of reply. That’s the way to write to a man! Caress him! flatter him! tell him that all Switzerland is hanging on his lips! You have made me really happy for at least twenty-four hours. My dry and businesslike compatriots never write letters like that. They write about themselves — you write about me. You know the definition of an egotist: ‘a person who insists on talking about himself, when you want to talk about yourself.’
Reverdin has told me of the success of your lectures on pragmatism, and if you have been communing in spirit with me this winter, so have I with you. I have grown more and more deeply into pragmatism, and I rejoice immensely to hear you say, ‘Je m’y sens tout gagné.’ It is absolutely the only philosophy with no humbug in it, and I am certain that it is your philosophy. Have you read Papini’s article in the February Leonardo ? That seems to me really splendid. You say that my ideas have formed the real centre de ralliment of the pragmatist tendencies. To me it is the youthful and empanaché-, who has best put himself at the centre of equilibrium when all the motor tendencies start. He (and Schiller) has given me great confidence and courage. I shall dedicate my book, however, to the memory of J. S. Mill.
I hope that you are careful to distinguish in my own work between the pragmatism and the ‘radical empiricism’(‘Conception de Conscience,’4 etc.) which to my own mind have no necessary connexion with each other. My first proofs came in this morning, along with your letter, and the little book ought to be out by the first of June. You shall have a very early copy. It is exceedingly untechnical, and I can’t help suspecting that it will make a real impression. Münsterberg, who hitherto has been rather pooh-poohing my thought, now, after reading the lecture on truth which I sent you a while ago, says, I seem to be ignorant that Kant ever wrote, Kant having already said all that I say. I regard this as a very good symptom. The third stage of opinion about a new idea, already arrived: 1st: absurd! 2nd: trivial! 3rd: we discovered it! I don’t suppose you mean to print these lectures of yours, but I wish you would. If you would translate my lectures, what could make me happier? But, as I said apropos of the Varieties, I hate to think of you doing that drudgery when you might be formulating your own ideas. But, in one way or the other, I hope you will join in the great strategic combination against the forces of rationalism and bad abstractionism! A good coup de collier all round, and I verily believe that a new philosophic movement will begin! . . .
I thank you for your congratulations on my retirement. It makes me very happy. A professor has two functions: (1) to be learned and distribute bibliographic information; (2) to communicate truth. The 1st function is the essential one, officially considered. The 2nd is the only one I care for. Hitherto I have always felt like a humbug as a professor, for I am weak in the first requirement. Now I can live for the second with a free conscience.
I envy you now at the Italian Lakes! But good-bye! I have already written you a long letter, though I only meant to write a line!
Love to you all from
[Bergson’s book, greeted in the next letter, was the Evolution Creatrice.]
To Henri Bergson
CHOCORUA, June 13, 1907.
O MY BERGSON,-
You are a magician, and your book is a marvel, a real wonder in the history of philosophy, making, if I mistake not, an entirely new era in respect of matter, but unlike the works of genius of the ‘ transcendentalist ’ movement (which are so obscurely and abominably and inaccessibly written), a pure classic in point of form. You may be amused at the comparison, but in finishing it I found the same after-taste remaining as after finishing Madame Bovary; such a flavor of persistent euphony, as of a rich river that never foamed or ran thin, but steadily and firmly proceeded with its banks full to the brim. Then the aptness of your illustrations, that never scratch or stand out at right angles, but invariably simplify the thought and help to pour it along! Oh, indeed you are a magician! And if your next book proves to be as great an advance on this one as this is on its two predecessors, your name will surely go down as one of the great creative names in philosophy. There! have I praised you enough?
What every genuine philosopher (every genuine man, in fact) craves most is praise—although the philosophers generally call it ‘recognition’! If you want still more praise, let me know, and I will send it, for my features have been on a broad smile from the first page to the last, at the chain of felicities that never stopped. I feel rejuvenated.
As to the content of it, I am not in a mood at present to make any definite reaction. There is so much that is absolutely new that it will take a long time for your contemporaries to assimilate it, and I imagine that much of the development of detail will have to be performed by younger men whom your ideas will stimulate to coruscate in manners unexpected by yourself. To me at present the vital achievement of the book is that it inflicts an irrecoverable deathwound upon Intellectualism. It can never resuscitate! But it will die hard, for all the inertia of the past is in it, and the spirit of professionalism and pedantry as well as the æsthetic-intellectual delight of dealing with categories logically distinct yet logically connected, will rally for a desperate defense. The élan vital, all contentless and vague as you are obliged to leave it, will be an easy substitute to make fun of. But the Beast has its deathwound now, and the manner in which you have inflicted it (interval versus temps d’arrêt, etc.) is masterly in the extreme.
I don’t know why this later rédaction of your critique of the mathematics of movement has seemed to me so much more telling than the early statement — I suppose it is because of the wider use made of the principle in the book.
You will be receiving my own little ‘Pragmatism’ book simultaneously with this letter. How jejune and inconsiderable it seems in comparison with your great system! But it is so congruent with parts of your system, fits so well into interstices thereof, that you will easily understand why I am so enthusiastic. I feel that at bottom we are fighting the same fight, you a commander, I in the ranks. The position we are rescuing is ‘Tychism’ and a really growing world. But whereas I have hitherto found no better way of defending Tychism than by affirming the spontaneous addition of discrete elements of being (or their subtraction), thereby playing the game with intellectualist weapons, you set things straight at a single stroke by your fundamental conception of the continuously creative nature of reality. I think that one of your happiest strokes is your reduction of ‘finality,’ as usually taken, to its status alongside of efficient causality, as the twin-daughters of intellectualism. But this vaguer and truer finality restored to its rights will be a difficult thing to give content to. Altogether your reality lurks so in the background, in this book, that I am wondering whether you could n’t give it any more development in concreto here, or whether you perhaps were holding back developments, already in your possession, for a future volume. They are sure to come to you later anyhow, and to make a new volume; and altogether, the clash of these ideas of yours with the traditional ones will be sure to make sparks fly that will illuminate all sorts of dark places and bring innumerable new considerations into view. But the process may be slow, for the ideas are so revolutionary. Were it not for your style, your book might last 100 years unnoticed ; but your way of writing is so absolutely commanding, that your theories have to be attended to immediately.
I feel very much in the dark still about the relations of the progressive to the regressive movement, and this great precipitate of nature subject to static categories. With a frank pluralism of beings endowed with vital impulses, you can get oppositions and compromises easily enough, and a stagnant deposit; but, after my one reading, I don’t exactly ‘catch on’ to the way in which the continuum of reality resists itself so as to have to act, etc., etc. The only part of the work which I felt like positively criticising was the discussion of the idea of nonentity, which seemed to me somewhat over-elaborated, and yet did n’t leave me with a sense that the last word had been said on the subject.
But all these things must be very slowly digested by me. I can see that, when the tide turns in your favor, many previous tendencies in philosophy will start up, crying, ‘This is nothing but what we have contended for all along.’ Schopenhauer’s blind will, Hartmann’s unconscious, Fichte’s aboriginal freedom (reëdited at Harvard in the most ‘unreal’ possible way by Münsterberg) will all be claimants for priority. But no matter — all the better if you are in some ancient lines of tendency. Mysticism also must make claims and, doubtless, just ones. I say nothing more now — this is just my first reaction; but I am so enthusiastic as to have said only two days ago, ‘I thank Heaven that I have lived to this date — that I have witnessed the Russo-Japanese War, and seen Bergson’s new book appear — the two great modern turningpoints, of history and of thought!’
Best congratulations and cordialest regards!
[The next post-card was written in acknowledgment of Professor Palmer’s comments on A Pluralistic Universe.]
To G. H. Palmer
CAMBRIDGE, May 13, 1909.
‘The finest critical mind of our time!’ No one can mix the honey and the gall as you do! My conceit appropriates the honey — for the gall it makes indulgent allowance, as the inevitable watering of a pair of aged rationalist eyes at the effulgent sunrise of a new philosophic day! Thanks! thanks! for the honey.
To T. S. Perry
NAUHEIM, May 22, 1910.
I have two letters from you — one about . . . Harris on Shakespeare. Re Harris, I did think you were a bit supercilious a priori; but I thought of your youth and excused you. Harris himself is horrid young and crude. Much of his talk seems to me absurd, but nevertheless that’s the way to write about Shakespeare; and I am sure that, if Shakespeare were a Piper-control, he would say that he relished Harris far more than the pack of reverent commentators who treat him as a classic moralist. He seems to me to have been a professional amuser, in the first instance, with a productivity like that of a Dumas, or a Scribe; but possessing what no other amuser has possessed, a lyric splendor added to his rhetorical fluency, which has made people take him for a more essentially serious human being than he was. Neurotically and erotically, he was hyperæsthetic, with a playful graciousness of character never surpassed. He could be profoundly melancholy; but even then was controlled by the audience’s needs. A cork in the rapids, with no ballast of his own, without religious or ethical ideals, accepting uncritically every theatrical and social convention, he was simply an æolian harp passively resounding to the stage’s call. Was there ever an author of such emotional importance whose reaction against the false conventions of life was such an absolute zero as his? I know nothing of the other Elizabethans, but could they have been as soulless in this respect? — But halte-là! or I shall become a Harris myself! . . . Ever thine,
[The correspondence with Henry Adams which follows preceded James’s death by less than three months. It is concerned with Adams’s Letter to American Teachers, originally printed for private circulation, but recently published with a preface by Mr. Brooks Adams, under a new title: The Degradation of Democratic Dogma.]
BAD-NAUHEIM, June 17, 1910.
DEAR HENRY ADAMS,-
I have been so ‘slim’ since seeing you, and the baths here have so weakened my brain, that I have been unable to do any reading except trash, and have only just got round to finishing your Letter, which I had but half-read when I w as with you at Paris. To tell the truth, it does n’t impress me at all, save by its wit and erudition; and I ask you whether an old man soon about to meet his Maker can hope to save himself from the consequences of his life by pointing to the wit and learning he has shown in treating a tragic subject. No, sir, you can’t do it — can’t impress God in that way.
So far as our scientific conceptions go, it may be admitted that your Creator (and mine) started the universe with a certain amount of ‘energy’ latent in it, and decreed that everything that should happen thereafter should be a result of parts of that energy falling to lower levels; raising other parts higher, to be sure, in so doing, but never in equivalent amount, owing to the constant radiation of unrecoverable warmth incidental to the process. It is customary for gentlemen to pretend to believe one another, and until some one hits upon a newer evolutionary concept (which may be to-morrow), all physicists must play the game by holding religiously to the above doctrine. It involves of course the ultimate cessation of all perceptible happening, and the end of human history. With this general conception as surrounding everything, you say in your Letter, no one can find any fault — in the present stage of scientific conventions and fashions. But I protest against your interpretation of some of the specifications of the great statistical drift downwards of the original high-level energy. If, instead of criticising what you seem to say, I express my own interpretation dogmatically, and leave you to make the comparison, it will doubtless conduce to brevity and economize recrimination.
To begin with, the amount of cosmic energy it costs to buy a certain distribution of fact which humanly we regard as precious seems to be an altogether secondary matter as regards the question of history and progress. Certain arrangements of matter on the same energy-level are, from the point of view of man’s appreciation, superior, while others are inferior. Physically a dinosaur’s brain may show as much intensity of energy-exchange as a man’s; but it can do infinitely fewer things, because as a force of detent it can only unlock the dinosaur’s muscles, while the man’s brain, by unlocking far feebler muscles, indirectly can by their means issue proclamations, write books, describe Chartres Cathedral, etc., and guide the energies of the shrinking sun into channels which never would have been entered otherwise — in short, make history. Therefore the man’s brain and muscles are, from the point of view of the historian, the more important place of energyexchange, small as this may be, when measured in absolute physical units.
The ‘second law’ is wholly irrelevant to ‘history,’ save that it sets a terminus; for history is the course of things before that terminus, and all that the second law says is that, whatever the history, it must insert itself between that initial maximum and that terminal minimum of difference in energylevel. As the great irrigation-reservoir empties itself, the whole question for us is that of the distribution of its effects — of which rills to guide it into; and the size of the rills has nothing to do with their significance. Human cerebration is the most important rill we know of, and both the ‘capacity’ and the ‘intensity’ factor thereof may be treated as infinitesimal. Yet the filling of such rills would be cheaply bought by the waste of whole sums spent in getting a little of the downflowing torrent to enter them. Just so of human institutions; their value has in strict theory nothing whatever to do with their energy-budget — being wholly a question of the form the energy flows through. Though the ultimate state of the universe may be its vital and psychical extinction, there is nothing in physics to interfere with the hypothesis that the penultimate state might be the millennium — in other words a state in which a minimum of difference of energy-level might have its exchanges so skillfully canalisés that a maximum of happy and virtuous consciousness would be the only result. In short, the last expiring pulsation of the universe’s life might be, ‘I am so happy and perfect that I can stand it no longer.’ You don’t believe this and I don’t say I do. But I can find nothing in ’Energetik’ to conflict with its possibility. You seem to me not to discriminate, but to treat quantity and distribution of energy as if they formed a single question.
There! that’s pretty good for a brain after eighteen Nauheim baths — so I won’t write another line, nor ask you to reply to me. In case you can’t help doing so, however, I will gratify you now by saying that I probably won’t jaw back. It was pleasant at Paris to hear your identically unchanged and ’undegraded’ voice after so many years of loss of solar energy.
Yours ever truly,
NAUHEIM,June 19, 1910.
P.S. Another illustration of my meaning: The clock of the universe is running down, and by so doing makes the hands move. The energy absorbed by the hands, and the mechanical work they do, is the same day after day, no matter how far the weights have descended from the position they were originally wound up to. The history which the hands perpetrate has nothing to do with the quantity of this work, but follows the significance of the figures which they cover on the dial. If they move from 0 to XII, there is ‘progress’; if from XII to 0 there is ‘decay,’ etc., etc. W. J.
KONSTANZ, June 26, .
Yours of the 20th, just arriving, pleases me by its docility of spirit and passive subjection to philosophic opinion. Never, never pretend to an opinion of your own! that way lies every arrogance and madness! You tempt me to offer you another illustration — that of the hydraulic ram (thrown back to me in an exam as a ‘hydraulic goat ’ by an insufficiently intelligent student). Let this arrangement of metal, placed in the course of a brook, symbolize the machine of human life. It works, clap, clap, clap, day and night, so long as the brook runs at all, and no matter how full the brook (which symbolizes the descending cosmic energy) may be; and it works always to the same effect, of raising so many kilogrammeters of water. What the value of this work as history may be depends on the uses to which the water is put in the house which the ram serves.
- An American claret in which James as well as his correspondent discovered great merit.↩
- The second volume of The World and the Individual (Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen).↩
- Poetry and Religion.↩
- La Notion de Conscience, Archives de Psychologie, V, No. 17. June, 1905; later included in Essays in Radical Empiricism.↩