Sue Young Histories

William James 1842 - 1910

March 20, 2008

William James (1842-1910) was born at the Astor House in New York City, and was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher, an independently wealthy and notoriously eccentric Swedenborgian theologian well acquainted with the literary and intellectual elites of his day.. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and the philosophy of pragmatism. He was the son of Henry James Senior, the brother of novelist Henry James Junior **and the sister of diarist **Alice James. He was also a supporter of homeopathy, and his father**Henry James Senior **was a close friend of James John Garth Wilkinson.

From Linda Simon, Genuine Reality: A Life of William James, (University of Chicago Press, 15 May 1999) ‘… This time, however, instead of visiting a mind-cure practitioner, William James put himself into the hands of one Dr. James Ralph Taylor, a homeopathic physician…’

In 1908, William James consulted homeopath James Ralph Taylor, who had attended his wife Alice’s sister Mary with good results. William James atended his homeopath every day (except Saturdays and Sundays) every day for six months, a total of 150 visits (Robert D. Richardson, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 14 Sep 2007). Page 507).

In the spring of 1898, William James spoke before the Massachusetts State Legislature to protest against a bill, which wished to prevent anyone who was not an orthodox physician from practicing psychological healing: ‘… Some of these therapeutic methods arose inside of the regular profession, others outside of it. In all cases they have appealed to experience for their credentials. But experience in medicine seems to be an exceedingly difficult thing. Take homeopathy, for instance, now nearly a century old. An enormous mass of experience, both of homeopathic doctors and their patients, is invoked in favour of the efficacy of these remedies and doses. But the regular profession stands firm in its belief that such experience is worthless and that the whole history is one of quackery and delusion. In spite of the rival schools appealing to experience, their conflict is much more lie that of two philosophers or two theologies. Your experience, says one side to the other, simply isn’t fit to count. So we have great schools of medical practice, each with its well satisfied adherents, living on in absolute ignorance of each other and of each other’s experience. How many of the graduates, recent or early, of the Harvard Medical School, have spent 24 hours of their lives in experimentally testing homeopathic remedies or seeing them tested? Probably not 10 in the whole Commonwealth… ‘Of such experience as that’, they say, ‘give me ignorance rather than knowledge’. And the club opinion of the Massachusetts Medical Society pats them on the head and backs them up… Even the best type [of mind] is partly blind. There are methods which it cannot bring itself to use. The blindness of a type of mind is not diminished when those who have it band themselves together in a corporate profession. By just as much as they hold each other up to a high standard in certain lines and force each other to be thorough and conscientious there, by just so much along the other lines do they not only permit but eve compel each other to be shallow. When I was a medical student I feel sure that any one of us would have been ashamed to be caught looking into a homeopathic book by a professor. We had to sneer at homeopathy by word of command. Such was the school opinion at that time, and I imagine that similar encouragements to superficiality in various directions exist in the medical schools of today…(William James, Henry James (son of William James) (Ed.), Letters of William James, Volume II, (Boston Atlantic Monthly Press, 1920, reprinted by Cosimo, Inc., 30 Oct 2008). Pages 66-67 (original publication), and page 66 in the Cosimo version)*’. *

William James spoke against such narrow minded protectionism, and he warned the orthodox medical profession that they were in danger of becoming too shallow to appreciate discoveries coming from sources outside of their closed guild of medicine. (_Harris L Coulter, _Divided Legacy, Volume III: Science and Ethics in American Medicine_, (North Atlantic Books, 1982). Pages 467-468. This address to the Massachusetts State Legislature was originally printed in Banner of Light, 12.3.1898, and reprinted in _Fate in November 1969. Pages 99-106. Harris Coulter explained ‘…This address has not been published in any of the collections of James’ works… James’ son notes that some of his father’s medical colleagues ‘never forgave him, and to this day references to his appearance at the State House in Boston are marked by partisanship rather than understanding’…’)

In a letter dated 2nd March 1898, William James told his friend James Jackson Putnam (1846–1918): *“… If you think I enjoy that sort of thing you are mistaken. I never did anything that required as much moral effort in my life… why do the medical brethren force an unoffending citizen like me into such a position… Bah! I’m sick of the whole business, and I well know how all my colleagues at the medical school, who go only by the label, will view me and my efforts. But if Zola and Col. Picquart can face the whole French army, can’t I face their disapproval – much more easily that than of my own conscience…(William James, Henry James (son of William James) (Ed.), Letters of William James, Volume II, (Boston Atlantic Monthly Press, 1920, reprinted by Cosimo, Inc., 30 Oct 2008). Pages 66-67 (original publication), and page 66 in the Cosimo version)’ *

[James Jackson Putnam (1846–1918){::}** **’… was a United States neurologist… the Department of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. Putnam was a founder member of the American Neurological Association in December 1874, and was its president in 1888, and also a founding member of the American Psychoanalytical Association in 1911, being its first president and continuing to hold the post the following year. He was appointed Professor of Diseases of the Nervous System at Harvard in 1893 and continued to his retirement in 1912…’ Emile Francois Zola (1840-1902) ’… Émile Zola’s “J’Accuse” accused the highest levels of the French Army of obstruction of justice and antisemitism by having wrongfully convicted Alfred Dreyfus to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Zola’s intention was that he be prosecuted for libel so that the new evidence in support of Dreyfus would be made public…‘** Marie Georges Picquart[ **(1854-1914)](** **’… was a French army officer and Minister of War… Picquart discovered that the memorandum (the bordereau) that had been used to convict Captain Alfred Dreyfus had been the work of Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Several high-ranking generals warned Colonel Picquart to conceal his discovery but Picquart persisted and continued his investigation. In this he was hindered and sabotaged by subordinate officers, notably Major Henry. As a consequence Picquart was relieved of duty with the Deuxième Bureau and sent (December 1896) to regimental duty in Tunis. After the trial of Émile Zola, Picquart was himself accused of forging the note that had convinced him of Esterhazy’s guilt. He was then arrested for forgery and was waiting for a court martial during the period that the French Supreme Court was reviewing the Dreyfus case. After the second court-martial - held as a consequence of the conclusions of the Supreme Court - Picquart resigned from the army but the exoneration of Alfred Dreyfus in 1906 also absolved Picquart, who was, by an act of the Chamber of Deputies, promoted to brigadier-general. General Picquart subsequently entered Georges Clemenceau’s first cabinet as Minister of War…’]

In 1872, William James wrote to his mother that he was sending her a homeopathic remedyhydrastis, as a cure for her constipation (William James, Henry James, Ignas K Skrupskelis and Elizabeth M Berkeley (Eds), William and Henry James: Selected Letters, (1997). Page 32).

In the Principles of Psychology 1890, William James wrote:

‘… The good or bad fortunes of this self cause the most intense elation and dejection - unreasonable enough as measured by every other standard than that of the organic feeling of the individual. To his own consciousness he is not, so long as this particular social self fails to get recognition, and when it is recognized his contentment passes all bounds…

A man’s fame, good or bad, and his honor or dishonor, are names for one of his social selves. The particular social self of a man called his honor is usually the result of one of those splittings of which we have spoken. It is his image in the eyes of his own ‘set,’ which exalts or condemns him as he conforms or not to certain requirements that may not be made of one in another walk of life.

Thus a layman may abandon a city infected with cholera; but a priest or a doctor would think such an act incompatible with his honor. A soldier’s honor requires him to fight or to die under circumstances where another man can apologize or run away with no stain upon his social self. A judge, a statesman, are in like manner debarred by the honor of their cloth from entering into pecuniary relations perfectly honorable to persons in private life.

Nothing is commoner than to hear people discriminate between their different selves of this sort: “As a man I pity you, but as an official I must show you no mercy; as a politician I regard him as an ally, but as a moralist I loathe him;” etc., etc. What may be called ‘club-opinion’ is one of the very strongest forces in life. The thief must not steal from other thieves; the gambler must pay his gambling-debts, though he pay no other debts in the world.

The code of honor of fashionable society has throughout history been full of permissions as well as of vetoes, the only reason for following either of which is that so we best serve one of our social selves. You must not lie in general, but you may lie as much as you please if asked about your relations with a lady; you must accept a challenge from an equal, but if challenged by an inferior you may laugh him to scorn: these are examples of what is meant…

In a sense, then, it may be truly said that, in one person at least, the ‘Self of selves,’ when carefully examined, is found to consist mainly of the collection of these peculiar motions in the head or between the head and throat.

I do not for a moment say that this is all it consists of, for I fully realize how desperately hard is introspection in this field. But I feel quite sure that these cephalic motions are the portions of my innermost activity of which I am most distinctly aware.

If the dim portions which I cannot yet define should prove to be like unto these distinct portions in me, and I like other men, it would follow that our entire feeling of spiritual activity, or what commonly passes by that name, is really a feeling of bodily activities whose exact nature is by most men overlooked…

In the first place, the nuclear part of the Self, intermediary between ideas and overt acts, would be a collection of activities physiologically in no essential way different from the overt acts themselves.

If we divide all possible physiological acts into adjustments and executions, the nuclear self would be the adjustments collectively considered; and the less intimate, more shifting self, so far as it was active, would be the executions.

But both adjustments and executions would obey the reflex type. Both would be the result of sensorial and ideational processes discharging either into each other within the brain, or into muscles and other parts outside.

The peculiarity of the adjustments would be that they are minimal reflexes, few in number, incessantly repeated, constant amid great fluctuations in the rest of the mind’s content, and entirely unimportant and uninteresting except through their uses in furthering or inhibiting the presence of various things, and actions before consciousness.

These characters would naturally keep us from introspectively paying much attention to them in detail, whilst they would at the same time make us aware of them as a coherent group of processes, strongly contrasted with all the other things consciousness contained, even with the other constituents of the ‘Self,’ material, social, or spiritual, as the case might be.

They are reactions, and they are primary reactions. Everything arouses them; for objects which have no other effects will for a moment contract the brow and make the glottis close.

It is as if all that visited the mind had to stand an entrance-examination, and just show its face so as to be either approved or sent back.

These primary reactions are like the opening or the closing of the door. In the midst of psychic change they are the permanent core of turnings-towards and trunings-from, of yieldings and arrests, which naturally seem central and interior in comparison with the foreign matters, apropos to which they occur, and hold a sort of arbitrating, decisive position, quite unlike that held by any of the other constituents of the Me.

It would not be surprising, then, if we were to feel them as the birthplace of conclusions and the starting point of acts, or if they came to appear as what we called a while back the ‘sanctuary within the citadel’ of our personal life…

Speculations like this traverse common-sense; and not only do they traverse common sense (which in philosophy is no insuperable objection) but they contradict the fundamental assumption of every philosophic school.

Spiritualists, transcendentalists, and empiricists alike admit in us a continual direct perception of the thinking activity in the concrete. However they may otherwise disagree, they vie with each other in the cordiality of their recognition of our thoughts as the one sort of existent which skepticism cannot touch…

In each kind of self, material, social, and spiritual, men distinguish between the immediate and actual, and the remote and potential, between the narrower and the wider view, to the detriment of the former and advantage of the latter.

One must forego a present bodily enjoyment for the sake of one’s general health; one must abandon the dollar in the hand for the sake of the hundred dollars to come; one must make an enemy of his present interlocutor if thereby one makes friends of a more valued circle; one must go without learning and grace, and wit, the better to compass one’s soul’s salvation.

Of all these wider, more potential selves, the potential social self is the most interesting, by reason of certain apparent paradoxes to which it leads in conduct, and by reason of its connection with our moral and religious life.

When for motives of honor and conscience I brave the condemnation of my own family, club, and ‘set’; when, as a protestant, I turn catholic; as a catholic, freethinker; as a ‘regular practitioner,’ homoeopath, or what not, I am always inwardly strengthened in my course and steeled against the loss of my actual social self by the thought of other and better possible social judges than those whose verdict goes against me now.

The ideal social self which I thus seek in appealing to their decision may be very remote: it may be represented as barely possible. I may not hope for its realization during my lifetime; I may even expect the future generations, which would approve me if they knew me, to know nothing about me when I am dead and gone.

Yet still the emotion that beckons me on is indubitably the pursuit of an ideal social self, of a self that is at least worthy of approving recognition by the highest possible judging companion, if such companion there be.

This self is the true, the intimate, the ultimate, the permanent Me which I seek. This judge is God, the Absolute Mind, the ‘Great Companion.’

We hear, in these days of scientific enlightenment, a great deal of discussion about the efficacy of prayer; and many reasons are given us why we should not pray, whilst others are given us why we should.

But in all this very little is said of the reason why we do pray, which is simply that we cannot help praying. It seems probable that, in spite of all that ‘science’ may do to the contrary, men will continue to pray to the end of time, unless their mental nature changes in a manner which nothing we know should lead us to expect.

The impulse to pray is a necessary consequence of the fact that whilst the innermost of the empirical selves of a man is a Self of the social sort, it yet can find its only adequate Socius in an ideal world…

With the question once stated in these terms, the spiritualist and transcendentalist solutions must be considered as prima facie on a par with our own psychological one, and discussed impartially…’

William James interacted with a wide array of writers and scholars throughout his life, including his godfather Ralph Waldo EmersonHorace GreeleyWilliam Cullen BryantOliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.Charles PeirceJosiah RoyceGeorge SantayanaErnst MachJohn DeweyW. E. B. Du BoisHelen KellerMark TwainHoratio Alger, Jr.James George FrazerHenri BergsonH. G. WellsG. K. ChestertonSigmund FreudGertrude Stein, and Carl Gustav Jung.

William James was also influenced by Emanuel Swedenborg:

Swedenborgian ideas were also influential among the Concord Transcendentalists and had a direct influence on William James. In 1818 the first Swedenborg Society in Boston was started by Thomas Worcester and Sampson Reed, fellow Divinity School mates of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Sampson Reed’s Growth of the Mind (1826) a Swedenborgian tract, was the model Ralph Waldo Emerson used for his first book, Nature (1836). Ralph Waldo Emerson sent a copy of Reed’s book to Thomas Carlyle, and Thomas Carlyle in turn became friendly with James John Garth Wilkinson, a (homeopath), surgeon and also a translator of Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings.

William James was a founder member of the American Society for Psychical Research and he was a member of the Metaphysical Club, which ’provided a foundation for American intellectual thought for decades to come‘.

When he was thirteen, William James witnessed trance mediums first hand at the home of James John Garth Wilkinson doing automatic writing. Later James would use automatic writing as an experimental tool in the Harvard Psychological Laboratory. When he was 25, James published a review of Sargent’s Planchette: The despair of science, and then went on to pioneer in the field of psychical research as a corrective to rampant scientism, becoming also a champion of the powerful phenomenological effects of belief.

At the same time that William James was involved in these early philosophical endeavors, he had established his own independent relationship to his father’s friend James John Garth Wilkinson.

If the relation between the elder James and James John Garth Wilkinson was based on their mutual interest in Emanuel Swedenborg, it may be stated that the basis of the relationship between James John Garth Wilkinson and William James was their mutual interest in mental healing.

James John Garth Wilkinson had helped the English medical doctors John Elliotson and Braid introduce hypnotism into English medicine in the late 1830s; he studied the automatic writing of mediums in his home in 1855, the year that the James family lived next door as neighbors; he had turned to the practice of homeopathic medicine during that time at the suggestion of Henry James Sr.

James John Garth Wilkinson’s methods for the homeopathic treatment of insanity were linked to a stream of consciousness technique he had developed for the speaking, writing, and drawing of literary subjects; and we know that James John Garth Wilkinson’s unpublished manuscript on a case of hysterical fasting in a young girl was one of the most highly prized pieces in William James’s personal library.

James John Garth Wilkinson and William James also shared a mutual contempt for the arrogance of orthodox medical men concerning their claim to have superior ability over the mental healers in caring for the mentally ill.

William James’s interest in mental healing may have been at the very heart of his world view, a fact quite overlooked by all his distinguished biographers.

William James was the first to introduce the work of the French psychopathologist Pierre Janet into the American psychological literature in 1890; in 1894 he was the first American to recognize the importance of Joseph Breuer’s and Sigmund Freud’s studies on hysteria, first published in 1893; and his graduate course at Harvard in mental pathology during the 1890s inspired such students as E E SouthardBoris SidisMary Whiton CalkinsGertrude Stein, and James Rowland Angell.

Soon after the 1890s James’s attention turned away from abnormal psychology, and he became quite busy distorting Peirce’s original idea of pragmatism into a philosophy of action, of ends, and of results.

This variation on Emanuel Swedenborg’s doctrine of use, inherited through Henry James Sr, modified by James John Garth Wilkinson’s views on mental healing, and interpreted through Peirce’s philosophy, was to have a profound effect on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century development of a uniquely American functional psychology.

William James was ’a champion of alternative approaches to healing. He challenged his professional colleagues not to let a narrow mindset prevent an honest appraisal of those phenomena‘.

From In William James’s lecture of 1897 titled ”The Will to Believe,” William James defends the right to violate the principle of evidentialism in order to justify hypothesis venturing. Although this doctrine is often seen as a way for William James to justify religious beliefs, his philosophy of pragmatism allows him to use the results of his hypothetical venturing as evidence to support the hypothesis’ truth. Therefore, this doctrine allows one to assume belief in God and prove its existence by what the belief brings to one’s life.

  • The intense, even pathological varieties of experience (religious or otherwise) should be sought by psychologists, because they represent the closest thing to a microscope of the mind—that is, they show us in drastically enlarged form the normal processes of things.
  • In order to usefully interpret the realm of common, shared experience and history, we must each make certain ”over-beliefs” in things which, while they cannot be proven on the basis of experience, help us to live fuller and better lives.

The investigation of mystical experience was constant throughout the life of William James, leading him to experiment with chloral hydrate (1870), amyl nitrite (1875), nitrous oxide (1882), and even peyote (1896).

William James claimed that it was only when he was under the influence of nitrous oxide that he was able to understand Hegel. He concluded that while the revelations of the mystic hold true, they hold true only for the mystic; for others, they are certainly ideas to be considered, but can hold no claim to truth without personal experience of such.

William James claimed to have found a white crow and to believe in spiritualism:

From Piper (1857–1950) ‘… was a famous trance medium in the area of Spiritualism…’ ‘… In 1885 soon after the death of his son, psychologist, philosopher, and SPR member William James had his first sitting with Piper at the suggestion of his mother-in-law. James was soon convinced that Piper knew things she could only have discovered by supernatural means. James expressed his belief that Piper’s mediumistic abilities were genuine, saying, “If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, it is enough if you prove that one crow is white. My white crow is Mrs. Piper...’

From Anon, The Skeptical Inquirer, Volumes 27-28, (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal., 2003). Page 53. Any discussion of James’s spiritualistic bent must begin with Mrs. Piper. James (1890) wrote that he first met her in the Autumn of 1885, and Mrs. Piper’s description of how they met is particularly illuminating.

'... _My maid of all work told a friend who was a servant in the household of Professor William James, of Harvard, that I went into 'queer sleeps,' in which I said many 'strange things.' Professor James recognized that I was what is called a psychic, and took steps to make my acquaintance"_

If this was true there would have been an obvious conduit from the James household to Mrs. Piper, and her trance state revelations about the James family, which so impressed James, would have had a more mundane source than the spirit world.

Mrs. Piper’s daughter, Alta Piper, told a somewhat different story. Her grandparents had a maid whose sister worked in a Boston home frequently visited by James’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Gibbens (Alta Piper spelled it Gibbins).

Hearing, through this channel, marvelous tales about Mrs. Piper, Mrs. Gibbens requested and received a sitting that so impressed her that she arranged a sitting for her daughter, James’s wife, “the results of which appeared equally, if not more, surprising than her own…’

James’s (1890) version of how he met Mrs. Piper generally supports her daughter’s description, although he made no mention of the role played by the housekeepers. When he was told of Mrs. Piper’s powers he went with his wife, “to get a direct personal impression”. Whatever the specific connection between the servants,

‘… It is thus possible that Mrs. Piper’s knowledge of the James family was acquired from the gossip of servants and that the whole mystery rests on the failure of the people upstairs to realize that servants [downstairs] also have ears…

In his The Principles of Psychology—a two-volume publication that is arguably the most famous book in academic psychology—James (1890) quoted a lengthy autobiographical description of the remarkable output produced during automatic writing by a former member of Congress. The man insists that the writer was not himself, nor his unconscious, but some other intelligence using his mind. What is James’s response to this? He accepts it, commenting that he himself is persuaded “by abundant acquaintance with the trances of one medium that the ‘control’ may be altogether different from any possible waking self of the person.

In the case I have in mind, it professes to be a certain departed French doctor; and is, I am convinced, acquainted with facts about the circumstances, and the living and dead relatives and acquaintances, of numberless sitters whom the medium never met before, and of whom she has never heard the names” (Vol. 1,396).

James goes on to observe that he is giving his opinion, “unsupported by the evidence,” not to persuade anyone to his viewpoint, but rather because he believes “that a serious study of these trance-phenomena is one of the greatest needs of psychology” (396).

Those unfamiliar with James’s adventures into mysticism could not know that the medium he refers to in his famous book is Mrs. Piper and her control is Phinuit (a spirit intermediary for other spirits), who claimed that in his earthly existence he was a French physician, although he couldn’t speak French.

James rationalized this by suggesting that Phinuit was a fictitious person; that is, a real spirit who lied about the nature of his earthly identity (James 1890).

‘… I always believe that homeopathy should get a fair trial in obstinate, chronic cases. I know that homeopathic remedies are not inert, as orthodox medicine insists they necessarily must be.” William James 1903

I believe there is no source of deception in the investigation of nature which can compare with a fixed belief that certain kinds of phenomena are impossible.”

This time, however, instead of visiting a mind-cure practitioner, James put himself into the hands of one Dr. James Taylor__, a homeopathic physician…’

Hnery James snrHenry James Senior (1811-1882) consulted homeopaths himself:

It may be possible that Henry James Senior discovered homeopathy in New York in 1829 during his ‘year of rebellion’ via Hans Burch Gram 1746 – 1840, an American born Dane who had recently returned (in 1825) from his European studies in Copenhagen, where he had made a thorough study of homeopathy with Hans Christian Lund, who had studied with Samuel Hahnemann.

Hans Burch Gram was the very first homeopath in America, and he practiced at 431 Broome Street in New York where he was lodging with his brother. Hans Burch Gram was the ultimate proselytizer of homeopathy in America and he was influential, well connected and he socialised with the first society of Boston Brahmin, as Henry James Senior did in his short sojourn in Ne York. It is not impossible that Henry James Senior met Hans Burch Gram and chatted to him about his amputated leg, and his two years in bed as an invalid. Hans Burch Gram had extensive experience of such injuries from the Napoleonic wars in Europe whilst working as a surgeon at the Royal Military Hospital in Copenhagen, and he was also a personal friend of Henrik Callisen, a specialist in the treatment of burns. Is it possible that Henry James Senior first experienced homeopathy at this time and that Hans Burch Gram treated his injured leg? * Henrik Callisen (1740-1824) Scandanavian Journal of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery 18: 7-9, 1984. The History of Burns Treatment in Denmark. Mogens Thompson, The Department of Plastic Surgery and Burns Unit, Hvidovre Hospital, The University of Copenhagen. ‘… It was not until 1788 when Callisten (1740- 1824) published his text book on surgery in Latin that an original Danish contribution to the subject appeared…’

In 1848, Henry James Senior also consulted Irish homeopath William MacOubrey when he was in Paris (Leon Edel**, *{::}Henry James: The untried years, 1843-1870\*, **(Lippincott, 1953) Page 133)).

At the age of 71, Henry James Senior consulted a homeopath who treated him in 1882:

‘… The physician, a homeopath by the name of Ahlborn (?Emily Ahlborn 1866 - 1883 or ?Emil Bernhardt Ahlborn), took the position that the seventy one year old patient could live a year longer if he wanted to…‘.

Henry James Senior counselled his friend James John Garth Wilkinson to come over to America and convert to homeopathy, and James John Garth Wilkinson became a ‘pastoral psychiatrist’ to the James family. Indeed in 1825, Henry James Senior’s third son was named Garth Wilkinson James, which shows the regard with which this homeopath was held by the James family.

Henry James Senior began to be interested in Emanuel Swedenborg around 1841, when he read some articles in London’s Monthly Magazine on the subject by James John Garth Wilkinson, who would become one of Henry James Snr’s closest friends. In his quest, he met and befriended Ralph Waldo Emerson, but did not find much satisfaction in Emerson’s thought. Emerson introduced Henry James Snr to Thomas Carlyle. But it was in the work of Emanuel Swedenborg that Henry James Senior found a spiritual home.

In May 1844, while living in Windsor in England, Henry James Senior was sitting alone one evening at the family dinner table after the meal, gazing at the fire, when he had the defining spiritual experience of his life, which he would come to interpret as a Swedenborgian “vastation,” a stage in the process of spiritual regeneration. This experience was an apprehension of, in his own words,

'... _a perfectly insane and abject terror, without ostensible cause, and only to be accounted for, to my perplexed imagination, by some damned shape squatting invisible to me within the precincts of the room, and praying out from his fetid personality influences fatal to life_...'

Henry James Senior’s “vastation” initiated a spiritual crisis that lasted two years, and was finally resolved through the thorough exploration of the work of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish scientist, religious visionary and teacher, and mystic. Henry James Senior became convinced that, as he put it,

’… t_he curse of mankind, that which keeps our manhood so little and so depraved, is its sense of selfhood, and the absurd abominable opinionativeness it engenders_…’

He remained attached to Emanuel Swedenborg’s thought for the rest of life, and never traveled without carrying Emanuel Swedenborg’s works with him. Henry James Senior returned to the United States in 1845 and began a lifetime of lecturing about his spiritual discoveries. He devoted his mornings to writing, and published a number of discursive, rather repetitive volumes devoted to the exposition of his thought.

Henry James Senior became interested in the late 1840s in former members of Brook Farm, the experiment in communal living at Roxbury, Massachusetts that lasted from 1841 to 1847, and in Fourierism, the school of utopian socialism that grew out of the thought of French social philosopher Charles Fourier and which was a major influence in the last several years of Brook Farm. Henry James Senior was interested in utopianism as a stepping stone to the spiritual life.

Henry James Senior was a stern critic of the “gross materiality” of American society, and found in Fourier’s thought a useful critique. He held most of the leading writers of his day in low regard, with the possible exception of Walt Whitman, though he met and cultivated many of them, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and William Makepeace Thackeray.

Henry James Senior was an advocate of many social reforms, including the abolition of slavery and the liberalization of divorce… He participated actively in the lives of his children, whose education he had done so much to shape…

William James wrote a letter to his father, but he unfortunately died before he could read it:

‘… In that mysterious gulf of the past into which the present will soon fall and go back and back, yours is still for me the central figure. All my intellectual life I derive from you; and though we have often seemed at odds in the expression thereof I’m sure there’s a harmony somewhere, & that our strivings will combine.

“What my debt to you is goes beyond all my power of estimating, so early, so penetrating and so constant has been the influence. Good night my sacred old Father. If I don’t see you again—Farewell! a blessed farewell!…’

Henry James
jnrHenry James Junior (1843-1916) was and exponent of trans Atlantic literature and a friend of Edmund William Gosse, Elizabeth Robins,** **Genevieve Ward, and many others.

On March 25th 1870, Henry James junior spent 8 weeks on Malvern (his second visit as he also was in Malvern for ‘the cure’ in 1869), taking the water cure for his constipation from a Dr. Raynor (Greg W. Zacharias, A Companion to Henry James, (John Wiley & Sons, 28 Oct 2008). Page 7) Henry James junior did try to consult James Manby Gully, as he was so well recommended to him by his family, but James Manby Gully was away when Henry James junior was in Malvern (Henry James, Alexander James, Letters, (Harvard University Press, 174), Page 217). ’… I am less the better for my 8 weeks here than I hoped to be: still I am the better… _(Henry James, Philip Horne (Ed.), _Henry James: a life in letters_,** (Viking, 1999). Page 35)’.  See also William James, Henry James, Ignas K Skrupskelis and Elizabeth M Berkeley (Eds.), Introduction by John J McDe, William and Henry James: Selected Letters, (1997). Page 50-57. **’… a steady consumption of minute quantities of medicine is far better than a rarer, larger dose… _

‘… one of the founders and leaders of a school of realism in fiction; the fine art of his writing has led many academics to consider him the greatest master of the novel and novella form...’

Henry James Junior lived most of his life in England where he moved in illustrious circles. He was a friend of Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, Charles Darwin and Rudyard Kipling:

‘… Henry James Junior was vigorously social during his years in London, and his friends included three prime ministers, successive American ambassadors, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the commander in chief of the British armed forces. Many of his more intimate friends were members of an artistic circle of young men later identified with Oscar Wilde and The Yellow Book… Biographers and critics have identified Henrik Ibsen, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Honore de Balzac, and Ivan Turgenev as important influences… and Hendrik Christian AndersenJames John Garth Wilkinson was also a close family friend...’

Alice JamesAlice James (1848-1892) suffered severely from mental health problems throughout her life and she died prematurely at the age of 43. Alice James is known primarily for the posthumously published diary she kept in the last years of her life.

In 1890, William James recommended that his sister Alice James (and the sister of Henry James junior) consult Charles Lloyd Tuckey (Jean Strouse, Alice James, (Harvill, 1980). Page 308. See also Alice James, Leon Edel (Ed.), The diary of Alice James, (Penguin Books, 1 Jan 1982). Page 222). See also Am J Psychiatry 1982 139: 1079).  

William James arrived from America in September 1891, to see Alice James of course, but also in time to see Henry James junior’s play, The American *( See also Richard Warrington Baldwin Lewis, [The Jameses: a family narrative](,* (Anchor Books, 1993). Page 466. ‘… Always yearning for success in the theatre, James converted The American to a play in the early 1890s. This dramatic version altered the original novel severely, and even ended happily to please theatre goers. The play was produced in London and other English cities, and enjoyed moderate success…’ Alice James quipped ‘… The American died an honourable death, on the 76th night…’) on the English stage, before returning to America.

Alice James was strangely content, and under constant treatment from Charles Lloyd Tuckey. She described his treatments as ‘… the pawnings of an amiable necromancer…’ and accepted them gratefully, as they successfully diminished her pain. She had however, quite decided to die, and she informed him of this quite vociferously when he told her she could ‘… live a good bit still…’ Alice James also accepted hypnosis therapy from Charles Lloyd Tuckey at the suggestion of William James, and she wrote to him to inform him of her progress:

‘… Supposing that your being is vibrating with more or less curiosity about the great hypnotic experiment on Camden Hill, I report progress. As far as pain goes the result is nil, save on four occasions the violent resuscitation of a dormant toothache, a wretched dying nerve which demands an agony of its own… What I do experience, is a calming of my nerves and quiescent passive state, during which I fall asleep, without the sensations of terror which have accompanied that process for so many years, and I sleep for five or six hours, uninterrupted. But then, I slept like a dormouse all last year before taking morphia. Katherine has very much better results than Tuckey… We were fortunate in our ignorance to have fallen upon an experienced doctor as well as a hypnotists. He seems to be much penetrated with my abnormal susceptibility and says that to put me actually asleep would be a very risky experiment. He seems to look upon the reckless use of it as absolutely criminal. He is only coming once this week and then he will die of course, a natural death. My pains are to much a part of my substance to have any modifications before the spirit and the flesh fall asunder. But I feel as if I had gained something in the way of a nerve pacifier and one of the most intense intellectual experiences of my life…(Francis Otto Matthiessen, The James Family: A Group Biography, (Duckworth Publishers, 2008). Page 283)…

* *

Garth Wilky JamesGarth Wilkinson James (nickname Wilky) and his brother robertson
jamesRobertson James:

Wilky was staunchly committed to the abolitionist cause—he and his brother Robertson (Bob) had been students of an associate of John Brown shortly after the attack on Harper’s Ferry, and Wilky and Bob were classmates of Brown’s daughters.

Wilky became an adjutant in Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first black regiment in the state. On July 18, the regiment was decimated leading a fateful attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, and Wilky was wounded in the side and foot. Brought home by a friend’s father, Wilky lay on a stretcher in the entrance of the house, too ill to be moved. His father wrote to a friend that

"_Poor Wilky cries aloud for his friends gone and missing, and I could hardly have supposed he might be educated so suddenly up to serious manhood altogether as he appears to have been_."

His brother William James sketched him, mouth gaping, cheeks sunken, looking more dead than alive.Wilky did recover, though. He returned to his regiment and was present at Fort Sumter, when on February 20, 1865, the Stars and Stripes were raised again.

It was without exception the proudest moment of my life,” he wrote his sister.

The youngest James son, Bob, also was an officer in a black regiment, the 55th Massachusetts.

After the war, Wilky and Bob tried to further the cause of civil rights by running a plantation in Florida for free blacks. Unfortunately, the venture failed. The war turned out to be their only hour of glory, the only time when they outshone their brilliant older brothers.

The James Family Archive is here.


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