WILLIAM JAMES by Gay Wilson Allen
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James was born in the gloomy depression year of 1842, but when he was three months old Emerson stopped by at Washington Place to give the new arrival his blessing. Both events may be taken as symbolic, for though William eventually achieved an eminence equalling, and in some respects outranking, that of the Concord Sage, it was not until he was approaching fifty that his Principles of Psychology appeared, and his life, as Professor remarks, ""from his eighteenth year until his death at sixty-eight...was a struggle to overcome crippling neuroses."" The Allen biography is not the large, adventurous work which Leon Edel wove around brother Henry; it is, however, a compact, pungent one, often moving and richly orchestrated, admirably capturing the quality of William's robust, vigorous pursuits in philosophy and radical empiricism, side by side with the tangle of temperaments which made up the highly individualized James family. Since Allen draws on material not previously available to James historians, we are given fresh, at times painful, insights not only relating to William's character but also to the inner circle: the Swedenborgian father, the troubled spinster sister, Henry's all too fine sensibilities, and William's wife, a wonderfully humane creature who more than did her share in soothing such a collection of bruised geniuses. A distinguished, readable portrait.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1967
Publisher: Viking