Twain & James

Jennifer Hecht places Mark Twain in the 20th century, though he– like William James– came to fame and fortune (and loss) in the 19th. Both died in 1910,  Twain famously exiting with the comet he came in on.

Twain’s credentials as a free-thinker are well-known. James is remembered more for his belief in believing, especially others’ believing, and for respecting faiths of all kinds when they proved adaptive and beneficial for living. His will to believe was pure, pragmatically speaking.

So it probably surprises some to discover this 1901 James declaration:

“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.”
I wish Ms. Hecht had found room for a paragraph or two on James, alongside those on Twain. Fortunately there’s an excellent book-length study by Gary Horn that brings them smartly together: Mark Twain and William James: Crafting a Free Self.

And here’s some good advice from Mr. Twain for all who dread getting started with some project or other– such as a mid-term essay, say? First task: write a sentence. Second task: write another one. Do it ’til the habit forms. Or you could do a presentation.
As WJ said: life (not to mention that infernal essay!)  will be built in doing and suffering and creating. It may not be the way you want to spend your weekend, but as I tell myself when deadlines loom: this is one of the ways we distinguish ourselves from our knuckle-dragging cousins. This is what makes us the rational animal. Right, Sam?
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