James bio – 8

statue_of_liberty_-newyork-_harborIt’s the autumn of ’86, the Statue of Liberty’s just been dedicated in New York Harbor, and James is immersed in the writing of his seminal Principles of Psychology.

But he’s also doing and thinking about many other things. He’s exploring hypnosis and other “exceptional mental states” (again, check out his incredible free-form channeling of Hegel under the intoxicating influence of nitrous oxide).

He and Alice are building a home at 95 Irving Street in Cambridge, near Harvard, and renovating their Chocorua,  New Hampshire getaway (reducing to just eleven “doors opening out”).

He’s exploring the evolutionary implications of human instinct and will.

He’s getting better acquainted with colleague George Santayana, beginning to turn Harvard’s philosophy program into something very special, and becoming a legendary teacher.

And he’s about to reunite in Europe with his beloved, mysteriously troubled sister Alice. Busy days.

james study“Actively involved with both family and students, redesigning and rebuilding one home and designing and building another from scratch– all while finishing a book almost three thousand pages long in manuscript– Williamchocorua James was constructing his life with all the energy he had.” A time of career achievement, and a time of  warm and cozy domesticity. (That’s his Irving Street study on the left, and Chocorua on the right.) James seems comfortably at home in his universe.

And at last, on the eve of the Gay ’90s, Principles is finished. James is much too hard on himself and his book, “a loathsome, distended, tumefied, bloated, dropsial mass.” In fact, most psychology experts continue to regard it as a classic and a work of genius. But he was ready for something completely different.

(Note: in August 2010 the William James Society will commemorate the centenary of James’s death in the Chocorua house in 1910. But  in our narrative, of course, he’s not dead yet.)


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