last stand

Let’s wrap things up for Richardson’s James bio, and for our semester’s required reading list in Intro. (But as I always tell students at semester’s end: don’t stop now. Check out this excellent James site, for starters, and keep on learning. Education only begins in college. don’t let your schooling interfere with it.)

William, like his hero Bergson, was wary of mental snapshots. But the image of him atop a ladder, peering into the English garden adjoining his brother’s home for a peek at G.K. Chesterton, does indeed give off “a sense of everlasting youth.” I want some of that.

Near the end he was reading Plutarch’s Lives, struck by those noble Greeks and Romans so rammed with life. That’s what poor Henry Adams was missing, with his “heat death” pessimism. We’ve already noted William’s response, the charged anticipation of an expiring pulse too happy to continue.

The laws of thermodynamics may not be “wholly irrelevant” but they do fail to find the real hot-spot of human energies. William James’s life and career were always hot on their trail. Richardson is right: his last stand for the spirit of man is indeed another picture worthy to be hung on the wall alongside “Death of Socrates.”

On August 26, 1910 [in Chocorua, N.H.] at two-thirty in the afternoon, with Alice holding his head, William James died. At the end there had been, Alice noted, “no pain and no consciousness.”

But, Mr. Blood, remind us again:

There is no conclusion. What has been concluded, that we might conclude in regard to it? There are no fortunes to be told, and there is no advice to be given. — Farewell!

A century later, William James’s death was not his end. He remains vitally related to the wider life of the ages.

And there will be a party in his honor in Chocorua this August. He– his “wider self”– will be there. His brother was correct: William James “is a possession,” and not a few of us are “still living upon him.”


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One Response to “last stand”

  1. Doug Bruns Says:

    Thank you for turning me on to the Richardson biography. I finished it yesterday and am a better man for it. Next up re-reading Menand’s Metaphysical Club. Suddenly all thought American calls!

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