Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/268

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Later Philosophy

God. But though James is far from Christian theology, he gives vivid utterance to the ordinary popular Christianity which believes, not in a God who expresses himself in universal laws, but in a God to whom we can pray for help against our enemies, whom we can please and even help by our faith in Him. This is due to James s deep sympathy with common experience rather than with the problems of the reflective-minded. But the modern sophisticated intellect is certainly tickled by the sight of a most learned savant espousing the cause of popular as opposed to learned theology, and by the open confession of belief in piecemeal supernaturalism on the basis of spiritistic phenomena. James's antipathy to the Hegelian and Roycean attempts to prove the existence of the Absolute certainly plays a more prominent part in his writings than does his antipathy to popular unbelief. But the method of the absolutist he rejected, not only because of its insufferable pretension to finality of proof, but mainly because it is in the way of one who prefers an anthropomorphic universe that is tingling with life through and through and is constantly meeting with new adventures.

The union of religious mysticism with biologic and psychologic empiricism is characteristic of James's work from the very beginning. He grew up in a household characterized by liberal culture and mystic Swedenborgian piety.[1] The teacher who made the greatest impression upon him, Louis Agassiz, was a pious opponent of Darwin but a rare master in the art of observing significant details. More than one American naturalist caught the fire of his enthusiasm for fact. The companionship of Chauncey Wright and the writings of Renouvier weaned James from his father's religio-philosophical monism. The empirical way of thought of Hume and Mill proved most congenial to one who was par excellence a naturalist and delighted in the observation of significant detail.[2]

James began his career as a teacher of physiology and gradually drifted into psychology. His Principles of Psychology (2 vols., 1890) contains the substance of his philosophy. Having,

  1. His father, Henry James, Sr., was a Swedenborgian philosopher and a cultivated gentleman of ample means, who united to genuine originality of thought a remarkable insight into human character and a delightful freshness and pungency of language.
  2. James studied art and was a proficient draftsman before he finally decided to study medicine.