WHETHER William James was compressing his correspondence into brief messages, or allowing it to expand into copious letters, he could not write a page that was not free, animated, and characteristic. Many of his correspondents preserved his letters, and examination of them soon showed that it would be possible to make a selection which should not only contain certain letters that clearly deserved to be published because of their readable quality alone, but should also include letters that were biographical in the best sense. For in the case of a man like James the biographical question to be answered is not, as with a man of affairs: How can his actions be explained? but rather: What manner of being was he? What were his background and education? and, above all, What were his temperament and the bias of his mind? What native instincts, preferences, and limitations of view did he bring with him to his business of reading the riddle of the Universe? His own informal utterances throw the strongest light on such questions.
In these volumes I have attempted to make such a selection. The task has been simplified by the nature of the material, in which the most interesting letters were often found, naturally enough, to include the most vivid elements of which a picture could be composed. I have added such notes as seemed necessary in the interest of clearness; but I have tried to leave the reader to his own conclusions. The work was begun in 1913, but had to be laid aside; and I should regret the delay in completing it even more than I do if it were not that very interesting letters have come to light during the last three years.