The Letters of William James - Vol. 1

By Henry James; William James | Go to book overview
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1867-1868 Eighteen Months in Germany

IN the spring of 1867 James interrupted his course at the Medical School again. He was impelled to do this, partly by the pressure of a conviction that his health required him to stop work or continue elsewhere under different conditions, and partly by a desire to learn German and study physiology in the German laboratories. He knew a little German already, and it seemed reasonable to suppose that if he went abroad immediately he would have time to familiarize himself with the language during a pleasant and restful summer and would be ready to enter one of the universities in the autumn. He sailed in April and spent the summer in Dresden and Bohemia. But his health became worse instead of better.

It is unnecessary to detail the record of a long illness by selecting for this book the passages of his correspondence in which James sooner or later revealed what his condition was. It would also be idle to inquire closely about the causes of his illness, considering that, for one reason, James was completely puzzled and baffled himself. Insomnia, digestive disorders, eye-troubles, weakness of the back, and sometimes deep depression of spirits followed each other or afflicted him simultaneously. If his trouble was in part nervous, it was a reality none the less. A photograph that was taken of him at about this period recorded the aspect of a very ill man. If, his introspective genius made things worse for him for a while, it probably did more to


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