The Letters of William James - Vol. 1

By Henry James; William James | Go to book overview

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1890-1893 The "Briefer Course" and the Laboratory -- I Sabbatical Year in Europe

THE publication of the "Principles" may be treated as making a date -- at any rate in the story of James's life. Although conceived originally as a manual or textbook, it had gone far beyond that mere summary of a subject which it is the rôle of most textbooks to be, and had finally assumed the form of a philosophic survey. "It was a declaration of independence (defining the boundary lines of a new science with unapproachable genius.)"1 In the scientific world it established James's already high reputation and greatly extended his influence.

Beyond scientific circles the book's style, its colloquial directness, its humor, and its moral depth and appeal, won it an instantaneous popularity. Even before it appeared, the compositor at the printing-press was reported as so enthralled by his "copy" that he was reading the manuscript out of hours. Passages, among which the chapter on Habit is the most widely known, "went home" with the force of eloquent sermons. "I can't tell you what the book has meant to me." Such was the burden of countless messages that began to come in from non-professional readers. During the course of the first winter after its appearance, it became clear that the only obstacle to its almost universal use in American colleges was its size. And so James spent the summer of 1891 in making an abridgment which ap

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J. M. Cattell. Address upon the 25th Anniversary of the American Psychological Association, Dec. 1916. Science (N.S.), vol. XLV, p. 276.

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