The Nature of True Virtue: Theology, Psychology, and Politics in the Writings of Henry James, Sr., Henry James, Jr., and William James

By James Duban | Go to book overview

3
The Beauty, Spontaneity, and
Sociability of Virtue:
Henry Senior's Stuyvesant Institute Lectures

DELIVERED IN NEW YORK DURING THE WINTER OF 1850–51, HENRY SENIOR'S SIX lectures at the Stuyvesant Institute led to his lengthy and until now forgotten exchange of letters with the Christian Inquirer from 29 February through 3 May 1851. The winter lectures, which he collected in Lectures and Miscellanies (1852), were "considerably amplified in passing through the press, as scarcely to fall any longer within the customary lecture-limits" (L&M, ix). The lectures evolved out of his Moralism and Christianity (1850) and probably owe their considerable elaboration to the attack upon them in the Christian Inquirer. Revised and expanded in their published form, the lectures respond, in some measure, to the later newspaper controversy while serving as our only extant guide to what precipitated the debate in the first place.

Edwardsian ideas about "true virtue" pervade these lectures and illuminate important concerns in the newspaper controversy. The editors of the Christian Inquirer responded instinctively to the socialism, antimoralism, and lingering Calvinism of the elder James. As we shall observe in chapter 4, their debate with him may well represent the most impressive liberal Christian rejoinder in the nineteenth century to the legacy of Edwards. The lectures themselves, however, are so imbued with a socialistic appropriation of Edwardsian theology as to set the stage for that later clash of ideas between James and his Unitarian detractors.

The first of Henry Senior's six lectures is "Democracy and Its Issues." A pun exists in the word "issues," since the essay wends toward socialism by virtue of the author's belief that democracy leads away from monarchy and aristocracy and toward the more "purely social manifestation," or what he calls the "rule of the whole… as against that of a mere majority" (L&M, 7, 6). The elder Henry approaches socialism through the categories that had shaped his Edwardsian outlook in Moralism and Christianity; he again exalts a general love when celebrating the spontaneous "instincts of the universal

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