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

4
"The old dogma of disinterestedness":
Henry Senior and
the Christian Inquirer

SO WELL RECEIVED WERE THE SIX LECTURES AT THE STUYVESANT INSTITUTE DURing the winter of 1850–51 that Henry Senior thought he had found his calling at last: "Of one thing at all events no doubt remains," he wrote Edmund Tweedy. "All parties unite in telling me that I must do nothing else for a living, but disseminate the gospel of the divine humanity now henceforth and forever." For reasons other than the leisure afforded him by inherited wealth, the elder James had reason to aspire to a career in lecturing. He was a devoted thinker and writer; he had received generous praise for his lectures; he had even been classed alongside Emerson in the New York Tribune. As one scholar remarks, Henry Sr. would "never be more famous" than he was directly following the New York lectures.1

The elder Henry, elated about his new profession, made plans several months in advance to repeat the lectures at Boston's Masonic Temple, where Emerson and others were to be in attendance. Henry Senior boarded a train for that purpose the day before the opening lecture, on 4 November 1851, but he cancelled the series and returned to New York in anguish, claiming to be ill. He more likely suffered from nervous uncertainty about the quality and potential reception of his lectures, for he asked James T. Fisher, who had arranged his Boston visit, to tell Emerson that the lectures were undergoing improvement. "Something other than a physical indisposition," remarks Habegger, "had destroyed the lecturer's resolution. Whatever it was—disappointing ticket sales, some critical remark from Emerson or Fisher, some hint of Boston's keen-eyed intellectual hauteur—James hadn't been able to face it."2

Henry Senior told Fisher that the revised lectures would "do my thought so much more justice" and "be perfectly apprehended."3 Does this not imply that the lectures had already been imperfectly apprehended in some

-71-

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