and His Principles
Rand B. Evans
University of Baltimore
Just 100 years ago William James published his monumental Principles of Psychology ( W. James, 1890). The Principles has remained in print ever since, a remarkable feat for its hesitant and self-deprecating author. So well known are the author and the book that they hardly need introduction. Still, the centenary of the publication of the Principles and the approaching 150th anniversary of James's birth is an appropriate time to stand back and consider the background of his remarkable book.
The Principles is certainly James's masterpiece and probably the most significant psychological treatise ever written in America. In its richness of descriptive detail into the varieties of mental life, in its boldness of explanation, and even in its leaps into speculative possibilities, it has no equal in American psychological literature. The Principles is also perhaps the best entree to any thorough understanding of James's thought ( McDermott, 1977, p. xxxiii).
A century ago, however, the Principles was just a huge stack of paper on William James's desk being prepared for shipment to Henry Holt for publication. James had reason to anticipate a positive reception for his book. Several of the chapters had already appeared as articles in periodicals and had been well received. When he submitted the manuscript to Henry Holt, however, James was quite self-effacing, calling himself "an incapable" and his manuscript "a loathsome, distended, tumefied, bloated, dropsical mass . . ." ( Perry, 1935, Vol. II, p. 48). To his brother Henry, however, James intimated that, "As 'psychologies' go, it is a good one . . ." ( H. James, 1920, Vol. I, p. 296).
James Principles was a very personal document. James's philosophy and his life history were tightly intertwined. His emphases of the themes of naturalism, will, and self in his Principles was clearly a product of major