A Native of the James Family
The early life of William James . . . in his setting, his immediate native and domestic air.
HENRY JAMES, JR., 1913
The elder Henry James took great pride in his philosophic enthusiasm and eccentricities, in part because they were so hard won. As he grew up, he main tained a stiff resistance to his own parents' way of life. The elder James set the tone for describing the independent path he took in his career when he began the first part of his autobiography by claiming not to know the date of his birth. It must have been before 1815, he surmised, because he remembered the fireworks in the night sky, lit to mark the 1815 Peace Treaty with Great Britain that ended the War of 1812. But to the child's mind, "this municipal illumination in honor of peace" only served to highlight "the contrast of the awful dark of the sky with the feeble glitter of the streets." His description is symbolic of his relation with his family, who wanted him to follow his father on the glittering road to business success and community leadership, while he steadily gravitated toward the more murky and mysterious, yet more broadly alluring path of personal religious questing and philosophical inquiry. 1
Henry James's father, the first American William James ( 1771-1832), known as "William of Albany," would never have understood or even imagined the intellectual and religious world of his descendants. 2 His successful business career was so strikingly different from the work of his more famous progeny that grandson Henry James once wryly observed that "the rupture with my grandfather's tradition and attitude was complete; we were never in a single