The Principles of Oliver Wendell Holmes

“Talks too much” was the comment on the first report card of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the future Supreme Court justice and founder of the constitutional law of free speech. Wendy Holmes (as he was known to his intimates) was six. He lived for another eighty-seven years, and no one ever accused him of keeping his views to himself. He ... Read More »

William James and the Case of the Epileptic Patient 10

In fact, for James the two experiences represented eternally op¬posed responses to life. He made himself clear on the matter in an odd corner of his work—in the introduction he wrote to his father’s Literary Remains, a memorial anthology which was published in 1884 and promptly sank without a trace. Most people who believe in God, William says there, are ... Read More »

William James and the Case of the Epileptic Patient 9

Without suggesting that anything that might significantly trans¬form our understanding of William James has been suppressed, we are entitled to note that the version of his early breakdown in his son Henry’s 1920 edition of the Letters and his protege Perry’s 1935 biography is very much the authorized version. Two pieces of evidence—the story of the epileptic patient and the ... Read More »

William James and the Case of the Epileptic Patient 8

Certain identification of la belle B.W. sans merci is impossible. One candidate is Bessie Ward, the sister of Tom Ward, one of James’s best friends. Her father was the James family banker; her mother, the former Anna Hazard Barker, was a famous beauty. “The adorable Miss Bessy,” Henry later called the daughter after running into her in Rome; “. . ... Read More »

William James and the Case of the Epileptic Patient 7

Leaving psychoanalytic interpretations of the story of the epilep¬tic patient aside for the moment, it is not easy to find evidence that James ever felt that he had a problem with masturbation himself. The passage from his diary that Gilman quotes—“Hitherto I have tried to fire myself with the moral interest, as an aid in . . . attaining certain ... Read More »

William James and the Case of the Epileptic Patient 6

This interpretation was amplified a little by Sander Gilman, in a book on Disease and Representation, who suggested that the source for James’s vision of the epileptic patient might have been a work called Des maladies mentales, by Jean Etienne Dominique Esqui- rol, published in 1838 (and written, as Gilman points out, in the supposed language of James’s “sufferer”). Esquirol’s ... Read More »

William James and the Case of the Epileptic Patient 5

I wrote to the archivist at McLean asking whether James might simply have been at the hospital in his capacity as a medical stu¬dent, and met with this boilerplate rebuff. But when I approached the administration of the hospital, I got a different response, which is that requests for information about William James had been forwarded to the James family, ... Read More »

William James and the Case of the Epileptic Patient 4

And the 1874 letter, also to Robertson, that Feinstein offers in support of his dating of the vision of the epileptic is at odds with his own theory. Feinstein cites the letter, but he does not quote it. Here is what it says: I had a crisis just before and about the time of your last visit here, which was ... Read More »

William James and the Case of the Epileptic Patient 3

Gay Wilson Allen, in William James: A Biography (1967), had it that James told his son Henry when the vision of the epileptic had occurred, but this assumption seems to have no basis. Henry appar¬ently learned about the episode the same way everyone else did, from Flournoy’s book, after his father’s death. And this means that we have no idea ... Read More »

William James and the Case of the Epileptic Patient 2

On asking this correspondent to explain more fully what he meant by these last words, the answer he wrote was this: “I mean that the fear was so invasive and powerful that if I had not clung to scripture-texts like ‘The eternal God is my refuge,’ etc., ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden,’ etc., ‘I am ... Read More »