Tuesday December 1st, 2009

“I fear you have let loose a demon in me…”

w-jamesTo accompany this week’s review of Thomas Mallon’s book about letters, each day the blog will feature two letters. This one was written by William James on April 6, 1896, to his students at Radcliffe College, who had sent him a potted azalea for Easter. It’s taken from The Selected Letters of William James edited by Elizabeth Hardwick.

Dear Young Ladies,—

I am deeply touched by your remembrance. It is the first time anyone ever treated me so kindly, so you may well believe that the impression on the heart of the lonely sufferer will be even more durable than the impression on your minds of all the teachings of Philosophy 2A. I now perceive one immense omission in my Psychology,—the deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated, and I left it out altogether from the book, because I had never had it gratified till now. I fear you have let loose a demon in me, and that all my actions will now be for the sake of such rewards. However, I will try to be faithful to this one unique and beautiful azalea tree, the pride of my life and delight of my existence. Winter and summer will I tend and water it—even with my tears. Mrs. James shall never go near it or touch it. If it dies, I will die too; and if I die, it shall be planted on my grave.

Don’t take all this too jocosely, but believe in the extreme pleasure you have caused me, and in the affectionate feelings with which I am and shall always be faithfully your friend,

Wm. James