Review of Memories and Studies. By William James. London, New York and Bombay: Longmans, Green and Co., 1911. Pp. v, 411
THIS BOOK IS a collection of addresses and short articles on several occasions. Some, on American celebrities of varying degrees of fame, are of chiefly local or topical interest. Two on psychical research give William James’s final verdict in this matter, based (in part at least) on the maxim that “when a man’s pursuit gradually makes his face shine and grow handsome, you may be sure it is a worthy one.” This suggests that mankind should be annually inspected by a Government official, selected as an expert in beauty, and having power to send the ugliest ten per cent to prison. It is to be feared that chimney-sweeps, coal-miners and stokers must be incredible villains. There is an amusing essay on Herbert Spencer’s autobiography, and a very interesting account of the psychological effects of the San Francisco earthquake. There is an article called “A Pluralistic Mystic,” which is really in praise of the worship of Dionysus in his nitrous-oxide incarnation (he has taken advantage of modern science and is quite abreast of the age).
The most delightful part of the book consists of an essay and a speech on war – especially the speech, called “Remarks at the Peace Banquet.” Since William James got away alive, one must suppose the other diners practised what they preached. He told the assembled pacifists that “the plain truth is that people want war. They want it anyhow; for itself, and apart from each and every possible consequence. It is the final bouquet of life’s fireworks.” “War is human nature at its uttermost…. It is a sacrament. Society would rot without the mystical blood-payment.” “Let the soldiers dream of killing, as the old maids dream of marrying.” The companion essay, “On the Moral Equivalent of War,” suggests peaceful methods of securing the same moral values. William James did well in insisting on the urgency of this problem; men’s energies need an enemy to fight, but all progress demands that the enemy should not be human.