Henry James, Sr.


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father of Henry James, Jr., William James, and Alice James, was a lecturer and writer on religious, social, and literary topics. Born of a wealthy and rigidly orthodox family of Albany, N.Y., he revolted against Calvinism and felt that the social order was unjust. An accident that happened to him as a schoolboy resulted in the amputation of a leg, and drove him further upon his mental resources. After his graduation from Union College (1830), he entered Princeton Theological Seminary (1835), but withdrew after two years, finding himself out of sympathy with orthodox theology. On a visit to England (1837) he became influenced by Robert Sandeman, a Scottish opponent of Calvinism, one of whose books he edited (1838). During the 1840s and 50s, James lived in New York, and traveled abroad frequently, until in 1864 he settled in Boston. In the 1840s he was introduced to the doctrines of Swedenborg, and underwent a kind of religious conversion. Although he never literally embraced these doctrines, they affected his whole later thought and gave him a strongly mystical bias. He was a friend of Emerson and Carlyle, and frequently lectured on them. After 1847 he was an intimate of Parke Godwin, C. A. Dana, Albert Brisbane, and George Ripley and found his social philosophy in the doctrines of Fourierism. Most of his writings were devoted to expressing his religious doctrine, '“the immanence of God in the unity of mankind.” Among his books are Christianity the Logic of Creation (1857); Substance and Shadow; or Morality and Religion in Their Relation to Life (1863); The Secret of Swedenborg, Being an Elucidation of Divine Natural Humanity (1869); and Society the Redeemed Form of Man, and the Earnest of God's Omnipotence in Human Nature (1879). He figures in his son Henry's books A Small Boy and Others and Notes of a Son and Brother.

Subjects: Literature.

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