Signs of the Times

[The Protest of William James Against the Proposed Medical License Bill (1898).—From "The Letters of William James," Edited by His Son, Henry James]

In a recently published volume entitled "The Letters of William James" there is an interesting record of the protest which the noted philosopher made against the proposed medical license bill before the Massachusetts Legislature in 1894 and 1898. The letters on this subject are not given in full, but the extract, together with the copious explanations given by his son, Henry James, who compiled and edited the letters, make Professor James' attitude perfectly clear. "Legislative license is sheer humbug," he wrote in a letter dated March 2, 1898, "—mere abstract paper thunder under which every ignorance and abuse can still go on. Why this mania for more laws? Why seek to stop the really important experiences which these peculiar creatures are rolling up? Bah! I'm sick of the whole business, and I well know how all my colleagues at the Medical School, who go only by the label, will view me and my efforts. But if Zola and Colonel Picquart can face the whole Frence army, can't I face their disappreovel?—Much more easily than that of my own conscience!" In the following except from the chapter containing the letters referring to this subject, the quotations are from Professor James and the comments are those of his son:—

James was not indulging in empty rhetoric when he said that his conscience drove him to face the disapproval of his medical colleagues. Some of them never forgave him, and to this day references to his appearance at the State House in Boston are marked by partisanship rather than understanding.

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December 25, 1920

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