Charles S. Peirce (29.04.09)

Arisbe, Milford, Pa.
1909 Apr 29

My dear William :

I have driven to death lately with disagreeable work which has prevented me from doing much in the direction of the duties that appear most sacred & obligatory to me; and what causes my writing this letter is the simple fact that we find ourselves in doubt as to the amount that we ought to consider ourselves entitled to draw on May 1. A single word from you will illuminate that point.

But as long as I am writing, I will mention that I have finished my first reading of the Golden Bowl and am ready to surrender it for the time being. It much surpasses all my expectations, which had no doubt been somewhat lowered by the senseless talk of newspapers as to your brother Harry's having a cryptic style. I find the work, on the contrary, a truly great masterpiece of expression, —in that sense, a great poem,— so very far transcending any other novel that they are not to be put into comparison with it at all, —the few I have read. One or two of Zola's,—La joie de vivre, Le Docteur Pascal, Au Bonheur des Dames,—seemed to me fine at the time I read them,1—& so did a few of other French novelists Henri Gréville particularly2 & whoever it was that wrote Le Sang Bleu3. But they are not to be named at all in the same day with this, for the power of lucidly setting before us the states of mind of persons whose minds are not particularly clear to themselves. The Princess is, of course, the most explicitly presented as well as being the most interesting person. The Prince, who has no motive in life except fulfilling a destiny, is not an interesting person to me. Adan Verver is more so4. The book will repay closer study. So far I have only read it and enjoyed the perfomance. I should like, if I have the opportunity, to go through it again to note how it is managed.

I have also begun the Tono-Bungay. It is certainly good, little as one can sympathize with such a fellow. The aunt is the only character one likes,—though the mother is a pathetic figure5.

I haven't been able yet to touch your Philosophical Book though in turning over the leaves, I came upon your attempt to bolster up the "Achilles",—which I deeply regret6. You only flounder deeper into indefensible nonsense. You represent Zeno's position as being just what it isn't, whether he stands for the man whom Aristotle reports or for the hazy-minded persons who are deceived by the fallacy,—if it can be dignified by that name.

Your letter I have thought over considerably & I cannot make any respectable sense of this sentence: "I am so von Hause aus committed to the pragmatist account of knowing as meaning all possilbe workings of an idea, ... and those workings seem to me, both theoretically and practically, so superabounding, that any attempt at treating them formalistically or exactly strikes me as false in design from the start"7. Perhaps you can make that clearer to me; but as you state it, it seems to me antiscientific. Take, for example, Gibbs's Phase Rule, or the principle upon which it depends8. Perhaps you may not know how wonderful is the variety of phenomena it accounts for. And it is not essentially limited to chemistry but extends to whatever state of complex equilibrium depending upon several different circumstances, more or less corresponding to concentration, pressure, temperature, etc there may be. Here we have "superabounding" workings, if I understand what you mean by that phrase. Yet far from superabundance rendering it false in design to divide the cases into a small number of sharply marked classes in a partly a priori fashion, this is all the more important and pertinent & makes it the great scientific step it was. What! A man of science to say that the facts he has to go on are so superabounding as to make the design of formulation & distribution into a few classes "false in design"! What is that but to say that physiology itself is false in design? Illumine me on this point, if you can; but don't expect to me abandon sciences in dispair! or to give up generalization.—


May 4

All this time I have been so overdriven with work, that I never thought of this letter at the hour for getting the mail off. Meantime poor Juliette who takes care of the money must have been bordering of frenzy, yet would not worry me with the question why William did not answer; and I never thought of that. For I have been working from 5 or even 4:30 a.m. with hardly any intermission till long past midnight every night; and I'm not dead yet!

Meantime still another $100 has been deposited. I must hope you are more attentive to others needs than I am to our own! For still we don't know how much we may draw!

Ever yours gratefully
C S Peirce

Pardon and dreadfully overdriven man for smooches etc.


1. Émile Zola, La joie de vivre (1884); Le Docteur Pascal (1893); Au bonheur des dames (1883) [Nota de CWJ, XI, p. 207].

2. Henry Gréville, pseudonym of Alice-Marie-Céleste Durand (Durand-Gréville) (1842-1902), French novelist [Nota de CWJ, XI, p. 207].

3. Hector-Henri Malot (1830-1907), French author, Le Sang bleu [Nota de CWJ, XI, p. 207].

4. In The Golden Bowl Adam Verver is a rich American art collector living in Europe. His daughter is Princess Maggie Verver, wife of Prince Amerigo [Nota de CWJ, XI, p. 207].

5. The narrator of Tono-Bungay, said to be autobiographical in part, is George Panderevo. His aunt is Susan Panderevo, while his mother is known simply as Mrs. Panderevo. The novel, named after a nostrum peddled by George, has as its theme the decay of England [Nota de CWJ, XI, p. 207].

6. WJ discusses the Achilles paradox, attributed to Zeno, in PU, 102-4, and elsewhere. After rejecting some solutions, he concludes that the paradox can be dealt with only abandoning intellectualism [Nota de CWJ, XI, p. 207].

7. See letter of 13 April 1909 (calendared) [Nota de CWJ, XI, p. 207].

8. Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839-1903), American mathematician and physicist [Nota de CWJ, XI, p. 207].

Fin de: "L 224: Letter to William James" (29.04.04). Fuente textual en I. Skrupskelis y E. Berkeley (eds.), The Correspondence of William James (CWJ), Charlottesvile, University of Virginia Press, 2003, XI, pp. 205-207.

Fecha del documento: 30 de agosto 2006
Última actualización: 31 de agosto 2009

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