William James widely considered the father of American psychology and a co-father to the philosophy of pragmatism, received a MD from Harvard Medical School in 1869. James had always been exceptionally bright and was well educated since his earliest youth. He suffered from severe depression and insecurity (self-loathing) which apparently hit a high point in his life after his graduation from Harvard and as a result he checked himself into an asylum for treatment.
James left the asylum in an improved state and perspective, but not as a result of the therapy he had received at the institution. He experienced a self revelation of awareness and understanding after reading an essay on free will by Charles Renouvier, a French philosopher. His epiphany has been referred to as “A Promethean Act of Free Will” and in essence lead to his profound belief that mental illness could only be accurately addressed and/or cured via the free will of personal choice.
Though James continued to struggle with his mental illness in some form for the rest of his life, his approach to his depression improved his quality of life significantly and kept it from crippling him severely anymore in the future. He went on to teach physiology and psychology at Harvard, published significant data and theory on human emotion (now referred to as the James-Lange theory), and eventually settled on the in depth contemplation and study of philosophy and spiritual energy in the later period of his life. He published numerous books of ongoing significant relevance including The Principles of Psychology (1890), The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), and a groundbreaking work on education, Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals (1899).
The sketch is a self portrait James produced around the age of 24 and the year 1866.
Information borrowed and paraphrased from:
1) Subliminal – How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior, Leonard Mlodinow 2012
2) Introduction Notes for The Varieties of Religious Experience, Wayne Proudfoot 2004