Last week, in Robert Richardson's James bio, our budding philosopher "just about touched bottom." He'd lost his dearest friend, possibly the love of his life. He couldn't commit to anything. He couldn't envision his own future. He needed something solid and reliable to hold onto, something to embolden his will and get him up and doing.
On the last day of April, 1870, young William James recorded a new diary entry: " I think that yesterday was a crisis in my life. [He's been having a lot of those!] I finished the first part of Renouvier's 2nd Essay and saw no reason why his definition of free will-- the sustaining of a thought because I choose to when I might have other thoughts-- need be the definition of an illusion. At any rate, I will assume for the present-- untl next year-- that it is no illusion. My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will."
And: "Today has furnished the exceptionally passionate initiative... needful for the acquisition of habits." Young Willy already knows what older William will make so much of in Principles of Psychology, where habit is christened "the enormous fly-wheel of society."
And, explicitly rejecting suicide as an un- "manly" choice, he writes: "(I will) believe in my individual reality and creative power... I will posit life (the real, the good) in the self-governing resistance of the ego to the world. Life shall be built on doing and creating and suffering."
He's firmly rounded the corner on his darkest days, and is moving towards the light-- or at least trying to talk himself into it.