To the Editors:
Garry Wills claims in “An American Hero” [NYR, July 19] that William James invented the phrase “stream of consciousness” in 1884, but I have an earlier sighting in Physiological Aesthetics by Grant Allen (1848–1899). The book was published by Henry S. King & Co., London, in 1877 and has been reprinted as an Elibron Classics replica edition. Here is the sentence:
The energies which correspond objectively to the main stream of consciousness are so disproportionately greater than the incident energies which correspond to the sense-stimulation, that the latter produce no perceptible change of direction in the total current. (p. 200)
Allen’s definition of consciousness, which also occurs on this page and on 201, is very like recent speculations.
I am currently writing on Allen’s contributions to the thinking of James Joyce and T.S. Eliot. Perhaps William James also read Allen’s first book or perhaps this language was part of the mainstream for the physiologists of the day.
Department of English Boston University
The Source of the Stream November 22, 2007