The Scotsman of May 1901 records how William James began the lectures that became The Varieties of Religious Experience, "in the English class-room of [Edinburgh] University, where a crowded audience assembled". He was the kind of communicator who attracted more and more auditors as a course proceeded. When, in 1908, he gave the Hibbert lectures in Oxford, the venue had to be changed from a modest library to the vast rooms of the Examination Schools building.
"It is with no small amount of trepidation that I take my place behind this desk," he opened, "and face this learned audience." The reasons for his strikingly humble tone were several. American universities had only recently started to award higher degrees, so thinkers of James' generation travelled to Europe to research. James himself had no such academic qualification.
That said, it quickly became clear that he had all the boldness of the brilliant amateur. . . .