Allen is a literary mystery man. His inspirational writings have
influenced millions for good. Yet today he remains almost unknown......
None of his
nineteen books give a clue to his life other than to mention his place
residence - Ilfracombe, England. His name cannot be found in a major
work. Not even the Library of Congress or the British Museum has much
say about him.
was this man who believed in the power of thought to bring fame,
fortune and happiness? Or did he, as Henry David Thoreau says, hear a
drummer?...... James Allen never gained fame or fortune. That much is
His was a quiet, unrewarded genius. He seldom made enough money from
writings to cover expenses.
was born in Leicester, Central England, November 28, 1864. The family
business failed within a few years, and in 1879 his father left for
America in an
effort to recoup his losses. The elder Allen had hoped to settle in the
States, but was robbed and murdered before he could send for his family.
financial crisis that resulted forced James to leave school at fifteen.
eventually became a private secretary, a position that would be called
assistant today. He worked in this capacity for several British
until 1902, when he decided to devote all his time to writing.
Allen's literary career was short, lasting only nine years, until his
death in 1912. During that period he wrote nineteen books, a rich
outpouring of ideas that have lived on to inspire later generations.
after finishing his first book, From
Poverty To Power, Allen moved to Ilfracombe, on England's
southwest coast. The little resort town with its seafront Victorian
hotels and its rolling hills and winding lanes offered him the quiet
atmosphere he needed to pursue his philosophical studies.
As A Man Thinketh was Allen's
book. Despite its subsequent popularity he was dissatisfied with it.
though it was his most concise and eloquent work, the book that best
his thought, he somehow failed to recognize its value. His wife Lily
to persuade him to publish it.
Allen strove to live the ideal life described by Russia¹s great
novelist and mystic Count Leo Tolstoy - the life of voluntary poverty,
manual labor and ascetic self-discipline. Like Tolstoy, Allen sought to
improve himself, be happy, and master all of the virtues. His search
for felicity for man
on earth was typically Tolstoyan.
day in Ilfracombe began with a predawn walk up to the Cairn, a stony
spot on the hillside overlooking his home and the sea. He would remain
for an hour in meditation. Then he would return to the house and spend
morning writing. The afternoons were devoted to gardening, a pastime he
enjoyed. His evenings were spent in conversation with those who were
in his work.
friend described Allen as a frail-looking little man, Christ-like, with
mass of flowing black hair...... I think of him especially in the black
suit he always wore in the evenings, the friend wrote. He would talk
to a small group of us then - English, French, Austrian and Indian - of
of philosophy, of Tolstoy or Buddha, and of killing nothing, not even a
in the garden.
overawed us all a little because of his appearance, his gentle
conversation, and especially because he went out to commune with God on
the hills before dawn.
Allen's philosophy became possible when liberal Protestantism discarded
stern dogma that man is sinful by nature. It substituted for that dogma
optimistic belief in man's innate goodness and divine rationality.
reversal of doctrine was, as William James said, the greatest
revolution of the 19th Century. It was part of a move toward a
reconciliation of science and religion following Darwin's publication
The Origin of Species.
Darwin himself hinted at the change in belief in The Descent of Man. In that book he
wrote, the highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize
ought to control our thoughts..
work embodies the influence of Protestant liberalism on the one hand
and of Buddhist thought on the other. For example, the Buddha teaches,
All that we are is the result of what we have thought. Allen¹s
says, As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.
insists upon the power of the individual to form his own character and
to create his own happiness. Thought and character are one, he says,
character can only manifest and discover itself through environment and
circumstance, the outer conditions of a person's life will always be
found to be harmoniously related to his inner state. This does not mean
that a man's circumstances at any given time are an indication of his
entire character, but that those circumstances are so intimately
connected with some vital thought element within him that, for the time
being, they are indispensable to his development.
starts us thinking - even when we would rather be doing something else.
tells us how thought leads to action. He shows us how to turn our
dreams into realities...... His is a philosophy that has brought
success to millions. It is the philosophy of Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking and
of Joshua Liebman's Peace of Mind.
We become spiritually rich, Allen writes, when we
discover the adventure within; when we are conscious of the oneness of
all life; when
we know the power of meditation; when we experience kinship with nature.
message is one of hope even in the midst of confusion. Yes, he says,
humanity surges with uncontrolled passion, is tumultuous with
ungoverned grief, is blown about by anxiety and doubt. Only the wise
man, only he whose thoughts are controlled and purified, makes the
winds and the storms of the soul
souls, Allen continues, wherever you may be, under whatsoever
conditions you may life, know this - in the ocean of life the isles of
are smiling and the sunny shore of your ideal awaits your coming.
thus Allen teaches two essential truths: today we are where our
thoughts have taken us, and we are the architects - for better or worse
- of our
works of James Allen are eminently practical. He never wrote theories,
or for the sake of writing, or to add another to the existing books.
According to his wife, Allen wrote when he had a message, and it became
only when he had lived it in his own life, and knew that it was good.
he wrote facts, which he had proven by practice.