It is Sheldon's life that holds the key to a better understanding of his work and why it has been fading from view. And it also provides a fascinating example of how both Jung's and Sheldon's typologies can throw light on behavior that would otherwise remain an enigma. The basic facts of Sheldon's life are easily told, but it will be harder, given Sheldon's autobiographical reticence, to understand his inner life, which holds the answer we seek.
William Herbert Sheldon was born in Pawtuxet, Rhode Island, on November 19, 1898. His parents, William Herbert and Mary Abby Greene, were related to old New England families like the Carders and Remingtons. And his father had been well off until a partner in the family firm ran off with the money. William and Mary had lost their first two daughters to diphtheria and then had three more children: Israel in 1889, Kate in 1891, and finally William seven years later. Sheldon's father had been able to keep the family homestead, which dated from around 1740, and supported his family by working as a jeweler in nearby Providence.
Sheldon had an archetypal rural American boyhood. The family was poor, but not poverty stricken. They grew a half acre garden of corn, tomatoes, carrots, peas, potatoes and onions. His father was an avid fisherman and hunter who supplemented his income by shooting game birds for market, and he was a man with a wide range of interests and talents. He raised Irish setters, bred fine poultry, and was a shooting champion of national stature, who was nicknamed Hawkeye. Sheldon later described him as a "lover of the wild and reader of books." Little William, whose father called him the last of the litter of Irish setters which had been born at the same time, went crabbing and claming. He hunted rabbits and squirrels for the pot, and gathered hickory nuts, black walnuts and chestnuts. And he watched his father judge dog and poultry shows and preside over the gun club he founded. In those days they shot glass balls filled with feathers, which later gave way to clay pigeons, and William promised to become an exceptional shot himself - another Hawkeye.
Unfortunately, a boyhood accident, in which he fell on a knife, left a scar beneath his right eye and an inability to perfectly coordinate his eyes to track a moving target. Yet he maintained what must have been extraordinary vision. He could hit a small agate marble thrown 20 feet in the air with his .22 rifle, and once as a child he demonstrated this skill in front of Annie Oakley. He would hold his shot until the marble was just about to descend, and thus avoid a moving target.
Sheldon grew up on intimate terms with inhabitants of the woods and marshes. He would play with earthworms in the garden, and considered the great moths, who were a special love of his mother, as almost part of the family. He would watch sympathetically and protectively as the crabs molted and entered their vulnerable soft-shelled stage. It was life attuned to natural rhythms, but it did not lack for that reason a sense of refinement and culture.
As a child of five or six, during an excursion to the Boston marathon, he had been taken by his Aunt Mary to visit her old friend William James. And Sheldon believed it had been her intervention that had convinced James to allow himself to be called his godfather.
This idyllic and quintessentially rural childhood was to have two important consequences. First, Sheldon's visual gifts and powers of observation were encouraged and honed from his earliest years. He lived in a world where observation was not a form of idle curiosity, but the means of putting food on the table, or money in the pocket. It was a world where men prided themselves on their ability to shoot a duck flashing overhead, and to judge a fine hen or dog. And William took for granted that it was possible for different observers to come to virtually identical conclusions, for he saw this happen over and over again at dog, poultry and cattle shows.
By the time he was a teenager he was working for the state as a junior ornithologist, and he had a growing reputation as an appraiser of early American cents. On a more personal level, it was his childhood that remained the inviolate temenos of his feelings. He had only to think of the yellow-eyed beans his mother always baked, or the great moths, especially the Promethea which they called Prometheus, or the early American cents his father collected, to be back at the warm hearth at a turn of the century New England night:
"In the New England village where I was born, quite a few years ago, the long winter evenings about the open fire - or in colder weather around the kitchen stove - were filled with a number of pleasant occupations.
"First there was the general care and upkeep of guns, fishing tackle, and associated equipment. Chores done, there were chestnuts, apples, and sweet potatoes for roasting, popping corn and parching corn, checkerberries, walnuts and butternuts, cider. All these were part of the regular harvest of the countryside and so were taken for granted, like the logs in the fireplace and one's parents. There was one thing, however, which retained at all times such a halo of mystery and enchantment that it never came to be taken for granted.
"This was the cigar box of old copper cents which my father kept locked up in the grandfather sea chest along with certain papers, some old spoons and jewelry, and other trinkets. On evenings when he was feeling especially well disposed, the kitchen lamp would be meticulously trimmed, the red kitchen tablecloth would be cleared of debris and brushed, then out would come the magnifying glass, four or five well-thumbed coin books, and the cigar box with the big cents." (Early American Cents, p. 3)
As a teenager William had been strongly encouraged to become a baseball player, for he had an uncanny knack of getting the bat on the ball. But his efforts never led to a career. In later years he realized a somatotyping knowledge would have spared him the disappointment, for he simply did not have enough mesomorphy to be a professional.
Sheldon graduated from Warwick High School in 1915 and entered Brown University. With the American entrance into World War I he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in a machine gun company, and was demobilized in Europe. In 1919 he received a degree from Brown in absentia, and afterwards he wandered westward. He was an officer of the Round Rock Oil Company in Texas, and entered the University of Colorado where he earned an M.A. in English in 1923.
Obviously Sheldon had not yet settled on his career, but the role model of William James had to be in the back of his mind. He had gone with his father at James' invitation to hear the leaders of the new psychoanalytic movement speak at Clark University in 1909. This was the occasion of both Freud's and Jung's first trips to America. What a 10-year-old boy could make of it is entirely another matter. And he recounts how when he was about the same age he asked James about the meaning of the word God.
"He replied that some sixty years previously he had asked his godfather, Emerson, just about the same question; and had been told about the Oversoul - a sort of personalized abstraction associated with all the constructive thinking and feeling of human and other creatures who have lived before us, or live now, or will live after us. This personified reality which has been called God, James said, seems to be the tie that binds us all to the common enterprise of life, and to the wisest purposes and the most rewarding appreciations of life. So at least God is real, he added, and wherever one good person remains alive, a part of God is alive." (Prometheus Revisited, p. 230-1)
These earlier impressions were reinforced by attending a seminar at Brown given by James' protégé Martin Peck. James had sent Peck to Freud and Peck "considered Freud the foremost emancipator of mankind but emphasized that the job was still only half done; that somebody now must bring descriptive order to comprehending the constitutional patterns underlying the psychiatric patterns." ("Psychotic Patterns and Physical Constitution", p. 838)
When he was in Europe around 1919 he had visited both Freud and Kretschmer. (Varieties of Delinquent Youth, pp. 49, 832 and 834) Again, what he had to say to them at this point remains unknown, although Kretschmer must have been in the midst of the research that led to the publication of Physique and Character in 1921.
Somewhere these earlier experiences coalesced, and Sheldon discovered the joys of the old riddle of the connection between physique and temperament. We have seen him pursuing his psychological studies in Chicago where he received his Ph.D. in 1925. He taught psychology at Chicago and then at the University of Wisconsin. Sheldon felt that "James himself had gone through medical school not to practice but to become a better psychologist and religious philosopher." (Prometheus Revisited, p. 1) And so he entered the University of Chicago Medical School and received an M.D. in 1933.
Sheldon was now 35 years old and finally ready to embark on the last phase of the research that had been occupying him for at least a decade. He received a grant from what was then called the Council for Study of Religion in Higher Education, and he went off to Europe to renew his acquaintance with the master psychologists. He visited Kretschmer's clinic and he watched the master diagnostician at work. Kretschmer was classifying his patients according to his types: pyknic, athletic and asthenic, and one individual could possess a mixture of these types. Sheldon, watching Kretschmer work, intuited the next step: not types, but basic components exist in each person, and these components could be rated on a numerical scale.
He visited Freud and discussed the appropriateness of nach, gegen and ab (toward, against and away from) as fundamental patterns underlying the major classifications of psychopathology. By January of 1935 he had met with Jung in Zurich, a visit which was to be reflected in his Psychology and the Promethean Will. The relationship between Jung and Sheldon will occupy us in Chapter 8.
With his head filled with inspiration, Sheldon then retired to Dartington Hall in Devon, England. The Hall, which had been established by Leonard and Dorothy WhItney Elmhirst, was a refuge for writers and artists. There he drafted his Prometheus book and made a life-long friend and admirer in another writer in residence, Aldous Huxley. Huxley quickly grasped the basics of Sheldon's three-fold classification, for he realized he was an ectomorph and cerebrotonic. It became a source of not only personal insight, but instrumental in aiding his own writings. He wrote to a friend in 1945:
"...I remain sadly aware that I am not a born novelist, but some other kind of man of letters, possessing enough ingenuity to be able to simulate a novelist's behaviour not too unconvincingly. To put the matter physiologically, I am the wrong shape for a story teller and sympathetic delineator of character within a broad social canvas. The fertile inventors and narrators and genre painters have all been rather burly genial fellows. Scott looked like a farmer. Balzac and Dumas were florid to the point of fatness. Dickens was athletic and had a passion for amateur theatricals. Tolstoy was an intellectual moujik. Dostoevsky was physically tough enough to come through imprisonment in Siberia, Conan Doyle was a barrel, Wells is a tub. Dear old Arnold Bennett was a chamber pot on spindly legs and Marcel Proust was the wreck of congenital sleekness. So what chance has an emaciated fellow on stilts? And of course this is no joke. There is a real correlation between shape and mind." (as cited in Calcraft, p. 666)
Sheldon's influence on Huxley can be traced in his 1936 Ends and Means (a book which was read by a teenage James Tanner who went on to become an expert in human growth and somatotyping, as we have seen) and in Time Must Have a Stop, The Genius and the Goddess, and his utopia Island, where Sheldon's ideas become an integral part of the islanders' philosophy. Huxley also wrote an essay directly on Sheldon's work, which appeared in Harper's Magazine in 1944, illustrated by James Thurber's cartoons. But the affinity the two men felt extended deeper than the level of classification. Huxley was also striving to develop an integrated world view he would disseminate through his technical writings, and this allowed him to grasp readily Sheldon's psychology of religion, a science based religion that Sheldon hoped would be acceptable to thinking people and which he was just then setting down on paper. This fruit of Sheldon's book is the closest he came to autobiography. Between the lines of his Promethean program we can, now and again, get a vivid glimpse of Sheldon himself.
For Sheldon, too many human minds have become deadened by the age of 40. They have ceased to go forward and reach their full measure of development. They haven't heard the voice of Prometheus which continually whispers 11no, this is not good enough. There is somewhere something better." (p. 5) Still less have they made this their predominant mood. But Sheldon had embarked on this journey to Europe and to his mature thought at the age of 35. He was on the threshold of his Promethean future, and it looked bright. He writes, "it seems to be a general principle that if the Promethean personality can hold out and remain true to itself past the 35th year, the second half of life is likely to be immensely happy." (p. 127) Fresh from Zurich Sheldon footnotes this passage: "in discussing this observation with Dr. Jung, I find that he too regards the middle thirties as a sort of critical threshold for emotional life. It is excessively rare for a person who has good emotional orientation at thirty-five, to lose it, and there is good reason to regard this period as the ideal one for analysis, or for psychological reëducation." (p. 127)
And what is the Promethean holding out against? He is less at home in a world which does not understand him, and which has gone by other values. For Sheldon the Promethean personalities are "more shy, less certain of themselves, and often seem young and undeveloped for their age." (p. 3) He fears that many of these gifted personalities will be harmed by being thrown in with more aggressive ones. "Put any sensitive adult into a company where there are one or two aggressive or loud personalities, and you cannot get a word out of him with a crowbar." (p. 161) He also fears that early marriage will deflect them from the time and energy they need for full maturation, or they will choose an inappropriate spouse. Most of the marital unhappiness that he has seen consists of one partner who has "dominantly sensitive tender-minded intuitional feeling qualities, while the other tended towards extraverted, objective, outwardly focused, waster identifications." (p. 176) The young Promethean can appear queer, shy, taciturn and immature and is prone to be misunderstood, but if he can maintain his active and questing intellect he will blossom in the second half of life. "For such individuals a year in the 50s or 60s is worth in intrinsic feeling value far more than a year of youth " (p. 4) Sheldon's Promethean foreshadows his description of the ectomorph and cerebrotonic, or ectotonic. But there is something more involved here. When Sheldon says, "Religion has to do primarily with the integration of feeling and intellect" (p. 29) we can understand it as his own program of individuation. This gives another meaning to his statements about religion when he says "the first function of education ought certainly to be that of carrying the feeling element of consciousness, along with intellectual growth, to the full maturing or ripening of a personality." (p. 28) And he poses the problem of the integration of thinking and feeling in a much less theoretical way in a passage that must be taken as autobiographical.
"Once a child lived near the seashore, and grew to love all the living things of the sea. Among them was the great blue claw crab, who dwelt in the deep pools where tidewater reached the salt marshes. He was a formidable creature in a small boy's order of things, greatly to be respected and even more wonderful and mysterious than his little cousins the fiddler crabs, who lived in holes in the sand. He was wary and slow to make friends, but if once you won his confidence he would come to you to be fed, and he would almost, but not quite, let you touch him. His great pincers would snap a heeded warning whenever you put your hand too close. He was the noble, powerful, independent, and self-sufficient lord of the pool.
"But when he shed his beautiful armored shell, he would lie very quietly for many days at the bottom of the pool, a soft, defenseless, tender creature. Then he was a soft-shelled crab. When in this defenseless condition, he was a delicacy greatly prized for the table, and this never sat well with a child's belief in the natural justice of things, but there came a shock to this child consciousness from which I believe he never fully recovered, when he grew aware of the manner in which many human beings customarily treat the blue claw when they catch him in this condition. They boil him alive.
"It is said that , he tastes a little better that way. I do not know whether the child to whom I refer was unusually tender-minded, imaginative, or merely loyal to his friends; but the horror of this callous and unimaginative thing sat upon his soul more poignantly that could in later years the burning of Bruno, the killing of men in war, or even the torturing and murdering of neurotic women by our own New England ancestors." (Psychology and the Promethean Will, p. 30)
What type was Sheldon himself? His somatotype was around a 3.5 - 3.5 - 5, and this makes him a mesomorphic ectomorph. And what was his psychological type? My own estimation is that he was an introverted thinking type with secondary intuition. It would be difficult to describe the introverted thinking type more appropriately or graphically than Sheldon has just done. From the outside he is formidable, armed with superb thinking powers and defenses. But periodically he is in his soft-shell stage, vulnerable and defenseless, and then he must beware, for they boil him alive! It is the introverted thinker who possesses amazingly tender yet volcanic feelings and who behind his armor is often easily hurt.
So when Sheldon describes the Promethean personality, he is describing himself. The Promethean is an introvert and cerebrotonic, but instead of Sheldon clearly distinguishing between the various personality types and their development or lack of it, he places the Promethean in opposition to more extraverted endomorphic and mesomorphic personalities and associates them with what he called the wasters. This sets the stage for a deep-rooted conflict that we will see emerge later in his life.
For Sheldon, feeling is intimately connected with nature and "...under no circumstances should a human child ever be born in a city, or allowed to spend any of the growing years within reach of the urban influence." (p. 205) Sheldon's feeling, or his inferior function, is filled with the numinosity of the unconscious and the self.
"Have you ever heard a migrating Bartramian sandpiper on a clear August night? Or the first Southward flying Canada geese in October? Did you only hear, or did you feel them?" (p. 224-5)
It is nature experienced in this feeling way that carries "the clearest reflection that we can see, of the living face of our God." (p. 225)
"In the insect world and in the world of night life, particularly in the romance of the great night moths, lie some of the soundest foundations for the human soul. Toads and frogs and snakes and turtles are among the best friends of human beings who would grow a soul. To learn to love these personalities, and to identify the necessarily more transitory human loves of a life with them, is to develop the fifth panel of consciousness, which is the soul." (p. 225)
The great night moth was rooted in Sheldon's childhood and the frogs and turtles become fitting symbols of the fourth function where earth meets water. And is it not a reflection of Sheldon's own feeling function to stress the more transitory character of human love?
By the beginning of 1936 Sheldon was back in the States, and whether as part of his commitment to the grant he had received or as a first step in his program of religious renewal from a psychological point of view, he taught a course at the Chicago Theological Seminary, a Congregational school affiliated with the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. This ran from January to June, 1937, and was based on the human conflict and the ways to handle it following the schema set down in the recently published Psychology and the Promethean Will, which served as a text for the course. A young seminary student, Roland Elderkin, was struck by the force and implications of Sheldon's thought, and the rest of his life was to be interwoven with Sheldon's and his extensive constitutional projects.
In April, 1938, Sheldon met C.W. Dupertuis at a meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, where they were both giving papers. Sheldon spoke on what he was then calling anthrotyping, and called his components "pyknosomia, somatosomia and leptosomia", reflecting Kretschmer's influence. Dupertuis had worked with Earnest Hooton at Harvard, and had been involved in the measuring of 4,000 people at the Chicago's World Fair, and 10,000 men in a racial survey of Ireland for the Harvard Department of Anthropology. At the time he met Sheldon he was at George Draper's Constitution Clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. They had reported on their work in 1944 in Human Constitution in Clinical Medicine, as we have seen. Sheldon was introduced to Hooton through Dupertuis, who invited him to work at Harvard. Now the stage was set for Sheldon's most productive period, and it resulted in his Varieties of Human Physique in 1940 and Varieties of Human Temperament in 1942.
Sheldon's project was building momentum. At Harvard he collaborated with S.S. Stevens and in Boston he found a receptive audience at Hayden Goodwill Inn. The Inn had been set up during the height of the Depression to deal with the many young men from all over the country who had wandered to the Boston area. Under the direction of Emil Hartl the Inn developed a wide range of social services and vocational training. By 1938 there were boys in residence with all sorts of problems ranging from homelessness to lawlessness, as well as various kinds of mental and social maladjustments. And so there was a pressing need for more and more diagnostic and planning work. The Inn decided to set up its own Youth Guidance Clinic. Hartl, who had been working on a Ph.D. in psychology and pastoral counseling, had come across Psychology and the Promethean Will and was impressed with it. At the same time Roland Elderkin had come to work at the Inn, and they had discovered their mutual enthusiasm for Sheldon, and so Sheldon was invited to direct the Youth Guidance Clinic. Here was a good testing ground for Sheldon's ideas, and their integration into a practical setting with the collaboration of the rest of the Inn's staff. Both Elderkin and Hartl, as well as another of the staff members, Ashton Tenney, were to remain in close contact with Sheldon for the rest of his life. His work at the Inn began to coalesce into the idea of a book on constitution and human delinquency. In the summer of 1941 Elderkin, who was assisting him at the clinic, began gathering information about some of the Inn residents. It was probably during these years that Sheldon came closest to working out the practical implications of his constitutional psychology, and began to move in the direction of treatment. He leaves us some of his insights scattered throughout his works, especially Varieties of Delinquent Youth.
We can only surmise what would have happened if Sheldon had developed these ideas in the form of a therapeutic constitutional program. It might have made a great deal of difference both to him and his work. Unfortunately, the War intervened. In the spring of 1942 Sheldon was commissioned as a major in the Army. Stationed in Texas he eventually did research on somatotypes and aviation medicine. Unfortunately, he was struck down by a severe lymphatic cancer and given a medical discharge with 100% disability. Apparently he was not expected to live. As late as 1946 Len Lye, a director for the newsreel "March of Time" went to Boston to make a film on Sheldon, lest the opportunity disappear forever. The film was shot, but whether it was ever shown remains undetermined. About this same time work resumed on Varieties of Delinquent Youth, which was eventually published in 1949. In 1947 Sheldon became the director of the Constitutional Clinic in New York, where a series of studies was carried out on the relationship between somatotype and peptic ulcer, cancer, diabetes, etc.
Sheldon obviously had made a rather remarkable recovery and was extremely busy, and furthermore, his work was gaining wider and wider recognition. His constitutional psychology entered its golden age in the late 40s and early 50s. In 1948 C.W. Dupertuis had set up a major somatotyping laboratory, later called the McDermott Laboratory of Clinical Anthropology at the School of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. Eugene McDermott, cofounder of Texas Instruments, had become deeply interested in constitutional questions. He supported Dupertuis' later work, and through Dupertuis had become acquainted with Sheldon and eventually created a Foundation of Biological Humanics to further his work. McDermott as an engineer believed that if you can see it you can measure it, and contributed to the final objective method of somatotyping which used a planimeter, as we have seen.
In 1950 Sheldon and his assistant, Barbara Honeyman, were invited to the Gesell Institute of Child Development in New Haven, and worked with Louise Ames, Janet Learned, Frances llg and Richard Walker to establish a somatotyping clinic, which continued for 20 years. In 1951 the University of Oregon Medical School invited Sheldon, with the help of a Rockefeller grant, to set up a constitutional clinic for them, and it looked like Sheldon's gamble to explore the human constitution by both measurement and observation was paying off handsomely. Sheldon was being lionized. In 1951, for example, when the American Medical Film Institute previewed Gesell Institute's "Embryology of Behavior", Drs. Gesell, Sheldon and Ames were invited to the preview. Louise Ames recalls:
"The chairman in his introduction said that after the showing there would be a question period. He commented that "With Drs. Gesell, Ames and Sheldon available to answer questions there would in all probability be no questions about human behavior which could not be answered.""
In June of the same year Life magazine came out with a major article on Sheldon and his work entitled, "What Manner of Morph Are You?" (The illustrations by Michael Ramus that accompanied the article were reprinted in our first volume.)
Sheldon's contacts at this time ranged from Walter C. Alvarez of the Mayo Clinic, to Ernst Kretschmer. Alvarez wrote of his interest in constitution that went back to 1910, and his observations of the mobile faces, bright eyes and quick movements he had noticed among migraine patients. Indeed, he had once diagnosed a case of migraine by the way a woman started to leave his office, and had recognized schizoid girls by their dry, unpleasant smelling skin.
And Kretschmer wrote in May of 1950 that he tried repeatedly to contact Sheldon, but supposed the postwar postal conditions had thwarted his efforts. He was desirous of exchanging publications, for he had only a small excerpt of Sheldon's work.
But there were really two different Sheldons emerging. The first Sheldon was the major figure in the study of the human constitution in the U.S., surrounded by staff, students and admirers. Here was a man who had the natural ability to inspire loyalty to such a degree that some of the people who caught sight of the vision that animated him rearranged their lives completely to work with him. This was Sheldon the brilliant conversationalist, sharp, witty and perceptive, amused by the passing human show. His theme: "Watch this human scene, watch it with compassion, with courage, with discrimination. Record it, describe it, classify it. And strive to find within it the face of quality." (Maudsley Bequest Lecture, p. 4) This Sheldon was making major contributions to constitutional research in medical and psychological circles in the U.S., was an acknowledged and learned expert in the field with a large correspondence, and had any number of handsome opportunities to pursue his work.
But there was another Sheldon, a Sheldon on guard against the urban wasters and irked by human stupidity. He disliked: "the plush side of New York - concerts, the theater, fashionable dress, elegant stores, fine restaurants, and taxicabs. He preferred plain living, busses, and cafeterias. His Riverside Drive apartment was very starkly furnished. He detested man-made elegance. On the other hand he was vastly knowledgeable about and appreciative of Nature in its many forms. He was a keen observer, especially interested in birds.
"What he really liked was to work, and to have everyone around him working as well. He once described his ideal kind of life as one with everybody (or at least everybody with whom he came in contact) living in rather stark dormitories, and working. He especially resented the long holiday season from Christmas through New Years when so many places were closed and one could not get things done (film developed, manuscripts typed)." (Sheldon, by Ames, p. 3)
If Sheldon's wit had always been sharp and inclined to both whimsy and vulgarity, now in the years after the War it got sharper. He had delighted in poking holes in the holy, but now he found a perverse joy in irritating people by exaggerated statements. The high temper that he had associated with the ectomorphic mesomorph became, in his own case, hardened into a certain brittleness and inflexibility.
Just as Sheldon was reaping the reward of his vast labors, a wave of neo-Freudian environmentalism was beginning to crest. No doubt it had, in turn, been a compensation for an earlier over-eagerness to believe in the all-pervasiveness of hereditary that had extended to eugenic laws in the U.S., and had been amalgamated with class consciousness and tinges of racism. Now, in the aftermath of the Nazis, the pendulum was swinging the other way. Sheldon's voice seemed more and more isolated, and became more strident. Criticism of his work began to mount, most of which was rooted in another concept of psychological science, as we have seen. But Sheldon had no real give in him. He took delight in noting how the somatotypes of psychoanalysts came from the same territory as those of the criminals, and beneath these surface jibes it is possible to sense his continuous battle against the wasters whom he too closely identified with the extraverted endomorphic mesomorphic personalities, and to see, as well, his own struggles for individuation. The feeling function was extremely difficult for him to come to terms with. He was married and divorced at least twice.
In 1949 he published the Varieties of Delinquent Youth based on the work with the young men at the Hayden Goodwill Inn, which is Sheldon's counterpart to his Varieties of Temperament. In contrast to the 200 young college men seen in the VT, here we have 200 young delinquents whom Sheldon studied between 1939 and 1942. These young men ranged all the way from serious delinquents setting out on a life of crime to psychotics, as well as fairly normal individuals who were suffering from problems of adolescent adjustment. It is not really a book about juvenile delinquency in the narrow sense of the term, but Sheldon uses his extensive contact with these young men as the springboard for reflections on psychiatry, medicine, and the state of our civilization. The book becomes a sequel to his Psychology and the Promethean Will, and the very scope of its subject matter tends to impair its unity. We meet, in turn, Sheldon the criminologist, Sheldon the constitutional psychologist, and Sheldon the philosopher and theologian. The overall result of almost 900 pages is somewhat overwhelming. But there is no need to agree with all these different Sheldons in order to find any number of significant ideas. He describes, in capsule biography, the mesomorphic nature of most of the young men at the Inn, and he makes a brilliant summary of his attempts to renew psychiatric language and classification, which we will look at later. But this book is not Sheldon at his best. He rails too loudly at the burgeoned massive mothers of his delinquent youth. He seems to be lamenting both the broken lives of the delinquents and the lost youth of the country which is being overloaded with indiscriminate mongrelized breeding. He makes many points, which are either worth making, or at least worth debating, but his tone lacks the feeling qualities which he had extolled in the Promethean Will. Promethean hope seems to be giving way to disillusionment.
1949 marks a watershed. He expected to see his Atlas of Men ready by the end of the year. When it did appear in 1954, perhaps delayed by the labor and cost of preparing so many photographic plates, it was a worthy successor to the early volumes of the Human Constitution Series. But there comes a puzzling silence that stretched nearly unbroken to Sheldon's death in 1977.
What had become of William Sheldon, America's leading student of human differences? Had he run out of ideas? No. Sheldon told his friends he had six books left to write, and he gives hints of them in his published writings. He wanted to do an Atlas of Women, a project he devoted considerable energy to. There was to be an Atlas of Children, a study of constitution and clinical medicine, another of constitution and psychiatry, an examination of Spanish American war veterans, and a follow-up on the 200 subjects who appeared in the Varieties of Delinquent Youth. Bits and pieces of these projects appeared in various places. The Varieties of Delinquent Youth contained his psychiatric thoughts. As far back as 1938 he had traveled with Dupertuis, taking somatotype pictures of some 3,800 schizophrenic and manic-depressive patients in New York state, and had followed these men for years. The only part of this work that was ever published were the pages of his "Psychotic Patterns and Physical Constitution". The Varieties of Delinquent Youth had also contained some reflections on somatotype and the susceptibility to various diseases. In 1958 Sheldon had asked Elderkin to do follow-up work for the delinquent youth study, but he never got it written up. This work was finally completed by Hartl, Monnelly and Elderkin and published in 1982 entitled, Physique and Delinquent Behavior: A 30-Year Follow-Up. He even contemplated a book on the Oregon criminal, no doubt to be the fruit of his labors on the West Coast, and a handbook for somatotyping. What remains of this work in Sheldon's files, which are in the care of the Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institute, are not even book skeletons, but mostly thousands of somatotype pictures.
Was he too ill to work? His health had been gravely impaired during the War, but his recovery, at least on the surface, was good. But he might have lacked part of his old energy, or even have suffered from some other illness that gradually weakened him.
At first glance his literary production in the years between 1949 or 1954 and 1977 consisted of one article, "Psychotic Patterns..." He did publish Prometheus Revisited, and a new version of his book on early American cents, but both of these were substantially rewrites of their earlier namesakes. What work Sheldon did during these years is best seen in two unpublished lectures. The first was given at Children's Medical Center in Boston on March 13, 1961, and it was entitled "History of the Constitution Research Project and Objectification of the Somatotypes". In it Sheldon describes the vicissitudes of his quest for a complete objective method of establishing the somatotypes, which had started with Thurstone in the 1920s and which had extended through the 1950s with work in 1956 at Berkeley and later in the decade at Dallas.
The second lecture, covering the same ground though in a lighter style, was a Maudsley Bequest Lecture on May 13, 1965, read for him by Emil Hartl before the Royal Society of Medicine in London. Finally, "Psychotic Patterns and Physical Constitution, a thirty year follow up of thirty-eight hundred patients in New York State", which summed up his work of the 1950s and 1960s, was delivered at a Symposium on Schizophrenia: Current Concepts on Research" held in New York on November 14-16, 1968. Here the final objectifying of somatotyping was unveiled to a world that was largely indifferent.
So part of the riddle of what happened to Sheldon can be found in unpublicized and extensive labors devoted to answering the objections that had been raised against somatotyping. He also continued to update his large collection of cases that were the nuclei of the works he hoped to do in the future.
But this record of work achieved is not a total answer to what had become of Sheldon. Where was Sheldon the Promethean who had looked forward to those years when he would be in his 50s and 60s? The split between his thinking and feeling functions, instead of being healed, or held in a fruitful tension, as he had imagined, fell into open conflict. And his feelings were moving away from his work. If he spent his intellectual time in the immensely difficult analyses that were to lead to the objectification of the somatotypes, his feelings which could not find purchase there strove for other channels -some positive and some negative.
Jung was very much the therapist. Sheldon was not, and so his feelings could not go out to his patients. After his marriages he finally found a measure of peaceful living with Dorothy Paschal, but he had no children to focus his feelings on. Nor could he turn to the many people, both professional and lay alike, who admired his work and wrote to him. Louise Ames tells the story of discovering:
"boxes and drawers full of letters which not only had not been answered, but which had not even been opened... So I offered to spend one Christmas vacation going through this mail, with him dictating to me answers to letters he thought perhaps should be answered. He ignored the fact that some of these letters were two or three years old by stating, "In response to your letter of December 10th", but not indicating which December. His position about mail was that if you didn't answer a letter, the person very likely would become discouraged and not write again. This would prevent the start of unnecessary correspondence." (Sheldon, by Ames, p. 6)
But Sheldon's neglect could only put at risk the future of his work. And somehow the future of his work seemed less and less important to him. He set up no enduring somatotyping laboratory, and while he considered somatotypes a professional task and thought little of self-diagnosis, he did not take the practical steps needed to insure there would be a trained body of experts to carry on his work when he was gone.
Here, again, he stands in contrast to Jung, even the Jung who is supposed to have said, "Thank God I am Jung and not a Jungian!" Although Jung was an intensely private man, his practice kept him in close touch with people's actual problems, and it is out of this practice that came the first Jungian analysts who, in turn, analyzed others, setting off the still spreading circles of lung's influence.
Sheldon could have done the same, but there was something in him that resisted it. He could have continued to publish and counter the growing attacks on his work and weathered the long period of American environmentalism in the hopes that the pendulum would again begin to swing and more of a balance reassert itself. His failure was not a failure of his ideas, but a more personal one of a man whose energy had given out after an extremely productive career, and could not, or would not, fight on in the published word until the end.
Unfortunately, Sheldon's behavior went beyond benign neglect. He seemed compelled to antagonize precisely those people upon whom the future success of his work depended. He had an unerring knack of finding people's sore points, or we might say their particular inferior function, and he would do so just when one of his projects was going particularly well, and thus putting its future in jeopardy, or just when the efforts of his friends had put within his reach a research plum of the first magnitude in the form of an invitation to establish himself at a university or medical center. He had become his own worst enemy. These bursts of inferior feeling extended to his colleagues, as well, who had to bear them with a patience which had heroic qualities, or in other cases caused them to become permanently estranged from him. Thus, it was Sheldon, himself, who caused his work to fade from view, rather than any inherent flaws in that work itself.
In 1949 he published Early American Cents 1793-1814: An Exercise in Descriptive Classification with Tables of Rarity and Value. It would be a mistake to ignore this book as simply an indication of one of Sheldon's hobbies. He sat in his office at the Constitution Clinic in New York working on it, and wrote of it, "...now that I have achieved a neighborly acquaintance with old age, and meantime have written other, less soul-satisfying books, I am no longer able to summon up a good reason for not requisitioning the necessary time and materials to write a book aimed at helping a younger generation of kitchen-table-scientists-on-Friday-nights to "make out the big cents."" (P. 4)
But what were these "less soul-satisfying books" but his Human Constitution Series! His interest in these large pennies can be understood on two levels, just like his Prometheus book. On the professional level Sheldon was, indeed, an expert numismatist. He had graded the American cents professionally from the time he was a teenager, and had associated with the noted early cent collectors of the century. And more importantly, this was another example where trained observation spelled the difference between success and failure, and so illustrated the role this kind of observation could have in psychology. What Sheldon did in his early American cents book paralleled what he had done before with Kretschmer's typology. He took an adjectival system of coarse, fine, very fine, etc., and quantified it on a 70-point scale, after clarifying the basic principles which governed the coin's value.
Let's look for a moment at the techniques used by professional coin graders today. Professional Coin Grading Service, for example, which graded over a quarter of a million coins for the rare coin industry in one yearly period, has an elaborate set of procedures to arrive at the most exact evaluation which, of course, is of great interest to the coin owner because the values of the coins vary greatly according to grade. They have a special dark grading room which is lit only by the light of the grading lamps. Each coin is held over a soft black velvet pad, and is evaluated independently by three professional graders. Then it goes to the finalizer who grades the coin himself, and then compares his grade with the other three. If his evaluation agrees with two of the other evaluations, that grade will be maintained. But if there is disagreement there are other, more elaborate procedures to arrive at the final decision. This company would be horrified by the suggestion that they let just anybody into their coin grading room, armed with a simple checklist. Their final judgment depends on observation, which they have made as objective as possible, depending on highly trained observers.
But the cents played a central role in Sheldon's psyche and feelings, as well. In fact, they were one of the prime carriers of his feelings, for old pennies were "intimately associated with family tradition and with the memories of grandparents and the like." (p. xi)
"For generations American schoolboys bought, sold, swapped, or swiped old coppers. Some of these boys, especially in old age, have returned to the early enchantment, there to forget or condone the singular incompatibility between human dreams and fulfillments." (p. 5) What is this but a description of Sheldon, himself, who fulfilled his professional dreams but not himself?
These pennies are imprinted with "the bright hopes of yesterday morning". (p. 339) "They are an intriguing family and they never die, fade, or get broken... The early cents carry the memory, and an indelible impress, of a little stretch of human time that was fragrant with high hope. It was the flowering period for what might have become a great people in a land of unmatched beauty. We always live in a valley lying between the nostalgic past and an unknown future. To own a family of the early cents is in some measure to command a causeway between what for Americans is becoming a dearly remembered island of the past, and the grim urban mainland of the future." (p. 335)
And we must remember his words quoted before about his boyhood and the occasions when his father took out the box of old cents. "There was one thing, however, which retained at all times such a halo of mystery and enchantment that it never came to be taken for granted." (p. 5) It is the large copper cents with their different colors and nicks and scars of time that were symbols of Sheldon's childhood and a vanishing American way of life. And his feelings were bound to this New England past and rebelled against the life he saw in New York and the other large cities. It was not an entirely conscious rebellion, either. His feelings, bruised and tormented without a proper channel to emerge, would burst forth in an involuntary and often offensive manner.
The cents were his symbols of the self, the final goal of the individuation process, that he had dimly divined at the time of writing the Prometheus book. They were the symbols of the wholeness of his childhood that eluded him in later life. He lashed out in the diatribes which found their ways into the pages of the Varieties of Delinquent Youth, and vented his feelings in derogatory comments he muttered about various ethnic groups, that in some way seemed to be tarnishing the purity of the American life represented by his New England boyhood.
Sheldon the Promethean in these moments of enantiodromia becomes Sheldon Epimetheus, the man of the right. He railed against cigarettes, alcoholism, Freudianism, and the Federal Reserve Bank, and he collected the ravings of extreme right wing fanatics which were so much in opposition to the thrust of his conscious objective scientific spirit. And significantly, when he sold his own substantial collection of early American cents, he gave the money to his nieces and nephews and made no provision for his work.
In 1971 he moved from New York to Cambridge, Massachusetts and died there on September 16, 1977. He once commented to Louise Ames that "almost nobody knew him as he really was - that almost everybody thought he was better or worse than the actual fact of the matter." (Sheldon, p. 10)
There are, then, two Sheldons: the Sheldon who found that something deeper down and laid the firm foundation for a scientific study of physique and temperament, and then the Sheldon who in the grip of his feelings, which often opposed his thinking, worked unconsciously to obscure the magnificent work he had created. He once wrote some lines of verse about the author of The Forest of Arden that we should take as our guide in judging Sheldon and his work:
"And found in mar and flaw
In summary, Sheldon's life illustrates both genius and one of the most common and least diagnosed personality disorders: the emergence of the inferior function in opposition to the conscious personality. A deeper understanding of Jung's psychology could have helped him, and it provides one of the best frameworks for realizing the full potential of his work.
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