James Allen (November 28, 1864 — January 24, 1912) was a British philosophical writer known for his inspirational books and poetry and as a pioneer of the self-help movement. His best known work, As a Man Thinketh, has been mass-produced since its publication in 1902. It has been a source of inspiration to motivational and self-help authors.
Born in Leicester, England, into a working-class family, Allen was the elder of two brothers. His mother could neither read nor write while his father, William, was a factory knitter. In 1879 following a downturn in the textile trade of central England, Allen’s father traveled alone to America to find work and establish a new home for the family. Within two days of arriving his father was pronounced dead at New York City Hospital, believed to be a case of robbery and murder. At age fifteen, with the family now facing economic disaster, Allen was forced to leave school and find work.
For much of the 1890s, Allen worked as a private secretary and stationer in several British manufacturing firms. In 1893 Allen moved to London where he met Lily Louisa Oram who he then wed in 1895. In 1898 Allen found an occupation in which he could showcase his spiritual and social interests as a writer for the magazine The Herald of the Golden Age.
At this time, Allen entered a creative period where he then published his first book of many books, From Poverty to Power (1901). In 1902 Allen began to publish his own spiritual magazine, The Light of Reason, later retitled The Epoch.
In 1902 Allen published his third and most famous book As a Man Thinketh. Loosely based on the biblical proverb, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” the small work eventually became read around the world and brought Allen posthumous fame as one of the pioneering figures of modern inspirational thought. The book’s minor audience allowed Allen to quit his secretarial work and pursue his writing and editing career.
In 1903, the Allen family retired to the town of Ilfracombe where Allen would spend the rest of his life. Continuing to publish the Epoch, Allen produced more than one book per year until his death in 1912. There he wrote for nine years, producing 19 works.
Following his death in 1912, his wife continued publishing the magazine under the name The Epoch. Lily Allen summarized her husband’s literary mission in the preface to one of his posthumously published manuscripts, Foundation Stones to Happiness and Success saying:”He never wrote theories, or for the sake of writing; but he wrote when he had a message, and it became a message only when he had lived it out in his own life, and knew that it was good. Thus he wrote facts, which he had proven by practice.”
As a Man Thinketh is a literary self-help book by James Allen, published in 1903. It was described by Allen as “… [dealing] with the power of thought, and particularly with the use and application of thought to happy and beautiful issues. I have tried to make the book simple, so that all can easily grasp and follow its teaching, and put into practice the methods which it advises.
It shows how, in his own thought-world, each man holds the key to every condition, good or bad, that enters into his life, and that, by working patiently and intelligently upon his thoughts, he may remake his life, and transform his circumstances. The price of the book is only one shilling, and it can be carried in the pocket.” It was also described by Allen as “A book that will help you to help yourself”, “A pocket companion for thoughtful people”, and “A book on the power and right application of thought.”
The title is influenced by a verse in the Bible from the Book of Proverbs, chapter 23, verse 7: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”. The full passage, taken from the King James Version, is as follows:
- Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats:
- For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:
- Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.
- The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.
While the passage suggests that one should consider the true motivations of a person who is being uncharacteristically generous before accepting his generosity, the title and content of Allen’s work refer to the reader himself.
This book, written in terms of the responsibility assumption, opens with the statement:
- Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,
- And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes
- The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,
- Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills: —
- He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:
- Environment is but his looking-glass.
Quotes From As a Man Thinketh
- “Men do not attract what they want, but what they are.”
- “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”
- “Cherish your visions. Cherish your ideals. Cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment, of these, if you but remain true to them your world will at last be built.”
- “The soul attracts which it secretly harbors, that which it loves, and also that which it fears. It reaches the height of its cherished aspirations. It falls to the level of its unchastened desires – and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.”
- “Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves, they therefore remain bound.”
- “Every action and feeling is preceded by a thought.”
- “Right thinking begins with the words we say to ourselves.”
- “Circumstance does not make the man, it reveals him to himself.”
- “You cannot travel within and stand still without.”
- “As the physically weak man can make himself strong by careful and patient training, so the man of weak thoughts, can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking.”
- “Every man is where he is by the law of his being; the thoughts which he has built into his character have brought him there, and in the arrangement of his life there is no element of chance, but all is the result of a law which cannot err.”
- “The thoughtless, the ignorant, and indolent, seeing only the apparent effects of things and not the things themselves, talk of law, of fortune, and chance. Seeing a man grow rich, they say, ‘How lucky he is!’ Observing another become intellectual they exclaim, ‘How highly favored he is!’ And noting the saintly character and wide influence of another, they remark, ‘How chance aids him at every turn!’
- They don’t see the trials and failures and the struggles which these men have voluntarily encountered in order to gain their experience; have no knowledge of the sacrifices they have made, of the undaunted efforts they have put forth, of the faith they have exercised, that they might overcome the apparently insurmountable, and realize the vision of their heart. They do not know the darkness and the heart aches; they only see the light and the Joy, and they call it ‘luck’; do not see the longing arduous journey, but only behold the pleasant goal, and call it ‘good fortune’; do not understand the process, but only perceive the result, and call it ‘chance’.”
- “The circumstances which a man encounters with suffering are the result of his own mental inharmony”.
- “The human Will, that force unseen. The offspring of a deathless Soul, can hew a way to any goal though walls of granite intervene. Be not impatient in delay, but wait as one who understands; When spirit rises and commands, the Gods are ready to obey.”