In Cattell’s (1974) autobiography, we find not only warm gratitude for his mentor (Charles Spearman) but also a taste of the kinds of personal sacrifices many have chosen to make while contributing to our field. After an idyllic childhood and a romantic courtship of his first wife, Cattell was unable to find a permanent academic position in England. After years of near poverty (and neglect from an especially driven husband), Cattell’s wife, with whom Cattell was still very much in love, left him for “more comfortable circumstances.” After the divorce and further failure in securing an academic position in Britain, Cattell (1974) considered leaving for America,
But England was deep in my bones…The personal crisis, well nigh of despair,…tested the truth of Scawen Blunt’s lines: “He who has once been happy is for aye, out of destruction’s reach.” The broken marriage and the bleak future could be met. But could I disloyally uproot myself from that which had created the fiber of my being? The die was cast one day when I received a persuasive letter from E. L. Thorndike, asking me to be a research associate with him for a year. Of course, I knew of Thorndike’s work and it seemed to me about the most imaginative and fundamental that I knew of in America…I was stirred by the privilege and the possibilities, and after three days of emotional struggle decided to go. After all, it was only for a year. It was characteristic of Thorndike’s perspective, and independence, that he had reached out to a stranger three thousand miles away, possessing no personal “pull.” He had reacted purely to what he had found in my publications. I have tried to do the same in my turn for oncoming psychologists, judging by performance, not the “old school associations.”
After several temporary positions, Cattell took a position at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. He was extremely grateful to the taxpayers of Illinois that he was about to spend the next three decades pursuing any question that he deemed important to answer. He said that, for him, life began at 40. He spent his time productively, producing dozens of books and hundreds of articles:
For many years I rarely left the laboratory before 11 P.M., and then was generally so deep in thought or discussion that I could find my car only because it was the last still in the parking lot!
Cattell, R. B. (1974). Raymond B. Cattell. In G. Lindzey, (Ed.) A history of psychology in autobiography (Vol. 6) (pp. 59–100). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.