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MR. HERBERT SPENCER. BY ONE WHO KNOWS HIM. no thinker of our time has exerted a deeper, though known in Russia and California than in London or
often unrecognised, influence on thought in general Manchester. .
than Mr. Herbert Spencer. To the historian of If anybody doubts this supremacy of Herbert Spencer the future it is probable, indeed, that the second half among the organising thinkers and teachers of our time, of the nineteenth century will present itself mainly before he has only to think of the numerous phrases which sum the mental vision as the era of evolution. The evolu- up, as it were, the current thought of our century, and tionary concept accomplished during those fifty momentous he will find that almost every one of them bears on its years its conquest of the world; before the century's end, very face Mr. Spencer's mint-mark. Evolution, evoluthe apostles of the development theory had established tionism, are the facts of our age. Well, most people are their right to be heard with respect in every art, every not aware of it, but the use of those words, in their science, every department of historical or social research. modern sense, is wholly and solely due to Mr. Spencer. Most people, it is true, connect this great revolution in Nobody employed them in that sense before him; whothought mainly with the honoured name of Darwin; ever has employed them since has taken them straight but in that belief they are, to a great extent, mistaken. out of the “System of Synthetic Philosophy.” Once Organic life alone was Darwin's sphere: the universe is more, the man in the street talks glibly nowadays of his rival's. It is to Herbert Spencer that we owe “Survival of the Fittest.” Probably he thinks the distinctively the general doctrine of evolution as a whole: phrase is Darwin's. But it is not. It was invented by to Darwin we owe only the minor principle of the origin Mr. Spencer, as a better one than Darwin's “ Natural of species by natural selection. Not that I wish for a Selection." Again, everybody employs the words moment to belittle the great biologist of Down, a mighty "adaptation to the environment” as a common locution and marvellous architect of thought in his own chosen of everyday life; few know that they are entirely and line; he wisely confined his attention almost entirely to exclusively Mr. Spencer's invention. The fact is, our the vast field of plant and animal life, or to human great philosopher has supplied our speech with all the origins viewed from the purely anatomical and physio- current phraseology of evolution and the evolutionary logical standpoint: whereas Herbert Spencer has taught concepts, just because he is a great philosopher, with a us that still wider and deeper view of evolution which singular faculty for generalisation, and therefore for recognises its action in suns and worlds, in plants and summing up the results of the process in a single neat and animals, in minds and ideas, in the societies of men, and comprehensive formula. All the formulæ of evolutionism
in all the various products of human organisation or come straight from his workshop; he is the author, as it . human activity. There are diversities of gifts, and each were, of the digest of modern concepts. of these profound thinkers is, in his own way, supreme Or, to put it in another way, the reason why Mr. and transcendent.
Spencer gets less than his due share of recognition nowHow comes it, then, that while the name of Darwin is adays is simply this, that, unconsciously to ourselves, we familiar to all, the name of Spencer looms larger to the are all Spencerians. The very success of his revolution philosophical and psychological student than to the has obscured to some extent the fame of the chief To man in the street” of our latter-day civilisation? I revolutionist. He has imposed his opinions upon us to think there are two reasons for this curious fact. In the so great an extent that most people now look upon them first place, Darwin's work, touching directly upon the as their own, or, at least, as common property. Ideas origins of man and of life in general, caught the public which when Mr. Spencer began to write were startling attention at once, and roused, in particular, that special heresies are nowadays so familiar that only special kind of religious opposition which is really the best students of the history of thought ever dream of possible advertisement for man, book, or system. He crediting them to their actual author. had the good luck to come into direct conflict with the A character sketch of a man who has so profoundly, if first chapters of Genesis. In the second place, Darwin often unobtrusively, influenced the course of human was also fortunate in finding his own name tacked on thinking throughout the civilised world must surely be immediately to his particular views; everybody talked, of interest to those who have drunk so deeply at his from the outset, of Darwinism, Darwinians, the Darwinian fount — who have repeated without knowing it his theory. With Mr. Spencer, on the contrary, the man to philosophical catchwords. a great extent has been merged in the work. He has effaced his personality. Few people have ever described
1.-HIS LIFE. themselves as Spencerians, still fewer ever speak of the Herbert Spencer belongs to the great generation ofthinkers Spencerian doctrine. It is Mr. Spencer's ideas that have and writers of whom but a few last survivors still remain conquered the world; it is his phrases and catchwords among us. Twenty years younger than the century, five that are in everybody's mouth, not the name of their years younger than the thunders of Waterloo, he was discoverer. No philosopher has ever been read and quoted born at Derby in 1820, of a cultivated and scientifically so much in his own lifetime, no philosopher has ever minded ancestry. Time, place, and circumstances were seen his ideas so permeate humanity, yet none has ever all significant. As regards date, he belonged to the first received so small a meed of fame, proportionately to his race of evolutionary giants. Darwin was just eleven merits, from his own countrymen. It is in foreign years his senior; Hooker and Lewes arrived three years nations, above all, that he is known and respected ; it is before him on the scene; while Wallace and Huxley from after ages that he will gain at last his proper were respectively two and five years his juniors. recognition in the roll of profound and epoch-making Roughly speaking, therefore, he was well in the mid-line thinkers. Even at the present day he is far better of the coming van of evolutionary thinkers, abreast of FROM A PHOTOGRAPH SPECIALLY TAKEN FOR “THE REVIEW OF REVIEWS" BY THE STEREOSCOPIC Co.
the full tide that was to lead on in time to that momentous change in men's conceptions of the universe. As regards place, once more, he was an Englishman of the Midlands; and England, we may recollect with pride, has led the advance throughout in this evolutionary movement. Moreover, just then was the day of the Midlands. Earlier, thought and literature had had their home for the most part in the south, round Thames and Cam; later, they have begun to fix their seat in the north, from Mersey and Humber to the foot of the Scotch Highlands. But in the forties, fifties, and sixties, the days of Spencer's prime, the Midlands led the very vanguard of the movement in England. Darwin was a Shrewsbury man; Spencer came from Derby; George Eliot was of Warwickshire. Nor is it a point to be overlooked that Mr. Spencer was descended from a Nonconformist house, like George Eliot and Bright: his father was a Wesleyan. All these antecedents helped to give direction to his peculiar genius. A rebel and a dissenter, the prophet of the mixed influences of neredity and environment, he is himself a conspicuous and striking instance of the practical working of his own theories.
Mr. Spencer, the father, wasa schoolmaster, and secretary of the Philosophical Society at Derby. He had a taste for science, and he imbued his son early with a genuine love of natural history. More than that, however, though not himself averse to the ordinary belief in supernatural causes, he taught the boy to search as far as possible for natural causes of all phenomena that fell under his notice. From the very beginning, Herbert Spencer's training was almost exclusively scientific. For languages, he had no taste; and, born insurgent that he is, he rose up with all his soul against the conventional despotism of Greek and Latin. Fortunately, he had a wise and judicious father, who did not insist on warping his mind clean away from its true bent by doses of grammar; and the consequence is that at the present moment our great philosopher, learned in all the learning of sun, star and planet, bird, beast and fish, the mind of man, the growth of human societies-does not even read the letters of the Greek alphabet. Yet see how vain is the argument usually adduced for our common and exclusively linguistic education, that it teaches men how to use aright their own language! No modern writer employs the English tongue with greater precision and logical accuracy than Mr. Spencer; no other coins new words of classical origini, wherever they are needed to express his ideas, with greater freedom or with greater effectiveness. The dictionary bristles to-day with learned neologisms of Greek descent which we owe to the man who refused to learn the classical languages. I cannot remember that any one of them sins against the strictest laws of Hellenic word-building.
Young Spencer was mainly brought up in the neighbourhood of Bath, by an uncle why was a clergyman of the Church of England, and rector of Hinton Charterhouse. Here his scientific leanings were encouraged, especially in the direction of mathematics, and his faculty of observation was developed by careful training. To Cambridge, however, he would not go; his lack of Greek made a University course, as things then stood, an absolute impossibility. It was necessary to find him a profession, and at that time of day civil engineering was almost the only profession open to a man who declined the classics. So at seventeen Herbert Spencer was sent to learn the work of a railway engineer, under Sir Charles Fox, the builder in later days (unless I mistake) of the Crystal Palace. That was in 1837,
during the heroic age of railway enterprise in England, and Mr. Spencer was employed on the Gloucester and Birmingham Railway, a line now merged in the existing Midland.
The young man's heart, however, was not in engineering. All knowledge was his province. Beyond any other man that ever trod this earth, Herbert Spencer, indeed, is the pure type of the philosophic generaliser. It was not detail that attracted him, but the underlying truths and realities of the world; not sleepers and girders, strains and resistances, but the vast secular process of suns, stars, and nebulæ, the endless procession of bird and beast and fish and insect. He must know the Cosmos. That trait is the very keynote of Mr. Spencer's character. He is all pure intellect; and even within the realm of intellect itself, he is an engine of generalisation. Of no other man can it be so truly said that the history of his life is the history of his thinking. Other things there are in the life to be sure—heroic self-sacrifice, profound resolve, deep devotion to a high and abstract ideal; but these things link themselves directly on, not to the affections, as is usual, but to the course of his philosophy. It is the intellect of the man that governs and directs the channels of his emotions. Hence in his life, thought comes first; the high character and noble action are themselves but appendages of a splendid and almost unique generalising organ.
In order to understand the subsequent development of Herbert Spencer's nature, therefore, we have to consider with ourselves the world in which he was cast, and the intellectual influences by which he was surrounded. Especially is it important to remember the truth, too often overlooked, that evolutionism was a natural growth, and that Mr. Spencer was an evolutionist long before the publication of Darwin's great work on “ The Origin of Species.” Most people imagine that Darwinism and Evolution are one and the same thing; that Darwin was the original discoverer and author of the evolutionary theory, and that Spencer came in later as its philosopher and systematiser. No idea could be further removed from the actual truth. If Darwin had never lived, Herbert Spencer would still have given us the greater part of his wonderful “System of Synthetic Philosophy;" the fundamental conception of evolution which lies at the root of that system had been largely elaborated long before Darwin gave a word of his special organic hypothesis to the world of science.
The truth is, evolutionism was not the work of a single mind, or even of a group of minds; it was a necessary moment and foregone conclusion in the slow unrolling of human thought with regard to the origin and system of the universe. It was itself evolved by slow degrees in a hundred minds; and each step in the process was almost necessarily implied by the various steps that had already preceded it. Long before either Charles Darwin or Spencer was born, Erasmus Darwin had announced the fundamental truth that plants and animals were sprung from a common source, and had diverged by degrees from a central ancestor. “Buffon in his day had coquetted with the notion; Lamarck had striven by a collection of instances and a volitional theory to give it greater coherence and probability. Goethe had been fascinated by it; Oken had involved it in a misty atmosphere of German metaphysics. At the moment when Herbert Spencer was just entering manhood, every thinker in, Europe had his attention directed on the question of the origin and development of living beings; and most of them tended more or less definitely towards a vaguely evolutionary solution of the problem.
Several other influences conducted thinkers along other lines towards analogous conclusions. Geology had familiarised men's minds with the idea of a world which had grown by slow degrees, crust over crust, and range above range, into its present shape, instead of having been turned out ready made-hill, dale, and ocean-at a single word by the fiat of the Creator. Kant and Laplace had suggested still earlier a natural origin for the constellations, the stars, and the solar system, from contracting nebulæ, and had shown how the existing arrangement of matter in the mass might be explained as the result of an evolutionary process. Malthus's theory of population, to take another line, had led men to consider scientifically the laws of multiplication in men and animals; while Von Baer's researches into the development of embryos tad largely strengthened the Lamarckian argument for the common descent of the leading animal groups from a primitive ancestor. All round, the raw material of embryonic evolutionism, if I may be allowed so bold a phrase, was being accumulated piecemeal by workers in every field of science. What was needed now was a broad philosophical and organising mind capable of taking up these scattered strands, and weaving them into the tissue of a coherent system.
At a very early date Herbert Spencer accepted this gigantic task, a task laid upon him, as it were, by the very constitution of his exceptional intellect. It would be hard to say how early he began to regard himself as the predestined reorganiser of science and philosophy; certainly from the very first dawn of adult life his disposition led him towards the highest reconstructive and generalising work-to use his own pregnant phrase, "the unification of kuowledge." His earliest published writing, it is true, was concerned with the domain of social and political thought, a series of latters to the Noncon fornist " On the Proner Sphere of Government." written in 1812, when he was twenty-two, and republished in pamphlet form some twelve months later. But even in this earliest treatise, in so restricted a field, the conception is present that human progress depends upon adaptation to the social surroundings; that human nature itself is modifiable in this manner; and that it tends by slow degrees towards the natural establishment of an ultimate equilibrium. These are central Spencerian doctrines in the germ; they show even thus early the bent of a mind which sees always the general through the confusion of the particular, the prevalence of law amid the most apparently capricious or causeless circumstances.
Mr. Spencer's first important work, however, was the “Social Statics,” published in 1830, when he was just thirty. Soon after, the wider trend of his mind towards general biological and cosmical studies made itself seen in several essays on evolutionary subjects contributed to the Leader, the Westminster Review, and other periodicals, between 1850 and 1860. From one of the earliest and most interesting of these, the pregnant essay on “ The Development Hypothesis,” published in 1852, I will venture to quote a few striking paragraphs, somewhat condensed by omission of minor points, in order to show the complete independence of Mr. Spencer's doctrine of Organic Evolution from Darwin's later and more specialised theory of the Origin of Species :
Even could the supporters of the development hypothesis merely show that the production of species by the process of modification is conceivable, they would be in a better position than their opponents. But they can do much more than this : they can show that the process of modification has effected and is effecting great changes in all organisms, subject to
modifying influences ... they can show that any existing species-animal or vegetable-when placed under conditions different from its previous ones, immediately begins to undergo certain changes of structure fitting it for the new conditions. They can show that in successive generations these changes continue until ultimately the new conditions become the natural ones. They can show that in cultivated plants and domesticated animals, and in the several races of men, these changes have uniformly taken place. They can show that the degrees of difference, so produced, are often, as in dogs, greater than those on which distinctions of species are in other cases founded. They can show that it is a matter of dispute whether some of these modified forms are varieties or modified species. They can show too that the changes daily taking place in ourselves; the facility that attends long practice, and the loss of aptitude that begins when practice ceases; the development of every faculty, bodily, moral or intellectual, according to the use made of it, are all explicable on this same principle. And thus they can show that throughout all organic nature there is at work a modifying influence of the kind they assign as the cause of these specific differences, an influence, which, though slow in its action, does in time, if the circumstances demand it, produce marked changes; an influence which, to all appearance, would produce in the millions of years, and under the great varieties of condition which geological records imply, any amount of change.
Now, observe : this essay was written and published in 1852. Darwin's “ Origin of Species,” in which our great biologist first set forth his evolutionary doctrine as to the mode of development of plants and animals, did not appear till 1859,-that is to say, some seven years later. Yet the passage I have quoted would seem to most people to contain almost all the prominent ideas they are accustomed to associate with the name of Darwin. In other words, it contains the theory of “descent with modification." without the distinctively Darwinian addition of natural selection, which subsidiary principle it is the special glory of the thinker of Down to have introduced to science. The fact is, ever since Lamarck, biological students of every country had been eagerly employed in searching for the clue to the origin of species. In 1844, indeed, Robert Chambers had published his “ Vestiges of Creation," a book which united glimpses of something like Lamarck's developmental hypothesis with a tacit acceptance of the belief in a guiding Creator. Thus the question of the evolution of plants and animals was “in the air,” as we say; and it was not likely that a mind like Spencer's, ever prone to behold the general in the particular, should not eagerly follow out the lines of investigation suggested by such considerations.
The decade of the fifties-embracing the period between Mr. Spencer's thirtieth and fortieth years-was for him an epoch of rapid and formative advance. It was then that his life-philosophy took shape and crystallised. The essay on “The Development Hypothesis," which contained the germ of the “Principles of Biology," was followed in 1851 by another, equally striking, on “Manners and Fashion,” which similarly contained the germ of “ Ceremonial Institutions,” now incorporated as a portion of the “ Principles of Sociology." In 1855, he published in one volume) the first form of the “ Principles of Psychology," in which he applied the evolutionary concept to the explanation and genesis of mental phenomena. All this, be it observed, was still well before Darwin. In 1857 came his magnificent essay on “Progress, its Law and Cause," in which he first gave the world, in a more or less nebulous form, the general concept of evolution as a whole, a law which could be applied to every evolving aggregate, whatever its character. This was the finest generalisation he had yet achieved, and it formed later on the basis for the “ First Principles.”
Meanwhile, during all these years in which Spencer had been applying his wide and cosmic brain to the vast task of correlating the whole domain of knowledge, Darwin in his Kentish retreat had been working away manfully at the narrower field of plant and animal origins. Years before, after his voyage in the Beagle, he had conceived the doctrine of natural selection, that doctrine which was destined to change the theory of organic evolution almost in one day from a happy guess to a provable certainty. But with characteristic caution, Darwin delayed the publication of his great discovery till he had accumulated an immense mass of facts and illustrations, which should prove his thesis up to the hilt before a scientific tribunal. At last, in 1859 a mere accident made him hurry forward the appearance of his long projected book. Alfred Russel Wallace, then a rising naturalist in the Malay Archipelago, had simultaneously and independently hit upon the central idea of natural selection, and sent home a paper setting forth his view to the Linnean Society. Thereupon, Darwin thought it well to push on with his work; and at the end of 1859 the first edition of “The Origin of Species” fell like a bomb-shell upon the astonished world.
It was not to be expected that Herbert Spencer would not gladly accept and welcome this powerful new ally of the evolutionary doctrine. Iodeed. he had himself just trembled on the verge of the discovery of the principle of natural selection, and had missed it by an oversight which now seems almost inexplicable. He warmly adopted the Darwinian idea, and even supplied it with the alternative name of “Survival of the Fittest,” by which it is now perhaps even more familiar than by the one it received from its original sponsor. At the same time, it should be added that Mr. Spencer has never accepted the all-safficiency of natural selection to so great an extent as Darwin himself did, and certainly not to so great an extent as the younger and more dogmatic followers of Darwin.
In 1860 the great work of Mr. Spencer's life was taken up in earnest. The period of growth and incubation was now complete; the period of systematic production was just beginning. In that year, when he had turned forty, he issued the prospectus of a proposed series, to be called “A System of Philosophy," which title was after wards altered (with excellent reason) to “ A System of Synthetic Philosophy.” In the prospectus he described the series as having been for several years in preparation, and gave an outline of that wonderful and comprehensive scheme, the vastest, perhaps, which it has ever entered into the mind of man to conceive. As originally planned, the work was to consist of ten volumes, and was to cover the entire field of the knowable and the unknowable. Beginning with the most general laws of the aggregation and dissolution of all bodies whatsoever it was to go on to the evolution of organic nature, the development and variation of plants and animals, the origin and growth of mind, and the laws of psychology. Thence it was to proceed to the then unconstituted science of sociology-a conception which we owe almost entirely to Mr. Spencer-dealing by degrees with political, ecclesiastical, and industrial organisation, and also with those higher super-organic products, such as language, science, and arts, whose evolution had never as yet been studied in any complete or systematic manner. I will give a little later on some fuller indication of the manner in which this gigantic scheme has been finally filled in; for the present, it must suffice to say that its extraordinary comprehensiveness half frightened even the encyclopædic brain which conceived and developed it.
Mr. Spencer was fain to note, in passing, that many previous essays contained, in the germ, the ideas he was to elaborate in one part or another of his proposed work, and at the end of all he apologised in these words for the apparent vastness of his suggested undertaking:
In anticipation of the obvious criticism that the scheme here sketched out is too extensive, it may be remarked that an exhaustive treatment of each topic is not intended, but simply the establishment of principles, with such illustrations as are necded to make their bearings fully understood.
It may also be pointed out that besides minor fragments, one large division ("The Principles of Psychology") is already, in great part, executed. And a further reply is, that impossible though it may prove to execute the whole, yet nothing can be said against an attempt to set forth the “ First Principles," and to carry their applications as far as circumstances permit.
To the first volume of the “System of Synthetic Philosophy" in its final form, where this prospectus is reprinted as an introduction, Mr. Spencer also appends the following very characteristic prefatory note. Its impersonality, and its marked sense of the necessity and importance to humanity of his great treatise, regarded in an objective rather than in a' subjective manner, is redolent throughout of his peculiar individuality. To him, if to any one, the work is everything, the man nothing, or just a brain to produce it :
This programme I have thought well to reprint for two reasons :-the one being that readers may, from time to time, be able to ascertain what topics are next to be dealt with; the other being that an outline of the scheme may remain, in case it should never be completed.
The sacrifices involved in the preparation and production of the gigantic work thus heralded to the world were little short of heroic. Those who know Mr. Spencer by his books alone may have thought of him merely as devoting himself to philosophy out of the abundance of his material wealth and comfort. The truth is far otherwise. No man ever lived a more ascetic life or denied himself more, for the sake of the task he had undertaken for humanity. In bis evidence given before the Commission on Copyright he tells us in plain words, though in the most severely impersonal and abstract manner, the story of his hard and noble fight during the unrecognised days of his early manhood. Not a fight for bread, not a fight for fame, remember, but a fight for truth. For his first book, “Social Statics,” in 1850, he could not find a publisher willing to take any risk; so he was obliged to print it at his own cost, and sell it on commission. The edition consisted of only seven hundred and fifty copies; and it took no less than fourteen years to sell. Such are the rewards of serious thought in our generation! Five years later, he printed the original form of the “Principles of Psychology.” Again no publisher would undertake the risk; and he published on commission. Once more, seven hundred and fifty copies were printed; and the sale was very slow. “I gave away a considerable number," says Mr. Spencer pathetically; "and the remainder sold in twelve and a half years." During all that time, we may conclude from the sequel, he not only made nothing out of those two important and valuable books, but was actually kept out of pocket for his capital sunk in them.
Similar experiences with his collected Essays and with the work on Education led him to conclude in a few years more that philosophical publication was not a veritable Golconda. “I found myself in the position of losing by all my books," he says: so when he began to issue the “Synthetic Philosophy,” he did so in the form