Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/20

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10
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

in the present oonnection ere we pass on. In the first place, it is well that we should remind ourselves how enormously this book was in advance of the whole thought of the time — not the common thought only, but the cultivated thought as well. It was in the fullest sense of the term an epoch-making book — epoch-making because it placed the study of mind, theretofore in the hands of the metaphysicians as sterile a subject as it had proved in the days of mediæval scholasticism, upon an entirely new and promisingly fertile basis. Hitherto, mental philosophy had concerned itself only with the facts of adult human consciousness. Spencer, realizing as we are now all able to realize, how little could ever be accomplished by this time-worn and superficial method, broke away from all the traditions of the schools, and started out on an original investigation of the phenomena of mind, in the wide sweep of which he took in not only the mental growth of children and savages, but also the phenomena of intelligence as displayed by the whole range of the animate world down to the lowest creatures. To quote his own words, "Life in its multitudinous and infinitely varied embodiments has arisen out of the lowest and simplest beginnings by steps as gradual as those which evolved an homogeneous germ into a complete organism." Starting from this conception, the author proceeds to treat of the whole subject of intelligence and its forms of manifestation from an evolutionary point of view; the Principles having "for their object the establishment by a double process of analysis and of synthesis, the unity of composition of the phenomena of mind, and the continuity of their development."[1] My second remark is purely a personal one, yet one which has its interest and importance — though these are of a somewhat melancholy character — in any account of Mr. Spencer's earlier writings. It was in consequence of overwork while producing the volume now referred to, that Mr. Spencer suffered a nervous breakdown which completely incapacitated him for a period of eighteen months, and which, even after his general recovery, left him stranded in that condition of partial and varying invalidism in which he has continued from that day to this, and under the burden of which all subsequent great work has been done.

It is not, I think, needful to pause, after even such a rapid summary of the activities of these ten momentous years, to say anything about the extraordinary perversion of judgment which has led critics from whom, having regard to their positions and general culture, something better was to have been expected, to treat these writings as "stock-writings," and to refer to their author as having "the weakness of omniscience" and a desire to

  1. Th. Ribot, English Psychology, p. 148. London, 1873.