Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/451

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APPLETONS'

 

POPULAR SCIENCE

 

MONTHLY.



FEBRUARY, 1897.



HERBERT SPENCER: THE MAN AND HIS WORK.
By WILLIAM HENRY HUDSON,
PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE LELAND STANFORD JUNIOR UNIVERSITY.

IN a famous passage in his autobiography, Edward Gibbon has told us of the mingled emotions with which, on a memorable night in June, 1787, he penned the last lines of the last page of his History, and thus closed the undertaking of many laborious years. In a somewhat similar, though at once more dignified and more touching strain, Mr. Spencer, in the preface to his recently published third volume of the Principles of Sociology, has set on record his feelings on reviewing his finished life-work—a work beside which even the vast enterprise of Gibbon sinks into insignficance: "Doubtless in earlier years some exultation would have resulted; but as age creeps on feelings weaken, and now my chief pleasure is in my emancipation. Still, there is satisfaction in the consciousness that losses, discouragements, and shattered health have not prevented me from fulfilling the purpose of my life."

The Synthetic Philosophy, then, is to-day an accomplished fact. When Mr. Spencer first entered upon his work, he estimated that it would commit him to at least twenty years of regular and persistent toil, allowing two years to each of the ten stout volumes called for by his plan. Reckoning from the publication of the initial installment of First Principles in October, 1860, it has actually occupied just thirty-six years. Commenced with little encouragement from the cultured world, and even against the more cautious judgment of immediate advisers, at a time when its author was already broken down in health, with uncertain financial outlook and narrowly limited working powers,