Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/32

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22
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

clared Mr. Spencer to be nothing better than a "stock-writer, who writes equally well upon all subjects."

These are not the circumspect and instructive utterances which we should look for from men of authority whose opinions are sought and are valued by the public; they are gross and inexcusable misrepresentations, and exemplify a style of criticism that is now so freely indulged in that it requires to be met, in the common interest of justice and truth. By their estimates of Mr. Spencer, the gentlemen quoted have raised the question of his position as a thinker, and the character and claims of his intellectual work. I follow their lead, and propose, on the present occasion, to bring forward some considerations which may help to a more trustworthy judgment upon the subject. Assuming the foregoing statements to be representative, it will be worth while to see what becomes of them under examination. My object will be, less to expound or to defend Mr. Spencer's views, than to trace his mental history, and the quality and extent of his labors, as disclosed by an analysis and review of his published writings.

And, first, let us glance at the general condition of thought in relation to the origination of things when he began its investigation. Character is tested by emergencies, as well in the world of ideas as in the world of action; and it is by his bearing in one of the great crises of our progressive knowledge of Nature that Mr. Spencer is to be measured.

Down to the early part of the present century it had generally been believed that this world, with all that it contains, was suddenly called into existence but a few thousand years ago in much the same condition as we now see it. Throughout Christendom it was held, with the earnestness of religious conviction, that the universe was a Divine manufacture, made out of nothing in a week, and set at once to running in all its present perfection. This doctrine was something more than a mere item of faith; it was a complete theory of the method of origin of natural things, and it gave shape to a whole body of science, philosophy, and common opinion, which was interpreted in accordance with this theory. The problem of origins was thus authoritatively solved, and life, mind, man, and all Nature, were studied under the hypothesis of their late and sudden production.

But it was difficult to inquire into the existing order of Nature without tracing it backward. Modern science was long restrained from this procedure by the power of traditional beliefs, but the force of facts and reasoning at length proved too strong for these beliefs, and it was demonstrated that the prevailing notion concerning the recent origin of the world was not true. Overwhelming evidence was found that the universe did not come into existence in the condition in which we now see it, nor in any thing like that condition, but that the present order of things is the outcome of a vast series of changes running back to an indefinite and incalculable antiquity. It was