Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/35

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25
SPENCER AND EVOLUTION.

came to be what they are. Starting from the point of view made probable by the astronomers, and demonstrated by the geologists, that, in the mighty past, Nature has conformed to one system of laws; and assuming that the existing order, at any time, is to be regarded as growing out of a preëxisting order, Mr. Spencer saw that nothing remained for science but to consider all the contents of Nature from the same point of view. It was, therefore, apparent that life, mind, man, science, art, language, morality, society, government, and institutions, are things that have undergone a gradual and continuous unfolding, and can be explained in no other way than by a theory of growth and derivation. It is not claimed that Mr. Spencer was the first to adopt this mode of inquiry in relation to special subjects, but that he was the first to grasp it as a general method, the first to see that it must give us a new view of human nature, a new science of mind, a new theory of society-all as parts of one coherent body of thought, and that he was, moreover, the first to work out a comprehensive philosophical system from this point of inquiry, or on the basis of the principle of Evolution. In a word, I maintain Spencer's position as a thinker to be this: taking a view of Nature that was not only generally discredited, but was virtually foreclosed to research, he has done more than any other man to make it the starting-point of a new era of knowledge.

For the proof of this I now appeal to his works. Let us trace the rise and development of the conception of Evolution in his own mind, observe how he was led to it, and how he pursued it, and see how completely it pervades and unifies his entire intellectual career. Various explanatory details that follow, I have obtained from conversations with Mr. Spencer himself; but the essential facts of the statement are derived from his works, and may be easily verified by any who choose to take the trouble of doing so.

Mr. Spencer is not a scholar in the current acceptation of the term; that is, he has not mastered the curriculum of any university. Unbiassed by the traditions of culture, his early studies were in the sciences. Born in a sphere of life which made a vocation necessary, he was educated as a civil-engineer, and up to 1842, when he was twenty-two years of age, he had written nothing but professional papers published in the Civil Engineer and Architects' Journal. But he had always been keenly interested in political and social questions, which he had almost daily heard discussed by his father and uncles. In the summer of 1842 he began to contribute a series of letters to a weekly newspaper, the Nonconformist, under the title of "The Proper Sphere of Government." It was the main object of these letters to show that the functions of government should be limited to the protection of life, property, and social order, leaving all other social ends to be achieved by individual activities. But, beyond this main conception, it was implied throughout that there are such things