Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/November 1874/Herbert Spencer and the Doctrine of Evolution
|←The Natural History of the Oyster I||Popular Science Monthly Volume 6 November 1874 (1874)
Herbert Spencer and the Doctrine of Evolution
THE change that has taken place in the world of thought within our own time, regarding the doctrine of Evolution, is something quite unprecedented in the history of progressive ideas. Twenty years ago that doctrine was almost universally scouted as a groundless and absurd speculation; now, it is admitted as an established principle by many of the ablest men of science, and is almost universally conceded to have a basis of truth, whatever form it may ultimately take. It is, moreover, beginning to exert a powerful influence in the investigation of and mode of considering many subjects; while those who avow their belief in it are no longer pointed at as graceless reprobates or incorrigible fools.
With this general reversal of judgment regarding the doctrine, and from the prominence it has assumed as a matter of public criticism and discussion, there is naturally an increasing interest in the question of its origin and authorship; and also, as we might expect, a good deal of misapprehension about it. The name of Herbert Spencer has been long associated, in the public mind, with the idea of Evolution. And, while that idea was passing through what may be called its stage of execration, there was no hesitancy in according to him all the infamy of its paternity; but, when the infamy is to be changed to honor, by a kind of perverse consistency of injustice, there turns out to be a good deal less alacrity in making the revised award. That the system of doctrine put forth by Mr. Spencer would meet with strong opposition was inevitable. Representing the most advanced opinions, and disturbing widely-cherished beliefs at many points, it was natural that it should be strenuously resisted and unsparingly criticised. Nor is this to be regretted, as it is by conflict that truth is elicited; and those, who, after candid examination, hold his teachings to be erroneous and injurious, are certainly justified in condemning them. With such, at the present time, I have no controversy, but propose to deal with quite another class of critics. There are men of eminence, leaders of opinion, who neither know nor care much for what Mr. Spencer thinks or has done, but are quite ready with their verdicts about him; and, so long as it is not generally known to what an extent we are indebted to him for having originated and elaborated the greatest doctrine of the age, these superficial and careless deliverances from conspicuous men become very misleading and injurious. By many he is regarded as only a clever and versatile essayist, ambitious of writing upon every thing, and who has done something to popularize the views of Mr. Darwin and other scientists. For example, M. Taine, in a late Paris journal, says: "Mr. Spencer possesses the rare merit of having extended to the sum of phenomena—to the whole history of Nature and of mind—the two master-thoughts which, for the past thirty years, have been giving new form to the positive sciences; the one being Mayer and Joule's Conservation of Energy, the other Darwin's Natural Selection." Colonel Higginson says: "Mr. Spencer has what Talleyrand calls the weakness of omniscience, and must write not alone on astronomy, metaphysics, and banking, but also on music, on dancing, on style." And again: "It seems rather absurd to attribute to him, as a scientific achievement, any vast enlargement or further generalization of the modern scientific doctrine of Evolution." To the same effect, Mr. Emerson, when recently called upon by a newspaper interviewer to furnish his opinions of great men, declared 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 proved that the present forms and distributions of mountains, valleys, continents, and oceans, are but the final terms of a stupendous course of transformations to which the crust of the earth has been subjected. It was also established that life has stretched back for untold millions of years; that multitudes of its forms arose and perished in a determinate succession, while the last appearing are highest in grade, as if by some principle of order and progression.
It is obvious that one of the great epochs of thought had now been reached; for the point of view from which natural things are to be regarded was fundamentally and forever altered. But, as it is impossible to escape at once and completely from the dominion of old ideas, the full import of the position was far from being recognized, and different classes of the thinking world were naturally very differently affected by the new discoveries. To the mass of people who inherit their opinions and rarely inquire into the grounds upon which they rest, the changed view was of no moment; nor had the geological revelations much interest to the literary classes beyond that of bare curiosity about strange and remote speculations. To the theologians, however, the step that had been taken was of grave concern. They were the proprietors of the old view; they claimed for it super-natural authority, and strenuously maintained that its subversion would be the subversion of religion itself. They maintained, moreover, that the controversy involved the very existence of God. The most familiar conception of the Deity was that of a Creator, and creation was held to mean the grand six-day drama of calling the universe into existence; while this transcendent display of power had always been devoutly held as alike the exemplification and the proof of the Divine attributes. How deep and tenacious was the old error is shown by the fact that, although it has been completely exploded, although the immeasurable antiquity of the earth and the progressive order of its life have been demonstrated and admitted by all intelligent people, yet the pulpit still clings to the old conceptions, and the traditional view is that which generally prevails among the multitude.
To men of science the new position was, of course, in the highest degree, important. It was stated by Prof. Sedgwick, in an anniversary address to the Geological Society of London, in 1831, as follows: "We have a series of proofs the most emphatic and convincing that the approach to the present system of things has been gradual, and that there has been a progressive development of organic structure subservient to the purposes of life." The traditional explanation of the origin of the world, and all that belongs to it, being thus discredited, it only remained to seek another explanation: if it has not been done one way, how has it been done? was the inevitable question. One might suppose that the effect of the utter break-down of the old hypothesis would have been to relegate the whole question to the sphere of science, but this was far from being done. The preternatural solution had failed, but its only logical alternative, a natural solution, or the thorough investigation of the subject on principles of causation, was not adopted or urged. The geologists occupied themselves in extending observations and accumulating facts rather than in working out any comprehensive scientific or philosophical principles from the new point of view. The result was a kind of tacit compromise between the contending parties—the theologians conceding the vast antiquity of the earth, and the geologists conceding preternatural intervention in the regular on-working of the scheme; so that, in place of one mighty miracle of creation occurring a few thousand years ago, there was substituted the idea of hundreds of thousands of separate miracles of special creation scattered all along the geological ages, to account for the phenomena of terrestrial life. Two systems of agencies—natural and supernatural—were thus invoked to explain the production of effects. What it now concerns us to note is, that the subject had not yet been brought into the domain of science. One portion of it was still held to be above Nature, and therefore inaccessible to rational inquiry; while that part of the problem which was withheld from science was really the key to the whole situation. Under the new view, the question of the origin of living forms, or of the action of natural agencies in their production, was as completely barred to science as it had formerly been under the literal Mosaic interpretation; and, as questions of origin were thus virtually interdicted, the old traditional opinions regarding the genesis of the present constitution of things remained in full force.
It is in relation to this great crisis in the course of advancing thought that Herbert Spencer is to be regarded. Like many others, he assumed, at the outset, that the study of the whole phenomenal sphere of Nature belongs to science; but he may claim the honor of being the first to discern the full significance of the new intellectual position. It had been proved that a vast course of orderly changes in the past has led up to the present, and is leading on to the future: Mr. Spencer saw that it was of transcendent moment that the laws of these changes be determined. If natural agencies have been at work in vast periods of time to bring about the present condition of things, he perceived that a new set of problems of immense range and importance is open to inquiry, the effect of which must be to work an extensive revolution of ideas. It was apparent to him that the hitherto forbidden question as to how things have originated had at length come to be the supreme question. When the conception that the present order had been called into being at once and in all its completeness was found to be no longer defensible, it was claimed that it makes no difference how it originated—that the existing system is the same whatever may have been its source. Mr. Spencer saw, on the contrary, that the question how things have been caused is fundamental; and that we can have no real understanding of what they are, without first knowing how they 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 as laws of social development, natural processes of rectification in society, and an adaptation of man to the conditions of social life. The scientific point of view was thus early assumed, and society was regarded not as a manufacture but as a growth. These letters were revised and published in a pamphlet in 1843.
The argument, however, was unsatisfactory from its want of depth and scientific precision, and Mr. Spencer decided in 1846 to write a work in which the leading doctrine of his pamphlet should be affiliated upon general moral principles. By reading various books upon moral philosophy he had become dissatisfied with the basis of morality which they adopt; and it became clear to him that the question of the proper sphere of government could be dealt with only by tracing ethical principles to their roots. The plan of this work was formed while Mr. Spencer was still a civil-engineer; and it was commenced in 1848, before he abandoned engineering and accepted the position of sub-editor of the Economist. It was issued, under the title of "Social Statics," at the close of 1850. In this work various developments of the ideas contained in the pamphlet above named are noticeable. It will be seen that the conception that there is an adaptation going on between human nature and the social state has become dominant. There is the idea that all social evils result from the want of this adaptation, and are in process of disappearance as the adaptation progresses. There is the notion that all morality consists in conformity to such principles of conduct as allow of the life of each individual being fulfilled, to the uttermost, consistently with the fulfillment of the lives of other individuals; and that the vital activities of the social human being are gradually being moulded into such form that they may be realized to the uttermost without mutual hindrance. Social progress is in fact viewed as a natural evolution, in which human beings are moulded into fitness for the social state, and society adjusted into fitness for the natures of men the units and the aggregate perpetually acting and reacting, until equilibrium is reached. There is recognized not only the process of continual direct adaptation of men to their circumstances by the inherited modifications of habit, but there is also recognized the process of the dying out of the unfit and the survival of the fit. And these changes are regarded as parts of a process of general evolution, tacitly affirmed as running through all animate Nature, tending ever to produce a more complete and self-sufficing individuality, and ending in the highest type of man as the most complete individual.
After finishing "Social Statics" Mr. Spencer's thoughts were more strongly attracted in the directions of biology and psychology—sciences which he saw were most intimately related with the progress of social questions; and one result reached at this time was significant. As he states in the essay on the "Laws of Organic Form," published in 1859 in the Medico-Chirurgical Review, it was in the autumn of 1851, during a country ramble with Mr. George Henry Lewes, that the germinal idea of that essay was reached. This idea, that the forms of organisms, in respect of the different kinds of their symmetry and asymmetry, are caused by their different relations to surrounding incident forces, implies a general recognition of the doctrine of Evolution, a further extension of the doctrine of adaptation, and a foreshadowing of the theory of life as a correspondence between inner and outer actions.
In 1852 Mr. Spencer published in the Westminster Review the "Theory of Population deduced from the General Law of Animal Fertility," setting forth an important principle which he says that he had entertained as far back as 1847. Here also the general belief in Evolution was tacitly expressed; the theory being that, in proportion as the power of maintaining individual life is small, the power of multiplication is great; that along with increased evolution of the individual there goes decreased power of reproduction; that the one change is the cause of the other; that in man as in all other creatures the advance toward a higher type will be accompanied by a decrease of fertility; and that there will be eventually reached an approximate equilibrium between the rate of mortality and the rate of multiplication. Toward the close of this argument there is a clear recognition of the important fact that excessive multiplication and the consequent struggle for existence cause this advance to a higher type. It is there argued that "only those who do advance under it eventually survive," and that these "must be the select of their generation." That which, as he subsequently stated in the "Principles of Biology," Mr. Spencer failed to recognize at this time (1852) was the effect of these influences in producing the diversities of living forms; that is, he did not then perceive the coõperation of these actions of the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest with the tendency to variation which organisms exhibit. He saw only the power of these processes to produce a higher form of the same type, and did not recognize how they may give rise to divergencies and consequent differentiations of species, and eventually of genera, orders, and classes.
Early in 1852, Mr. Spencer also printed a brief essay in the Leader, on "The Development Hypothesis," in which some of the now current reasons for believing in the gradual evolution of all organisms, including man, are indicated. To this paper Mr. Darwin refers in the introductory sketch of the previous course of research on the subject of development, which he prefixed to the "Origin of Species." In this essay, however, direct adaptation to the conditions of existence is the only process recognized.
In October of the same year (1852), Mr. Spencer published an essay in the Westminster Review, on the "Philosophy of Style," in which, though the subject appears so remote, there are traceable some of the cardinal ideas now indicated, and others that were afterward developed. The subject was treated from a dynamical point of view, and, as Mr. Lewes remarks in his essays on the "Principles of Success in Literature," it offers the only scientific exposition of the problem of style that we have. The general theory set forth is, that effectiveness of style depends on a choice of words and forms of sentence offering the least resistance to thought in the mind of the reader or hearer—a foreshadowing of the general law of the "line of least resistance" as applied to the interpretation of psychological phenomena, as well as phenomena in general. Moreover, at the close of the essay, there is a reference to the law of Evolution in its application to speech—there is a recognition of the fact that "increasing heterogeneity" has been the characteristic of advance in this as in other things, and that a highly-evolved style will "answer to the description of all highly-organized products, both of man and of Nature; it will be, not a series of like parts simply placed in juxtaposition, but one whole made up of unlike parts that are mutually dependent." Here, as early as 1852, there are recognized in one of the highest spheres both the process of differentiation and the process of integration—the two radical conceptions of Evolution.
In July of the next year (1853), Mr. Spencer's continued interest in the question of the functions of the state led him to write the essay on "Over-Legislation" in the Westminster Review; and here, as in "Social Statics," the conception of society as a growth, under the operation of natural laws, is predominant.
The critical perusal of Mr. Spencer's works shows that this was a very important period in the development of his views. The reading of Mr. Mill's "Logic," along with some other philosophical works, had led him to the elaboration of certain opinions at variance with those of Mr. Mill on the question of our ultimate beliefs, and those he published in the Westminster Review, under the title of "The Universal Postulate" (1853). The inquiries thus commenced, together with those respecting the nature of the moral feelings, and those concerning life and development, bodily and mental, into which he had been led, both by "Social Statics" and the "Theory of Population," prepared the way for the "Principles of Psychology." Some of the fundamental conceptions contained in this remarkable work now began to take shape in his mind. Other ideas connected with the subject began also to form in his mind, an example of which is furnished by the essay on "Manners and Fashion," published in the Westminster Review (April, 1854). Various traits of the general doctrine of Evolution are here clearly marked out in their relations to social progress. It is shown that the various forms of restraint exercised over men in society—political, ecclesiastical, and ceremonial—are all divergent unfoldings of one original form, and that the development of social structure, in these as in other directions, takes place by gradual and continuous differentiations, "in conformity with the laws of Evolution of all organized bodies."
Mr. Spencer was at the same time engaged in working out his view in a different sphere, the essay on the "Genesis of Science" being contributed to the British Quarterly Review in July, 1854. This was primarily called forth by Miss Martineau's "Abridgment of Comte," then just issued, and was in part devoted to the refutation of the French philosopher's views respecting the classification of the sciences. But it became the occasion for a further development of the doctrine of Evolution in its relation to intellectual progress. The whole genesis of science is there traced out historically under the aspect of a body of truths, which, while they became differentiated into different sciences, became at the same time more and more integrated, or mutually dependent, so as eventually to form "an organism of the sciences." There is, besides, a recognition of the gradual increase in definiteness that accompanies this increase in heterogeneity and in coherence.
It was at this time that Mr. Spencer's views on psychology began to assume the character of a system—the conception of intellectual progress now reached being combined with the ideas of life previously arrived at, in the development of a psychological theory. The essay on the "Art of Education," published in the North British Review (May, 1854), assisted in the further development of these ideas. In that essay the conception of the progress of the mind during education is treated in harmony with the conception of mental Evolution at large. Methods are considered in relation to the law of development of the faculties, as it takes place naturally. Education is regarded as rightly carried on only when it aids the process of self-development; and it is urged that the course in all cases followed should be from the simple to the complex, from the indefinite to the definite, from the concrete to the abstract, and from the empirical to the rational.
Having reached this stage in the unfolding of his ideas, Mr. Spencer began the writing of the "Principles of Psychology" in August, 1854. This is a work of great originality, and is important as marking the advance of Mr. Spencer's philosophical views at the time of its preparation. The whole subject of mind is dealt with from the Evolution point of view. The idea which runs through "Social Statics," that there is ever going on an adaptation between living beings and their circumstances, now took on a profounder significance. The relation between the organism and its environing conditions was found to be involved in the very nature of life; and the idea of adaptation was developed into the conception that life itself "is the definite combination of heterogeneous changes, both simultaneous and successive in correspondence with external coexistences and sequences." It is argued that the degree of life varies with the degree of correspondence, and that all mental phenomena ought to be interpreted in terms of this correspondence. Commencing with the lowest types of life, Mr. Spencer, in successive chapters, traces up this relation of correspondence as extending in space and time, as increasing in specialty, in generality, and in complexity. It is also shown that the correspondence progresses from a more homogeneous to a more heterogeneous form, and that it becomes gradually more integrated—the terms here employed, in respect to the Evolution of mind, being the terms subsequently used in treating of Evolution in general. In the fourth part of the work, under the title of "Special Synthesis," the Evolution is traced out under its concrete form from reflex action up through instinct, memory, reason, feelings, and the will. Mr. Spencer here distinctly avowed his belief that "Life, in its multitudinous and infinitely varied embodiments, has arisen out of the lowest and simplest beginnings, by steps as gradual as those which evolve a homogeneous microscopic germ into a complex organism"—dissent being, at the same time, expressed from that version of the doctrine put forth by the author of the "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation." It was, moreover, shown by subjective analysis how intelligence may be resolved, step by step, from its most complex into its simplest elements; and it was also proved that there is "unity of composition" throughout, and that thus mental structure, contemplated internally, harmonizes with the doctrine of Evolution.
It was at this time (1854), as I have been informed by Mr. Spencer, when he had been at work upon the "Principles of Psychology" not more than two months, that the general conception of Evolution in its causes and extent, as well as its processes, was arrived at. He had somewhat earlier conceived of it as universally a transformation from the homogeneous into the heterogeneous. This kind of change which Von Baer had shown to take place in every individual organism, as it develops, Mr. Spencer had already traced out as taking place in the progress of social arrangements, in the development of the sciences, and now in the Evolution of mind in general from the lower forms to the higher. And the generalization soon extended itself so as to embrace the transformations undergone by all things inanimate as well as animate. This universal extension of the idea led rapidly to the conception of a universal cause necessitating it. In the autumn of 1854, Mr. Spencer proposed to the editor of the Westminster Review to write an article upon the subject under the title of "The Cause of all Progress," which was objected to as being too assuming. The article was, however, at that time agreed upon, with the understanding that it should be written as soon as the "Principles of Psychology" was finished. The agreement was doomed to be defeated, however, so far as the date was concerned, for, along with the completion of the "Psychology," in July, 1855, there came a nervous break-down, which incapacitated Mr. Spencer for labor during a period of eighteen months—the whole work having been written in less than a year.
We may here note Mr. Spencer's advanced position in dealing with this subject. While yet the notion of Evolution as a process of Nature was as vague and speculative as it had been in the time of Anaximander and Democritus, he had grasped the problem in its universality and its causes, and had successfully applied it to one of the most difficult and important of the sciences. He had traced the operation of the law in the sphere of mind, and placed that study upon a new basis. The conviction is now entertained by many that the "Principles of Psychology," by Spencer, in 1855, is one of the most original and masterly scientific treatises of the present century, if, indeed, it be not the most fruitful contribution to scientific thought that has appeared since the "Principia" of Newton. For thousands of years, from Plato to Hamilton, the world's ablest thinkers had been engaged in the effort to elucidate the phenomena of mind; Herbert Spencer took up the question by a method first rendered possible by modern science, and made a new epoch in its progress. From this time forward, mental philosophy, so called, could not confine itself to introspection of the adult human consciousness. The philosophy of mind must deal with the whole range of psychical phenomena, must deal with them as manifestations of organic life, must deal with them genetically, and show how mind is constituted in connection with the experience of the past. In short, as it now begins to be widely recognized, Mr. Spencer has placed the science of mind firmly upon the ground of Evolution. Like all productions that are at the same time new and profound, and go athwart the course of long tradition, there were but few that appreciated his book, a single small edition more than sufficing to meet the wants of the public for a dozen years. But it began at once to. tell upon advanced thinkers, and its influence was soon widely discerned in the best literature of the subject. The man who stood, perhaps, highest in England as a psychologist, Mr. John Stuart Mill, remarked in one of his books, that "it is one of the finest examples we possess of the psychological method in its full power;" and, as I am aware, after carefully rereading it some years later, he declared that his already high opinion of the work had been raised still more—which he recognized as due to the progress of his own mind.
The article "Progress, its Law and Cause," projected, as we have seen, in 1854, was written early in 1857. In the first half of it the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous is traced throughout all orders of phenomena; in the second half the principle of transformation is deduced from the law of the multiplication of effects. In this essay, moreover, there is indicated the application of the general law of Evolution to the production of species. It is shown that there "would not be a substitution of a thousand more or less modified species for the thousand original species; but, in place of the thousand modified species, there would arise several thousand species, or varieties, or changed forms;" and that "each original race of organisms would become the root from which diverged several races differing more or less from it and from each other." It is further argued that the new relations in which animals would be placed toward one another would initiate further differences of habit and consequent modifications, and that "there must arise, not simply a tendency toward the differentiations of each race of organisms into several races, but also a tendency to the occasional production of a somewhat higher organism." The case of the divergent varieties of man, some of them higher than others, caused in this same manner, is given in illustration. Throughout the argument there is a tacit implication that, as a consequence of the cause of Evolution, the production of species will go on, not in ascending linear series, but by perpetual divergence and redivergence—branching and again branching. The general conception, however, differs from that of Mr. Darwin in this—that adaptation and readaptation to continually-changing conditions is the only process recognized there is no recognition of "spontaneous variations," and the natural selection of those that are favorable.
During the summer of 1857 Mr. Spencer wrote the "Origin and Function of Music," published in Fraser's Magazine for October. Like nearly all of his other writings, this interesting article is dominated by the idea of Evolution. The general law of nervo-motor action in all animals is shown to furnish an explanation of the tones and cadences of emotional speech; and it is pointed out that from these music is evolved by simple exaltation of all the distinctive traits, and carrying them out into ideal combination. A further step was taken, the same year, in the development of the doctrine of Evolution, which is indicated in the article entitled "Transcendental Physiology." It was there explained that the multiplication of effects was not the only cause of the universal change from homogeneity to heterogeneity, but that there was an antecedent principle to be recognized, viz., the Instability of the Homogeneous. The physiological illustrations of the law are mainly dwelt upon, though its other applications are indicated.
In October of the same year, the essay on "Representative Government—what is it good for?" appeared in the Westminster Review. The law of progress is here applied to the interpretation of state functions, and it is stated that the specialization of offices, "as exhibited in the Evolution of living creatures, and as exhibited in the Evolution of societies," holds throughout; that "the governmental part of the body politic exemplifies this truth equally with its other parts." In January, 1858, the essay on "State Tamperings with Money and Banks" appeared in the same periodical. The general doctrine of the limitations of state functions is there reaffirmed, with further illustration of the mischiefs that arise from traversing the normal laws of life; and it is contended that "the ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools"—an indirect way of asserting the beneficial effects of the survival of the fittest.
In April, 1858, Mr. Spencer published an essay on "Moral Education," in the British Quarterly Review, and throughout the argument every thing is again regarded from the Evolution point of view. The general truth insisted upon is, that the natural rewards and restraints of conduct are those which are most appropriate and effectual in modifying character. The principle contended for is, that the moral education of every child should be regarded as an adaptation of its nature to the circumstances of life; and that to become adapted to these circumstances it must be allowed to come in contact with them; must be allowed to suffer the pains and obtain the pleasures which do in the order of Nature follow certain kinds of action. There is here, in fact, applied to actual life, the general conception of the nature of life, previously inculcated in the "Principles of Psychology"—a correspondence between the inner and the outer actions that becomes great in proportion as the converse with outer actions through experience becomes extended.
The essay on the "Nebular Hypothesis" was published in the Westminster Review for July, 1858. The opinion was then almost universally held that the nebular hypothesis had been exploded, and the obvious bearing of the question upon the theory of Evolution induced Mr. Spencer to take it up. The conclusions that had been drawn from observations with Lord Rosse's telescope, that the nebular hypothesis had been invalidated, were shown to be erroneous; and the position taken, that the nebulæ could not be (as they were then supposed to be) remote sidereal systems, has been since verified. Spectrum analysis has, in fact, proved what Mr. Spencer then maintained, that there are many nebulae composed of gaseous matter. To the various indications of the nebular origin of our own solar system commonly given, others were added which had not been previously recognized, while the view that Mr. Spencer took of the constitution of the solar atmosphere has since been also verified by spectrum analysis.
In October, 1858, he published in the Medico-Chirurgical Review a criticism on Prof. Owen's "Archetype and Homologies of the Vertebrate Skeleton," which was written in furtherance of the doctrine of Evolution, and to show that the structural peculiarities which are not accounted for on the theory of an archetypal vertebra, are accounted for on the hypothesis of development. In January of the next year, there appeared in the same review a paper on "The Laws of Organic Form," already referred to, the germ of which dated back to 1851, and which was a further elucidation of the doctrine of Evolution, by showing the direct action of incident forces in modifying the forms of organisms and their parts. In April, 1859, appeared in the British Quarterly Review an article on "Physical Education," in which the bearing of biological principles upon the management of children in respect to their bodily development is considered. It insists upon the normal course of unfolding, versus those hindrances to it which ordinary school regulations impose; it asserts the worth of the bodily appetites and impulses in children, which are commonly so much thwarted; and contends that during this earlier portion of life, in which the main thing to be done is to grow and develop, our educational system is too exacting—"it makes the juvenile life far more like the adult life than it should be." The essay "What Knowledge is of most Worth" was printed in the Westminster Review for July, 1859. This argument is familiar to the public, as it has been many times republished, but what is here most worthy of note is that, in criticising the current study of history, it defines with great distinctness the plan of the "Descriptive Sociology," the first divisions of which are now just published, and form the comprehensive and systematic data upon which the Principles of Sociology are to be based.
An argument on "Illogical Geology" was contributed in July, 1859, to the Universal Review, which, although nominally a criticism of Hugh Miller, was really an attack upon the prevalent geological doctrine which asserted simultaneity in the systems of strata in different parts of the earth. His view, which was at that time heresy, is now coming into general recognition. In the Medico-Chirurgical Review for January, 1860, Mr. Spencer published a criticism on Prof. Bain's work, "The Emotions and the Will," designed to show that the emotions cannot be properly understood and classified without studying them from the point of view of Evolution, and tracing them up through their increasing complications from lower types of animals to higher. The essay on the "Social Organism" appeared at the same time in the Westminster Review, in which it was maintained that society, consisting of an organized aggregate, follows the same course of Evolution with all other organized aggregates—increasing in mass and showing a higher integration not only in this respect but also in its growing solidarity; becoming more and more heterogeneous in all its structures and more and more definite in all its differentiations. The "Physiology of Laughter," which appeared the same year in Macmillan's Magazine, was a contribution to nervous dynamics from the point of view that bad been taken in the "Principles of Psychology." Even in Mr. Spencer's discussion of "Parliamentary Reforms, their Dangers and Safeguards" (Westminster Review, 1860), the question is dealt with on scientific grounds ultimately referring to the doctrine of Evolution. It was its general purpose to show that the basis of political power can be safely extended only in proportion as political function is more and more restricted. It was maintained in an earlier essay that representative government is the best possible for that which is the essential office of a government—the maintenance of those social conditions under which every citizen can carry on securely and without hindrance the pursuits of life—and that it is the worst possible for other purposes. And in continuation of this argument it was here contended that further extension of popular power should be accompanied by a further restriction of state duty—a further specialization of state function. In the essay on "Prison Ethics," contributed to the British Quarterly Review in July, 1860, a special question is very ably dealt with in the light of those biological, psychological, and sociological principles which belong to the Evolution philosophy. The principle of moral Evolution is asserted and the concomitant unfolding of higher and better modes of dealing with criminals.
We have now passed in rapid review the intellectual work of Mr. Spencer for nearly twenty years, and have shown that, though apparently miscellaneous, it was, in reality, of a highly methodical character. Though treating of many subjects, he was steadily engaged with an extensive problem which was resolved, step by step, through the successive discovery of those processes and principles of Nature which constitute the general law of Evolution. Beginning in 1842 with the vague conception of a social progress, he subjected this idea to systematic scientific analysis, gave it gradually a more definite and comprehensive form, propounded the principles of heredity and adaptation in their social applications, recognized the working of the principle of selection in the case of human beings, and affiliated the conception of social progress upon the more general principle of Evolution governing all animate Nature. Seizing the idea of increasing heterogeneity in organic growth, he gradually extended it in various directions. When the great conception, thus pursued, had grown into a clear, coherent, and well-defined doctrine, he took up the subject of psychology, and, combining the principle of differentiation with that of integration, he placed the interpretation of mental phenomena upon the basis of Evolution. We have seen that two years after the publication of the "Psychology," or in 1857, Mr. Spencer had arrived at the law of Evolution as a universal principle of Nature, and worked it out both inductively as a process of increasing heterogeneity and deductively from the principles of the instability of the homogeneous and the multiplication of effects. How far Mr. Spencer was here in advance of all other workers in this field will appear, when we consider that the doctrine of Evolution, as it now stands, was thus, in its universality, and in its chief outlines, announced by him two years before the appearance of Mr. Darwin's "Origin of Species."
A principle of natural changes more universal than any other known, applicable to all orders of phenomena, and so deep as to involve the very origin of things, having thus been established, the final step remained to be taken, which was, to give it the same ruling place in the world of thought and of knowledge that it has in the world of fact and of Nature. A principle running through all spheres of phenomena must have the highest value for determining scientific relations; and a genetic law of natural things must necessarily form the deepest root of the philosophy of natural things. It was in 1858, as Mr. Spencer informs me, while writing the article on the "Nebular Hypothesis," that the doctrine of Evolution presented itself as the basis of a general system under which all orders of concrete phenomena should be generalized. Already the conception had been traced out in its applications to astronomy, geology, biology, psychology, as well as all the various super-organic products of social activity; and it began to appear both possible and necessary that all these various concrete sciences should be dealt with in detail from the Evolution point of view. By such treatment, and by that only, did it appear practicable to bring them into relation so as to form a coherent body of scientific truth—a System of Philosophy.
It is proper in this place to state that, in contemplating the execution of so comprehensive a work, the first difficulty that arose was a pecuniary one. Mr. Spencer had frittered away the greater part of what little he possessed in writing and publishing books that did not pay their expenses, and a period of eighteen months of ill-health and enforced idleness consequent on the writing of one of them had further diminished his resources. His state of health was still such that he could work, at the outside, but three hours a day, and very frequently not even that, so that what little he could do in the shape of writing for periodicals, even though tolerably paid for it, did not suffice to meet the expenses of a very economical bachelor-life. How, then, could he reasonably hope to prosecute a scheme elaborating the doctrine of Evolution throughout all its departments in the way contemplated—a scheme that would involve an enormous amount of thought, labor, and inquiry, and which seemed very unlikely to bring any pecuniary return, even if it paid its expenses? Unable to see any solution of the difficulty, Mr. Spencer wrote, in July, 1858, to Mr. John Stuart Mill, explaining his project, and asking whether he thought that in the administration for India, in which Mr. Mill held office, there was likely to be any post, rather of trust than of much work, which would leave him leisure enough for the execution of his scheme. Mr. Mill replied sympathetically, but nothing turned out to be available. In despair of any other possibility, Mr. Spencer afterward extended his application to the Government; being reënforced by the influence of various leading scientific men, who expressed themselves strongly respecting the importance of giving him the opportunity he wished. A peculiar difficulty, however, here arose. Mr. Spencer is a very impracticable man—that is, he undertakes to conform his conduct to right principles, and his decided views as to the proper functions of government put an interdict upon the far greater number of posts that might otherwise be fit. Among the few that he could accept, the greater part were not available because they did not offer the requisite leisure. One position became vacant which he might have accepted, that of Inspector of Prisons, I think; but, though effort in his behalf was made by Lord Stanley (now Lord Derby, who was familiar with Mr. Spencer's works and entertained the matter with interest), the claims of party were too strong, and no arrangement was made.
Other plans failing, Mr. Spencer decided to adopt the plan of subscription, and issue his "System of Philosophy" in a serial form. A prospectus of that system was issued in March, 1860, which outlined the contents of the successive parts. The first installment of the work was issued in October, 1860, and the commencing volume, "First Principles," was published in June, 1862.
In this work the general doctrine of Evolution is presented in a greatly developed form; and the author's former views are not only combined but extended. The law of Von Baer, which formulates organic development as a transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous, Mr. Spencer had previously shown to hold of all aggregates whatever—of the universe as a whole and of all its component parts. But, in "First Principles," it was shown that this universal transformation is a change from indefinite homogeneity to definite heterogeneity; and it is pointed out that only when the increasing multiformity is joined with increasing definiteness, does it constitute Evolution as distinguished from other changes that are like it in respect of increasing heterogeneity. This is, however, a much more important development of the principle. This change from the indefinite to the definite is shown to be the accompaniment of a more essential change from the incoherent to the coherent. Throughout all aggregates of all orders it is proved that there goes on a process of integration. This process is shown to hold alike in the growth and consolidation of each aggregate as well as in the growth and consolidation of its differentiated parts. The law of the instability of the homogeneous is also more elaborately traced out. Under the head of the principle of segregation it is, moreover, shown that the universal process by which, in aggregates of mixed units, the units of like kinds tend to gather together, and the units of unlike kinds to separate, everywhere coöperates in aiding Evolution. Yet a further universal law is recognized and developed—the law of equilibration. The question is asked, "Can these changes which constitute Evolution continue without limit?" and the answer given is that they cannot; but that they universally tend in each aggregate toward a final state of quiescence, in which all the forces at work have reached a state of balance. Like the other universal processes, that of equilibration is traced out in all divisions of phenomena. But the most important development given to the doctrine of Evolution in this volume was its affiliation upon the ultimate principle underlying all science—the persistence of force. It was shown that from this ultimate law there result certain universal derivative laws, which are dealt with in chapters on "The Correlation and Equivalence of Forces," "The Direction of Motion," and "The Rhythm of Motion," and it was demonstrated that these derivative laws hold throughout all changes from the astronomical to the psychical and social. It is then shown that "the Instability of the Homogeneous," "The Multiplication of Effects," "Segregation" and "Equilibration," are also deducible from this ultimate principle of the persistence of force. So that Evolution, having been first established inductively as universal, is further shown to be universal by establishing it deductively as a result of the deepest of all knowable truths.
The first edition of "First Principles" was published, but another important step in elucidating the philosophy of Evolution required to be taken. In dealing with the classification of the sciences, from the point of view to which his philosophy has brought him, Mr. Spencer had occasion to seek for that aspect of all physical phenomena which forms the most general division of physical science. He found that what he sought must be some general fact respecting the redistribution of matter and motion. The law was soon arrived at that integration of matter results from decrease of the contained motion, while disintegration of matter results from increase of the contained motion. It is at once manifest that the law thus reached was deeper than the principle of Evolution, for it is conformed to by mineral bodies which do not exhibit the phenomena of Evolution as Mr. Spencer had interpreted them. In short, it became clear that a law had been reached holding of all material things whatever, whether they are those which do, or those which do not, increase in heterogeneity. It was now first possible to judge of the relative value and importance of the several factors of the evolutionary process. In Von Baer's conception of organic development, it is made to consist essentially and solely in the change of increasing heterogeneity in the evolving body. But Mr. Spencer had shown that Evolution is a double process—a tendency to unity as well as to diversity, an integration as well as a differentiation. It was now found that the process of integration, as it applies to all things, whether evolving or not, is a deeper principle, and is, in fact, the primary process in Evolution, while the increase of heterogeneity is the secondary process. At the same time, this new view of the matter made it obvious that Dissolution is everywhere the correlative of Evolution, and that, before the generalization is complete, Dissolution must be recognized as universally tending to undo what Evolution does.
In a new edition of "First Principles," this idea was embodied, and the work recast in conformity with it. The doctrine of Evolution thus attained a higher development. The fundamental antagonism between Evolution and Dissolution comes into the foreground as the cardinal conception. It is shown that every aggregate, simple or compound, is, from the beginning to the end of its existence, subject to these opposing processes of change; that, according as its quantity of contained motion is becoming greater or less, it is tending to integrate or disintegrate—evolve or dissolve; that from moment to moment throughout its whole existence it is simultaneously exposed to both these processes, and that the average transformation it is undergoing expresses the predominance of the one process over the other. This being the universal law to which all material things at all times are subject, there come to be recognized certain derivative laws that are not universal, although highly general. Evolution is distinguished into simple and compound: simple Evolution being that in which the character of the matter and the rate of its integration are such that this primary process of change from a diffused state to a concentrated state is uncomplicated by secondary changes—compound Evolution being that in which, along with the general integrations, there go on more or less marked differentiations and local integrations. Thus the changes which were originally conceived to constitute Evolution itself came to be recognized as in order of time and importance subordinate; integration may go on without differentiation, as in crystals; but differentiation is made possible only by antecedent integration.
The doctrine of Evolution as a theory of the genesis and dissolution of things in the onward course of Nature was elaborately presented in "First Principles," and might have been there left to take its place and its chance among philosophical theories. But it had not been exploited by Mr. Spencer in the way of mental gymnastics, as a piece of novel and ingenious speculation. He believed it to embody a living and applicable principle of the greatest moment. If the law of Evolution be true, it is a truth of transcendent import, no less in the sphere of practical life than in the world of thought, and it was important that it should be carried out in the various fields of its application. Moreover, Mr. Spencer had been drawn to the investigation by his interest in the study of human affairs, and his task was but fairly begun with the establishment of the principle by which they are to be interpreted. In the strict logical order the next step would have been to trace the operation of the law in the inorganic or preorganic world, but the vastness of the subject forbade this, and Mr. Spencer found it necessary to enter at once upon the organic division of his scheme. In the "Principles of Biology" the subject of life was accordingly comprehensively dealt with from the Evolution point of view. He then passed to the phenomena of mind, and recast and amplified the "Principles of Psychology" in accordance with his more matured opinions, placing it upon the ampler basis afforded by "First Principles" and the "Principles of Biology." These three works, forming five volumes of the System of Philosophy, are now published, and they carry him half through the undertaking—the "Principles of Sociology," in three volumes, and the "Principles of Morality," in two volumes, remaining yet to be written. Mr. Spencer allowed twenty years for the whole enterprise; ill health and unforeseen interruptions have occasioned considerable delay, and it was half accomplished in twelve years.
A further illustration of the comprehensive and thoroughly systematic character of Mr. Spencer's work is afforded by his preparation for the treatment of the subject of Sociology. In dealing with Biology and Psychology, the data for reasoning were readily accessible, but in entering upon the scientific study of so vast and varied a subject as human society a most formidable difficulty appeared at the threshold of the inquiry, in the absence of facts to form the basis of sociological reasoning. So deficient and scattered and contradictory were such data that the possibility of any valid social science has been generally regarded with distrust, or unhesitatingly denied. But the phenomena of society are not chaotic; they coexist and succeed each other in an orderly way. The natural laws of the social state are undoubtedly determinable, but such determination is primarily a question of the collection of materials suitable for broad and safe inductions. Mr. Spencer foresaw this several years ago, and began the collection and methodical arrangement of all those numerous classes of facts pertaining to the various forms and states of society which are needed to work out the "Principles of Sociology." This alone was an immense undertaking. The races of mankind were divided into three groups, illustrating existing civilizations, extinct or decayed civilizations, and the savage state. Three corresponding series of works were projected, a tabular method for the classification and arrangement of facts was devised, and three gentlemen were employed to carry out the work of collection and digestion of materials under Mr. Spencer's supervision. The first installments of each of these divisions are now completed, and published. This important work, which is subsidiary to his main enterprise, is the first of the kind ever attempted, and when finished and issued will form a complete Cyclopædia of the multifarious data necessary for the scientific investigation of social questions. Its continued publication will depend upon public support; but the collection has been made by Mr. Spencer for his own use, and it will form the work of the "Principles of Sociology" upon which he has now entered, and the first part of which is issued.
Let us now recapitulate his labors in the order of their accomplishment, so as to bring them into one view:
|Letters on the Proper Sphere of Government,
(Occupied several years as a Railroad Engineer.)
|Planned Social Statics,||1846|
|Social Statics published,||1850|
|Theory of Population,||1852|
|The Development Hypothesis,|
|Philosophy of Style,|
|The Universal Postulate,|
|Manners and Fashion,||1854|
|The Genesis of Science,|
|The Art of Education,|
|Evolution first conceived as Universal,|
|Principles of Psychology,
(Breakdown of eighteen months.)
|Progress, its Law and Cause,||1857|
|Origin and Function of Music,|
|State Tamperings with Money and Banks,||1858|
|The Nebular Hypothesis,|
|Archetype and Homologies of the Vertebrate Skeleton,|
|Evolution first conceived as the Basis of a System of Philosophy,|
|The Laws of Organic Form,||1859|
|What Knowledge is of most Worth,|
|Prospectus of the System of Philosophy drawn up,|
|The Emotions and the Will,||1860|
|The Social Organism,|
|The Physiology of Laughter,|
|Prospectus of the Philosophical System published,|
|Classification of the Sciences,||1864|
|Principles of Biology,||1867|
|Principles of Psychology,|
|The Study of Sociology,||1873|
|Principles of Sociology, Part I.||1874|
The facts now presented, I submit, entirely sustain the view with which we set out, in regard to the character of Mr. Spencer's work, and his position in the world of thought. It has been shown that he took up the idea of Progress while it was only a vague speculation, and had not yet become a subject of serious scientific study. We have seen that he verified its reality by gradually tracing its operation step by step, in widely different fields of phenomena; that he analyzed its conditions and causes, and at length formulated it as a universal principle, to which the course of all things conforms. That view of the universe which the science of the world now accepts, it has been shown that Mr. Spencer adopted a generation ago, and entered upon its elucidation as a systematic life-work. We have traced the course of its unfolding, and I appeal to the record of labors here delineated as furnishing an example of original, continuous, and concentrated thinking, which it will be difficult to parallel in the history of intellectual achievement. In newness of conception, unity of purpose, subtlety of analyses, comprehensive grasp, thoroughness of method, and sustained force of execution, this series of labors, I believe, may challenge comparison with the highest mental work of any age.
As to the character of the system of thought which Mr. Spencer has elaborated, we have shown that it is such as to form an important epoch in the advance of knowledge. He took up an idea not yet investigated nor entertained by his predecessors or contemporaries, and has made it the corner-stone of a philosophy. If, by philosophy, we understand the deepest explanation of things that is possible to the human mind, the principle of genesis or Evolution certainly answers preeminently to this character; for what explanation can go deeper than that which accounts for the origin, continuance, and disappearance of the changing objects around us? It is the newest solution of the oldest problem; a solution based alike upon the most extended knowledge, and upon a reverent recognition that all human investigation, however extensive, must have its inexorable bounds. The philosophy of Evolution is truly a philosophy of creation, carried as far as the human mind can penetrate. If man is finite, the infinite is beyond him; if finite, he is limited, and his knowledge, and all the philosophy that rests upon knowledge, must be also limited. Philosophy is a system of truth pertaining to the order of Nature, and coextensive with it; and, as the various sciences are but the knowledge of the different parts of Nature, Mr. Spencer bases philosophy upon science, and makes it what may be called a science of the sciences. Resting, moreover, upon a universal law, which governs the course and changes of all phenomena, this philosophy becomes powerful to unify and harmonize the hitherto separate and fragmentary systems of truth; and, as this is the predominant trait of Mr. Spencer's system of thought, he very properly denominates it the Synthetic Philosophy.
In estimating the character of Mr. Spencer's Philosophical System, it is needful to remember that it differs in various fundamental respects from any that has before been offered to the world. It is more logically complete than any other system, because its truths are first derived from facts and phenomena by the method of induction, and then systematically verified by deduction from principles already established. It is more practical than any other, because it bears immediately upon common experience, takes hold of the living questions of the time, throws light upon the course of human affairs, and gives knowledge that may serve both for public and individual guidance. Viewed as an intellectual achievement, his undertaking is neither to be measured by the time consumed in its execution nor by the amount of labor involved, but by the nature and quality of the work itself. It was original throughout, was based upon the most comprehensive results of modern science, and was elaborated under the inexorable conditions of logical method. The development of a system of philosophy now is a very different thing from what it was in earlier times. Plato spun a system of thought before speculation was yet curbed by the knowledge of Nature; Spencer has constructed a philosophy out of the inflexible materials furnished in all the fields of modern investigation. His system is not a digest, but an organon; not merely an analytic dissection, but a grand synthetic construction; not a science, but a coordination of the sciences; not a metaphysical elaboration, but a positive body of doctrine conforming to verifiable facts, and based upon the most comprehensive principle of Nature yet arrived at by the human mind.
But no recognition of the greatness of Mr. Spencer's intellectual work will do him justice. There is a moral sublimity in his self-sacrificing career which is not to be neglected in making up the estimate of his character. As remarked by M. Laugel: "If Mr. Spencer, with his talents, his fertility of genius, and the almost encyclopedic variety of knowledge, of which his writings furnish the proof, had chosen to follow the beaten path, nothing would have been more easy than for him to secure all those honors of which English Society is so prodigal to those who serve her as she wishes to be served. He preferred, however, with a noble and touching self-denial, to put up with poverty, and, what is still more difficult, with obscurity." In advance of his generation and working against the powerful current of its prejudices, with broken health, without pecuniary resources, and depending upon promises of support that were but very partially redeemed, with an intrepidity that was not wanting in heroism, he entered upon the most formidable intellectual project that was ever undertaken by any single mind. One would think that it should have commanded the sympathy of the generous, and the cordial approval if not the kindly coöperation of all who appreciate courageous and noble endeavor; but, unhappily, a discriminating appreciation of genuine work is not over-abundant in these times, and, in the accomplishment of a task which I believe future generations will regard as the most memorable achievement of this fruitful age, Mr. Spencer has had but stinted encouragement and a very shabby support. In answer to the question, why his contemporaries have been so unappreciative, much might be said, but I will here confine myself to one or two suggestions.
In the first place, Mr. Spencer's work has been done under circumstances peculiarly unfavorable to the recognition of his rights as an original and independent thinker. Of the twenty-five articles prepared in the most active period of his life, and published between 1852 and 1860, which, as I have shown, are important contributions toward the development of the doctrine of Evolution in its various phases, most, if not all, appeared anonymously. They were printed in the different leading reviews, and many of them attracted marked attention at the time; but their author was unknown, and, of course, lost the advantage of having his ideas accredited to him. Up to the time when he had matured his system of thought, and was ready to enter upon its formal publication, he had been giving it out in fragments, as its several aspects had taken shape in his own mind. His articles, many of which were republished in this country, thus went far toward familiarizing the public mind with the general conception of Evolution, so that he was actually preparing his readers to discredit his subsequent claims to his own views, which, being reproduced and further diffused by others, were regarded as belonging to the common stock of current ideas. So far did this go, that he was ultimately exposed to the imputation of plagiarism for the restatement of opinions that he had first put forth, but which other men had appropriated and sent out as their own. Nor was the case much helped when he began to publish his System of Philosophy to subscribers, for so limited was its distribution that it might almost have been said that it was "printed for private circulation." Moreover, being the owner of his own works, the interests of publishers were not enlisted in their diffusion; while the assaults of the press were so malignant, and their representations so false, that for years he was constrained to withhold his series from the periodicals. All this was favorable to misconception, and left Mr. Spencer much at the mercy of dishonest authorship and unscrupulous criticism.
Again, it must be recognized that there were difficulties in appreciating his work which arose from its nature and extent. While a scientific discovery, or a single definite doctrine, is readily apprehended because the impression it makes is narrow and sharp, an extensive system of principles, which it requires power to grasp and time to master, can only be imperfectly received by the general mind. The very greatness of Mr. Spencer's work was thus an impediment to its recognition; and this, too, it must be acknowledged, on the part even of men of science. In the scientific world, the accumulation of facts has outstripped the work of valid generalization. For, while men of moderate ability can observe, experiment, and multiply details in special departments, it requires men of breadth to arrange them into groups, to educe principles and arrive at comprehensive laws. The great mass of scientific specialists, confined to their departments, and little trained to the work of generalization, are apt to regard lightly the logical processes of science, and to decry mere theorizing and speculation. They forget that facts of themselves are not science, and only become so by being placed in true relations, and that the function of the thinker is therefore supreme; while the work of organizing facts and establishing general truths is, after all, just as much a specialty as that of observation or experiment in any branches of inquiry. The prevalence of these narrow views has been unfavorable to the recognition of Mr. Spencer's work by a large class of the cultivators of science; and the more so, as he has been mainly occupied in the highest spheres of generalization. For this reason it is only by the comparatively small number of scientific men, who possess marked philosophic power, that his labors have been justly appreciated.
But, while considerations of this kind are not to be overlooked in assigning the responsibilities of criticism, neither are they to be construed into excuses for prejudiced opinions, or crude and hasty judgments. It is the business of critics to inform themselves on important matters of which they speak, or to hold their peace. And, where there is peculiar difficulty or liability to error, they are all the more bound to caution, and to refrain from injurious interpretations. Reverting, now, to the criticisms cited at the outset of this discussion as typical of a class, we are prepared to rate them at what they are worth.
From what has been stated, I think it will be sufficiently evident that Mr. Spencer is no follower of Comte, Darwin, or any other man, and that he has pursued his own independent course in his own way. As to M. Taine's statement that "Mr. Spencer has the merit of extending to the phenomena of Nature and of mind" Mr. Darwin's principle of Natural Selection, the facts given show how mistaken was his view of the case. Strange to say, M. Taine, who claims to be a psychologist, puts forth this idea in a review of Mr. Spencer's "Principles of Psychology," a work which treated the subject of mind throughout, and for the first time from the point of view of Evolution, and this years before Mr. Darwin had published a word upon the subject.
As this error of M. Taine is frequently repeated, and indicates a gross misapprehension of the subject, it is desirable to add a word or two regarding Mr. Darwin's relation to the question. While he has contributed immensely toward the extension and establishment of a theory of organic development, he has never made even an attempt to elucidate the law of Evolution as a general principle of Nature. His works do not treat of this problem at all, and nothing has tended more to the popular confusion of the subject than the notion that "Darwinism" and Evolution are the same thing. Mr. Darwin's fame rests chiefly upon the skill and perseverance with which he has worked out a single principle in its bearing upon the progressive diversity of organic life. The competitions of Nature leading to a struggle for existence, and that consequent winnowing which Mr. Darwin calls "Natural Selection," and Mr. Spencer calls "Survival of the Fittest," were recognized before Mr. Darwin's time: what he did, as I have before explained, was to show how this principle may aid in giving rise to new species from preexisting species. But this principle is secondary and derivative, and its operation may be traced, as Mr. Darwin has traced it, without going back to those primary forces, the resolution of which constitutes the radical problem of Evolution.
The principle which Mr. Darwin promulgated is a part of the great theory, and it has a philosophic importance, exactly in proportion to the validity of that larger system of doctrine to which it is tributary as an element. Not only has Mr. Darwin never taken up the question of Evolution from a scientific point of view, but it was not his aim to explain even the evolution of species in terms of ultimate principles, as a part of the universal transformation––that is, in terms of the redistribution of matter and motion; for it is in this way that all proximate principles, including Natural Selection, have to be expressed before the final interpretation is reached. This mode of dealing with the subject, the only thoroughly scientific method of its treatment, belongs to Mr. Spencer alone. As to his following Mr. Darwin, we have already seen that, two years before the "Origin of Species" was published, Mr. Spencer had reached the proof of Evolution as a universal law; had traced its dependence upon the principle of the Conservation of Force; had resolved it into its ultimate dynamical factors; had worked out many of its important features; had made it the basis of a system of Philosophy; and had shown that it furnishes a new starting-point for the scientific interpretation of human affairs.
Colonel Higginson imputes to Mr. Spencer, as a weakness, the propensity to write on a great number of subjects; I have shown, on the contrary, that he has been compelled to write upon many subjects from logical necessity, and has done so in unswerving devotion to the development of one class of ideas. It will be seen that he is now upon the same identical track of thought which he opened in his youth, to which he has consecrated his life, and which he has made his own. Thirty-two years ago he began to study the social condition and relations of men from the scientific point of view, and to treat of human society as a sphere of natural law. After eight years he published a treatise upon the question, which, although in advance of the times, only served to convince its author that the investigation was barely begun, and that, before any adequate social science was possible, the whole subject required to be more deeply grounded in the knowledge of Nature. Upon that deeper study of Nature he then entered, and, after twenty-four years of steady and systematic preparation, the problems of Social Statics are resumed in the "Principles of Sociology." If so prolonged and inflexible a course of original inquiry, yielding results which are felt in the highest spheres of thought, are suggestive of "a weakness," we should be glad to be furnished with the examples which embody Colonel Higginson's conception of strength in mental character. As to the declaration that it seems absurd to attribute to Mr. Spencer any vast enlargement or further generalization of the modern doctrine of Evolution, we leave its author to reconcile his opinion with the fact that the System of Psychology, which first extended the principle of Evolution to the sphere of mind, had been nine years before the world—the conception of universal Evolution had been formulated and promulgated four years, and "First Principles" had been for some time published, when this statement was made.
Mr. Emerson's criticism of Spencer is summary and decisive, as becomes a man who has gone to the bottom of a subject. Reticent and mystical no longer, he plumps out his opinion, when interviewed, with all the confidence of one who knows what he is talking about. Into the pantheon of immortals, arranged for the reporter of Frank Leslie's newspaper, none may enter but star-writers, and Mr. Spencer is only a "stock-writer." We may, however, presume that Mr. Emerson has here followed his transcendental lights, as there are many who will insist that he is not for a moment to be suspected of having ever read Mr. Spencer's books; though it will still remain a mystery how he has so skillfully contrived to make his statement as exactly wrong as it could be made. It will, probably, matter little to Mr. Spencer what Mr. Emerson thinks of his position, as it can matter nothing to Mr. Emerson what we think of his judgment; but it should matter a good deal to him that he do not lend the influence of his eminent name to the perpetration of injustice. Speaking in the light of the facts here sketched, we say that Mr. Emerson will search the annals of authorship in vain to find an instance in which his epithet would be more grossly misapplied. And we will do him the justice to say that in other days he has taught us a more generous lesson in regard to what is due from the manly and liberal-minded to the heroic endeavors of noble and unrecognized men. Many of his admirers will recall with pleasure the following admirable passage: "What is the scholar, what is the man for, but for hospitality to every new thought of his time? Have you leisure, power, property, friends? you shall be the asylum of every new thought, every unproved opinion, every untried project, which proceeds out of good-will and honest seeking. All the newspapers, all the tongues of to-day, will, of course, at first defame what is noble; but you, who hold not of to-day, not of the times, but of the everlasting, are to stand for it; and the highest compliment man ever receives from Heaven is the sending to him its disguised and discredited angels." This is a grand exhortation, and has, no doubt, thrilled many a reader with enthusiasm for the rising thoughts of his time. But the difficulty still remains, how to identify the celestial messengers! Such are the eccentricities of human judgment, that the sympathy which Mr. Emerson invokes is as likely to be given to the worthless as to the worthy. And what shall we say about the duty of common mortals respecting the "disguised and discredited angels," when the Seer himself snubs the author of "First Principles" as a "stock-writer," and says to the author of that unclean imposture—"Leaves of Grass"—"I greet you at the beginning of a great career?"
- A Lecture delivered before the New York Liberal Club, June 5th, 1874, by E. L. Youmans.
- Estimating Spencer, in the Friend of Progress, 1864.
- Republished in his little work on "Education," under the title of "Intellectual Education."
- This association of the name of Spencer with Newton, let it be remembered, does not rest upon the authority of the present writer; recent discussions of the subject in the highest quarters are full of it. The Saturday Review says, "Since Newton there has not in England been a philosopher of more remarkable speculative and systematizing talent than (spite of some errors and some narrowness) Mr. Herbert Spencer." An able writer in the Quarterly Review, in treating of Mr. Spencer's remarkable power of binding together different and distant subjects of thought by the principle of Evolution, remarks: "The two deepest scientific principles now known of all those relating to material things are the Law of Gravitation and the Law of Evolution." The eminent Professor of Logic in Owens College, Manchester, Mr. W. Stanley Jevons, in his recent treatise entitled "The Principles of Science, a Treatise on Logic and Scientific Method," says, "I question whether any scientific works which have appeared, since the 'Principia' of Newton, are comparable in importance with those of Darwin and Spencer, revolutionizing as they do all our views of the origin of bodily, mental, moral, and social phenomena."
- Another example of it has just been furnished by the Saturday Review, which, in commenting upon Prof. Tyndall's late address, remarks: "What Darwin has done for physiology, Spencer would do for psychology by applying to the nervous system particularly the principles which his teacher (!) has already enunciated for the physical system generally."