Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/561

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

rank of the intellect of the world. His greatness in this respect must in justice be conceded."

Mr. Ground in closing re-affirmed his high opinion of the import of Spencer's work as follows: "We may, however, allow that, if only he will keep within his proper limits, very much of what he has written will stand in lines of unfading truth and beauty, and he will have the honor of lifting the human intellect to a higher plane of thought and life. He is so great and many sided, and he has contributed such a vast amount of intellectual force, that no one who reverences the mind of man as one of the greatest handiworks of God can honestly refuse him homage. He stands before us of the build of the giants, perhaps of the immortals, and his nature is not yet made up so as to show us what will be his ultimate place—whether amid those who shed kindly benefactions on the race, or those who like evil angels leave behind them a heritage of negation, unbelief, and despair."

Such talk was not at all palatable to the members of the Victoria Institute, who could not recognize much greatness in a man whom they had just seen so effectually "crushed." The chairman led by observing, "I would rather not have seen so very much admiration for Mr. Herbert Spencer combined with the reasoning of the paper, which proves so successfully that if this 'writer' is indeed a 'gia t,' he is but a giant stuffed with straw." The Rev. Dr. Irons remarked, "I concur fully with the chairman in saying that the estimate formed of Mr. Herbert Spencer was somewhat exaggerated, and yet I have to acknowledge the great admiration I entertain of Spencer's style and acuteness and power of analysis, and I do not think we gain anything by depreciating our opponents." Others followed in a similar strain, and only Professor Griffiths accepted the estimate of Spencer, and took exception to the general argument of the essay. In reviewing and closing the discussion, Mr. Ground admitted that he might have been over-impressed by Spencer's genius, but that it was very easy to commit the opposite mistake. He said: "I feel sure, however, that some in this Institute greatly underrate Mr. Spencer—a mistake which in my judgment would, if not corrected, bring disastrous consequences, but it is possible that I may have gone to the opposite extreme. In reading his philosophy, I am distinctly conscious that vaster thoughts are before me than when reading Shakespeare. Shakespeare one can take up any time as the companion of an idle hour, and the amount of mental stimulation he gives is relatively trifling. Not so is it with Spencer. It is only when the eye is keenest, the will strongest, the nervous force most abundant, that you can be sure of following him. The first (Shakespeare) carries you through the gentle undulations of an English county, and his highest elevations are hardly so much as Snowdon or Helvellyn, but Spencer carries you up the awful Alpine ranges, where the spaces of thought over which the eye roves are incomparably vaster, and where the exertion demanded is far greater. Spencer has a certain Miltonic grandeur. I could name places in his philosophy where views are given us of creation, in which, if we add the spiritual conceptions of which I spoke, the idea presented rises, to my mind, in extent, sublimity, and overpowering greatness above everything I have yet met with in all uninspired literature. To grasp his system is like standing in the Sistine Chapel and bearing the full weight of the conceptions of Michael Angelo. While this fact explains the fascination that Spencer exerts over many, it also shows us the great danger either cf letting his system continue, as it no doubt is, the reigning philosophy of the world, or of depreciating it below its just value."