Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/864

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lines, and one of the most skillful advocates, whether of a good or of a mistaken cause, that I have ever met. Herbert Spencer I esteem, I may almost say reverence, as the teacher of the soundest system of philosophy the world has yet, in my judgment, known. That a man whose researches reach so widely should at times fall into error in matters of detail may be readily admitted. Only a few weeks ago I pointed out in the pages of my weekly journal, "Knowledge," what I hold to be an entirely erroneous view of Herbert Spencer's respecting the probable origin of the system of asteroids. Yet even in matters of detail belonging to the work of specialists he has been singularly clear-sighted. He first pointed out the fallacies underlying the long accepted teaching respecting the stellar system, star-clusters, nebulas, etc., which men like Arago and Humboldt had dealt with without detecting error. In every department of science, in fact, though a specialist in none, Herbert Spencer has left his mark.

The attack in the "Edinburgh Review" leaves Spencer's fame untouched. It is evident in every line of this sour production that the enmity which Sir Edmund Beckett has always felt and expressed toward the teachings of the school of which Spencer has been the Bacon, the Darwin, and the Newton, has made it impossible for him to read with even average attention the work which he pretends to criticise. He has not caught the veriest glimmer of a notion of Mr. Spencer's real meaning. From the only passage which he claims to quote entire he has allowed several important words to drop—by accident doubtless, but yet not by mere accident in transcribing what he had already carefully read and understood; for the reasoning which follows falls to the ground so soon as the omitted words are restored.

Let one example suffice to show how utterly Sir Edmund Beckett either has missed or misrepresents the meaning of the famous contemporary whom he assaults. Herbert Spencer, speaking of the Great First Cause, transcending all laws, Absolute, Unconditional, says that we only perceive It, can only recognize It, by the persistence of force which, as it were, symbolizes It. Sir Edmund regards this as equivalent to saying that the Great First Cause is nothing else but persistent Force. Beckett rebukes Spencer for speaking of the "laws of motion" as the results of experience, saying that Newton regarded them as self-evident. He must have forgotten Newton's "Principia," where these laws are presented by Newton as now spoken by Spencer.


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There are now but few persons who have the hardihood to say that hygienic knowledge, or information concerning the preservation of health, is without value. But if it have any value whatever for its purpose, then is it of very great importance, for the maintenance of health and life is the supremest earthly interest. It may of course be said that our fathers got along: very well without all this bother about ventilation, drainage, and other hygienic matters, but this is only an apology for ignorance, or a plea for indolence. Through the whole history of the world, and everywhere, long life and vigorous health have been dependent upon the necessary conditions, and, where these have been wanting, feebleness, invalidism, severe sickness, premature death, and the destruction of countless thousands by pestilence, have been the results. In the ignorant ages—the theological ages, when the phenomena of sickness and death were accounted for by the providence of God, against which it was in vain to strive—little was known of the real causes of disease, and it was therefore a subject that attracted but slight attention either privately or publicly. But in this more scientific age, devoted so assiduously to the extension and diffusion of knowledge, men are beginning to feel the importance of a better understanding of those physical conditions and physiological laws upon which health is dependent, and there is, of course, a good deal said about their urgency, and the need of reducing them to practical application. Ignorant and stupid people, and often excellent and pious people, are no doubt much bored by all this modern hygienic agitation, but in the happy order of the world this class of persons are certain to be gradually got out of the way, and they are to be replaced by others who will regard these subjects as not only of the first importance, but full of