Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/21

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

discourse on a great diversity of subjects, from the nebular hypothesis to music and dancing. We are now, I believe, in a fair position to realize how much, or rather how little, these curiosities of oracular criticism are really worth. So far from Mr. Spencer's various essays during this epoch being merely examples of flippant journalistic versatility (as such remarks as we have spoken of would imply), we have seen how they are all united and held together by that thread of common principle and common purpose which runs through them all. Random and unrelated as they may appear to superficial or careless readers, they may, broadly speaking, be regarded as separate and methodical studies in preparation for a complete working out in general and in detail of the doctrine of universal evolution.

And now, why have I devoted so large a portion of the present paper to the consideration and analysis of these earlier, more miscellaneous, and, as it might seem, less important of Mr. Spencer's writings? Passing over the fact that in the merest sketch of the growth and development of such a mind as his we are presented with a study of which it would not be easy to overrate either the interest or the value, I may say that I had hopes of achieving two objects by following the present course. In the first place, by thus making ourselves to some extent acquainted with the progression and consolidation of Spencer's thought, we have, I think, very materially aided in fitting ourselves for the study of those ideas in the full and highly developed forms in which they appear in the pages of the Synthetic Philosophy; and, in the second place, it is by traveling together over this preparatory ground, as we have done, that we have been enabled to reach a vantage-point from which I trust it will now be easy for us to take such a survey of the general field as will help us to estimate with some degree of accuracy the real relation of Herbert Spencer to the great modern doctrine of evolution.

And this is a question upon which I would fain make myself particularly clear, because it is one in reference to which there has long been and still is current an enormous amount of misconception, not only among the mass of men and women (which would be only natural), but also, and as it seems a little strangely, among even the thoughtful and generally well informed. A vagueness and instability in the meaning of certain words in common use has been in this case, as in so many others, a main cause of confusion of ideas; another instance being thus furnished of the truth of Lord Bacon's dictum that, while we fondly suppose that we govern our vocabulary, it not infrequently happens that, as a matter of fact, our vocabulary governs us. In the common speech of the day the word Darwinism is almost invariably employed as if it were absolutely synonymous with the word evolution: the