Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/31

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

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:[1] "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, de-

  1. Estimating Spencer, in the Friend of Progress, 1864.