Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/9

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.






By Professor LESTER F. WARD


THAT "the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones" is one of those literary palindromes which may be read both ways. Probably there is no great man, who, from the standpoint of pragmatism, has not done both evil and good, but the question as to which predominates can never be decided to the satisfaction of all. In the case of a Nero most men are agreed, but in that of a Napoleon opinions differ. Aside from war and politics there are few cases in which the consensus of opinion would fall on the side of evil, but many cases leave it doubtful, as, for example, those of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau, while in others it changes from one age to the next, as in the cases of Voltaire and Thomas Paine. Usually it is the evil that is most conspicuous during the life of the subject, and this has often been carried to the extreme of persecution during life and canonization after death. The world is full of monuments to those who were put to death for the things that are now chiefly admired. All this admonishes the biographer of the caution required in passing judgment on those of his own day and generation.

Herbert Spencer stands, and will probably always stand, on the light side of the picture, but there are very few of those familiar with his work who would maintain that there is no dark side. His Autobiography naturally presents the bright side, but the Life and Letters emphasize rather the shades than the lights, and it may be doubtful whether it would not have been better if that work had not appeared. Still, when we remember the deficiencies of human nature, perhaps this showing up of the whole man as he was is nothing more than a reassertion by him of the universally approved maxim of Terence: homo sum.