Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/November 1882/Editor's Table

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MR. WILLIAM HURRELL MALLOCK, having settled to his own eminent satisfaction the little preliminary question, "Is Life worth Living?" has now taken another step in his intellectual career. And this new step is, if possible, more ambitious than the preceding, for he informs us that he is the discoverer of a new science. He has lately issued a little book entitled "Social Equality; a Short Study in a Missing Science,"[1] in which he professes to have come upon the main-spring of human progress, and to have found the very tap-root of all civilization. These are simply the desire for inequality, which Mr. Mallock declares to be an essential and universal element of human nature. This is, no doubt, a considerable thing to have accomplished, but it is not Mr. Mallock's special discovery: what he claims is to have discovered the "Science of Human Character," while his philosophy of inequality is but a deduction from it. The "New York Evening Post," discussing Mr. Mallock's book in a prominent article, makes light of his pretensions, and closes by saying, "The whole argument is really a juggle with words, and his discovery of the science of human character a monstrous mare's nest." We are inclined very much to agree with this verdict, and to regard Mr. Mallock's book, considered as a contribution to thought, as not worth reading.

But it will be asked, Why, then, notice it? The reply is, that a man, though he may be of little account as a philosopher, may yet have significance as a phenomenon; and that a book, though essentially worthless, may still be influential and mischievous. Mr. Mallock discourses freely, boldly, and ingeniously on social science, and the public to which he appeals is but very imperfectly instructed upon that subject. And not only so, but it happens that just now there is no little ferment in regard to social questions, while so much that is crude, shallow, and ridiculous is passed off under the name, that doctrines, no matter how absurd, if emanating from a prominent author, are sure to get attention and find acceptance. Mr. Mallock is, moreover, a lively and agreeable writer, and this is so great a merit as, with many, to excuse any amount of speculative nonsense. That a jaunty and garish litterateur should announce himself as a great revealer of new scientific truth would seem on the face of it to be an excellent joke, but nothing facetious is here intended. We do not propose to analyze Mr. Mallock's book, nor to answer his arguments, but only to characterize the performance, and extract from it its unintended lesson.

Of the author's claim to have discovered a new science, we have simply to say that its impudence is only equaled by its stupidity. Mr. Mallock evidently neither knows what science is, nor has he the faintest idea of the conditions of its origin and development. There can be little doubt that he is profoundly ignorant of even its rudiments, and has probably never made a solitary original observation, if even attempt at observation, in any of the sciences, although encompassed by their phenomena from childhood, ne certainly can know nothing of the difficulty of scientific research, the amount of labor it involves, or the mental discipline demanded for its successful pursuit, even in the elementary stages of its investigation. He seems to be oblivious of everything relating to the history of the growth of scientific ideas, their slow and gradual evolution by the labors of many devoted students, the successive introduction of new conceptions, and the increasing complexity of scientific problems, as the human and social sphere of phenomena is approached. And yet, with an effrontery unparalleled even in this brassy age, Mr. Mallock announces that he has discovered—not merely a new fact or a new principle, which would alone be sufficient to satisfy the aspiration of many a life-long devotee of research, but that he has discovered, and offers to the intellectual world, a whole new science, and that the most exalted of all, the "Science of Human Character."

In entering the field of social study Mr. Mallock finds, indeed, that others have been there before him, although he alleges that they have all missed the great science which it has been his good fortune to discover. Mr. Herbert Spencer is the most prominent thinker of our time on questions of sociology, or the scientific exposition of man's social relations, and to him, therefore, our author gives his chief critical attention. He declares that Mr. Spencer has missed, or does not recognize, or does not know that science of human character which is at the basis of the science of social relations. He says (page 92):

Surely, one might think nothing could he more clear than this. The science described thus must not only, like Buckle's, point to a science of character, but it can be nothing more or less than the science of character itself. Such would be naturally our conclusion from the extracts above quoted; but, if we follow Mr. Spencer further, we shall see that it would be a wholly wrong one. The science of character he does indeed touch upon; but he does this as though he hardly knew what he was doing. Though he touches it, he does not grasp it; though he sees it, he does not recognize it. Never wholly out of contact with it, he is yet always sliding off it, as though it were an inclined surface. Not once does he fasten on it, as the real center of the question.

These declarations are nothing less than amazing. They evince the completest ignorance of the true character of all Mr. Spencer's work. That which distinguishes it and marks him off from every other thinker in the field is the comprehensive thoroughness of his preparation for working out the principles of social science. He published a very original treatise upon the subject in 1850, which was far in advance of the time, but he quickly found that it was inadequate, and would require a far broader preparation than hitherto attempted to place it upon a secure and sufficient foundation. The task proposed was the establishment of general principles of sociology, or the laws of the origin, organization, and constitution of human societies. The whole field was surveyed, the work laid out, and its execution entered upon. A cyclopædia of social facts was projected, descriptive of the phenomena of all orders of human societies, stationary and progressive, from the lowest to the highest grades. This is simply a vast contribution to the science of human nature, by displaying, on the largest scale, the varied phenomena of social activity, or how different kinds of men have behaved in their social relations.

Character is the sum of the qualities which distinguish one thing from another; human character is the assemblage of traits that distinguish man as man from other living creatures, and the different kinds of men from each other. These qualities that constitute human nature consist of two groups, bodily and mental; and the study of human character involves the analysis of man's corporeal and psychical nature so as to arrive at the general truths in each department. The science of human nature is, therefore, nothing less or more than the working out of the laws of man's physical and mental constitution.

The units of human society are human beings, and the character of the aggregate must inevitably depend upon the character of the constituent units. A biological and psychological analysis of the human being was therefore an essential preliminary to the study of man in his social relations. Mr. Spencer took up this problem in its widest aspect in his "Principles of Biology" and his "Principles of Psychology," to each of which he devotes two elaborate volumes. In these comprehensive works the whole series of problems in human nature, which are preliminary to the science of society, is exhaustively treated; so that these works are nothing more nor less than broad systematic contributions to the science of human character.

More than this, the new point of view assumed in all of Spencer's philosophic books had explicit reference to the true understanding of the constitution of human nature. The law of evolution, as postulated and developed in "First Principles," and carried out in the subsequent works, gave a new interpretation of the nature of man. He is there considered in his total character as a product of slow-working natural agencies, internal and external, by which he has been developed and modified so as to become adapted to a progressive social state. This great law was worked out as a key to the right understanding of human character, and in subordination to a development of a true science of human society. Thus, in the logical line of his inquiry, each essential step in the elucidation of the law of evolution, the exposition of the laws of life and the laws of mind, had a definite and positive bearing upon social problems, simply by extending and giving greater method and validity to the science of human character.

But, although Spencer has contributed in this extensive way toward the establishment of the principles of human nature, physical and mental, which form the science of character, yet he is the last man to make any pretense to the discovery of such a science. Only an ignoramus devoured with egotism could put forth the preposterous claim that he had made the discovery of a science which is in reality but the summation of the scientific labors of multitudes of men in many successive ages.


  1. G. P. Putnam's Sons. Pp. 212. Price, $1.25.