Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/August 1899/Herbert Spencer at Seventy-Nine

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THE portrait of Herbert Spencer, which forms the frontispiece to this number of the Monthly, is from a photograph taken soon after he reached the age of seventy-eight. Though of late years his health has been unusually feeble, this is scarcely reflected in the face, which still retains in a marked degree the expression of intellectual strength that was so characteristic of his prime.

About the time Mr. Spencer completed the Synthetic Philosophy, or, as it is better known, the Philosophy of Evolution, with the publication of the third volume of the Principles of Sociology, we gave an account of The Man and his Work, from the pen of Prof. William H. Hudson, who had for a number of years acted as his secretary, and was so familiar with his thought that he afterward published an Introduction to the Philosophy, which Mr. Spencer himself has cordially commended. It was naturally supposed by his many friends that having practically carried out his original plan as laid down in his prospectus thirty-six years before, Mr. Spencer would throw off the cares and vexations of authorship, to enjoy the rest and relaxation that his arduous and long-continued labors had earned. But this, it seems, he was not inclined to do. Apparently as active intellectually as ever, he has kept at work to the full extent of his physical ability, devoting himself mainly to such additions and modifications of his published writings as new knowledge and the advance of thought have made necessary. This persistent industry, unusual, to say the least, in one so far advanced in life, the presentation of his latest portrait, and the interest which the world takes in the doings of a man who has so profoundly influenced the thought of his time, make this a fitting opportunity to refer to some of the later incidents in his career.

Though never inclined to plume himself on the importance or the grandeur of his great undertaking, wondering now that he ever had the "audacity" to begin it, and regarding its completion as more an "emancipation" than a triumph, Mr. Spencer is nevertheless entitled to the satisfaction which comes from the contemplation in the evening of a long life of the fulfillment of the purpose to which that life has been devoted. Although he speaks of the series of works comprising the Synthetic Philosophy as "complete yet incomplete," because more things might have been put into it, Mr. Spencer has the unquestionable right to look upon his "system" as finished in all the essentials of a symmetrical and self-sustaining structure; and more than this, he finds it generally accepted as a masterpiece, embodying, if not all the truth, yet a fundamental truth manifested in the growth and order of the universe of matter and mind.

When we regard the comprehensiveness of Mr. Spencer's system, embracing everything there is, and the multitude of the details that had to be considered in the course of its preparation, we wonder at the magnitude of the aggregation that may be formed by the repetition of small daily tasks. The portions of time he was able to give to work were at most very brief, and would be regarded by the majority of workers as insufficient for any great accomplishment; and when the frequent and sometimes long interruptions that occurred are considered, seem absolutely insignificant. Yet in these small fragments of two or three hours a day with many lost days in the year, and several lost years, one of the greatest works in the history of the human mind was carried to its end. The old figure of the dropping of the water on the stone and the fable of the tortoise and the hare are newly illustrated.

Outside of his work in the composition of the Philosophy, Mr. Spencer has always taken a vital interest in leading public questions, making them the subjects of frequent communications to the press, and seeking the co-operation of others when opportunity offered either in combating some needless innovation or aiding some important reform. True to the teaching of his philosophy, it will be observed that in any attempts of the kind his reliance has always been on the power of gradual development, rather than abrupt changes by act? of Parliament or otherwise, to bring about desired conditions. Before his visit to the United States, in 1882, he interested himself in forming an Anti-Aggression League, for the purpose of opposing schemes for extending the lines of British dominion in various parts of the world. Among his associates in this effort were Mr. John Morley, Mr. Frederic Harrison, and the Rev. Llewellyn Davis and Canon Fremantle, now Dean of Ripon, liberal-minded clergymen of the Church of England. The movement found little public sympathy, and no adequate support. Mr. Spencer, severely taxing his strength in promoting it, suffered another breakdown (from which he has never fully recovered), in consequence of which the next number of his Philosophy—Part VI of the Principles of Sociology: Ecclesiastical Institutions—did not appear till the close of 1855. It is worthy of remark in connection with this incident that it seems to have been left for non-Christians almost alone in a professedly Christian community to take the advance in inculcating and disseminating one of the central ideas of the Christian religion; as now, in the United States, with the orthodox church people almost unanimous in supporting war and the wildest schemes of aggression, it has been left for a few New England Unitarians first to dare to speak in protest against an iniquitous and perilous crusade for foreign dominion. Mr. Spencer has never neglected an opportunity to express in unmistakable terms his aversion to militancy, and has been at great pains to demonstrate, as in his Sociology, that the true road to all higher development of society is through encouraging the growth of its industrial factors.

A disposition manifested among English legislators to favor the passage of acts embodying some of the ideas of the socialists led to the publication of a series of magazine articles showing the demoralizing tendencies of measures of paternalism and foreshadowing the disastrous ultimate results that would ensue from the unnecessary interference of the state. These were afterward collected and published under the title of The Man versus the State, and are now bound up with the revised Social Statics.

From the spring of 1886 till 1889, when conditions of health compelled entire suspension of the work on the Philosophy, and it was even doubtful whether it could ever be continued, Mr. Spencer dictated the larger part of his autobiography. This has since been completed and put in print, but will not be published during his lifetime. It will comprise two considerable volumes.

Not finding life in a boarding house in all respects suited to his wishes, Mr. Spencer for many years entertained the idea of establishing himself in a home of his own in the suburbs of London, but had been deterred from so doing by the prospective troubles of housekeeping. In the summer of 1889, however, after making such arrangements as promised to relieve him in great measure of these cares, he finally carried out the idea by taking a house in the neighborhood of Regent's Park. But though for some years the bachelor household was a success, we understand it eventually ceased to be so, though it was continued until Mr. Spencer changed his residence to Brighton two years ago. There was wanting in those who had immediate charge of details that feeling of identity of interests and that disposition to co-operate which belong to the ordinary family, and as a consequence differences grew up that could not be permanently composed, and that on the whole did not conduce to domestic tranquillity.

About the time his housekeeping experience was entered upon, Mr. Spencer found himself well enough to go on with the composition of his Philosophy. As he relates in the preface to the Data of Ethics and to Justice, he had already, ten years before, in the imminent doubt of ever being able to complete the work as it had been laid out, determined to devote his attention first to the end and ultimate object of the system—to that part of it to which all the rest was intended to lead up; the purpose, "lying behind all proximate purposes," of finding a scientific basis for the principles of right and wrong in conduct at large. When, now, the question arose again of what work to undertake first, completion of the Principles of Ethics was at once decided upon. As it was still doubtful whether he would be able to accomplish even this, he took up the part which seemed most important—Justice. This was published as Part IV of the Ethics in the summer of 1891. No further serious interruptions occurred in the execution of the work. Parts II and III, completing the first volume of the Ethics, were finished in the spring of 1892; and a year afterward Parts V and VI were added, forming, with Justice, the second volume.

The ethical part of the Philosophy as contemplated by Mr. Spencer having been completed, only two divisions remained to be worked out—Professional Institutions and Industrial Institutions, parts of the Principles of Sociology—to fill out the whole plan, A subsidiary discussion of considerable importance for the integrity of the theory of evolution now intervened to be disposed of before these parts of the work could be proceeded with. Prof. August Weismann had published a book in which he denied the transmission of acquired characters; or, as Mr. Spencer would word it, the transmission of functionally-wrought modifications—a very vital point in all Mr. Spencer's philosophy. Mr. Spencer took the matter up at once, and published several incisive essays refuting Professor Weismann's positions. He opened his argument against the neo-Darwinian position with essays on the Inadequacy of Natural Selection, and on Professor Weismann's Theories, and followed them, at intervals of a few months, with the additional articles, A Rejoinder to Professor Weismann, and Weismannism Once More. Anxious that the question should be brought to the notice of every biologist, Mr. Spencer had reprints of these essays distributed among the teachers of the science all over Europe and America.

The work on the final stage of Mr. Spencer's great undertaking was begun about the middle of 1894. The reading of an editorial in the Popular Science Monthly having suggested to him that it would be desirable to do so, he published the chapters on Professional Institutions—serially in this periodical and in the Contemporary Review. The chapters on Industrial Institutions did not appear till the third volume of the Sociology was issued in November, 1896—the volume which was the culmination of the work so persistently prosecuted in the face of the most formidable and even seemingly hopeless difficulties. In these departments of the system, the argument was pursued, consistent with that which prevails in all the other departments, that in the professions and the industries the principle of evolution operates just as surely and completely as in the derivation of an animal species from its ancestral form.

Appreciation of the value of Mr. Spencer's work had been growing for many years, and its influence was gradually making itself felt in movements of various kinds in the active world. Whatever he wrote or said received attention at once, was discussed, or influenced action. The completion of his Philosophy was deemed worthy of formal notice and a proper subject for felicitation wherever science was known, and in England was regarded as a suitable object for a national memorial. An address of congratulation was prepared for presentation to him, and with it went a request that he would have his portrait painted to be presented to the nation. It has always been his principle to decline offers of testimonials, on the ground that the custom had become an abuse, and persons invited to participate in presentations were often put under a kind of moral obligation to comply, to which he would not be, even incidentally, a party. Consistently with this attitude and not realizing the real nature of the movement in favor of a testimonial and how really spontaneous it was, he wrote to its promoters repeating his objections and asking that it be not pressed. But when the address was presented and he saw the list of illustrious names attached to it, including those of men who had been his antagonists, he yielded to what was evidently a spontaneous feeling of the representative men among his countrymen, and sat for his portrait as soon as circumstances permitted, or about a year afterward, to Mr. Hubert Herkomer. The following is the letter of congratulation and the request for his portrait, with the names of the distinguished signers, and Mr. Spencer's reply:

The Camp, Sunningdale, December 16, 1896.

Dear Sir: We, the undersigned, offer you our cordial congratulations upon the completion of your System of Synthetic Philosophy.

Not all of us agreeing in equal measure with its conclusions, we are all at one in our estimate of the great intellectual powers it exhibits and of the immense effect it has produced in the history of thought; nor are we less impressed by the high moral qualities which have enabled you to concentrate those powers for so many years upon a purpose worthy of them, and, in spite of all obstacles, to carry out so vast a design.

To the many who, like us, have learned to honor the man while profiting by his writings, it would be a satisfaction to possess an authentic personal likeness of the author. It has therefore occurred to us that the occasion might be appropriately marked by requesting you to permit us to employ some eminent artist to take your portrait, with a view to its being deposited in one of our national collections for the benefit of ourselves and of those who come after us.

We hope that your health may be benefited by the leisure which you have earned so well, and that you may long continue to enjoy the consciousness of having completed your work.


W. de W. Abney, R. E., C. B., D. C. L., F. R. S., Pres. Physical Society.

Robert Adamson, M. A., LL. D., Prof. of Logic, Glasgow University.

Grant Allen, B. A.

Alexander Bain, M. A., LL. D., Professor of Logic, Aberdeen University.

Sir George S. Baden-Powell, K. C. M. G., M. A., M. P.

Right Hon. Arthur James Balfour, P. C, D. C. L., F. E. S., M. P.

Sir Robert Stawell Ball, LL. D., F. R. S., Lowndean Prof. Ast., Camb.

H. Charlton Bastian, M. A., M. D., F. R. S., Prof. Medicine, Univ. Coll., London.

Frank E. Beddard, M. A., F. E. S., Prosector Zoölogical Society.

John Beddoe, M. D., F. R. S.

Sir Walter Besant, M. A.

E. W. Brabrook, Pres. Anthropological Institute.

Bernard Bosanquet, M. A.

C. V. Boys, F. E. S., Assistant Prof. Physics R. C. S.

T. Lauder Brunton, M. D., D. Sc., F. R. S.

Edward Clodd.

F. Howard Collins.

Sir J. Crichton-Browne, M. D., LL. D., F. R. S.

W. H. Dallinger, LL. D., D. Sc., F. R. S.

Francis Darwin, M. A., M. B., F. R. S.

George H. Darwin, M. A., LL. D., F. R. S., Plumian Prof. Ast. and Exp. Physics, Cambridge.

W. E. Darwin, B. A.

James Donaldson, M. A., LL. D., Principal University St. Andrews.

Right Hon. Sir M. E. Grant-Duff, P. C, G. C. S. I., F. R. S.

Earl of Dysart.

Sir John Evans, K. C. B., D. C. L., LL. D., D. Sc., Treas. R. S.

Sir Joshua Fitch, LL. D.

Michael Foster, M. A., M. D., LL. D., D. C. L., Sec. R. S., Prof. Physio., Cambridge.

Edward Frankland, M. D., D. C. L., LL. D., F. R. S.

Right Hon. Sir Edward Fry, P. C, LL. D., D. C. L., F. R. S.

Sir Douglas Galton, K. C. B., D. C. L., LL. D., F. R. S.

Francis Galton, M. A., D. C. L., D. Sc., F. R. S.

Richard Garnett, LL. D.

Sir George Grove, C. B., D. C. L., LL. D.

Albert C. L. G. Gunther, M. A., M. D., F. R. S., Pres. Linnean Society.

Frederic Harrison, M. A.

James Edmund Harting.

Right Hon. Lord Hobhouse, P. C.

Henry Hobhouse, M. A., M. P.

Shadworth Hodgson, late Pres. Aristotelian Society,

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, K. C. S. I., C. B., M. D., D. C. L., LL. D., F. R. S.

William Huggins, D. C. L., LL. D., F. R. S.

J. Hughlings Jackson, M. D., LL. D., F. R. S.

William Knight, LL. D., Prof. Moral Philosophy, St. Andrews.

Andrew Lang.

E. Ray Lankester, M. A., LL. D., F. R. S., Linacre Prof. Anatomy, Oxford.

Sir Trevor Lawrence, Pres. Royal Horticultural Society.

W. E. H. Lecky, M. A., LL. D., D. C. L., M. P.

J. Norman Lockyer, C. B., F. R. S., Prof. Astr. Physics, R. C. S.

Right Hon. Sir John Lubbock, P. C, D. C. L., LL. D., F. R. S., M. P.

Vernon Lushington, Q. C.

P. A. MacMahon, R. A., F. R. S., late Pres. Math. Society.

James Martineau, D. D., LL. D., D. C. L.

David Masson, M. A., LL. D., Emeritus Prof. Rhetoric, Edinburgh.

Raphael Meldola, F. R. S., Pres. Entomological Society.

C. Lloyd Morgan, Prin. University Coll., Bristol.

Right Hon. John Morley, P. C, M. A., LL. D., F. R. S., M. P.

C. Hubert H. Parry, Prin. R. Coll. of Music.

General Pitt-Rivers, D. C. L., F. R. S.

Edward B. Poulton, M. A., F. R. S., Prof. Zoöl. Oxford University.

Sir William O. Priestley, M. D., LL. D., M. P.

Lord Reay, G. C. S. I., G. C. I. E.

Lord Rayleigh, M. A., D. C. L., LL. D., F. R. S., Prof. Nat. Philos. Royal Institution.

David G. Ritchie, M. A., Professor of Logic St. Andrews University.

Sir Henry E. Roscoe, LL. D., D. C. L., F. R. S.

J. S. Burdon Sanderson, LL. D., D. C. L., F. R. S., Reg. Prof, of Medicine Univ. Oxford.

George H. Savage, M. D., F. R. C. P.

E. A. Schafer, F. R. S., Prof. Physio. Univ. Coll. London.

D. H. Scott, M. A., Ph. D., F. R. S., Hon. Keeper Jodrell Laboratory, Kew.

Henry Sidgwick, M. A., Litt. D., D. C. L., Prof. Moral Philos. Univ. Camb.

W. R. Sorley, Prof. Moral Philos. Univ. of Aberdeen.

Leslie Stephen, M. A., Litt. D., LL. D.

G. F. Stout.

James Sully, M. A., LL. D.

W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, C. M. G., C. I. E., M. A., F. R. S.

John Venn, Sc. D., F. R. S.

Sydney Howard Vines, M. A., D. Sc., F. R. S., Prof. Botany Univ. Oxford.

Sir Willoughby Wade, M. D., F. R. C. P.

Alfred Russel Wallace, D. C. L., F. R. S.

Beatrice Webb.

Lady Victoria Welby.

Samuel Wilks, M. D., LL. D., F. R. S., Pres. R. College of Physicians.

Hawarden, November 30, 1896.

My Dear Sir: It has long been my rule to decline joining in groups of signatures, nor do I think myself entitled to bear a prominent part in the present case. But I beg that you will, if you think proper, set me down as an approver of the request to Mr. Spencer, whose signal abilities and, rarer still, whose manful and self-denying character, are so justly objects of admiration. I remain your very faithful,

W. E. Gladstone.


F. Howard Collins, Esq.

2, Lewes-crescent, Brighton, December 19, 1896.

My Dear Hooker: If, as may fitly be said, the value of congratulations increases in a geometrical progression with the eminence of those offering them, I may, indeed, be extremely gratified by the accumulation coming from men standing so high in various spheres. And an accompanying pleasure necessarily results from the good wishes expressed for my health and happiness during my remaining days.

The further honor offered has caused in me some mental conflict. Eight years ago, to the inquiry whether I would sit for a subscription portrait to be painted by Millais, I replied negatively, assigning the reasons that the raising of funds to pay the costs of conferring marks of approbation had grown into an abuse; that the moral coercion under which contributions were in many cases obtained was repugnant to me; and that I objected to have my known and unknown friends asked to tax themselves to the required extent. These reasons survived, and, swayed by them, I recently sent a copy of the letter in which they had been stated to the gentleman with whom the proposal now made originated, thinking thereby to prevent further trouble. I was unaware to how large an extent the proposal had been adopted and how distinguished were the numerous gentlemen who had given it their support. I now find myself obliged either inconsistently to waive my objection or else rudely to slight the cordially-expressed feelings and wishes of so many whose positions and achievements command my great respect. Between the alternatives there seems to be practically no choice. I am compelled to yield to the request made in so sympathetic a manner by signatories so eminent, and at the same time must express to them through you my full sense of the honor done me.

I am, my dear Hooker, sincerely yours,

Herbert Spencer.


Marks of honor offered to Mr. Spencer from time to time since 1871 have included doctor's degrees from the Universities of St. Andrew's, Bologna, Cambridge, Edinburgh, and Buda-Pesth; and elections as foreign member or correspondent of the Academies of Home, Turin, Naples, Paris, Philadelphia, Copenhagen, Brussels, Vienna, Milan, and the Prussian order "Pour le Mérite." Mr. Spencer has been prompted year after year to decline these various honors by the conviction that instead of being, as commonly supposed, encouragements to literature and science, they are discouraging. He contends that they constitute a system of inverse handicapping. Tn physical competitions it is usual to give the younger a certain artificial advantage when they are set against the elder; but in these mental competitions between the rising men and the men who have risen the reverse practice is followed—the men who have risen have an artificial advantage, and the younger men, who of necessity have much to struggle against, have their difficulties artificially increased by the absence of titles which their competitors possess. Mr. Spencer is quite aware that the course he has persistently followed has cost him much, since a list of honors on the title-pages of his books would have greatly increased the attention paid to them by critics and others. Nevertheless, he has continued to make this practical protest.

Since completing his Philosophy, Mr. Spencer has occupied his working hours with the revision of the Principles of Biology, making the modifications and incorporating the new facts which the progress of the science demands. He recognizes that the advance has been more rapid in this branch than in any other; and that while it might be almost hopeless for him at his time of life to bring a work on biology at large up to date, the case is different in an exposition of the Principles of Biology. The additions to the work include a chapter on Metabolism supplementing the discussion of vital changes of matter; a chapter on the Dynamic Element in Life, to render less inadequate the conception of life previously expressed; some pages on Structure; an account, under the head of Cell Life and Cell Multiplication, of the astonishing actions in cell nuclei which the microscope has revealed; a further chapter on Genesis, Heredity, and Variation, in which certain views enunciated in the first edition of the book are qualified and developed; a review of various modern ideas under the title of Recent Criticisms and Hypotheses; a rewriting of most of the chapter on The Argument from Embryology; and a number of changes incorporated as sections in pre-existing chapters. The articles on Weissmannism are incorporated in an appendix. In performing this work assistance was needed, and the author sought and received criticism and help from different persons, each taking a division falling within the range of his special studies: Prof. W. H. Perkin in organic chemistry and its derived subjects; Prof. A. G. Tansley in plant morphology and physiology; Prof. E. W. MacBride and Mr. J. T. Cunningham in animal morphology; and Mr. W. B. Hardy in animal physiology. The first volume of this work, recently published, has been received with favor by persons of all shades of opinion respecting the questions it touches. The London Times, in not the friendliest of criticisms, says that even persons who do not accept the author's Philosophy will rejoice that he has been able to complete it, and adds that as it stands it "is a marvel of erudition: every page exhibits the wealth and variety of illustration for which Mr. Spencer is justly famous." The latest notice of it that we have observed, a French one in the Revue Scientifique, says that in consulting it biologists "will not lose their time, and many will find valuable ideas in it, suggestions by which their experimental work can not fail to be greatly benefited. And, like us, they will be filled with admiration for a work so condensed, and at the same time so admirably co-ordinated, so replete with facts and ideas, of the philosopher who has exercised so great an influence on the science of his times, and who is one of the finest intellectual glories of his country and of the present epoch," Perhaps one of the most significant of recent testimonials of appreciation of the Synthetic Philosophy is the announcement of the publication of a complete translation of First Principles into Japanese by Mr. Fujii, who has devoted several years to the work. "Mr. Spencer's works," it is added, "have long had a great attraction for Japanese translators." Mr. Spencer is now engaged upon the second volume of the Biology.

It was formerly Mr. Spencer's custom to spend about nine months of the year in London and the three summer months in the country, but for several years past he has found the fogs and other gloomy winter conditions of the metropolis too trying. The confinement enforced upon him by increasing feebleness has, moreover, precluded his enjoyment of the social privileges, particularly of the Athenæum Club, which were one of the attractions that made a town residence tolerable. He therefore, at the beginning of 1898, took up his residence in Brighton, where he has a house looking upon the sea, and giving him the benefit of the flood of light which that place enjoys.

At present Mr. Spencer is able to give very little time to work, and being confined to the house most of the time, the routine of his daily life admits of little variety. His first business in the day is to hear the morning paper read; then he attends to his correspondence, and if well enough does a little work. If any matter is going through the press he will generally be seen with a proof close by. His afternoon is spent in such relaxation as is afforded by scanning the illustrated papers and magazines, listening to music, which must always be classical, or, if sufficiently well, a drive; and he retires at ten o'clock.


It is often asked, Miss Mary H. Kingsley says in her West African Studies, whether Christianity or Mohammedanism is to possess Africa—"as if the choice of Fate lay between these two religions alone. I do not think it is so, or at least it is not wise for a mere student to ignore the other thing in the affair, fetich, which is, as it were, a sea wherein all things suffer a sea change. For, remember, it is not Christianity alone that becomes tinged with fetich, or gets ingulfed and dominated by it. Islam, when it strikes the true heart of Africa, the great forest belt region, fares but little better, though it is more recent than Christianity, and though it is preached by men who know the make of the African mind."

President Charles W. Dabny, Jr., of the University of Tennessee, once said in an address that when in school, where the work was all done "at the point of the hickory, so to speak," the best teacher he had "was the kindly old neighborhood loafer," who roamed the woods with him, told him of the times of the wild flowers and the habits of the birds, and taught him to shoot the long rifle. He followed the "natural method, and showed a pupil how to do a thing by doing it."