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I.: EXTRACTION. - Herbert Spencer, An Autobiography, vol. 1 
An Autobiography by Herbert Spencer. Illustrated in Two Volumes. Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Company 1904).
Part of: An Autobiography
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Most persons recognize the vanity of genealogies which, singling out one ancestor, perhaps quite remote, ignore all those other ancestors—8, 16, 32, 64, according to the distance back—whose shares in forefatherhood are equally great. But there are genealogies for which something is to be said. Among men, as among inferior creatures, there occasionally arise individual constitutions of great persistence, which impress themselves on many generations of posterity; and in such cases a statement of extraction may not be uninstructive. Other cases there are in which, through many generations may be traced, not the traits of some one marked individual, but family-traits which have been common to several lines of ancestry, and have hence become well-established in descendants common to them all. In my own case there are certain ancestral traits of this kind which are not without significance. Those ancestors concerning whom not much is to be said, may first be named.
I know little about the line of my grandmother on the paternal side, further than that the family, named Taylor, was of the lower middle class, and was resident in Derby.
Nor have I anything definite to say respecting the extraction of my mother’s father, whose name was Holmes—a name which may have had a topographical origin, for there is, or was, a tract of pasture bordering the Derwent, called “the Holmes.” But there seems some probability of a connexion which I have been unable to establish. In a diary kept by my mother during her girlhood, there are mentions of visits to the Holmeses of Brailsford, a village eight miles from Derby. These Holmeses seem to have been, and are still, small landowners, farming their own land. Inquiries made some dozen years ago failed to show any relationship. Yet it seems unlikely that there should have been interchanges of visits between families residing near one another and of the same name, who were unrelated.
Probably I might have gathered more about these lives of ancestors had I in early life been curious in such matters. Or had our family been prone to gossip, some knowledge of byegone Taylors and Holmeses might have been unawares conveyed to me.
A good deal may be set down concerning the line of my maternal grandmother. The name was Brettell—a name which I find otherwise spelt Brettyl, Brethull, Brettal, Brettle, Brittle. In the Herald and Genealogist, vol. I, pp. 421-6, Mr. Sidney Grazebrook, himself a descendant of the family, gives some account of it: having first indicated the foreign origin of neighbours named Henzey, with whom the Brettells intermarried.
“Towards the end of the 16th century Thomas and Balthazar de Hennezel [naturalized Henzey], dwelling near the Vosges in Lorraine, with their near relatives Tyttery and Tyzach, all Huguenots . . . emigrated to this country,” and some of them settled in ‘the neighbourhood of Stourbridge.’ * * *
“The genealogy of the Henzey, or de Hennezel, family is given in De la Chenaye Desbois, in his Dictionnaire de la Noblesse, from which it appears that it was of noble Bohemian origin.” * * *
“Ananias Henzell (naturalized Henzey) ‘de la maison de Henzel, tout pré la village de Darnell en la pie de Lorraine’ born in 1570” had a son Joshua who married a Joan Brettell.
Concerning the Brettells he goes on to say:—
“This family would also appear to be of French descent. Indeed it is traditionally derived from the de Breteuils, of Normandy. But it was established in the neighbourhood of Stourbridge (where now the name is extremely common) at the commencement of the 16th century, if not earlier. [It was there in the time of Henry VI.]
“In the year 1617 John Brettell and Mary Henzeye were married at Oldswinford, and it has been seen that Joshua Henzey married a lady of the same name. These intermarriages would almost lead one to imagine that the Brettells were also refugees; yet the year we find Roger at Bromsley was prior to any of the great persecutions.”
“There are two distinct families of Brettell in this neighbourhood, no doubt of common origin, but not known to be related: the Brettells of Dudley and Brettell Lane and that of which I am about to treat.”*
The family of which Mr. Grazebrook then proceeds to treat is, by implication, that which was located in Oldswinford parish, or otherwise in the better known place, Stourbridge, which has grown up within it. The Oldswinford register records the marriage of Joshua Henzell with Joan Brettell, and, as above implied, the register also shows the marriage of John Brettell with Mary Henzey in 1617. Further, about 1740, there was a marriage of Thomas Brettell to Sarah Henzey, as shown by the registry of their son’s birth shortly after; and then, on June 15, 1740, is registered the marriage of Joseph and Elizabeth Brettell, my great-grandfather and great-grandmother: Joseph and Thomas being not improbably brothers. The question is—Were these Brettells who married in 1740 descendants of the John Brettell and Mary Henzey who married in 1617? From the fact that in the reign of Elizabeth Old Swinford contained a hundred families, we may infer that in 1617 its population was not more than 600; and it is a reasonable estimate that between that time and 1740, it did not increase to more than 2000: the growth of its numbers up to 5000 at the beginning of this century being doubtless mainly due to its manufacturing activity. But in a place with a population growing during 120 years from 600 to 2000 there could hardly have been more than one clan of Brettells. Hence the inference that Joseph Brettell, living in the 18th century, was a descendant of John Brettell living in the 17th century, becomes very probable. If this inference be accepted, then it follows that my great-grandfather and his children inherited from the Henzeys a dash of Huguenot blood. A further inference may be drawn as not improbable. In the French genealogical dictionary above quoted, published in the middle of this century, it is stated that these de Hennezels, coming from Bohemia, had been settled in Lorraine about four centuries. This takes us back to the middle of the 15th century. Now the Hussite wars lasted from about 1420 to 1436, and the persecutions, doubtless continued after the subjugation of the Hussites, were such that the movement had ended soon after 1450. Is it not then highly probable that these de Hennezels, who came from Bohemia about 1450, were refugee Hussites? In the absence of another natural cause for their migration into Lorraine at that date, we may rationally assume that sectarian animosity was the cause. If so, it follows that in one line of ancestors of these Brettells, there have twice been resistances to religious authority, and flight in preference to submission.*
If any ingrained nonconformity of nature is to be hence inferred, it may have gone some way to account for that nonconformity which, however derived, was displayed by the children of my great-grandfather Brettell. For, apart from this probable genealogy, there stands the significant fact that out of a family of seven, five were among the earliest Wesleyans (of whom my maternal grandmother was one), and two of these were among the earliest Wesleyan preachers—John Brettell and Jeremiah Brettell, born respectively in 1742 and 1753. Of these the youngest, Jeremiah, seems to have been somewhat intimately associated with John Wesley, who spoke approvingly of his work; and at one time he was appointed to the Epworth circuit: Epworth being Wesley’s native place. Of John Brettell there exists, in the Arminian Magazine for 1796, a brief biography written by his brother; and there is a portrait of him in the same periodical for March 1784. Jeremiah, of whom there is a portrait in the Arminian Magazine for February 1784, and another in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine for August 1823, and a third in the Methodist Magazine about 1796, wrote a memoir of himself, which was published after his death in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine for October 1830.
As in those days, when Wesley and his followers were persecuted, it required both pronounced convictions and considerable courage to dissent from the established creed, and disregard the authority upholding it, there must have been in these two men more than usual individuality of character.*
Concerning the genealogy of the Spencers, the question of chief interest is whether any connexion exists between the Spencers of Derbyshire and the Spencers of Northamptonshire; for, of course, were there proof of common origin with the poet, I should gladly give it. But, so far as I know, there is no such proof. The spelling of the name presents no bar to the supposition of kinship; for, in early days, modes of spelling were unsettled. Of this, curious proof is afforded in the present case on tracing back the Spencer-ancestry to the middle of the 17th century. At that time, apparently by a clerical error (probably in a double sense), the spelling of the name was changed in the register of baptisms of the same family: the father’s name being spelt with an s in the entry of the baptism of his son Anthony in 1657, and with a c in the entry of the baptism of his son William in 1659. The spelling with a c was thereafter uniformly used.
The name Spencer is by no means uncommon in North Derbyshire, and is prevalent in the neighbourhood of Wirksworth. Indeed, in the village of Middleton-by-Wirksworth, it occurs so often that, when passing through the place years ago, I observed that out of the shop-signs the majority bore the name Spencer. Among places in which the name is of long standing is Kirk-Ireton, about three miles to the south-west of Wirksworth—a secluded village seated high, and just where the undulating portion of Derbyshire begins to pass into the more mountainous portion. Here our family had been settled for generations. A series of extracts from the parish-register, which I obtained some 20 years ago from the rector, shows that the name existed there in the latter part of the 16th century, if not earlier. On tracing back the entries, it appears that my grandfather, Mathew Spencer, was born there in 1762; that my great-grandfather, Mathew, was born there in 1735; that my great-great-grandfather, William, was born there in 1702; and that my great-great-great-grandfather, William, was born there in 1675. Before this date the line of descent is not traceable, because the entries extending over a period of more than 50 years after 1600, have been rendered illegible by damp. Next preceding that period comes the name of Anthony Spencer, baptized in 1597, and then a little before that comes the earliest legible registry of the name, in the marriage of Thomas Spencer with Agnes Heane, in 1581.
The oldest family document which has been preserved, is a deed of settlement on my great-grandfather when he was about to marry Elizabeth Soar, who is, in the deed, represented as having “expectations.” Most likely it was the desire that there should be an equivalent to these expectations which led to the tying of a small property, consisting of two fields and four cottages, on my great-grandfather. It would seem, however, that Elizabeth Soar’s expectations were disappointed, for there is no sign that any increase of possessions accrued to the family from the marriage. The next oldest document I possess, is a letter written by this great-grandmother Elizabeth Spencer, to her son, my grandfather, asking him to send an easy vehicle to convey her to Derby, that she might take up her abode with him: her widowed life at Kirk-Ireton having become wearisome in her old age.
Of these village-ancestors, two traits may be noted—one inferred and the other known. The dates of their marriages imply that the Kirk-Ireton Spencers were a prudent race.
Beginning with Anthony Spencer, the remotest identifiable ancestor whose birth is registered, we find that the interval between his birth and that of his grandson (the date of his son’s being lost in the illegible part of the register) is 60 years. Unless there were three generations, each following its predecessor at an interval of 20 years, which is very improbable, the son and grandson must have respectively married at the average age of nearly 30. My great-great-great-grandfather appears to have been 26 when he married. My great-great-grandfather did not marry till he was over 30. Again, 26 was the age my great-grandfather had reached before he undertook domestic responsibilities. And like caution was shown by my grandfather.
A more pronounced manifestation of prudential feeling was habitually given by my great-grandmother, Elizabeth. During their boyhood, her grandsons from time to time made visits to Kirk-Ireton, and my father told me that always when he came away the last words of his grandmother took the form of a message to her daughter-in-law, Catherine—“Be sure you tell Kitty to forecast.” So unusual an injunction, repeatedly given, seems to imply a very predominant tendency to consider the future rather than the present.
As said at the outset, facts of lineage may have significance where there are pronounced family-traits, and especially where these traits are manifested along both lines of ancestry. This seems to be the case here.
The nonconforming tendency—the lack of regard for certain of the established authorities, and readiness to dissent from accepted opinions—of course characterized, in considerable degrees, the earliest of Wesley’s followers; and, like the Brettell family, the Spencer family, the Holmes family, and the Taylor family, were among these earliest followers. Beyond the relative independence of nature thus displayed, there was implied a correlative dependence on something higher than legislative enactments. Under circumstances indicated by the bearing of persecution for religious beliefs, nonconformity to human authority implies conformity to something regarded as higher than human authority. And this conformity is of the same intrinsic nature whether it be shown towards a conceived personal Deity, or whether it be shown towards a Power transcending conception whence the established order proceeds—whether the rule of life is derived from supposed divine dicta or whether it is derived from ascertained natural principles. In either case there is obedience to regulations upheld as superior to the regulations made by men.
A further trait common to the two lines of forefathers is regard for remote results rather than for immediate results. Relinquishment of present satisfactions with the view of obtaining future satisfactions, is shown alike in that prudence which by self-denial seeks terrestrial welfare and by that prudence which by self-denial seeks celestial welfare. In both cases, proximate gratifications which are seen to be relatively small are sacrificed to future gratifications which are conceived as relatively great. In the family-traits above described were visible both these aspects of the self-restraining nature. The elder Brettells, described by their son Jeremiah as moral and church-going people, gave such indications of this character as well-conducted life implies; and the Wesleyans among their children, displayed it in the form of preference for the promised happiness of a life hereafter to various pleasures of the present life. Exhibiting the same trait in their creed and corresponding conduct, the Spencers exhibited it in other ways. The relatively late marriages indicated, and still more that emphatic advice to forecast, imply that the readiness to sacrifice the passing day for days to come was a family-characteristic. And this was recognized by some members of the last generation; for I remember in a letter of one uncle to another, a failing which they were said to have in common, was described as a tendency to dwell too much upon possible forthcoming evils.
Has there not been inheritance of these ancestral traits, or some of them? That the spirit of nonconformity is shown by me in various directions, no one can deny: the disregard of authority, political, religious, or social, is very conspicuous. Along with this there goes, in a transfigured form, a placing of principles having superhuman origins above rules having human origins; for throughout all writings of mine relating to the affairs of men, it is contended that ethical injunctions stand above legal injunctions. And once more, there is everywhere shown in my discussions of political questions, a contemplation of remote results rather than immediate results, joined with an insistence on the importance of the first as compared with that of the last.
These analogies are so clear that it can scarcely, I think, be fancy on my part to regard them as implying a descent of family-characteristics.
[*]That these two names are of foreign derivation, is a conclusion confirmed by the fact that they have undergone on the Continent contractions like those which they have undergone here. The name Bretel now exists in Normandy; and in Switzerland, as well as in France, the name Henzi is found. Curiously enough, the first of the two is used to distinguish railway-stations both in France and England. There is a station at Breteuil on the Northern of France; and there is the Brettell-Lane station between Dudley and Stourbridge.
[*]In the course of these genealogical inquiries I discovered that my great-grandmother’s maiden surname was Hemus. The name struck me as odd, and decidedly un-English: prempting me to make inquiries respecting its existence elsewhere. Examination proved that it is not to be found in the London Directory; and as, in so large a city, recruited from all parts of the kingdom, the name does not occur, its scarcity is manifest. It turns out, however, that there are persons of the name in Birmingham, which is but 12 miles from Stourbridge: a fact congruous with the supposition that Stourbridge was its centre of diffusion. Hence there arose a suspicion that in this group of Huguenot immigrants, Hennezel, Tyttery and Tyzack, there may have been another named Hemus. From Mr. Joseph Úlehla, who translated one of my works into the Bohemian language, I gather that there exist names allied to it in Bohemia. The one approaching most closely is Hemiš (pronounced Hemish). Now between Hemiš and Hemus there is a divergence much smaller than many familiar divergencies in names; and hence it is a reasonable supposition that Hemus was in Bohemian Hemiš. But why Bohemian? Well, if one of the Hussite refugees who fled with the rest into Lorraine, was named Hemiš, and if one of the Huguenot refugees who, during the later religious persecutions, migrated to England was a descendant of his, who joined the other descendants of the Hussites, then it seems possible, or even probable, that this great-grandmother Hemus had a genealogy in this respect like the others.
[*]Further evidence of constitutional nonconformity among members of the Brettell clan, is worth adding. In the account of the Wesleyan preacher, John Brettell, given in the Arminian Magazine for 1796 by his brother, it is said that he was “converted by a local preacher named Brettell.” If we infer, as before, that there was probably but one clan of Brettells in Stourbridge, it seems most likely that this Brettell was a distant relative—a common descendant of the John Brettell who married a Henzey in 1617. Another example exists. In the Dictionary of National Biography there is an account of a Jacob Brettell, a Unitarian minister, who died in 1862, whose father, Jacob Brettell, having first become, at the age of 17, a Calvinistic preacher, afterwards became an Independent minister, and ultimately renouncing Calvinism, opened a separate meeting-house. His father—that is the grandfather of the first named—was an Independent minister at Wolverhampton, which is only ten miles from Stourbridge.