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PART III.: 1841—1844 - 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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RETURN TO DERBY.
April 26, 1841, served for the journey; so that, next day being the 27th, my 21st birthday was kept at home. No recollection of it remains save that, during an evening walk in the Arboretum, my old schoolmaster expressed his satisfaction that I had not come back to the paternal roof injured by dissipation, as many young men do. Three years and a half had elapsed since my departure; and they had been on the whole satisfactory years, in so far as personal improvement and professional success were concerned.
The mention of improvement recalls the fact that one motive for not accepting the permanent post on the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway offered to me, was the desire to prepare for the future by a course of mathematical study. A work on the Differential Calculus was pored over for a short time, but the reading of it soon ceased. All through life my constitutional idleness has taken the form of inability to persevere in labour which has not an object at once large and distinct. To apply day after day merely with the general idea of acquiring information, or of increasing ability, was not in me. But with an important and definite end to achieve, I could work. In this case the end was neither sufficiently important nor sufficiently definite, and my energies quickly failed.
The chief motive for disengaging myself, however, was that already intimated—the desire to carry out, in a way already devised, my father’s idea of an electro-magnetic engine. This desire was soon traversed in a totally unforeseen manner. The Philosophical Magazine was one of the periodicals taken in and circulated by the Derby Philosophical Society, to which my father belonged. It was, I believe, in one of the numbers of this, though I cannot now identify it, that I read an article on the question of motors. The result of reading this article was an immediate abandonment of the scheme. It proved to me that an electro-magnetic engine worked, as all such engines in those days were supposed necessarily to be, by a galvanic battery, could never compete in economy with a steam-engine: the general argument being that the process was one of utilizing the force latent in coal, and that there must be a greater waste in doing this by the agency of smelted metal oxidized in a battery, than by the agency of coal burnt under a boiler. It did not occur to me that an electro-magnetic engine, though much less economical, might have advantages over the steam-engine for special purposes. Nor did anybody at that time dream of generating electricity by the force of falling water. But it was quite as well that I gave up the project; for, apart from the reason for doing so which prompted me, there would soon have been disclosed a still more cogent reason. The plan devised would have encountered insurmountable difficulties.
Thus, within a month of my return to Derby, it became manifest that, in pursuit of a Will-o’-the-wisp, I had left behind a place of vantage from which there might probably have been ascents to higher places. It then appeared that an unqualified blunder had been committed. But things do all always work out in conformity with expectations. A false step may eventually lead to a path more advantageous than the one deserted. Had there not been this seemingly-foolish act, I should have passed a humdrum, and not very prosperous, life as a civil engineer. That which has since been done would never have been done.
Not many days after my return home, there was brought for our inspection a beautiful herbarium, made by a young medical man in Derby during his student days. Why so much effect should have been produced is not obvious; but my ambition was at once fired to make a herbarium as good or better. The first step was to provide a needful appliance. My father had led me, when a boy, to acquire some manual dexterity, and this was now utilized. Paying a carpenter for the use of his bench and tools, I devoted a few days to making a botanical press—not indeed the whole of it: four large wood-screws were ordered from a turner. Of course, as it may be supposed, this press was unlike anything existing, but it answered its purpose well.
Afternoon walks subsequently were made interesting by the search for specimens; and in the course of some months there resulted a considerable collection of the more conspicuous ordinary plants which the fields and hedgerows round Derby furnished. It still exists, and shows that the ambition which prompted me was not unfulfilled.
The interest thus shown in botany was not, in any considerable measure, scientific. The instinct of acquisition and the desire to produce something worthy of admiration, united to stimulate me; and the little knowledge gained was incidental only. Though I knew by name the system of Jussieu, the Linnæan system sufficed my purpose, and the Natural Orders remained unknown. But such acquaintance with vegetal structures as was then acquired, was doubtless of use in after years when biology became a subject of methodical study.
The reaches of the Derwent above Derby were in those days rural, and in parts not unpicturesque. The railway bridge which now spans the river just above the town, did not exist; and suburban quiet was not broken by the shrieks of whistles. A pleasure-boat excursion up to the mills at Darley (not then made inaccessible by the stretching of an iron bar from bank to bank) was enjoyable.
On fine mornings during the latter part of May and a good part of June, any one who, between 7 and 8, was near this stretch of water, would very likely have heard some familiar melodies: now one voice only being audible, and now another voice joining in with a second. These voices were those of myself and a friend. Finding, while at Worcester, that rowing was beneficial, I had, soon after my return home, hired a boat for a quarter of a year, and had invited this friend to join in morning excursions. As before said, there was much singing in our office at Worcester, mostly of sentimental ballads; and of these my memory had accumulated a considerable stock: an uncultured taste being satisfied with songs of a kind which in later life I have come to detest. My friend, some two years my junior, was also passing through that phase in which there is contentment with manufactured music, as distinguished from the music of inspiration. Thus led by our likings, we not unfrequently made the woods near Darley echo with our voices: our secular matins being now and then arrested for the purpose of gathering a plant. There is still, in the herbarium above named, a specimen of Enchanter’s Nightshade gathered in the grove skirting the river near Darley.
My companion, known by sight from early boyhood, had only now, during the few preceding weeks, become personally known. His name, Edward Lott, will recur frequently throughout this autobiography; for the friendship thus commenced was a lifelong friendship. His nature was one which it is difficult to praise unduly. Not that he was intellectually remarkable in any way, but that he was morally of the highest type—absolutely conscientious, and, along with the sentiment of justice, displaying in large measure all the other altruistic sentiments. During the many years of our great intimacy, in the course of which we were frequently travelling companions, I never saw him out of temper. His face, which was extremely handsome, indicated his character. The expression united dignity, mildness, and serenity. He impressed every one with his innate goodness. When, nearly 40 years afterwards, he accompanied me on a visit to the house of friends in Gloucestershire, joining an Easter party to all members of which he was a stranger, an inquiry of the hostess what they thought of him, brought the reply—“Oh, we are all in love with Mr. Lott.”
In 1841, and for many years afterwards, he was an adherent of the current creed—a member of the Established Church. Now and then differences of opinion arose between us: always amicable differences, however. But during the latter part of his life these disagreements on religious questions, as well as on political questions, died away.
The contrast is remarkable between the present time, in which children often see a good deal of the world before they get into their teens, and the time when I was young, when but few people went far from their native places. I make this remark à propos of the fact that until after I was one-and-twenty I had never seen the sea.
My father always spent his summer vacation at the sea-side; not commonly remaining stationary, but rambling along the coast day by day and from one place to another. One of these vacation rambles was due soon after my return home, and I agreed to join him. The Isle of Wight was our proposed region. After a day or two at Southampton, seeing among other places Netley Abbey, we passed over to Cowes, and in the course of a week walked thence by way of Ryde, Brading, Sandown, Ventnor, Blackgang Chine, Brixton, and Freshwater, round to Yarmouth. It was a delightful time, leaving vivid recollections. The emotion which the sea produced in me was, I think, a mixture of joy and awe—the awe resulting from the manifestation of size and power, and the joy, I suppose, from the sense of freedom given by limitless expanse. In those days the Isle of Wight was more rural than now; and, joined with the pleasurable feelings given by the sea itself, there were those which the scenery and the shore gave. My father and I were in sympathy on most matters, and our rambles along the coast brought us objects of interest almost from step to step—now the geology of the cliffs and the new plants growing about them, now the physical effects produced by the waves, now the living things on the beach, vegetal and animal. That there was some collecting going on is proved by a letter of my father’s written home, which says of me:—“He is about to send off another packet [of curiosities] to-day.” One small incident was that at Luccombe Chine we passed just as some boatmen were landing a sun-fish. Knowing Prof. Owen, my father wrote to him telling of the fact, and intimating that the creature might perhaps be useful for dissection.
From Yarmouth we passed over to Portsmouth, whence, after a few days, came a migration to Hayling Island. At the end of a quiet week there we parted—he to complete his summer tour, and I to return home; for the fund I had devoted to the trip was exhausted.
My mornings during this period were usually devoted to some kind of work, if an occupation usually of a more or less speculative kind may be so called. Of work in the ordinary sense—activity directly conducive to advancement—there was little or none: probably because there was no opportunity for it. In July one of the things which occupied me was an investigation concerning the strength of girders. There resulted a paper on the subject published in The Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal for September, 1841. The outcome of it was a very elaborate algebraic formula, which will raise a smile on the face of any one familiar with the higher mathematics; for what it achieves in a laborious way is doubtless achievable by the Infinitesimal Calculus in an easy way. It is neither worth preserving, scientifically considered, nor has it any interest for the general reader. Should any one exhume it he must be prepared for strange blunders. No proof was sent; the result being that the compositor and reader transformed the equation in ways peculiar to themselves.
Attention has recently been drawn to the process of depositing metal by electrolysis—a process discovered by Prof. Daniel, which has since undergone such extensive developments. The subject interested me and I commenced experimenting; meeting, if not with much success, yet with sufficient success to prompt speculations concerning possible uses of the method. It occurred to me that by covering a surface with something like an etching ground, then cutting through this by an etching tool, and then depositing by electrotype a sheet of copper over the whole surface, there would be produced a block with lines in relief like those of a woodcut; and it seemed that this way of producing a printing block would be far less laborious than that which the wood-cutter adopts. I carried the idea into practice, and though not with satisfactory results, yet with results which promised well. Having done this, I went to consult the list of patents. But already the plan, too obvious to be overlooked, had been taken possession of. The list of patents, or else of caveats, contained a sufficiently clear description of it.
This disappointment proved to be a disguised good fortune. The process, presently brought to bear, went under the name “glyphography”; and was adopted to a certain small extent. It had drawbacks, however, and failed to compete with other methods; until, in a few years, it was no more heard of.
Experiments in electrotyping aroused some interest in electro-chemistry. I made myself a small galvanic battery and tried to deposit other metals than copper; not, however, with much success. There came, too, attempts to form crystals by electrolysis, accompanied by wild hopes respecting the pecuniary results to be obtained. Joined with these electro-chemical inquiries there were others exclusively chemical, of which traces exist among surviving memoranda. Naturally, too, my speculative tendency came into play, and some papers preserved concern the interpretations of “quantity” and “intensity” in electricity.
But all these experiments and speculations ended in no practical results. The only benefits were certain small additions to knowledge, and some little increase of manipulative skill.
To the experiments and speculations which occupied the mornings, and the country walks in search of plants, which occupied the afternoons, there was now added, in the latter part of the day, another occupation. In 1841 a movement was commenced for the diffusion of vocal music. Wilhelm’s system was introduced into England; and Mr. Hullah, under some official authority, established a teaching organization in the chief towns. Though given to the singing of songs, I had no knowledge of music from notes. The desirableness of acquiring such knowledge was manifest; and the opportunity was seized.
The cultivation of part-singing was the chief aim. Beyond the set lessons there were soon commenced practices at the house of my friend Lott: he and his sister and I passing at least one evening a week in trying over glees and madrigals. After the course of instruction was over, a small Glee-Society was formed of some dozen members, of whom I was one. Not only during this period, but for years after, part-singing was one of my chief gratifications.
How is it that among those who profess a love of music, this gratification, great at the same time that it is costless, is so little appreciated? There are few enjoyments higher and none so easy to have, where a will to have it is entertained by the requisite number. Perhaps one obstacle is that glee-singing does not display the musical proficiency of young ladies. For this, solo-singing is required. And since our social arrangements are, in chief measure, adjusted to the furthering of marriages, it results that glee-singing is not patronized by mammas or their daughters: all professions of love of music notwithstanding.
Already, before leaving Worcester, there had been established a correspondence with two of my friends made there; and this continued. Letters to Jackson, and letters from him, concerned chiefly professional questions, the steps taken in pursuance of our respective careers, accounts of our common friends or acquaintances, joined, on his side, with a good deal of quizzing. But the correspondence with E. A. B——— was, in considerable measure, devoted to political and religious discussions. Some passages seem worth quoting as indicating the stage of thought at that time reached. A letter written by him on Sept. 4, shows that, while at Powick, I had got beyond the crude belief that a republican form of government is good irrespective of conditions. E. A. B——— wrote:—
“I am perfectly aware that you hold the opinion that governments that are fitted for one time and people are by no means fitted for another; but you used to dwell upon it more particularly with regard to religious government, and there I differ from you entirely.”
And then in the same letter there occurs the paragraph:—
“I do not admire your definition of government at all, though I cannot at this moment suggest a better. You call it ‘a national institution for preventing one man from infringing upon the rights of another.’ ”
Thus it appears that at twenty I entertained, though in a crude, unqualified form, a belief which much of my energy in subsequent years was spent in justifying and elaborating.
Probably there were other passages written at that time showing the drift of thought. But when, some thirty odd years afterwards, I asked E. A. B——— if he could let me have my letters to him, he replied that they had been burnt up at the time of his marriage, when he destroyed all useless papers.
The practice of making pencil portraits, commenced at Powick, was continued after my return home, when sundry relatives and friends sat to me. One of the first results was the sketch of my grandmother, given in the first division—“Family-Antecedents.” There was soon executed, too, a portrait of Lott, promptly laid hands on by his sister; and there were others of two of my father’s particular friends.
In so far as literal representation went, these were not amiss; but they were all bad considered artistically. Some men there are who at once perceive those traits which give the distinctive character to a face or other object. My father had a considerable amount of the faculty thus shown; but I inherited none of it. A tolerably exact perception, joined with a fair amount of manual dexterity, enabled me to render with some truth each particular line and shade which I saw, but did not enable me to seize, in the midst of the complex impression, the proportional importance of its components. It is the ability to do this which constitutes the power of representation when it rises to what we call genius.
With this making of pencil portraits there was presently joined the copying of life-sized heads taken from the antique, and afterwards the drawing of ideal heads. Some of these survive. They possess very little merit. There is in them no vigour of imagination—no individuality of expression; nothing beyond meaningless good looks.
Soon after, if not at the same time, came drawing of other kinds—landscape sketches, not from nature but from fancy, and practices in the drawing of foliage. These displayed just the same lack of that artistic power which is born, not made.
The drawing of heads presently gave rise not only to these other kinds of drawing, but also to modeling. The initiation of this I do not remember. Perhaps it was inspection of some faces which my father had modeled when a young men—especially a laughing face. The history of this was that one of his pupils (Archibald Fox, a brother of the late Sir Charles Fox) was taking lessons in modeling, and that the criticisms my father passed on his work led to a challenge to model something himself. This laughing face was his response, and a very successful response it must have been. It is remarkable for a first attempt. But, as I have said, my father’s quick æsthetic perception was not transmitted to me, and the results of my efforts in modeling had no merit beyond that of mechanical imitation.
In the office at Worcester there had been made not only drawings for engineering works, but also those for various buildings—stations, offices, engine-houses, and so forth. Naturally there occurred occasions for the discussion of architectural principles; and of course my views were ordinarily heretical—expressions of dissent from that subordination to authority which was usually displayed and defended.
During the autumn of 1841 I devoted a little attention to architecture; reading up the descriptions of the Greek orders and other styles, and making sketches. There was commenced, too, a very ambitious design—a vast temple of rather complex character and unusual distribution of parts. The chief aim was to produce a drawing which should be a tour de force in perspective. Enough of it remains to show the general idea; but, as usually happened with me when there was no large ulterior purpose, my resolution flagged, and the project was not carried far.
There was also a sequence more relevant to these discussions at Worcester. In December I wrote a letter on “Architectural Precedent,” which was published in The Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal for January 1842; and then, in reply to some comments, mainly sympathetic but partly adverse, which appeared in the February number of that periodical, there appeared in March a second letter from me. These letters are not worth preserving.
From the account of my boybood there was omitted an incident which now had its effect. Between 1820 and 1830, phrenology had been drawing attention; and there came over to England, about 1830 or after, Gall’s disciple, Spurzheim, who went about the country diffusing knowledge of the system. Derby was among the towns he visited. Being then perhaps 11, or perhaps 12, I attended his lectures: having, however, to overcome a considerable repugnance to contemplating the row of grinning skulls he had in front of him. Of course at that age faith was stronger than scepticism. Accepting uncritically the statements made, I became a believer, and for many years remained one.
Not unnaturally, therefore, it happened that when, at the close of January, 1842, there came to Derby, to give lectures and examine heads, a phrenologist at that time of repute—Mr. J. Q. Rumball—I presented myself to him for characterization. Here are the results; given not because of their intrinsic value, but because they furnished a text for the opinions about me expressed by my two most intimate friends:—
“Such a head as this ought to be in the Church. The self-esteem is very large; it will only produce self-respect, a fear of degradation, therefore, united as it is here to a very full moral development, itself is a moral faculty, and it is almost impossible that you should be other than a high-principled man. Something obstinate, but even this will unite itself with the higher powers not the animal propensities, and I know not that a man’s principles can be too obstinately adhered to. Persevering and prudent, reasonably prizing money and benevolent withal. It is clear that I find no fault so far.
“If the forehead were as quick as it is sound, if the memory of details were equal to the general memory, there would be no fault here neither, but individuality is not full enough; this is the only fault I see. General talent therefore rather than particular genius results from such an organisation. I should not call you ex necessitate either a poet a painter or a musician, but you may acquire considerable proficiency in either, especially in music. Verbal memory is rather good than otherwise, and mathematics will be no difficulty, and yet I do not discover any one particular talent. The temper is somewhat reserved and perseverance the principal characteristic of the mind.
“J. Q. Rumball.
“Herbert Spencer, Esq., Jan. 29, 1842.”
Thinking that it would be interesting to hear what Jackson thought of it, I sent this characterization to him. Here is his comment:—
“I must confess [I] thought it an odd one and not altogether worthy of Monsieur Rumball. I do not think it is a correct one; for instance he says that you have taste for music drawing &c. &c. equally and that he does not find any one more prominent than the other, from which he deduces the opinion that you might be clever in all but not to shine in any. Now I do not for a minute wish to detract from your merits, as I do, and always shall, consider them of a high order; but nevertheless I think that you might study drawing and painting and sculpturing &c. with the greatest zeal without attaining to eminence, whilst the study of philosophy, natural history, chemistry and sciences generally, if pursued would be easily within your grasp even to the furthest extent. Pardon me if I even hint that I do not think music an ingredient of your spirit, if I may so term it. As to your being brought up for the Church, I don’t think you are half so fit for it as I am; not on account of qualities or abilities, as in that respect you far outstrip me, but because you are of a much more restless mind more likely to be moved by every new doctrine and apt to be led away by an ingeniously devised plan, and knowing your views about Church government, I may certainly add that Mr. Rumball never will see you in a gown, &c.”
Jackson, at my request, forwarded the phrenological measurements and inferences to E. A. B———, whose remarks were as follows:—
“To come to another subject which has afforded me considerable amusement and some satisfaction inasmuch as it goes a long way to confirm my previous opinion—I mean your phrenological development as laid down by Rumball. Now I will not pretend to say that there is [not] a good deal of truth in what he has said with regard to your general character; but I do mean to say that he might have arrived at the same conclusion without feeling your head at all. For instance, without any compliments, a person need not look at you twice to ascertain that you are no fool and this after all is the upshot of all he says, the only amplification of this being his opinion that your talent is more general than individual. Now to ascertain the latter he need only have talked to you for a quarter of an hour upon any subject [which he did not] inasmuch as the readiness you show to engage in argument upon all subjects is almost presumptive evidence that you have not devoted your energies to any one or two subjects, and the deduction is pretty obvious. In the details of your character he is on the whole very correct, the only point upon which he is definite in which he is right and in which there is I should imagine some difficulty in judging, is in his opinion of your musical talent which he describes as large and only qualified by the generalness (if one may coin a word) rather than individuality of your turn of mind. N. B. Did you whistle ‘The Admiral’ while he was organizing? In one instance in which I should think it difficult to judge he has, as I think you must see yourself, signally mistaken you. He speaks of your ‘veneration and respect for superiors as large.’ That is the last thing I should have thought of accusing you of, and I believe I understand and can appreciate your character very well. I think that my definition of your mind as a radical one, is as good a one as can be given. You are radical all over in anything and everything—in religion, in politics, in engineering, manners, &c., &c.”
Papers yield evidence that at that time my faith in phrenology was unshaken. There are memoranda on the emotions of self-esteem and love of approbation, to the disadvantage of the last and advantage of the first; and there are also some characteristic memoranda concerning “the evils of great veneration.” Curiously illustrating the speculative tendency, shown in this as in other directions, there is, among these memoranda, a design for an ideal head—I do not mean face only, but contour of skull.
April, 1842, brought a temporary return to engineering activities. A tributary of the river Derwent which runs through Derby, called the Markeaton Brook, was raised suddenly to an immense height by a local deluge of rain, and overflowed to the extent of producing in the main street a flood of some six feet in depth: the level attained being so unusual that it was marked by an iron plate let into the wall. It occurred to me to write a report on this flood; and to make suggestions for the prevention of any like catastrophe hereafter. This report was presented to the Town Council, and afterwards printed and distributed by their order.
But the plan I recommended for preventing in future any such disastrous overflows, was one implying expensive engineering works, and was not adopted.
A VISIT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
After the middle of May, my uncle Thomas came to see us, and it was agreed that I should go back with him to Hinton. Six years had elapsed since I left it as a youth of 16, and there was an anticipated pleasure in returning to old scenes, and seeing again well-known faces.
Railway-communication was then but imperfect, and from Cheltenham to Cirencester we journeyed by coach. The journey left its mark because, in the course of it, I found that practice in modeling had increased my perception of beauty in form. A good-looking girl, who was one of our fellow-passengers for a short interval, had remarkably fine eyes; and I had much quiet satisfaction in observing their forms. Beyond the ordinary pleasure that would have been given by recognition of the eyes as fine, there was a more special pleasure in contemplating the elegant curves of the eyelids. I set down this recollection mainly because it opens the way to some remarks on æsthetic culture as a part of education. The practice of drawing or modeling is to be encouraged not merely with a view to the worth of the things produced, for, in the great majority of cases, these will be worthless; but it is to be encouraged as increasing the appreciation of both Nature and Art. There results from it a revelation of natural beauties of form and colour which to undisciplined perceptions remain invisible; and there results, also, a greatly exalted enjoyment of painting and sculpture. The pleasure which truthful rendering gives is increased by increasing the knowledge of the traits to be rendered.
My first letter home, dated 23rd May, contains a passage which is not without significance.
“My aunt did not know me at all for some moments when I made my entrance alone, which we had arranged I should do. No one recognized me, and of course all agree that I am much altered. I go to Bath this afternoon to surprise my old friends there.”
A letter of the same date, written by my aunt to Derby, implies the nature of the change:—
“I am so delighted to have Herbert with us, who is so agreeable and amiable a companion that his uncle and I shall indeed be very sorry to lose him. I think I never witnessed so great an improvement in any young person.”
A kindred change which had been similarly commented upon when I was at Worcester, where my aunt had seen me in 1839, I ascribe to escape from those restraints of earlier life which were more at variance with my nature than with most natures; and it would seem that this still greater change had been due to continuance of the same cause; for between my days at Worcester and this visit to Hinton, there had been three years of independence. Possibly, there was a further cause—slowness of development. This had been decidedly shown physically, in so far as stature and structure were concerned; and it may have been shown mentally: not, perhaps, in respect of the intellectual faculties but in respect of the emotional faculties. The higher of these were longer than usual in gaining their full strength.
Shortly after my arrival, there came a sequence to the practice of modeling, recently named. My uncle had seen the results of my attempts, and it was agreed that I should model a bust of him. Whether the suggestion came from him or from me does not appear, but letters show that some steps had been taken before the beginning of June. Progress was not rapid, and it was made the slower by the inaptitude of my uncle for sitting. He had but small æsthetic perception, and no dramatic faculty whatever; the result being that his notions of a fit pose and fit expression were often such as to give me some amusement while they put difficulties in my way. A letter to my mother, of June 29, says:—
“I am going on very successfully with the bust: much better in fact than either my father or myself had expected. [My father had come to Hinton on his way to the sea-side.] It will probably be as much as a fortnight before it is finished; and as soon as it is so I shall return home. I have been working rather too hard to be able to enjoy my visit much. What with the modeling and writing letters to The Nonconformist, I have sometimes hardly stirred out for two or three days together.”
A letter from my aunt, written on the 10th July, after my return to Derby, quotes laudatory opinions, expressed by friends about the bust—good natured praise, mostly, I dare say. But, true as the likeness may have been in the eyes of those who looked only for literal reproduction, it was, in common with other products of mine which I have commented upon, without any display of artistic faculty. This the reader may perceive from the photogravure of it given in the preliminary part. Especially inartistic was the hair. For the representation of this something more than literal reproduction of lines and surfaces was needed; and in this something more I failed. The details of the hair were both unnatural and awkward.
It used, however, to be some consolation to me to observe that the ancient sculptors did not commonly succeed in rendering hair. Of course I do not mean to say that their representations were awkward; but only that they failed in naturalness. I shall doubtless produce in most readers astonishment by this allegation. So profound is the general subjection to the established belief in Greek superiority, that adverse criticism upon anything Greek seems something like blasphemy. But I no more pin my faith on the opinions of a classically-educated man about things Greek, than I pin my faith on the opinions of a clergyman about things Hebrew. In their treatment of hair, the Greeks did not duly regard the fact that the substance in which they were working is so remote in physical characters from the substance to be represented, that any attempt at literal imitation must fail; and that the rendering must be by suggestion rather than by reproduction. In shaping the marble it was their habit to cut out the interstices among the locks to depths such as exist among the locks of actual hair, and to give to the projecting portions in their representations as much prominence as they had in fact. But since actual locks consists of hairs between which light passes to a large extent, and since the solid substance in which they are reproduced is one through which the light does not thus pass, it results that, if the locks are literally imitated in their shapes, the lights and shades in the marble are far more pronounced than they are in nature. Nor is this all. Hair is generally of a more or less dark shade, and the difference in depth of colour between its lighted parts and its shaded parts, is consequently made far less than that which exists between the two in a substance like marble. Hence a further cause of error, co-operating with the other. Necessarily, therefore, to get anything like a true effect, the elevations and depressions in the marble must be far less than they are in fact.
Apparently from recognition of this truth, many modern sculptors have succeeded in representing hair much better than the ancient sculptors did.
In one of the extracts above given, reference is made to certain letters I was writing to The Nonconformist newspaper—a newspaper which had recently been established as an organ of the advanced Dissenters, and which was edited by Mr. Edward Miall, afterwards for some years member of Parliament for Rochdale.
The proximate origin of these letters cannot now be recalled. Probably conversations with my uncle led to them. He had much interest in politics, as had all members of the family: not, however, the interest commonly shown—interest in ministries and men, but interest in principles and measures. The mental attitude of the Spencers was unlike that now displayed by those who call themselves Liberals—an attitude of subordination to the decisions of Mr. Gladstone—an attitude of submission to personal rule similar to that shown in France when, by a plébiscite, the people surrendered their power into the hands of Louis Napoleon. The nature shown by all members of our family was quite opposite to this.
The implied kinship of feeling and thought led to a general congruity in the political views held, and led, especially, to a common tendency towards Individualism. With the absence of that party “loyalty” which consists in surrendering private judgment to men who are in office, or else to men who want to be in office, there naturally went a tendency to carry individual freedom as far as possible; and, by implication, to restrict governmental action. Daily talks with my uncle doubtless disclosed various agreements arising from this community of nature; and hence arose the suggestion to contribute, to The Nonconformist newspaper, a series of letters setting forth the opinions I had been uttering. My uncle knew Mr. Miall, and with the first letter sent an introduction.
The twelve letters thus commenced and afterwards serially published, contain some ideas which it may be interesting to quote, because of their relations to the system of beliefs elaborated in subsequent years. Besides views afterwards set forth in a more formal manner, there are indications of drifts of thought which in course of time became pronounced and definite. Here are some sentences from the first letter:—
“Everything in Nature has its laws. Inorganic matter has its dynamic properties, its chemical affinities; organic matter, more complex, more easily destroyed, has also its governing principles. As with matter in its integral form, so with matter in its aggregate; animate beings have their laws as well as the materials from which they are derived. Man as an animate being has functions to perform and has organs for performing those functions. . . .
“As with Man physically, so with Man spiritually. Mind has its laws as well as matter. . . .
“As with Man individually, so with Man socially. Society as certainly has its governing principles as Man has. They may not be so easily traced or so readily defined. Their action may be more complicated, and it may be more difficult to obey them; but nevertheless analogy shows us that they must exist.”
Then comes the corollary that those people are absurd who suppose that “everything will go wrong unless they are continually interfering . . . they ought to know that the laws of society are of such a character that natural evils will rectify themselves” by virtue of a “self-adjusting principle.” There follows the inference that it is needful only to maintain order—that the function of government is “simply to defend the natural rights of Men—to protect person and property—to prevent the aggressions of the powerful upon the weak—in a word, to administer justice.”
The letters which followed were devoted successively to treating of Commercial Restrictions, A National Church, The Poor-Laws, War, Government-Colonization, National Education, and Sanitary Administration: the purpose of each letter being to show that, while the various State-activities implied are excluded by the definition of State-duties, there are various reasons for otherwise concluding that they are injurious.
The position taken up in the letter concerning War is utterly untenable. I might indeed, had I been then aware of the facts, have cited in support of my argument the case of the Iroquois League, under the arrangements of which wars were not carried on by the government, but by chiefs who gathered together voluntary followers; or I might have named the early German tribes as having pursued a kindred system. But it is clear that these were exceptional systems, not permanently practicable. I failed to recognize the truth that, if the essential function of a government be that of maintaining the conditions under which individuals may carry on the business of life in security, this function includes, not protection against internal enemies only, but protection against external enemies. But the youthful enthusiasm of two-and-twenty naturally carried me too far.
In addition to the quotations above given as being significant, let me here add two others which are no less significant.
“Every animate creature stands in a specific relation to the external world in which it lives. From the meanest zoophyte, up to the most highly organized of the vertebrata, one and all have certain fixed principles of existence. Each has its varied bodily wants to be satisfied—food to be provided for its proper nourishment—a habitation to be constructed for shelter from the cold, or for defence against enemies—now arrangements to be made for bringing up a brood of young, nests to be built, little ones to be fed and fostered—then a store of provisions to be laid in against winter, and so on, with a variety of other natural desires to be gratified. For the performance of all these operations, every creature has its appropriate organs and instincts—external apparatus and internal faculties; and the health and happiness of each being are bound up with the perfection and activity of these powers. They, in their turn, are dependent upon the position in which the creature is placed. Surround it with circumstances which preclude the necessity for any one of its faculties, and that faculty will become gradually impaired. Nature provides nothing in vain. Instincts and organs are only preserved so long as they are required. Place a tribe of animals in a situation where one of their attributes is unnecessary—take away its natural exercise—diminish its activity, and you will gradually destroy its power. Successive generations will see the faculty, or instinct, or whatever it may be, become gradually weaker, and an ultimate degeneracy of the race will inevitably ensue. All this is true of Man.”
Then in the next letter, in reply to the argument (which the editor I think had urged against me) that “society is a complicated machine,” and that it is the business of government to keep “everything in equilibrium” it was said:—
“If it should be discovered that the great difficulties encountered in the management of social concerns, arise from the disturbance of natural laws, and that governments had been foolishly endeavouring to maintain, in a condition of unstable equilibrium, things which, if let alone, would of themselves assume a condition of stable equilibrium; then must the objection be to a great extent invalidated.”
In these several extracts are indicated both specific ideas and modes of thought which foreshadowed those to come. There is definitely expressed a belief in the universality of law—law in the realm of mind as in that of matter—law throughout the life of society as throughout individual life. So, too, is it with the correlative idea of universal causation: implied in the extracts given, this also pervades the entire argument. Quite pronounced is the assertion that throughout the organic world there goes on a process of adaptation by which faculties are fitted for their functions. This process is said to hold of Man as of other creatures: the inference following the one quoted being that, according as his social relations are of one or other kind, Man will gain or lose character and intelligence. And then there is the definite statement that along with this equilibration between the faculties of individuals and their circumstances, there is a tendency in society towards equilibrium—there is self-adjustment, individual and social. Thus the tendency of thought was even at that time towards a purely naturalistic interpretation, and there was a recognition of certain factors in the process of evolution at large.
We all occasionally moralize on the great effects initiated by small causes. Every day in every life there is a budding out of incidents severally capable of leading to large results; but the immense majority of them end as buds. Only now and then does one grow into a branch; and very rarely does such a branch outgrow and overshadow all others.
The contributing of these letters to The Nonconformist, exemplifies this truth in a way more than usually striking. Had it not been for this visit to Hinton—had it not been for these political conversations with my uncle—possibly had it not been for his letter of introduction to Mr. Miall, the first of these letters would not have seen the light, and the rest of them would never have been written. Had they never been written, Social Statics, which originated from them, would not even have been thought of. Had there been no Social Statics, those lines of inquiry which led to The Principles of Psychology would have remained unexplored. And without that study of life in general initiated by the writing of these works, leading, presently, to the study of the relations between its phenomena and those of the inorganic world, there would have been no System of Synthetic Philosophy.
Already I have pointed out that the apparently unfortunate cessation of my engineering life, opened the way to another kind of life. And now the writing of these letters on “The Proper Sphere of Government,” commenced at Hinton and finished during the months succeeding my return to Derby, constituted the first step towards this other kind of life.
BACK AT HOME.
Beyond completion of this series of short essays, of which less than half were written at Hinton, there came before me soon after my return another subject of interest. A letter of July 11, 1842, to my father, who was still at the sea-side, closed with the sentence:—“Lott has just called to take me to a lecture on Phonography, so that I have no more time to spare for you.”
The attendance on this lecture had sequences immediate and remote. During many preceding years my father had been, at leisure, elaborating a new system of shorthand. When, as a boy of thirteen, I went to Hinton, it had reached such a stage that I was—not much to my satisfaction—required to take down in it, notes of my uncle’s sermons: very brief notes they were, as may be supposed. During subsequent years successive improvements were made in it, and, by the time I was 21, it had assumed its final form—final, at least, in respect of its essentials; though, prompted by his restless ideality, my father went on changing its minutiæ as long as he lived: not always with advantage I suspect.
The above named lecture on Phonography impressed me with its merits; and, in a subsequent conversation with my father, I intimated the belief that Pitman’s system was better than his. Saying that this belief was an erroneous one, he requested me to compare the two in detail. I did this; and the result was a thorough conviction that my father was right, and that his system was not only better than Pitman’s, but better than any other which has been devised—as perfect, indeed, as is possible.
In Phonography when used for reporting, as in older shorthands, the consonants alone are marked, and “Legible Shorthand,” as my father called his system, has no great advantage over them in brevity, so long as this imperfect method of representing words is followed. Its only superiority in that case is that it keeps the line, instead of sprawling about the paper in uncontrolled ways: a fault in Phonography, as in the shorthands which preceded it, and a fault which stands in the way of its use for general purposes. Even had it no other advantage than that of regularity and symmetry, the “Legible Shorthand” would be preferable to all others.
But its chief superiority is that while, like Phonography, it may be written either with or without the vowels, the introduction of the vowels adds comparatively little to the time and effort required in representing a word, while the reading of the word is made easy. In Phonography the vowels, when introduced, are marked by dots and dashes, added after the consonants have been written, and there results an illusive simplicity of appearance: the illusion being due to the fact that the movements of the hand gone through in making these dots and dashes are not shown. When they are shown by dotted lines, it becomes clear that the expenditure of time and effort in marking the vowels, almost doubles the time and effort previously expended in marking the consonants. A comparison between a word written in Phonography to which were added the dotted lines shewing the unseen motions, and the same word written in “Legible Shorthand,” proved to me conclusively that, when the vowels are used, the “Legible Shorthand” has a great advantage in brevity, as well as in legibility and elegance.
The study of my father’s system, thus commenced, had results some time afterwards.
A rationalized system of letters for writing, raised the thought of a rationalized system of letters for printing—a system which should preserve consistency in each of the several groups—mutes, semi-vocals, liquids, nasals, and vowels. I schemed sets of forms answering to these groups, and having throughout a certain general kinship, as well as a closer kinship within each group. The notion was plausible. It seemed clear that an alphabet so characterized would be desirable. But the conception was a mistaken one. The love of system had over-ridden the thought of use. It did not occur to me that the heterogeneous forms of the letters we now have, is conducive to legibility—renders identification of them much easier than it would be were many of the forms related to one another, as are the small letters b and d, or p and q: the common expression “mind your p’s and q’s,” evidently referring to the difficulty which children find in distinguishing letters that are alike save in the placing of the loop on opposite sides. In the proposed set of letters there were, within each group, kinships of this nature; and there would have been consequent tendencies to confusion. I may, indeed, remark, in passing, that because capital letters have no projections above and below the line, and in this respect present greater homogeneity than do low-case or small letters, lines of capital letters are less easy to read than lines of low-case letters. I was recently struck with this on comparing the product of a typewriter which rendered its matter in capitals only, with the products of those which rendered their matter in capitals and small letters.
Among my papers, associated with those which set forth this scheme, there are others concerning the structure desirable for a universal language. Probably thoughts about the one led to thoughts about the other. A predominant aim was brevity. The language was to be monosyllabic and, among the memoranda preserved, there is a calculation showing that there are more than a hundred thousand good monosyllables;—that is if, in addition to simple consonants and vowels, all the compound consonants and compound vowels are used. There are also proposals of methods by which a choice of words for things and acts may be guided—methods which, while paying due regard to logical relationships and classifications, would also pay due regard to euphony.
It seems to me quite possible—probable even—that the time will come when all existing languages will be recognized as so imperfect, that an artificial language to be universally used will be agreed upon. Within these few years we have seen, in the artificial language called “Volapuk,” an attempt to fulfil the requirements better than any natural language does. But I should be extremely sorry did there become current any artificial language which sets out with ideas derived uncritically from existing languages, and adopts the system of inflections—a radically bad system. Without intending to assume that they have much value, I think it not amiss to preserve, in Appendix E, the above-named suggestions—not respecting a universal language so much as respecting methods to be followed in forming one.
About this same time also, an allied matter occupied a little attention. During previous years I had often regretted the progress of the decimal system of numeration; the universal adoption of which is by many thought so desirable. That it has sundry conveniences is beyond question; but it has also sundry inconveniences, and the annoyance I felt was due to a consciousness that all the advantages of the decimal system might be obtained along with all the advantages of the duodecimal system, if the basis of our notation were changed—if, instead of having 10 for its basis, it had 12 for its basis: two new digits being introduced to replace 10 and 11, and 12 times 12 being the hundred. Most people are so little able to emancipate themselves from the conceptions which education has established in them, that they cannot understand that the use of 10 as a basis, is due solely to the fact that we have five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. If mankind had had six instead of five, there never would have been any difficulty.
To Appendix E, I have added these memoranda, in which I have set down the advantages of 12 over 10 for purposes of measurement, enumeration, and calculation. Of course to change the system would be difficult; and it would be rendered more difficult still should the use of the decimal notation for weights, measures, and values be established.
In the course of the autumn something beyond schemes and speculations began to occupy my time. I became an active politician.
The days were those of the Chartist agitation. The demand for universal suffrage, triennial parliaments, vote by ballot, payment of members, no property qualification, and equal electoral districts, embodied in a formal document, had become the shibboleth of a Radical working-men’s party. The Reform Bill had given predominant power to the £10 householders; and now the class below insisted that they, too, should share in making the laws. Their movement, carried on here and there in an intemperate manner, had led to a few riots, to a threatened vast demonstration which was stopped, and to some trials and imprisonments. Mr. Edward Miall, swayed by a pronounced sense of justice, sympathized with the men who put forward these claims; and his sympathy prompted him to write a series of articles in The Nonconformist, advocating an extension of the suffrage much like that which the Chartists wished to obtain, and, I think, advocating, with qualifications, some of the associated changes they urged. These articles were subsequently republished as a pamphlet, under the title “A Reconciliation of the Middle and Working Classes”—a pamphlet which had a wide circulation, especially throughout the dissenting world, of which The Nonconformist was the advanced organ. The result was the commencement of “The Complete Suffrage Movement.” Mr. Joseph Sturge, the well-known philanthropic Quaker of Birmingham, who had been active in the anti-slavery agitation, became a warm adherent; and, among other places, visited Derby to give an address in aid of Mr. Miall’s project: breakfasting at our house on the occasion. Presently a branch was established at Derby, of which I became honorary secretary; and, in The Nonconformist newspaper about that period, there exist sundry brief reports sent by me of local doings.
One of these doings produced some sensation in the town, and drew a certain amount of general attention. Of the Chartists who had, during the preceding agitation, got into trouble and been imprisoned, one was Mr. Henry Vincent—a man who, like two others among the early Chartists, Lovett and Collins, was much to be admired. He was evidently prompted by conscientious feeling to devote himself to the advancement of popular welfare, in doing which he displayed great oratorical power. Recognizing the sincerity of those who were following the lead of Mr. Miall, and probably thinking that it would be well to get rid of the odium which the Chartist demonstrations had produced, he joined the Complete Suffrage Movement, and went to leading towns lecturing in advocacy of it. At the beginning of September, 1842, he came to Derby. The announcement of his lecture raised alarm in the minds of the magistrates—predominantly Conservative; and the police were ordered to prevent the delivery of it. At a small gathering forthwith held of those who had been instrumental in bringing Mr. Vincent, it was decided that a protest should be made. I was appointed to write an address embodying the protest, which I did in the course of the ensuing night—sitting up until some three or four o’clock to do it. Next morning, after being approved, the address was printed, circulated, signed by numerous inhabitants, and in a day or two presented to the magistrates. Some of the Liberal London papers took the matter up. The Morning Chronicle and the Sun, both now extinct, reproduced the address in their issues of September 6th and 7th respectively and made editorial comments blaming the magistrates for their uncalled for interference.
In the course of the autumn, interest in the Complete Suffrage Movement so far increased that there was held, at Birmingham, a meeting of leading men from chief towns, to consult respecting the policy to be pursued. Among others present were one or two members of Parliament, and also Mr. John Bright, at that time not in Parliament, and known chiefly as a leading member of the Anti-Corn-Law League. My uncle Thomas, too, took part in the meeting. The decision arrived at was that there should be called a joint conference of the Complete Suffragists and the Chartists, with a view to union and concerted action: the hope being that the Chartists would concede some of their minor demands, and so conciliate their opponents.
This conference was held on the 27th December and following days, and I was sent to it as a delegate from Derby. Deeper knowledge of human nature on the part of those who summoned the conference, might have taught them that the Chartists would listen to no compromise. Fanatics soon acquire passionate attachments to their shibboleths. After a day’s debate it became manifest that no co-operation was possible. Even the very name, “the Charter,” was insisted upon as one which must be accepted. A division consequently took place, and the Complete Suffragists adjourned to another hall. A proposed Act of Parliament had been drawn up, embodying the desired constitutional changes. This, it was hoped, the Chartists would join in discussing clause by clause, and in the main agree to. On their refusal, the Complete Suffragists by themselves, in the space of some two days, went through the Bill; now approving, now modifying, its various provisions. The occasion was of course one which, to a young fellow of 22, was exciting; and it produced in me a high tide of mental energy. This is curiously shown by my copy, still preserved, of the draft Bill distributed among the delegates, on which I have written my name. The signature has a sweep and vigour exceeding that of any other signature I ever made, either before or since.
One of the incidents connected with this meeting of the Complete Suffragists at Birmingham, I must name, because of its important sequences. Liverpool had sent as a delegate, Mr. Lawrence Heyworth, afterwards member of Parliament for Derby. He and my uncle Thomas had been friends for several years. Their friendship had originated in their agreement on teetotalism; but they were also in sympathy on leading political questions. My uncle was delegate from Bath, and by him I was introduced to Mr. Lawrence Heyworth. The acquaintanceship then commenced, lasted until his death about 1870; and it opened the way to friendships which, after a time, greatly affected my life.
I may add, concerning this Birmingham conference and the Complete Suffrage movement, that nothing definite eventually resulted. The agitation carried on in furtherance of it, as well as that carried on for the enactment of the Charter, gradually died away; leaving only certain modifications of opinion. Such modifications may perhaps have had something to do with changes since made in our representative system; for these have, to a considerable extent, established in law the proposals which in those days were thought so revolutionary: rightly so thought, indeed; for the drift towards Socialism, now becoming irresistible, has resulted from giving to the masses not a due proportion of power but the supreme power.
The democratic leanings early shown by me, had long been manifest to the friends with whom I corresponded; and now that they had caused me to take so decided a step as participation in this Birmingham conference, there came from these friends strong expostulations. Certain passages in their letters seem worthy of quotation; both because of what they say and of what they imply. The first is from E. A. B———, who wrote:—
“You are formed for an active part in everything you undertake, and your energetic character would be very likely to lead you farther, than in sober reason and judgment you would go. If you have fully and maturely decided, that the principles you have adopted are right, and are expedient for the well-being of the country, I should be the last to wish you to abandon them to interested motives; but before finally committing yourself to the current, which may overwhelm you, I would have you pause. Consider carefully to what all you design, will tend, consider how in taking up such a cause, you lose all chance of advancement in the profession for which your talents and education so well fit you; examine carefully the principles, objects and interests of the men in whose company you will certainly sink or swim, and if after having done so you still remain of the same mind, in God’s name go on, but again, let me request of you to pause, and consider. You are now but on the threshold; you have scarcely taken the first step, in a path, the end of which it passes mortal power to foresee, but which may (though may God forbid it) eventually plunge the whole kingdom into anarchy and civil war. It is surely worth considering well, before finally deciding. Whatever may be your fate, or whatever may be mine, I shall always value your friendship very highly, and if at any time I can be of any service to you, I hope you will not hesitate to command me, with as much confidence as if I was of your own opinions. I only hope you may meet many among your own party who will feel as great an interest in you as I do.”
To the equally strong protest contained in a letter from Jackson, there is appended a protest, no less strong, against the change of career to which, it seems, I had indicated my leanings:—
“As for the good you’ve done, it is very questionable whether you’ve not done ill, for your time has been wasted in strife, your own temper has been ruffled, you’ve felt and wished ill towards those in power and you’ve in your pride thought that your mind talents and arm might effect a change. How like man! Think you that you can sway the destinies of mankind? Or perhaps you suppose yourself born to be the instrument in God’s hand of working a reformation in this land and of releasing the afflicted from the bondage under which they are suffering. Admitted for argument sake, tho’ it is far fetched, but you, my friend, are not following the steps of a Luther a Calvin a Knox a Wikliff, whose names are revered to this hour, holy men who taught and thought as the Holy Spirit directed them—no if an instrument you should be, ’tis not for the reformation of spiritual evil ’tis for what but like Cromwell to gain your own ambitious views under the mask of doing your country a service. Doing your country a service! alas! alas!” . . .
“You ask me to which I give the preference—to your remaining in the profession you have commenced or becoming a literary character. To this I decidedly say to the first, in it you are most likely to rise to eminence and thro’ it gain a comfortable income, but from the other never. You’ve never studied properly, you are no classic no poet. Perhaps you might say but I can write reviews and political opinions and by degrees so improve my style, &c., as to be able to appear fairly before the public. To this I can only repeat what I have often said—The public is never to be depended upon. Let one of its favourites once declaim against you and you’re done for. Neither do I believe that you can ever receive that emolument which you would seek, unless by very fortunate circumstances over which you can have no control.
“Let me therefore implore you once more to set hand to pencil and start afresh on the old course; apply thro’ your interest to Fox. He is now about to carry out the execution of the Dean Forest line of railway, and has the whole contract under Capt. Moorsom; offer your services to superintend, get Capt. Moorsom to recommend and so by fairly starting again cut all the political acquaintances you’ve picked up who will never do you any good, and your talents and energy will soon raise you to that pre-eminence to which you may aspire.—Did I not feel the same interest in you that I might have towards a brother, don’t think I should take the trouble to induce you to do this. Therefore at least give me credit for candour, and reflect before you go on any further.”
The first of these passages in Jackson’s letter, illustrates the truth that those who live in another sphere of thought and feeling, frequently show themselves incapable of comprehending the motives of those opposed to them. Knowing me intimately though he did, my friend could not conceive any other prompter than ambition for the course I took. Lacking, himself, any such political sentiments as mine, he could not imagine me to be moved solely by a desire to help in making what I conceived to be an equitable change. I can say with absolute certainty that the thought of personal advancement of any kind never entered my head. Respecting the second passage, I am led to remark on the amusing way in which people suppose that the writing of good or bad books is to be determined by the presence or absence of classical culture. The quality of the ideas expressed is tacitly ignored—style being everything and matter nothing! To which I may add that there is in this passage, as in the preceding one, the implication that no other desire than that of private advantage could possibly operate. The truth is that throughout my life the writing of books has resulted from the wish to set forth certain ideas, and that during sixteen years’ publication of them they brought me not profits but losses.
About my occupations during the early part of 1843, I remember little or nothing. A letter from my father to my uncle contains the sentence:—“Herbert is writing a tract upon ‘Pledging Electors.’ I think he will make it rather effective.” Absolute failure of memory is thus proved; for I should have said that no such thing was ever written by me. From the context I gather that it was intended to be one of a series of tracts issued by the Complete Suffrage Union. I also gather that I was to be one of a committee for selecting and criticizing tracts.
Whether anything was done in the way of engineering, or any other money-making occupation, I do not recollect. Probably there were the usual speculating and experimenting, leading to no practical results.
The latter parts of my days were, during this period, as before and after, miscellaneously filled—country walks in the afternoons, music and sometimes other distractions in the evenings. About this time, or earlier, there had been formed a “Literary and Scientific Society”—a small gathering of some dozen or so, meeting once a month, reading papers and discussing them. The members were mostly of no considerable calibre, and the proceedings were commonly rather humdrum. Further, there existed a Debating Society which I joined, and of course did not remain silent; and there was also, in the leading literary institution of the town, a chess-room, where an hour or so was occasionally spent. I had learnt to play chess at Hinton, and had there become quite a devotee of the game; but nothing beyond mediocrity was reached, either then or afterwards. I once joined with a friend in playing without the men, and succeeded in doing this pretty easily. We had, however, the empty board before us, which greatly aided imagination. Without that aid we should have found the feat impossible.
And now, towards the end of the Spring of 1843, after two years of life apparently futile—certainly futile in respect to “getting on”—it seemed needful to take some decisive step; and, in the hope of finding something to do, either in engineering or in literature, I resolved on going to London.
A CAMPAIGN IN LONDON.
My experimental journey to London must have been at the end of the first week in May, for a letter dated May 10 gives a settled address. Letters written soon after imply a resolution, more decided than I supposed then existed, to adopt a literary career. Some passages written to Edward Lott will best show the position and the expectations.
“I am still somewhat in a condition of uncertainty as to what may be my ultimate fate. I have written two review articles, one for the Eclectic and the other for Tait [magazines both long since deceased]. The one for the Eclectic would have appeared in the number for the present month, had it not been that the two previous ones contain papers on the same subject—“Education.” The one for Tait was [sent] on speculation and still hangs in statu quo.”
Neither the article written by agreement for the Eclectic, nor the article sent on speculation to Tait, ever appeared. Possibly the one was—quite rightly, I fancy—thought not worthy of publication; and the other ignored because it was by an unknown writer. It was not without merit; for, ten years after, it was, with improvements, published in the Westminster Review, under the title of “The Philosophy of Style.” The letter goes on to say:—
“If you get hold of the last week’s Nonconformist, you will find a leading article written by me, entitled ‘Effervescence—Rebecca and her Children.’ It will amuse you, I fancy, it being somewhat queer in its ideas. It might be appropriately classified under the head of ‘The Chemistry of Politics.’
“At present I am engaged in writing an article for The Phrenological Journal upon the new theory of Benevolence and Imitation, which we have talked over together. . . . I hope you are going on agreeably with your singing exercises. If I could fly over and join you now and then, it would be a great gratification to me, for I am at present leading a rather solitary life, frequently not speaking a score words in the day for nearly a week together.”
Fresh indications of my hopes and intentions were given when writing home on July 7. After describing an evening spent with Mr. Miall, the letter goes on to say:—
“He has also laid me under obligation of a more practical kind, of which I was not aware until I saw him on Wednesday. He told me that some friends of his at Colchester, who were about to purchase a local newspaper, had applied to him to become their head editor; meaning that he should supply them with a leading article every week, whilst they employed some one of less capacity to manage the other business for them. He refused this, having, he says, quite enough on his hands at present, and at the same time that he did so, mentioned me as one whom he could recommend to fill the place they wished him to occupy.”
Other passages tell me of ambitions which I had utterly forgotten; one of them sufficiently daring.
“I feel more and more determined to write a poem in a few years hence, and am gradually working out the plot in my mind and putting down memoranda of thought and sentiment. The title I intend to be ‘The Angel of Truth.’ Inclosed I send you a few lines by way of specimen of a first attempt. They are supposed to be part of the winding-up of a meditation upon the state of the world during the Dark Ages.” . . .
“I have been reading Bentham’s works, and mean to attack his principles shortly, if I can get any review to publish what will appear to most of them so presumptuous.”
The verse-making disorder, which seems to be escaped by but few of those who have any intellectual vivacity, did not last long. The project named must have been soon abandoned, and a later one, which I recall, was not persevered in. This later one was a drama to be entitled “The Rebel:” the plot of it being not, as the reader may suppose, one exhibiting successful rebellion, but one exhibiting the failure and disappointment of a high-minded hero, consequent on the weakness and baseness of those with whom he acted. But nothing was done beyond thinking over the incidents and characters to be embodied.
Among old papers there are some verses which, I suppose, must have been written about this time. They are not amiss in so far as form is concerned; but there is in them nothing beyond play of fancy. They are manufactured, and not prompted by feeling forcing its way to poetical utterance. I had sense enough to see that my faculties are not of the kind needful for producing genuine poetry. I have by nature neither the requisite intensity of emotion nor the requisite fertility of expression.
In the above section reference is made to an essay setting forth “a new view of the functions of Imitation and Benevolence,” which I proposed to send to ThePhrenological Journal. Of course it was heretical; and, if for no other reason, was, perhaps for that reason, rejected.
There had, however, been established in 1843, a quarterly periodical called The Zoist, owned and edited by Dr. Eliotson, a physician of considerable repute in those days. Perhaps I ought to say—a physician who had been of considerable repute in those days; for, having become a convert to Mesmerism, and having committed himself to a belief in sundry of the alleged higher manifestations of mesmeric influence, he was a good deal discredited. Nothing daunted, however, he persisted in his faith, and established The Zoist mainly, I believe, to diffuse it. But he did not limit his periodical to publication of mesmeric experiments, and controversies concerning alleged mesmeric phenomena; possibly because there was not a sufficiency of this kind of matter to fill all its space. Phreno-mesmerism was at that time the name of one class of the manifestations; and, by implication, Phrenology was recognized as an associated topic. Hence, in part, I suppose, the reason why Dr. Eliotson accepted this essay of mine; which, written in the summer and autumn of 1843, was published in The Zoist for January, 1844. I learnt, only several years later, that the theory I had set forth respecting the nature of Benevolence was not new.
Partially dissentient though I was concerning special phrenological doctrines, I continued an adherent of the general doctrine: not having, at that time, entered on those lines of psychological inquiry which led me eventually to conclude that, though the statements of phrenologists might contain adumbrations of truths, they did not express the truths themselves.
Old letters and documents from time to time surprise me by showing that certain ideas had arisen at much earlier dates than I supposed. An example is furnished by two paragraphs in a letter written to my friend Lott on 14 October ’43, embodying some corollaries from the hypothesis set forth in the above-named article.
“I am, however, undergoing an entire revolution in my notions respecting conscientiousness. Like many of the chemical bodies that were at one time believed to be simple elements, it is fated to undergo decomposition. In the first place, I cannot bring myself to believe that the various qualities attributed to it can result from one organ. Justice, love of truth, overseership of the other feelings, and sundry other qualities that proceed from it, appear to me to be too distinct to be the emanations of one faculty. From what primitive powers some of them proceed I cannot at present imagine. I have, however, come to a conclusion respecting the sentiment of Justice. I believe that like Benevolence it is a compound feeling, and further, that Sympathy is one of its elements. I was first led to this view by the theoretical considerations which follow almost as a matter of course from the doctrine of Sympathy.
“Thus, if it be admitted that there is a faculty which has for its function the excitement in one being of the feelings exhibited by another, and that the faculty acts in connexion with all the passions of the mind, in such a manner as to produce a participation in all the feelings of other beings, it would appear abstractly that this power was sufficient of itself to produce that respect for all the feelings of others which is necessary for social happiness. At any rate it must be admitted that such an arrangement is capable of doing this. Now under this supposition it would be unphilosophical to conclude that there was another distinct faculty which, like conscientiousness, had entire reference to other beings. It would involve a multiplicity of means quite contrary to our notions of the Almighty’s arrangements. We must therefore suppose that the sentiment of Justice is a combination of sympathy with some other faculty. What is that faculty? I believe it to be a sense of personal rights. That such a power is capable of producing the required impulse is evident—justice might even be termed a sympathy in the personal rights of others, and that it is may almost be proved by an analysis of your feelings. If you will realize the feelings of indignation experienced upon reading the tyrannies and oppressions of man towards man, you will find that the emotions are strictly analogous to that produced by an infringement of your own privileges; and the more powerful does the feeling become the stronger is the similarity.”
This view was first publicly set forth in Social Statics (Chap. V) seven years later; and I have till now supposed that it was first entertained at the time that chapter was written. I had, in the meantime, become acquainted with Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, and found that the doctrine of Sympathy had already been set forth by him; but it would seem that having reached it in the endeavour to explain Benevolence, I subsequently carried it on to explain Justice. I may add that this theory did not receive its complete form until 1891, when, in Part IV of The Principles of Ethics, Chap. IV, the nature of the alleged sense of personal rights was indicated.
An illustration of the general truth that we can always find reasons for doing that which we want to do, was furnished by me at this time. One of my first letters written home, expresses a resolution to republish, in pamphlet form, the series of letters to The Nonconformist on “The Proper Sphere of Government,” and implies that I was occupied in revising them. The ostensible reasons for taking this step were, of course, that it would be for the public advantage that they should be made permanently accessible, and that the republication would probably pay its expenses. But the effective prompter doubtless was my desire for their survival—my reluctance to see these first products of my pen remain buried in the columns of a newspaper.
In their collected form they were issued towards the end of August, and the results well illustrated the absurd estimates made by the sanguine and inexperienced. That a pamphlet by an unknown writer, on a comparatively abstract subject, would make any difference in the course of men’s thought, was a belief showing how large is the space which may be covered by a small object held close to the eye, and how great may be the consequent illusions. Utter ignorance of the book-trade, too, was shown in the idea that the sale of such a pamphlet would return the cost. This end is but rarely achieved even when the author is well-known and the topic popular: one reason being that, with a small publication, the cost of advertising bears to the total expenditure so much larger a ratio than with a publication of any size; and the other being that publishers will not take any trouble about pamphlets, which, as they say, are not worth “handling”—the trouble of selling is the same as for a larger book and the profit next to nothing. I experienced the effects of these causes. Perhaps a hundred copies were sold and less than a tenth of the cost repaid. The printer’s bill was £10, 2s. 6d. and the publisher’s payment to me on the first year’s sales was fourteen shillings and three pence!
Of course I distributed copies to friends and to men of note, and of course the letters of acknowledgment from these last were carefully preserved; for, in an author’s early days, expressions of opinion are valued. One copy went to Mr. Carlyle, which, strange as it seems to me, he acknowledged. Here is his note. The date shows that the copy must have been sent many months after publication; probably because I had been reading one of his books—Sartor Resartus, I believe.
“Chelsea, 20 May, 1844.
I have received your pamphlet, and hope to examine it with profit at my earliest leisure. There is something good and salutary in all utterances of men which recognize, in any way, the eternal nature of Right and Wrong. Would there were thousands and millions of such men in this world; each struggling towards ‘government’ of his own little world in that spirit!
“With many thanks and good wishes,