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CHAPTER XIII.: A CAMPAIGN IN LONDON. 1843. Æt. 23. - 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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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,