Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XV.: A BRIEF SUB-EDITORSHIP. 1844. Æt. 24. - An Autobiography, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XV.: A BRIEF SUB-EDITORSHIP. 1844. Æt. 24. - 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 BRIEF SUB-EDITORSHIP.
The editor of the projected newspaper, Mr. James Wilson, had suggested that I should, for a time at any rate, reside with him; but, as his domestic arrangements were temporarily dislocated by the absence of his wife in Scotland, it was arranged that the early part of my sojourn in Birmingham should take the form of a visit to Mr. Joseph Sturge. There resulted a number of pleasant days passed in his house at Edgbaston.
I retain a clear recollection of his remarkable face, uniting, in an unusual way, great kindness with great firmness: beneath an overhanging brow, eyes expressive of much sympathy, and then a very massive chin. The determination implied by the massive chin took the form of unyielding pursuit of his benevolent aims. Already I had received a favourable impression of him, and closer knowledge made it more favourable still, as witness the following passage in a letter to my friend Lott:—
“You would be delighted with Mr. Sturge did you know as much of him as I now do. He is one of the most lovable kind of men in his social and domestic character that I have yet come in contact with; perfectly open, simple and amiable, he is as genuine a Christian, in the practical sense of the term, as could well be imagined.”
I am glad that the occasion occurs for thus describing him, since his name is scarcely known to the present generation. Had he “chastised” wild tribes who did not quietly yield to our intruding explorers, or had he picked a quarrel with some native king, broken up his government, and presently appropriated his territory, or had he bombarded the fortifications of a people who would not submissively accept our administration of their affairs, he might have been rewarded by a grateful nation, and his memory cherished. But he did none of those things. He only devoted persistent energies to the abolition of slavery, and then laboured to mitigate the sufferings of kidnapped negroes—did nothing more than spend time, money, and life, in promoting human welfare at home and abroad.
Connected with my residence in the house of Mr. Wilson, which shortly followed, there is but one incident worth recalling.
Up to this time I had never paid any attention to mental philosophy, save under the form of phrenology; respecting some doctrines of which my criticisms, as we have seen, imply a leaning towards subjective analysis. But the science of mind had no temptation for me, otherwise than as affording these occasions for independent judgment: there had never been any deliberate study of it. All through my life Locke’s Essay had been before me on my father’s shelves, but I had never taken it down; or, at any rate, I have no recollection of having ever read a page of it. My glance over a small part of Mill’s Logic, named in a preceding chapter, had, indeed, shown that there was a latent interest in psychological questions of the intellectual class; but nothing more had come of it. Now, however, I was led to consider one of the cardinal problems which the theory of human intelligence presents.
For I found in Mr. Wilson’s house (rather oddly, as it seemed, for there was not a soupçon of philosophy in him) a copy of a translation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, at that time, I believe, recently published. This I commencēd reading, but did not go far. The doctrine that Time and Space are “nothing but” subjective forms,—pertain exclusively to consciousness and have nothing beyond consciousness answering to them,—I rejected at once and absolutely; and, having done so, went no further. Being then, as always, an impatient reader, even of things which in large measure interest me and meet with a general acceptance, it has always been out of the question for me to go on reading a book the fundamental principles of which I entirely dissent from. Tacitly giving an author credit for consistency, I, without thinking much about the matter, take it for granted that if the fundamental principles are wrong the rest cannot be right; and thereupon cease reading—being, I suspect, rather glad of an excuse for doing so.
Though I was not clearly conscious of them, there must have been two motives prompting this summary dismissal. There was, in the first place, the utter incredibility of the proposition itself; and then, in the second place, there was the want of confidence in the reasonings of any one who could accept a proposition so incredibile. If a writer could, at the very first step in his argument, flatly contradict an immediate intuition of a simple and direct kind, which survives every effort to suppress it, there seemed no reason why, at any and every subsequent stage of his argument, he might not similarly affirm to be true a proposition exactly opposite to that which the intellect recognizes as true. Every coherent body of conclusions is a fabric of separate intuitions, into which, by analysis, it is decomposable; and, if one of the primary intuitions is of no authority, then no one of the secondary intuitions is of any authority: the entire intellectual structure is rotten.
I must have dimly felt then what I afterwards clearly saw, and have set forth in The Principles of Psychology, §§ 388—391—the fact that belief in the unqualified supremacy of reason is the superstition of philosophers. Without showing any warrant, or making any attempt to show a warrant (there being in fact no warrant to be shown), they assume that in each step throughout an argument, the dependence of conclusion upon premises, which in the last resort is an intuition, has a validity greater than that of any other kind of intuition: the truth being, contrariwise, that it has a smaller validity. A simple intuition, such as that by which we apprehend Space as external, has a clearness and strength transcending the clearness and strength of any intuition by which we see, internally, that, given certain data, a certain inference follows; and still more has it a clearness and strength immensely transcending that of a series of such internal intuitions, constituting an argument. All that it is competent for reason to do, as a critic of external perception, is to re-interpret its dicta in such way as to make them consistent—not, for instance, to deny the apparent motion of the Sun through the heavens from East to West, but to show that this apparent motion may equally be produced by the motion of the Earth round its axis from West to East; and that this interpretation of the appearance is congruous with various other perceptions, which the original interpretation is not.
But I am digressing too much. It remains only to say that whenever, in later years, I have taken up Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, I have similarly stopped short after rejecting its primary proposition.
But what about The Pilot? Well, there is not much to be said. After various mischances—breaking down of the printing machine and so forth—the paper was launched on the 28th September, and thereafter went on for a time with regularity.
Beyond discharging my functions as sub-editor, I did my share in the writing of leading articles. Among those which came from my pen, I find mentioned in letters, or otherwise identified, the following:—“Railway Administration”; “A Political Paradox”; “Magisterial Delinquencies”; “A Political Parable and its Moral”; “Honesty is the Best Policy”; “The Impolicy of Dishonesty”; and “The Great Social Law.”
In these articles I observe only one thing worthy to be named—the growth of a certain belief, already vaguely indicated two years before in the letters on The Proper Sphere of Government, and now more clearly expressed. In the article entitled “Honesty is the Best Policy,” contending that this truth holds more certainly of a society than of an individual, since in a society evil reactions cannot be escaped, it is said:—“The life and health of a society are the life and health of one creature. The same vitality exists throughout the whole mass. One part cannot suffer without the rest being ultimately injured.”
But now, after about a month, the sub-editing and the writing of leaders, were alike suddenly cut short in a quite unexpected way.*
[*]With the history of this brief engagement, may here be joined mention of an instructive incident, which occurred nearly half a century later.