Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXII.: AN IDLE YEAR. 1850—51. Æt. 30—31. - An Autobiography, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XXII.: AN IDLE YEAR. 1850—51. Æt. 30—31. - 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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AN IDLE YEAR.
Sometime in the spring of 1851, when dining in company with him at Mr. Wilson’s, I was congratulated by Mr. W. R. Greg on the success of Social Statics; and thereupon greatly surprised him by the remark that after all, the result achieved seemed scarcely worth the trouble of achieving it. Had there been reason for dissatisfaction with the reception given to the book, such a feeling would not have been unnatural; but under the actual circumstances it seems strange that it should have arisen.
Did a pessimistic view of life cause it? Was it that I had contemplated men’s various ambitions, the struggles they prompt, and the disappointments which usually follow, even when they succeed? I think not. Though one who was inclined to take gloomy views of things, and who contended that few ends we strive for are worth the labour expended in attaining them, might reasonably have included the writing of a successful book among these; yet I do not think that my experiences prompted any such view. I cannot assign any cause; but merely recognize this mood of mind as probably having had something to do with my comparative inactivity during the year.
Of anything to be called work, beyond that which my official duties entailed, I can recall little more than the revision of Social Statics. The book was going off well; and there was expectation that a second edition might be called for. Though I had spent a great deal of labour on the manuscript and the proofs; yet while there remained a possibility of improving the expression, I was not content to let the book be reproduced without correcting it afresh. I obtained a set of unbound sheets, and in the course of the spring and summer went through them. Often putting one in my pocket and sallying out into the country, I broke my walk every now and then by lying down in some sheltered or shady place and castigating a few pages. Among my papers I believe there still exists the set of sheets thus revised. Inspection makes it manifest that the great aim was condensation—abridgment being here and there made by the omission even of a syllable.
Of serious occupation, if it may so be called, I am reminded of one further example by a letter to Lott, from which the following is an extract:—
“I have taken to the study of bones. Which being interpreted means that I am attending a course of Professor Owen’s lectures on Comparative Osteology. I am much interested. I mean to make physiology [morphology, I should have said] my special study; bearing so much, as it does, on several subjects with which I propose to deal.”
It seems not unlikely that the motive for wishing to hear these lectures arose from the fact that their title was suggestive of information bearing on the development hypothesis, in which I was already deeply interested.
One small addition to work done during the spring, was entailed by a question which came to me from the Congregational Board of Education. The question was whether I would permit the republication of the chapter on State-education in Social Statics: Mr. Samuel Morley (well known in later years as member of parliament for Bristol) being prepared to defray the expense. I willingly assented; and took the occasion to add a postscript of a few pages enforcing the argument. The republished chapter bore the paradoxical title—“State-Education self-defeating.” The interpretation of the paradox was that any intellectual improvement gained is more than counter-balanced by the moral deterioration caused by absolving parents from a part of their responsibilities.
I see, too, by references, that there was some reading at the British Museum. Had not the proof come before me, I should have denied that I ever in those days read there; and I was at first at a loss to know what was my motive. A letter to my father of February 15, 1851, enlightened me by the following sentences:—“I enclose you some memoranda I have been putting down at random in connexion with my theory of population. They accord with the conclusion I had previously arrived at on other grounds.” Subsequent references show that this was the subject to which I was then chiefly devoting my attention.
The first two paragraphs of this chapter, descriptive of my state of mind early in 1851, were written at a time when my letters of that period were not accessible. On consulting them I find that in large measure they bear out the supposition which my remembrances suggested. Indeed a quite specific statement of my views about life, is contained in the following passage from a letter to my friend, written on April 15.
“Talking of marrying reminds me that here I am a bachelor still. I shall be 31 in the course of a few days and so far as appearances go, I am as far from being “settled in life,” as the phrase is, as I was 10 years ago. Can’t you give me a little advice? You as a man of experience in such matters ought surely to have something to communicate. However I do not know that I should take your advice if you gave it. As for marrying under existing circumstances, that is out of the question; and as for twisting circumstances into better shape, I think it is too much trouble. As I think you have heard me say—I don’t mean to get on. I don’t think getting on is worth the bother. On the whole I am quite decided not to be a drudge; and as I see no probability of being able to marry without being a drudge, why I have pretty well given up the idea.
“After all it does not much matter. If as somebody said (Socrates, was it not?)—marrying is a thing which whether you do it or do it not you will repent, it is pretty clear that you may as well decide by a toss up. It’s a choice of evils, and the two sides are pretty nearly balanced. Come now, confess—is it not true that in respect of happiness the difference between married and unmarried life is not so great? As far as my observation goes, I cannot say that the Benedicks look a bit better in the face than the bachelors.”
In a succeeding paragraph, however, it is remarked that this view might very possibly be changed if due cause arose.
That I by no means undervalued the married state, but, contrariwise, looked forward to it as one to be achieved, was, indeed, shown in a very odd way: the evidence being of an extremely exceptional kind, if not, indeed, unique.
For sometime before, and for sometime after, the date at which I undertook my sub-editorial duties, there had been entertained by myself and sundry friends—Jackson, Loch, Lott, and another residing in Derby—the project of emigrating to New Zealand. Prospects here were not very brilliant for any of us; and we discussed the matter seriously. Books were read; and the reasons for and against duly weighed from time to time. Averse to unmethodic ways of judging, it occurred to me that aid might be had by making a rough numerical valuation of the several ends in life which might be respectively better achieved, these by staying at home and those by emigrating; and that by adding up the numbers on each side, totals would be obtained which would yield more trustworthy ideas of the relative advantages than mere unaided contemplation. Among my papers I find I have preserved the estimates then made. Here they are.
The implication is decided enough. The relative values assigned make it clear that a state of celibacy was far from being my ideal.
I may add that the scheme was gradually and silently abandoned by all except Jackson, who, unfortunately, carried it out. A passage in the above-quoted letter to Lott says that “Jackson has finally decided to go to New Zealand in the autumn.” Thinking that farming held out better prospects than engineering, he took steps to fit himself for it, and went into the country to get some lessons.
“He left for Wokingham in Berks about a week since, and is now, I suppose, deeply absorbed in The Muck-Manual, probably relieving his severer studies by getting a few wrinkles in the farm-yard respecting the weaning of calves and the killing of pigs, interspersed by stray hints from the dairymaid. New Plymouth is the settlement he thinks of going to. He is to marry before he goes. In fact it is his wish to bring his long-standing engagement to a close that has determined him to emigate.”
I have said above that the fulfilment of the scheme by him was unfortunate. Not long after his arrival in New Zealand, and while still undecided respecting his career, he went with others on a boating excursion out to sea. The boat capsized, and he was drowned. His death made the first gap in my group of friends—took from me one associated in my memory with many happy days; and, as may be supposed, was the more felt. It was felt, too, by all who knew his worth. Though the world did not lose in him a bright intellect, yet it lost a fine nature.
I do not remember for what reason I myself gave up the thought of emigration. I had originally proposed that my father and mother should go also; but they were too far advanced in life. Probably a chief deterrent from the scheme, was the consciousness that for an only child to go to the Antipodes and leave parents alone in their declining years, would be cruel.
After a changeful history, The Westminster Review had, about this time, by the losses it entailed on its immediate supporters, tired them out. During its earlier days it had been kept afloat by subsidies from Sir William Molesworth and Mr. J. S. Mill; the last of whom, himself a large contributor to its pages as well as to its funds, for a long time played the part if not of nominal editor yet of actual editor. The last editor under the superintendence of Mr. Mill was Mr. Robertson. At a later period the Review was bought by Mr. Hickson; and an endeavour was made by lower rates of payment to contributors, as well as, probably, by gratis articles, to make it meet its expenses. Though still owned by Mr. Hickson, it was at the beginning of 1851, edited by Mr. Slack.
In the spring of that year negotiations were opened for sale of it to Mr. Chapman; and by the middle of May, the negotiations were so far advanced that Mr. Chapman was making his arrangements, and casting about for contributors. In a letter to my father dated May 21, a passage concerning this matter runs as follows:
“Chapman (I tell you this in confidence) is about to have the Westminster Review. It will come into his hands at the end of the year. Chapman has twice proposed to me to write an article for the January number. The first time he proposed the population question on which he knows my views. But I declined on the ground that I wished to make it the subject of a book. His second proposal, made to-day, I have thrown cold water on by telling him that agreeing to get an article ready for the 1st Jany would interfere with the population book, which I intend to begin as soon as I have revised Social Statics. Mr. Greg in a letter which Chapman showed me about the management of the Westminster in its new hands, quite counts upon me as a constant contributor; but I do not feel inclined to sacrifice my existing projects.”
I find the sentence in a subsequent letter—
“He (Chapman) has been wanting me to write him an article on the suffrage for the Jan. No, but I tell him I do not think I am fitted to produce the kind of article he wants, viz. a so-called practical one.”
Respecting the population question referred to above, I may add that subsequent letters show that my preparations for a book on it had advanced further than memory led me to suppose. There is mention of a programme which I was drawing up; and the answer to one of my father’s questions, written late in the autumn, is—“I shall finish the skeleton before sending it [to you]: There will be some 20 odd chapters.”
The year 1851 was the year of the Great Exhibition; and the first of May brought the opening by the Queen. In my journalistic capacity I had free admission, but made no use of it on that day: neither then nor at any time caring to be a spectator of State-ceremonies or royal pageants. Next day, however, I promptly availed myself of my entrance ticket; and thereafter many days and half days were passed with pleasure and profit in studying the arts and industries of the various European peoples. Exhibitions, more or less extensive, have now become common things; but at that date nothing of the kind had been seen. Of course the interest excited far exceeded any interest excited at present. As the season advanced, a good deal of time was spent in playing the guide to country relatives and friends.
Here I am reminded of the divergent opinions which were entertained concerning this industrial show and its consequences. At the one extreme were many oversanguine people who expected it to inaugurate a universal peace. At the other extreme came Mr. Carlyle, uttering fierce denunciations with all that power of language characteristic of him. And with these aberrant judgments I may join one published in Blackwood’s Magazine; where a writer describing the impressions supposed to be produced by the Exhibition on the Ghost of Voltaire, makes him express the belief that the only improvement worthy of note since his day was the lucifer match!
One other incidental fact may be added. When the Exhibition was about to be closed, it was suggested that the iron and glass building used for it should be retained as a winter-garden. Londoners at large would have derived great advantage had it been made permanent; for not only as a winter-garden would it have been available, but also as a charming promenade in wet weather at all parts of the year. The owners and occupiers of houses in Prince’s Gate and the immediate neighbourhood, however, gave a determined opposition to the proposal. Though it could not be said that the building was an eyesore, yet it was clear that were a winter-garden made of it, the traffic along the Kensington road would be, on Sundays and holidays, greatly increased. Notwithstanding the comparatively small number of those whose interests were thus adverse to the project, they prevailed. The building was pulled down; and millions of people were deprived of refining pleasure.
The fact furnishes another illustration of the truth, often illustrated, that a small body of men deeply interested and able easily to co-operate, is more than a match for a vast body of men less deeply interested and unfavourably circumstanced for co-operation.
When, in the last chapter, I remarked that I failed to take advantage of such opportunities as occurred of widening my social relations, I forgot an all-important exception. There resulted one intimacy which had marked effects on my life.
A generation earlier, a conspicuous part had been played in public life by Mr. William Smith, for many years member of parliament for Norwich. His were the times during which immense sums were lost over contested elections; and he is said to have spent three fortunes in this way: not for the gratification of personal ambition, but prompted by patriotic motives. For, himself a Unitarian, he was the leading representative of the much-oppressed dissenters; and it was he who, by untiring efforts, finally succeeded in obtaining the abolition of the Test and Corporation Acts. Various of his descendants have been conspicuous for their public spirit, philanthropic feeling, and cultivated tastes. From the eldest son, his father’s successor in Parliament, descended Mr. Benjamin Leigh Smith, whose achievements as an Arctic explorer are well known, and Madame Bodichon, of note as an amateur artist, and active in good works. One of the daughters became Mrs. Nightingale of Lea Hurst; and from her, besides Lady Verney, came Miss Florence Nightingale.
Among the younger sons was Mr. Octavius Smith, who might be instanced in proof of the truth—very general but not without exception—that originality is antagonistic to receptivity. For having in early life been somewhat recalcitrant under the ordinary educational drill, he was in later life distinguished not only by independence of thought, but by marked inventiveness—a trait which stood him in good stead in the competition which, as the proprietor of the largest distillery in England, he carried on with certain Scotch rivals. Energetic in a high degree, and having the courage and sanguineness which come from continued success, he was full of enterprizes: sundry of them for public benefit. Partly because of the personal experiences he had in various directions of the obstacles which Governmental interferences put in the way of improvement, and partly as a consequence of the fact that being a man of vigour and resource he was not prone to look for that aid from State-agencies which is naturally invoked by incapables, he was averse to the meddling policy; much in favour then, and still more in favour now. One leading purpose of Social Statics being that of setting forth both the inequity and the mischief of this policy, a lady who knew Mr. Octavius Smith’s views, planned an introduction; and this having been made, there was initiated an acquaintanceship which afterwards grew into something more.
I have been very fortunate in my friendships; and not the least so in that with Mr. Octavius Smith. In later years I owed to him the larger part of my chief pleasures in life.
Already I have named the fact that in the Spring of 1850, I met Mr. G. H. Lewes; and that in the course of our walk home from a soirée, a conversation between us produced mutual interest. When Social Statics came out he spoke highly of it, both privately and in public as literary editor of The Leader; and naturally when we met again, a further step was taken towards intimacy. As we had many tastes and opinions in common, the intimacy grew rapidly.
When the summer came there resulted country excursions together—the early ones being long Sunday rambles in Wimbledon Park, Richmond Park, etc.: a companion on the first occasion being Mr. E. S. Pigott, now Licenser of Plays, and at that time interested in The Leader as one who subscribed part of the capital. Later in the season our excursions took a wider range. The longest of them was up the valley of the Thames:—by railway to Slough and thence on foot to Cookham, where we slept; next day we went along the Thames-bank by Marlow and on to Henley, where our day’s walk ended; leaving there on the Monday, we reached by the help of a coach drive, Pangbourne, and eventually Goring, where we stopped for the night; and next day we walked as far as Abingdon, whence we returned by railway. The expedition was a memorable one for both of us; not only because of its enjoyments, which were great, but also because of its mental results. It was to the impulse he received from the conversations during these four days, that Lewes more particularly ascribed that awakened interest in scientific inquiries which is referred to in an extract from his diary published in George Eliot’s Life. And in me, observation on the forms of leaves set going a train of thought which ended in my writing an essay on “The Laws of Organic Form”; an extended exposition of which occupies some space in The Principles of Biology. Later in the autumn, Kent was the scene of another ramble: Gravesend, Maidstone and Cobham being among the places on our route. Lewes remarked at its close, that the ramble had not been so rich in suggestions as the preceding one; but he had brought with him a volume by Milne-Edwards, and in it for the first time I met with the expression—“the physiological division of labour.” Though the conception was not new to me, as is shown towards the end of Social Statics, yet the mode of formulating it was; and the phrase thereafter played a part in my course of thought.
As a companion Lewes was extremely attractive. Interested in, and well informed upon, a variety of subjects; full of various anecdote; and an admirable mimic; it was impossible to be dull in his company. Now-a-days he is chiefly known by the contributions to philosophy in his Problems of Life and Mind; but his reputation was then mainly that of an extremely versatile man—a critic and writer on general literature, a novelist, a dramatist, an actor, an expositor of philosophy. This last combination recalls a droll incident in his career. He delivered a series of lectures on philosophy in the provinces; and, among other places, in Edinburgh. There, after his last lecture had been given, the play-bills announced The Merchant of Venice, with Mr. Lewes in the part of Shylock. The dramatic element in the performance was, I doubt not, good; and I dare say his dramatic faculty justified the thought which he at one time entertained of going upon the stage. But his figure was not sufficiently impressive for many parts; and his voice was not effective.
I knew nothing in those days of his domestic life, or, indeed, of anything concerning him beyond that which our conversations disclosed. But alike then and afterwards, I was impressed by his forgiving temper and his generosity. Whatever else may be thought, it is undeniable that he discharged the responsibilities which devolved upon him with great conscientiousness, and at much cost in self-sacrifice, notwithstanding circumstances which many men would have made a plea for repudiating them.
One result of my friendship with Lewes was that I read some of his books. His first novel, Ranthorpe, he spoke of disparagingly; but of his second, Rose, Blanche, and Violet, he entertained a better opinion. This I read. So far as I remember it did not make upon me any decided impression one way or the other. A more important result, however, was that I read his Biographical History of Philosophy, then existing in its original four-volumed form, in the series of shilling volumes published by Knight, who was one of the pioneers of cheap literature.
Up to that time questions in philosophy had not attracted my attention. On my father’s shelves during the years of my youth and early manhood, there had been a copy of Locke’s Essay which I had never looked into; and as I had not utilized a book constantly at hand, it may naturally be inferred that I had not troubled myself to obtain other books dealing with the same and kindred topics. It is true that, as named in my narrative of that period, I had in 1844 got hold of a copy of Kant’s Critique, then, I believe, recently translated, and had read its first pages: rejecting the doctrine in which, I went no further. It is also true that though, so far as I can remember, I had read no books on either philosophy or psychology, I had gathered in conversations or by references, some conceptions of the general questions at issue. And it is no less true that I had myself, to some extent, speculated upon psychological problems,—chiefly in connexion with phrenology. The fact, already named, that I had in 1844 arrived at the conclusion long before set forth by Adam Smith, that from the sympathetic excitement of pleasurable and painful feelings in ourselves, there originate the actions commonly grouped as benevolent, shows that I was somewhat given to the study of our states of consciousness; and Social Statics, in which the sentiment of justice is interpreted after the same general manner as that of benevolence, and in which a good deal is said concerning the development of the moral nature, shows that the tendency to mental analysis had become pronounced. Still, I had not, up to 1851, made the phenomena of mind a subject of deliberate study.
I doubt not that the reading of Lewes’s book, while it made me acquainted with the general course of philosophical thought, and with the doctrines which throughout the ages have been the subjects of dispute, gave me an increased interest in psychology, and an interest, not before manifest, in philosophy at large; at the same time that it served, probably, to give more coherence to my own thoughts, previously but loose. No more definite effect, however, at that time resulted, because there had not occurred to me any thought serving as a principle of organization. Generally, if not always, it happened that a subject became interesting to me only when there had arisen some original conception in connexion with it. So long as it came before me as a collection of other men’s conclusions which I was simply to accept, there was usually comparative indifference. But when once I had got some new idea, or idea which I supposed to be new, relating to the subject, an appetite for its facts arose in me as furnishing materials for a coherent theory. The ideas which were to play this part in psychology, and eventually in philosophy, had not yet arisen.
One sequence of my intimacy with Lewes was that I made the acquaintance of Carlyle; to whose house Lewes took me towards the close of October. Here, in an extract from one of my letters to Lott, is conveyed my impression of him.
“I spent an evening at Carlyle’s some fortnight since. He is a queer creature; and I should soon be terribly bored with him were I long in his company. His talk is little else than a continued tirade against the “horrible, abominable state of things.” (The undulating line is meant to indicate his up and down Scotch emphasis.) He was very bitter against the Exhibition, amongst other things, and was very wrath at the exposure to the public of such disgusting brutes as the monkeys at the Zoological Gardens. He talks much as he writes, piling epithet upon epithet, and always the strongest he can find. You would hardly recognize him by the likeness you have. He has much colour in his cheeks while your portrait suggests pallor. He is evidently fond of a laugh; and laughs heartily. But his perpetual grumbling at everything and everybody is so provoking, and it is so useless to reason with him, that I do not want to see much of him. I shall probably call to look at him two or three times a year. His wife is intelligent but quite warped by him. And for your wife’s information I may state that there are no ‘little Carlyles.”’
The anticipation that my intercourse with him would be but small, was verified. My visits numbered three, or at the outside four, always in company with Lewes; and then I ceased to go. I found that I must either listen to his absurd dogmas in silence, which it was not in my nature to do, or get into fierce argument with him, which ended in our glaring at one another. As the one alternative was impracticable and the other disagreeable, it resulted that I dropped the acquaintanceship. My course was, I suppose, in this as in many other things, somewhat exceptional; for his talk was so attractive from its originality and vigour of expression, that many sought the gratification given by these, and for the sake of the manner disregarded the matter.
Lewes used to say of him that he was a poet without music; and to some, his denunciations have suggested the comparison of him to an old Hebrew prophet. For both of these characterizations much may be said. By others he has, strange to say, been classed as a philosopher! Considering that he either could not or would not think coherently—never set out from premises and reasoned his way to conclusions, but habitually dealt in intuitions and dogmatic assertions, he lacked the trait which, perhaps more than any other, distinguishes the philosopher properly so called. He lacked also a further trait. Instead of thinking calmly, as the philosopher above all others does, he thought in a passion. It would take much seeking to find one whose intellect was perturbed by emotion in the same degree. No less when tested by various of his distinctive dicta and characteristic opinions, does the claim made for him to the name of philosopher seem utterly inadmissible. One whose implied belief was that the rule of the strong hand, having during early ages and under certain social conditions, proved beneficial, is therefore good for all time, proved by it how little he had got beyond that dogma which children take in along with their creed, that human nature is everywhere the same and will remain the same for ever. One who sneered at political economy as the “dismal science,” implying either that the desires of men working together under social conditions do not originate any general laws of industrial action and commercial movement; or else that it is of no consequence whether we recognize such laws or not; or else that because the study of such laws is uninteresting they may as well be ignored; betrayed neither the temper nor the insight which befit the philosopher. One who grew blindly furious* over John Mill’s work On Liberty—one who scornfully called utilitarianism “pig-philosophy,” and thereby identified the pursuit of utility with the egoistic pursuit of material gratifications, spite of the proofs before him that it comprehends the pursuit of others’ welfare and the exercise of the highest sentiments, displayed an inability to think discreditable to an ordinary cultivated intelligence, much more to one ranked as a thinker. No one to whom the name philosopher is applicable, could have acquired that insensate dislike of science which he betrayed; and which, for example, prompted him in pursuance of his school-boy habit of nicknaming, to speak continually of “Earth-flattener Maupertuis”; as though to have discovered the oblateness of the Earth’s figure was something discreditable. At the same time that he was continually insisting upon the laws of this Universe and the necessity for respecting them, he went on venting his scorn against those who devote their lives to learning what these laws are. Some of his dogmas, indeed, are such as would, if uttered by a person of no authority, be inevitably considered incredibly stupid; as instance his assertion that genius “means transcendent capacity of taking trouble first of all:” the truth being that genius may be rightly defined quite oppositely, as an ability to do with little trouble that which cannot be done by the ordinary man with any amount of trouble.
Morally he was characterized by a large amount of what he himself somewhere calls “the old Norse ferocity”: one of the results being a combativeness so great that, as I can myself testify, he would oppose his own doctrines if they came back to him through the mouth of another. Lewes told me that one afternoon, having called and found him walking up and down the garden with Arthur Helps, he heard, as he approached them from behind, praises of George Sand uttered by Carlyle; and thereupon, as he joined them, exclaimed—“I am glad to hear you say that, Carlyle;” upon which Carlyle immediately began to revile her as much as he had before praised her. Of course he was perpetually led into such inconsistencies and perversities by his love of forcible speech. The passion for making points was so great that he could not bear to put the needful qualification to any strong utterance, because the effect would be partially lost; and hence, notwithstanding all his talk about “the veracities,” his writing was extremely unveracious. Exaggeration is unveracity; and one who perpetually uses the strongest epithets, which in the nature of things are but occasionally applicable, necessarily distorts his representations of things.
Naturally, with his constitutional tendency to antagonism, his delight in strong words, and his unmeasured assumption of superiority, he was ever finding occasion to scorn and condemn and denounce. By use, a morbid desire had been fostered in him to find badness everywhere, unqualified by any goodness. He had a daily secretion of curses which he had to vent on somebody or something.
Of course I do not mean to say that these traits of character were not joined with admirable traits. Various of those who knew him intimately, unite in representing him as having had a great amount of generosity and even a great depth of tenderness, in his nature; and his treatment of his relatives makes his constant self-sacrifice for others’ benefit undeniable. He illustrates a truth which we do not sufficiently recognize, that in human beings, as in lower creatures, tendencies of apparently the most opposite kinds may co-exist. A dog, the moment after displaying the greatest affection for his master, will with no adequate cause fly at a stranger, or furiously attack another dog inoffensively trotting by; and in a child the whole gamut of emotions is not unfrequently run through in a few minutes. Similarly with the more impulsive men, the manifestations of the destructive and sympathetic feelings are sometimes strangely intermingled. Carlyle’s nature was one which lacked coordination, alike intellectually and morally. Under both aspects he was, in a great measure, chaotic. His ideas of the world and mankind were never reduced to anything like rational order; and his strong emotions, fretted into intensity by his own violent language, rose into gusts of passion carrying him now this way and now that: little if any effort at self-control being made, but rather the rein being deliberately given to whatever feeling was for the time uppermost.
Doubtless his extreme irascibility and his utterance of bitter and contemptuous speeches about almost everybody, were in part due to his chronic dyspepsia. But it is made clear by his own account of himself in early life, and by his mother’s characterization of him, that he was innately despotic and arrogant in extreme degrees. For this reason his opinions on men and things would have to be largely discounted, even were there not the reason that one so markedly characterized by un-coordinated thoughts and feelings, was unfitted for guiding his fellow men.
The title of this chapter was chosen at a time when I had nothing at hand to aid my memory; and though reading the correspondence shows that I was doing more than I supposed, the title is, on the whole, appropriate. With but moderate diligence I might, in the course of the year, have written the small book on the population question which I contemplated, instead of merely collecting materials and arranging the argument. To the trivial pieces of work named at the outset, has to be added only a piece, no less trivial, done at the close of the year; which I name not as in itself worth naming, but because it introduces an incident of moment.
In preparation for the first number of The Westminster issued under his auspices, Chapman asked me to write, for his quarterly review of contemporary literature, a notice of a recently-issued edition of Carpenter’s Principles of Physiology, General and Comparative. This I agreed to do. In the course of such perusal as was needed to give an account of its contents, I came across von Baer’s formula expressing the course of development through which every plant and animal passes—the change from homogeneity to heterogeneity. Though at the close of Social Statics there is a recognition of the truth that low types of society in common with low types of organisms, are composed of many like parts performing like functions, whereas high types of society in common with high types of organisms, are composed of many unlike parts performing unlike functions, implying that advance from the one to the other is from uniformity of composition to multiformity of composition; yet this phrase of von Baer expressing the law of individual development, awakened my attention to the fact that the law which holds of the ascending stages of each individual organism is also the law which holds of the ascending grades of organisms of all kinds. And it had the further advantage that it presented in brief form, a more graphic image of the transformation, and thus facilitated further thought. Important consequences eventually ensued.
Returning to the year’s activities or rather inactivities, I perhaps ought to say that though I did but little visible work, there appears to have been done a good deal of invisible work. A letter to my father dated September 1, recalls a scheme, suggested I fancy by my excursions with Lewes, which is described as follows:—
“I have lately been jotting down ideas on all kinds of topics which have been accumulating with me for years past, and which, as being too unimportant for separate essays, I mean some day to embody in a series of magazine articles under the head of “Travel and Talk.” The idea being to develop them in a natural kind of way in the course of conversation between some friends on a walking tour.”
And in a letter of September 3, I find the following further passage referring to the project:—
“My proposed series of papers to be called T. and T. I have projected mainly with the view of pecuniary profit, if I should find that the demand for my literary aid should become such as to enable me to relinquish my present position, as I think it will by and by do. The prevalent notion that literary men are not able to make a decent living, I find to be an erroneous one. I find that 5 and 6 hundred a year are common incomes obtained by the pens of men of no great original talent. And if so, I do not think it unreasonable to expect that I might certainly make as much as I have now, with no greater expenditure of time than I now give to the Econ. and with the satisfaction of getting quit of part of the overwhelming accumulation of thoughts which now bother me.”
Again on September 22, along with an account of the excursion made with Lewes up the valley of the Thames, and evidently referring to something said during the excursion, occurs the sentence—“They want me to write some papers for the ‘Portfolio’ of the Leader at a guinea a column. What do you say?” [The Leader was like in size to The Spectator.] Elsewhere, replying to a question, I tell my father that I have declined to add my name to papers written for The Leader, because I decline to be identified with the socialistic views promulgated in it. Concerning these contributions, which it was therefore arranged should be anonymous, a subsequent letter says:—
“Lewes and I have decided against the dialogue form for these papers in the Leader. As they will be very miscellaneous there has been some hesitation about the title; and it has been decided to choose one which means nothing, but will draw attention. It is to be—“The Haythorne Papers.”
The course of my life during 1851 closed pleasantly. By arrangement with Mr. Hodgskin to do some of his work if he would do some of mine, I got a greater length of absence than four days; and utilized it by passing a week at home and going thence to spend Christmas with the Potters at Hempstead near Gloucester, to which place they had removed from Gayton Hall.
[*]“Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle: a ten years’ reminiscence,” by H. Larkin. British Quarterly Review, July 1881, p. 73.