Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXIII.: A MORE ACTIVE YEAR. 1852. Æt. 31—32. - An Autobiography, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XXIII.: A MORE ACTIVE YEAR. 1852. Æt. 31—32. - 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 MORE ACTIVE YEAR.
Of things done this year the first worthy of naming was an essay, insignificant in length but significant in matter, on “The Development Hypothesis,” published in The Leader in March. For a long time entertained, and becoming gradually more confirmed, my belief in this was now avowed.
To the allegation that no cases are proved of a new species arising by progressive modifications, was opposed the fact that the rise of a species by special creation is absolutely unknown: the special-creation hypothesis simply formulates ignorance into a semblance of knowledge. Moreover, while the assumed process of special creation is not only unknown but cannot in the last resort be rationally conceived, the process of development by successive modifications is one the nature of which is everywhere exemplified in the visible changes produced in organisms by changed conditions. It was pointed out that other groups of phenomena, as those which geometry presents, show us how, by a succession of infinitesimally small changes, there is effected a transmutation of forms so great that the extreme terms seem to have no conceivable relation to one another; and it was inferred that, similarly, it is perfectly credible that organisms the most apparently unlike, may be connected by insensible gradations. Finally it was argued that during the growth of a seed into a plant, or an ovum into an adult animal, there takes place a metamorphosis no less complicated and no less marvellous than the metamorphoses which the development hypothesis supposes to have taken place in successive generations of organisms during millions of years; and that therefore there is nothing unreasonable in the belief that there have occurred in the second case, transformations similar in their successions and degrees to those which we see occur in the first.
In this essay there took a definite shape the germ out of which originated the general system of thought elaborated in subsequent years.
In the last chapter it was said that I declined to write for the first number of The Westminster Review, an article setting forth the conclusions at which I had arrived concerning the law of population, because I wished to reserve the subject for larger treatment in a book. Late in the year, however, this decision was changed. A letter to my father on December 9, contains the passage:—
“I have agreed to give Chapman an outline of my theory of Population for the Westminster. I must set to at it shortly to get it ready for the April number. I have thought it safer to do this, as I can then proceed with the development of it at leisure, and need be under no fear of being forestalled.”
The general idea elaborated in this essay, which was published under the title—“A Theory of Population deduced from the General Law of Animal Fertility,” had been entertained by me since 1847 at the latest, when I remember propounding it to a friend: how long before, I cannot tell. I had, as already indicated, been collecting materials for it early in 1851; and writing it occupied me during January, February, and part of March, 1852. Its argument well exemplified several intellectual characteristics. There was the tacit belief that the degrees of fertility of organisms, from the lowest to the highest, are naturally determined and not supernaturally designed; that is, are physically caused. There was the implication that a certain law of multiplication holds throughout:—the law being that the degree of fertility is inversely proportionate to the grade of development; as measured here by bulk, there by structure, there by activity, and commonly by all of these. There was the conclusion, drawn without hesitation, that in virtue of this law, holding no less of man than of organic beings at large, higher degrees of evolution must be accompanied by lower rates of multiplication. And a further characteristic trait was the tacit faith in a tendency towards self-adjustment—the movement of things towards equilibrium: in this case towards a balance between rate of mortality and rate of reproduction. Obviously these are all aspects of that developmental view which had grown so dominant with me.
From the following passages it will be seen that towards the close of the article, I came near to a doctrine which eight years later initiated a transformation in the conceptions of naturalists:—
“From the beginning, pressure of population has been the proximate cause of progress.” (p. 501).
“And here it must be remarked, that the effect of pressure of population, in increasing the ability to maintain life, and decreasing the ability to multiply, is not a uniform effect, but an average one. . . . All mankind in turn subject themselves more or less to the discipline described; they either may or may not advance under it; but, in the nature of things, only those who do advance under it eventually survive. . . . For as those prematurely carried off must, in the average of cases, be those in whom the power of self-preservation is the least, it unavoidably follows that those left behind to continue the race, are those in whom the power of self-preservation is the greatest—are the select of their generation.” (pp. 499-500).
It seems strange that, having long entertained a belief in the development of species through the operation of natural causes, I should have failed to see that the truth indicated in the above-quoted passages, must hold, not of mankind only, but of all animals; and must everywhere be working changes among them. If when human beings are subjected by pressure of population to a competition for the means of subsistence, it results that on the average the tendency is for the select of their generation to survive, so, little by little, producing a better-adapted type; then the like must happen with every other kind of living thing similarly subjected to the “struggle for existence.” And if so, this must be in all cases a cause of modification. Yet I completely overlooked this obvious corollary—was blind to the fact that here was a universally-operative factor in the development of species. There were, I think, two causes for this oversight.
One was my espousal of the belief that the inheritance of functionally-produced modifications suffices to explain the facts. Recognizing this as a sufficient cause for many orders of changes in organisms, I concluded that it was a sufficient cause for all orders of changes. There are, it is true, various phenomena which did not seem reconcilable with this conclusion; but I lived in the faith that some way of accounting for them would eventually be found. Had I looked more carefully into the evidence, and observed how multitudinous these inexplicable facts are—had I not slurred over the difficulties, but deliberately contemplated them; I might perhaps have seen that here was the additional factor wanted.
A further cause was that I knew little or nothing about the phenomena of variation. Though aware that deviations of structure, in most cases scarcely appreciable but occasionally constituting monstrosities, occur among all organisms; yet I had never been led to think about them. Hence there lacked an indispensable idea. Even had I become distinctly conscious that the principle of the survival of the select must hold of all species, and tend continually to modify them; yet, not recognizing the universal tendency to vary in structure, I should have failed to recognize a chief reason why divergence and re-divergence must everywhere go on—why there must arise multitudinous differences of species otherwise inexplicable.
When recalling the doings of past years, I have sometimes been at a loss to decide how it was, and when it was, that I first entertained the thought of writing upon Psychology. Had I been forced to say, I should have said that the beginning of 1854 was the time, and that the composition of an essay on “The Genesis of Science” was the cause. I should have been quite wrong, however. To my surprise, correspondence proves that the design dates back to the beginning of 1852; and that I had then reached some, at any rate, of the leading ideas eventually set forth. A letter written to my father on the 12th of March, 1852, contains the paragraph:—
“I shall shortly begin to read up in preparation for my ‘Introduction to Psychology.’ Probably it will be the close of next year before I have it ready for the press. I intend it to be preliminary to a large work on Psychology, probably extending to more than one volume. This introduction will contain the general principles, and will foreshadow the character of the book itself.”
The first sentence implies that the intention had arisen some time before this date; for I speak of the work to my father as though he had already been told of it. Probably it was during my stay at Derby, at the close of the preceding December, that I named the intention to him. It is further manifest that there must already have been reached the general conceptions eventually set forth; since, otherwise, there would have been no thought of “a large work on psychology probably extending to more than one volume.” A fortnight later, namely on the 25th, I wrote home—
“I am just beginning to read Mill’s Logic. This is my first step towards preparing for my ‘Introduction to Psychology’ which I mean to begin vigorously by and by.”
No further reference to the subject appears in the correspondence until a letter of October 1, in which I find the paragraph—
“I am busy with the Psychology, and have drawn up an outline of the section on the ‘Universal Postulate.’ ”
Thus it appears that the general interest in mental phenomena indicated in the last chapter as having been shown in sundry ways, and which I there inferred was increased by reading Lewes’s Biographical History of Philosophy in the autumn of 1851, quickly, under that stimulus, began to have results. It was there remarked, that some original conception in relation to the subject was needed to give me the requisite spur; and this requirement was, it seems, fulfilled much sooner than I supposed.
A matter of very different nature comes next to be named—something thoroughly practical following someing quite theoretical. The long-standing arrangements for the distribution of books, not inappropriate to a time when the demand for them was small and the means of communication undeveloped, had quite lost their fitness in railways days and days of cheap literature. Dissatisfaction had, I presume, been growing; and about this time began to take shape. Under the title—“The Commerce of Literature,” Mr. Chapman published an article upon the subject in The Westminster Review, in which he described the trade-organization, and the coercive regulations by which it maintained the retailers’ rates of profit. The following sentences set forth the essential points:—
“A volume, the published price of which is 12s, is sold to the trade in single copies at 9s. . . . But should the purchaser take 25 copies at once, he is only charged for 24, at 8s 6d each, thus making a total discount allowed to the trade of 33 per cent., which is therefore the amount paid by the publisher for distribution, exclusive of the additional 10 per cent. retained by himself as his remuneration, when he is employed by an author. . . . It appears, then, that when the nominal price of a book is 12s, the publisher really gets for it about 8s, leaving 4s to remunerate the agents who place the book in the hands of the public.”
There resulted a movement among authors, in which I took an active part—indeed, as correspondence shows, a more active part than I remembered. The following is an extract from a letter to my father written in May:—
“I have been very busy these two weeks past on this bookselling question. Never let it be said that one man can do but little. The meeting held at Chapman’s on Tuesday, and of which I enclose a report, originated with my urging it upon him, and going with him to call on the leading men. I have marked some passages in his statement which I wrote for him as also two resolutions. I declined taking any part in the proceedings. The meeting will probably be fatal to the Bookselling Association.”
It was fatal—to the system at least. Whether the Booksellers’ Association continued to exist, I do not know. Dickens occupied the chair; and sundry men of note took part in the proceedings. One of them was Prof. Owen, who, I remember, made the statement that when he wanted to publish a new book, the question with him always was whether he could afford the entailed loss. One incident of the occasion, perhaps worth naming, is that before the meeting, a number of copies of resolutions being required, Miss Evans and I undertook the task of making them. I remember being struck with her great rapidity in writing—far exceeding my own. She wrote at that time a very much larger and more masculine hand than that given as a sample in Mr. Cross’s life of her: a hand of something like double the size and more sweeping in character.
What were the immediate effects of the meeting I cannot recollect; but the ultimate effect was that the question between the authors and the booksellers was referred to Lord Campbell as arbitrator. He gave a decision against the booksellers; and there were consequently abolished such of the trade-regulations as interdicted the sales of books at lower rates of retail profit than those authorized.
The free system worked in a way not altogether satisfactory. One would have thought that when it was agreed by the trade, no longer to insist on the high percentages above named, custom would have established lower percentages. This, however, was not done in a direct way. The old scale was continued; and the only change made was that the retailer who sold at a lower rate of profit, was no longer regarded as a black sheep, and no longer obliged to get his supplies of books, when he got them at all, in underhand ways. There consequently arose the now-established system of making large discounts from the nominal prices. I speak of this arrangement as unsatisfactory, because many persons are misled by the nominal prices. If one who is not much in the habit of buying books, sees a book advertised at twelve shillings, he is apt to be deterred by what he thinks too high a price for his purse: either not knowing, or not remembering at the moment, that he can obtain it for nine shillings—a price he would not have hesitated to give had it been the price named.
At the close of the last chapter, and again in the foregoing section, there has occurred the name of Miss Evans—then little known but now of world-wide fame.
My acquaintance with her dated back to midsummer 1851. She was then visiting Chapman; and, while partly occupied in seeing the Great Exhibition, was, I suppose, partly occupied in discussing the arrangements for the conduct of The Westminster Review, in which it was proposed she should take part. In the autumn, when preparations for the first number of the new series of the Review were beginning, she came up to reside permanently in Chapman’s house; and I then, and afterwards, saw her from time to time at his weekly soirées. As is implied by the reference to her at the close of Chapter XXI., our relations had become friendly before the end of 1851; and by the time at which the above-named meeting took place, there had arisen the intimacy described in her correspondence with her Conventry friends. A letter to Lott on the 23rd April speaks of:—
“Miss Evans whom you have heard me mention as the translatress of Strauss and as the most admirable woman, mentally, I ever met. We have been for some time past on very intimate terms. I am very frequently at Chapman’s and the greatness of her intellect conjoined with her womanly qualities and manner, generally keep me by her side most of the evening.”
For some time before the date of this letter, the occasions of meeting had been multiplied by the opportunities I had for taking her to places of amusement. My free admissions for two, to the theatres and to the Royal Italian Opera, were, during these early months of 1852, much more used than they would otherwise have been, because I had frequently—indeed nearly always—the pleasure of her companionship in addition to the pleasure afforded by the performance.
In presence of so much that is familiar concerning her powers and her character, as displayed in her works and delineated in biographies, it seems scarcely needful for me to say anything. Still, an account of her as she appeared during early days, when she was as yet unaffected by the incidents of her later life, may be of value as contributing to a complete estimate.
In physique there was, perhaps, a trace of that masculinity characterizing her intellect; for though of but the ordinary feminine height she was strongly built. The head, too, was larger than is usual in women. It had, moreover, a peculiarity distinguishing it from most heads, whether feminine or masculine; namely that its contour was very regular. Usually, heads have here and there either flat places or slight hollows; but her head was everywhere convex. Striking by its power when in repose, her face was remarkably transfigured by a smile. The smiles of many are signs of nothing more than amusement; but with her smile there was habitually mingled an expression of sympathy, either for the person smiled at or the person smiled with. Her voice was a contralto of rather low pitch and I believe naturally strong. On this last point I ought to have a more definite impression, for in those days we occasionally sang together; but the habit of subduing her voice was so constant, that I suspect its real power was rarely if ever heard. Its tones were always gentle, and, like the smile, sympathetic.
These traits of manner resulted from large measures of both the factors which prompt altruistic feeling—the general sympathies and the domestic affections. The activity of these last largely conduced to the leading incidents of her subsequent life. That from her general sympathies resulted a great deal of the enthusiasm of humanity, scarcely needs saying. They also caused a desire to feel at one with society around. The throwing off of her early beliefs left her mind in an attitude of antagonism which lasted for some years; but this was only a temporary feeling: her natural feeling was a longing to agree as far as possible. Her self-control, leading to evenness of temper was marked. Only once did I see irritation, not unjustified, a little too much manifested. Conscientious and just in all relations and consequently indignant against wrong, she was nevertheless so tolerant of human weaknesses as to be quickly forgiving; and, indeed, was prone to deprecate harsh judgments. This last trait was I doubt not in part caused by constant study of her own defects. She complained of being troubled by double consciousness—a current of self-criticism being an habitual accompaniment of anything she was saying or doing; and this naturally tended towards self-depreciation and self-distrust.*
Probably it was this last trait which prevented her from displaying her powers and her knowledge. The discovery of these had to be made gradually and incidentally. How great both were there is now no occasion to tell anyone. An extraordinarily good memory and great quickness of apprehension made acquisition of every kind easy; and along with this facility of acquisition there went an ability to organize that which she acquired, though not so great an ability. For her constructive imagination, remarkably displayed though it was in the creation of characters and the representation of mental states, did not serve her so well in other directions. She did not devise satisfactory plots; and her speculative faculty was critical and analytic rather than synthetic. Even as it was, however, her philosophical powers were remarkable. I have known but few men with whom I could discuss a question in philosophy with more satisfaction. Capacity for abstract thinking is rarely found along with capacity for concrete representation, even in men; and among women, such a union of the two as existed in her, has, I should think, never been paralleled.
In early days she was, I believe, sometimes vivacious; but she was not so when I first knew her, nor afterwards. Probably this was the reason why the wit and the humour which from time to time gave signs of their presence, were not frequently displayed. Calmness was an habitual trait. There was never any indication of mental excitement, still less of mental strain; but the impression constantly produced was that of latent power—the ideas which came from her being manifestly the products of a large intelligence working easily. And yet this large intelligence working easily, of which she must have been conscious, was not accompanied by any marked self-confidence. Difference of opinion she frequently expressed in a half apologetic manner.
It was, I presume, her lack of self-confidence which led her, in those days, to resist my suggestion that she should write novels. I thought I saw in her many, if not all, of the needful qualifications in high degrees—quick observation, great power of analysis, unusual and rapid intuition into others’ states of mind, deep and broad sympathies, wit and humour, and wide culture. But she would not listen to my advice. She did not believe she had the required powers.
In the course of the spring the name of Comte came up in conversation. She had a copy of the Philosophie Positive, and at her instigation I read the introductory chapters or “Exposition.” As may be inferred from what has been said in past chapters, the task was not an easy one. Such knowledge of French as I had gained by scrambling through half-a-dozen easy novels, content to gather the drift, and skipping what I failed to understand, was of course very inadequate. What I thought about the doctrine of the three stages—theological, metaphysical, and positive—I do not clearly remember. I had never considered the matter and was not prepared either to deny or to admit. I believe I remained neutral. But concerning Comte’s classification of the sciences I at once expressed a definite opinion. Here I had sufficient knowledge of the facts; and this prompted a pronounced dissent. She was greatly surprised: having, as she said, supposed the classification to be perfect. She was but little given to argument; and finding my attitude thus antagonistic, she forthwith dropped the subject of Comte’s philosophy, and I read no further.
As the season advanced, our conversations were no longer always indoors or at places of amusement. Our most frequent out-door conversations occurred during walks along a quiet promenade near at hand. In those days, before the Thames Embankment was made, the southern basement of Somerset House rose directly out of the water; and the only noises on that side came from the passing steam-boats. From end to end, this basement is surmounted by a balustrade, and behind the balustrade runs a long terrace: at that time as little invaded by visitors as by sounds. The terrace is shut off by a gate from one of the courts of Somerset House. Chapman had obtained a key of this gate; whether by favour or by some claim attaching to his house, the back of which abutted on Somerset House, I do not know. Frequently on fine afternoons in May, June and July, she obtained the key; and we made our way on to the terrace, where we paced backwards and forwards for an hour or so, discussing many things.
Of course, as we were frequently seen together, people drew their inferences. Very slight evidence usually suffices the world for positive conclusions; and here the evidence seemed strong. Naturally, therefore, quite definite statements became current. There were reports that I was in love with her, and that we were about to be married. But neither of these reports was true.
Here, à propos of a remark she made about me during the Spring, I may, more fitly perhaps than elsewhere, comment on a certain habit of thought which I described in consequence of her remark. Social Statics having, I presume, been referred to, she said that, considering how much thinking I must have done, she was surprised to see no lines on my forehead. “I suppose it is because I am never puzzled,” I said. This called forth the exclamation—“O! that’s the most arrogant thing I ever heard uttered.” To which I rejoined—“Not at all, when you know what I mean.” And I then proceeded to explain that my mode of thinking did not involve that concentrated effort which is commonly accompanied by wrinkling of the brows.
It has never been my way to set before myself a problem and puzzle out an answer. The conclusions at which I have from time to time arrived, have not been arrived at as solutions of questions raised; but have been arrived at unawares—each as the ultimate outcome of a body of thoughts which slowly grew from a germ. Some direct observation, or some fact met with in reading, would dwell with me: apparently because I had a sense of its significance. It was not that there arose a distinct consciousness of its general meaning; but rather that there was a kind of instinctive interest in those facts which have general meanings. For example, the detailed structure of this or that species of mammal, though I might willingly read about it, would leave little impression; but when I met with the statement that, almost without exception, mammals, even as unlike as the whale and the giraffe, have seven cervical vertebræ, this would strike me and be remembered as suggestive. Apt as I thus was to lay hold of cardinal truths, it would happen occasionally that one, most likely brought to mind by an illustration, and gaining from the illustration fresh distinctiveness, would be contemplated by me for a while, and its bearings observed. A week afterwards, possibly, the matter would be remembered; and with further thought about it, might occur a recognition of some wider application than I had before perceived: new instances being aggregated with those already noted. Again after an interval, perhaps of a month perhaps of half a year, something would remind me of that which I had before remarked; and mentally running over the facts might be followed by some further extension of the idea. When accumulation of instances had given body to a generalization, reflexion would reduce the vague conception at first framed to a more definite conception; and perhaps difficulties or anomalies passed over for a while, but eventually forcing themselves on attention, might cause a needful qualification and a truer shaping of the thought. Eventually the growing generalization, thus far inductive, might take a deductive form: being all at once recognized as a necessary consequence of some physical principle—some established law. And thus, little by little, in unobtrusive ways, without conscious intention or appreciable effort, there would grow up a coherent and organized theory. Habitually the process was one of slow unforced development, often extending over years; and it was, I believe, because the thinking done went on in this gradual, almost spontaneous, way, without strain, that there was an absence of those lines of thought which Miss Evans remarked—an absence almost as complete thirty years later, notwithstanding the amount of thinking done in the interval.
I name her remark, and give this explanation, partly to introduce the opinion that a solution reached in the way described, is more likely to be true than one reached in pursuance of a determined effort to find a solution. The determined effort causes perversion of thought. When endeavouring to recollect some name or thing which has been forgotten, it frequently happens that the name or thing sought will not arise in consciousness; but when attention is relaxed, the missing name or thing often suggests itself. While thought continues to be forced down certain wrong turnings which had originally been taken, the search is vain; but with the cessation of strain the true association of ideas has an opportunity of asserting itself. And, similarly, it may be that while an effort to arrive forthwith at some answer to a problem, acts as a distorting factor in consciousness and causes error, a quiet contemplation of the problem from time to time, allows those proclivities of thought which have probably been caused unawares by experiences, to make themselves felt, and to guide the mind to the right conclusion.
It is with the multitudinous incidents of daily life as it is with the multitudinous seeds of a plant: almost all of them end without progeny. But, occasionally, an incident differing in no conspicuous way from the barren ones, becomes the parent of some important series of events. Already the preceding two years had furnished sundry examples; and now came another.
When agreeing to publish the “Theory of Population” in The Westminster Review, I stipulated with Chapman that a small edition should be struck off from the type, and that two months after the first appearance of the article, I should be allowed to republish it as a pamphlet with my name. This was done; and in June, when it was thus republished, I distributed a number of copies to leading men: acknowledgments being, of course, the only apparent results. With a copy sent out later, however, the result was different. Among those who attended the meeting of the British Association in 1852, was a biologist then known to but few, Mr. T. H. Huxley. One of the medical staff at Haslar, his scientific proclivities had caused his appointment to the post of assistant surgeon on board the Rattlesnake, when its officers were commissioned to make a survey of the “inner passage” on the Eastern coast of Australia. The Rattlesnake had recently returned; and Mr. Huxley was then waiting until there came the needful grant, enabling him to publish the results of his researches. Among the papers read at the meeting of the Association, was one by him concerning certain of the oceanic Hydrozoa; and some of the facts stated in it, appeared to support the arguments contained in the “Theory of Population,” &c. I was consequently prompted to send him a copy of the pamphlet; accompanied, I presume, by a letter. The result was that he called on me at The Economist office, and that I returned his call at his lodgings in St. John’s Wood. There thus commenced an acquaintanceship, growing presently into a friendship, which became an important factor in my life.
Professor Huxley is so well and widely known through the various official functions he has discharged, by his lectures and addresses, by his scientific papers, and by his books and essays on various subjects, that it would be absurd for me to say anything about him in his public capacity. I will remark only that he furnishes a disproof of that belief, held by the great majority of people, that a man can be good only in some one department of thought or action adopted as a speciality. He, contrariwise, lends some colour to the dictum—quite untenable, however—that genius is a unit, and, where it exists, can manifest itself equally in all directions. While so omnivorous as a reader that nothing comes amiss to him from a fairy tale to a Biblical criticism or a metaphysical discussion, he is no less versatile as a thinker: receptivity and originality being in him associated, though very frequently divorced.
To those who know him simply as a scientific lecturer and writer, he presents only the graver side of his character; though reports of his after-dinner speeches might show even these that he has a fund of humour. To his friends, however, he is known as a sayer of good things—some of them things which, though forgotten by himself, are remembered by others. A witticism of his at my expense has remained with me these twenty years. He was one of a circle in which tragedy was the topic, when my name came up in connexion with some opinion or other; whereupon he remarked—“Oh! you know, Spencer’s idea of a tragedy is a deduction killed by a fact.” On another occasion Lewes gave him an opportunity. I had invited some half dozen leading men to meet an American friend at dinner. In the course of the evening a conversation arose about habits of composition: some describing the difficulty they had in getting into the swing of it, and others saying they found it easy at the outset. Lewes, one of the last, said—“I never hesitate. I get up the steam at once. In short, I boil at low temperatures.” “Well, but,” remarked Huxley, “that implies a vacuum in the upper regions.”
There are two faults he has which I ought to set down, however. One is that he is too yielding. I do not mean that he is what Emerson somewhere calls “a mush of concession”: far from it. He is about the last man I should think of as likely to give up the point in argument, or be persuaded to abandon a course he had decided upon. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which he is, as I say, too yielding. For if he is asked to undertake anything, either for the benefit of an individual or with a view to public benefit, he has difficulty in saying no. The temptation to assent is commonly too much for him.
The other fault, naturally a sequence of the first, is that he habitually works too hard; for of course each of these concessions from time to time made, brings an addition to the burden of engagements. I have sometimes described him as one who is continually taking two irons out of the fire and putting three in; and necessarily, along with the external congestion entailed, there is apt to come internal congestion. A heavy adverse balance accumulates in Nature’s ledger, which has to be settled sometime and somehow; for Nature is a strict accountant.
But how can I comment on this undue yieldingness and undue devotion to work which follows it; having myself often sinned by betraying him into them? Many a time he has been occupied in giving me the benefit of his criticisms, when there needed, instead, some relaxation or amusement.
In the last chapter but one, I have referred to an essay on “Force of Expression” which had been written, I think, about the beginning of 1844, and had been declined by the editor of a periodical to which I sent it—Tait’s Magazine, I believe, now long since deceased. I cannot remember what it was which first turned my attention to the subject of style; but it is probable that some hypothesis suggested to me by a few instances, prompted that reading of books on composition which I entered upon, and found nothing satisfactory—nothing but dogmas and empirical rules, which of course did not content one who in all cases looked for principles. There resulted from the study which followed, an attempt to explain the general cause of force in expression.
This essay, or rather a revised and developed version of it, I proposed for The Westminster Review; and, occupying part of the early autumn in re-writing it, published it in October; after re-naming it “The Philosophy of Style.” The change was not of my desiring, but resulted from the editorial wish to have something more taking than “Force of Expression.” As I had been thus prompted to use too comprehensive a title, it was half amusing half annoying to hear from the editor after its publication, the criticism that the essay contained only the backbone of the subject. It was only the backbone of the subject with which I professed to deal, and which the original title covered.
Few would expect to find such a subject as style dealt with on physical principles. The first of the two theses set forth and variously illustrated, was that nervous energy is used up in the interpretation of every one of the symbols by which an idea is conveyed; and that there is greater or less expenditure of such energy according to the number of the symbols, their characters, and their order: the corollary being that in proportion as there is less energy absorbed in interpreting the symbols, there is more left for representing the idea, and, consequently, greater vividness of the idea. Otherwise stated, this thesis was that the most successful form of sentence is one which guides the thought of the hearer or reader along the line of least resistance: every resistance met with in the progress from the antecedent idea to the consequent idea, entailing a deduction from the force with which the consequent idea arises in consciousness. The second thesis was that since every element in the nervous system, like every other active element in the organism, is wasted by action, it follows that each idea suggested, each conception framed, entails some exhaustion—now momentary, now more prolonged—of the nervous elements employed; and that they are consequently for a shorter or longer time partially incapacitated for action—rendered less able than before to produce in consciousness a feeling or idea like that which they have just produced. And the corollary drawn was that to achieve the greatest effect, the successive impressions must be so arranged that the earlier ones shall not, by greatly taxing them, have so diminished the sensibility of the structures brought into play, as to render them partially insensible to those later impressions which are more especially to be appreciated.
As is at once manifest, these theses are congruous with sundry of the maxims which writers on style enunciate. That which the essay did was to reduce these maxims from the empirical form to the rational form, and to point out further applications of the principle involved.
Let me add that in its closing paragraphs occurred the first sign that von Baer’s formula, expressing the transformation passed through during the development of every organism, was in course of extension to other things. The essay ends with the statement that a perfect composition will “answer to the description of all highly-organized products, both of man and of nature: it will be, not a series of like parts simply placed in juxtaposition, but one whole made up of unlike parts that are mutually dependent”—(the conception of progress set forth in Social Statics, pp. 451-55). And on the adjoining page there is the partially-equivalent statement that progress in style “must produce increasing heterogeneity in our modes of expression.”
Of minor things written during the year, I may here mention sundry of the Haythorne Papers—“Use and Beauty,” “The Development Hypothesis,” already named, “The Origin of Architectural Types,” “A Theory of Tears and Laughter,” “Gracefulness.”
To complete the account of the year I must add some of the secondary incidents which gave the seasoning to my daily life.
Two of my weekly vacations were spent at the sea side; and, later on in the season, I had a few pleasant days with Miss Evans’s friends, the Brays, at Coventry; who, as well as Miss Hennell, thereafter became friends of mine. There were, too, some more summer rambles with Lewes—one of them being in Windsor Park and its neighbourhood, where we spent two days in sauntering and talking: a result being a brief essay by Lewes in the “Portfolio” of The Leader, under the title—“Amid the Ferns.”
Beyond those already given in one or other connexion, I find in letters a few passages of sufficiently impersonal interest to admit of quotation.
“I called on Leigh Hunt on Tuesday. I like him much. I am to go and take tea with him shortly. He has read S. S. twice.” (12th March.)
I may join with this the fact that he asked me to read the MS. of his Religion of the Heart—a work with the aims of which I felt much sympathy.
“I was at the ceremony of raising the first column of the New Crystal Palace yesterday. It was a grand affair. I saw and talked with a good many people I knew; and spent a pleasant time. The new palace will be magnificent—far transcending the other.” (August 6.)
Since the season of 1851 I had known Mr. F. O. Ward, one of the active sanitary agitators of that day, who wrote the sanitary leaders in The Times. I had attended some of his literary breakfasts and met there sundry notabilities. He had a scheme for supplying London with water from certain gathering grounds near Farnham, and, in furtherance of his scheme, twice collected there groups of scientific men and others. I was at one of his parties: Louis Blanc, I remember, being among those present. Here is an account of another of them:—
“I met Kingsley the other day—the author of “Alton Koche,” “Yeast,” the “Saint’s Tragedy,” &c. He is a capital fellow; I might with propriety say a jolly fellow. We met at a pic-nic. No one would suspect him of being a clergyman. We had a great deal of talk together . . . He is evidently a man of immense energy. He seems to have so much steam that he can scarcely sit still. He said that if he could be doing something whilst asleep it would be a great gratification. He stammers in conversation, but not, they say, in preaching. I do not know what to think of his opinions, nor does anyone else. He said amongst other things that he believed that man, as we know him, is by no means the highest creature that will be evolved. I took this as an admission of the development hypothesis; but am not sure that he meant it as such.” (September 10.)
“I have had an anonymous Christmas-box in the shape of a six-guinea microscope. It came on Christmas eve. I have been to the opticians but can only make out that it was paid for and ordered to be sent to my address by a gentleman of 40 or 50, and that he requested that no answer should be given to any questions that might be asked. I am puzzled. It must evidently have been some one who knew either directly or indirectly that I was wishing for a microscope.” (December 30.)
I found good reason to conclude that the gentleman of 40 or 50 was an intermediary: the donor knowing that I should object to receive a present had it come in a direct or avowed way.
This incident did not go far, however, towards mitigating certain saddening influences under which the year closed for me. The nature of them will appear in the course of the next chapter.
[*]Most active minds have, I presume, more or less frequent experiences of double consciousness—one consciousness seeming to take note of what the other is about, and to applaud or blame. Of late years various evidences have made me lean more and more to the belief in what has been called “the duality of the mind:” implying the ability of the two hemispheres of the brain to act more or less independently. Dreams have several times presented me with phenomena which, on any other hypothesis, seem inexplicable; and some few years ago a seemingly-conclusive experience occurred to me. Awaking one morning sufficiently to be conscious that I was awake, I nevertheless continued to dream, and for a few moments my waking consciousness watched my dreaming consciousness. Sundry analogies support the suspicion that the functions of the two hemispheres are specialized. A limited specialization has been clearly proved to exist, and it seems to me likely that there is a wider specialization: one hemisphere perhaps taking the more complex co-ordinations of ideas and the other the simpler co-ordinations, and the two co-operating. May there not possibly be a bi-cerebral thinking, as there is a binocular vision?