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PART VI.: 1853—1856 - 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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TWO MONTHS’ HOLIDAY.
Except for ten days at Christmas 1851—2, I had not been absent from London more than four days at a time since the autumn of 1848: a period of nearly five years. Naturally, therefore, as the close of my engagement approached, plans were laid for utilizing my freedom by visits and tours.
During the spring it had been arranged that I should spend a fortnight with the Potters immediately after my release. They had just migrated to a new residence near Stonehouse, named Standish House, owned by Lord Sherborne, and at one time inhabited by him. It stands on the flank of the Cotswold Hills, facing the west. Behind, separated from the grounds by a ha-ha, a large park-like field running up the side of the hill, is bounded by an amphitheatre of beech trees. In front lies a broad valley, on the far side of which, some ten miles off, is to be seen, when the tide is up, the silver streak of the Severn estuary. Beyond this lie high lands: on the right, in the dim distance, the Malvern Hills; far away to the left the hills of South Wales; and in front the Forest of Dean, over which gorgeous sunsets are often to be witnessed.
I have thus briefly described the surroundings of Standish House because, during the succeeding thirty years—in spring, summer, autumn, winter—very many happy times were passed under its hospitable roof. During this first visit there was the added charm of novelty. A walk up through the beech woods to the top of the high ground behind, brought into view the Vale of Stroud, with, to me, its bitter-sweet memories; and, running out of it in various directions, branch valleys, with here and there a village nestling in a fold of the hills. Then there was Beacon Hill, a spur of the Cotswolds; and the adjacent picturesque region known as Standish Park. Now first explored, these, and many other neighbouring scenes at that time unvisited, were in after years places for pleasant excursions: mostly walking, sometimes driving, and rarely riding.
Of course indoors our lighter conversations were interspersed with discussions. Probably on this occasion, as on many occasions, there cropped up what was becoming more and more dominant in my thoughts—the development of hypothesis. It was at that time rare to find anyone who entertained it; and my friends habitually met the expression of my belief with a tolerant smile.
On returning to town towards the close of July, a few days were occupied in preparations for a tour in Switzerland. During the spring I had agreed with Lott that we should visit in company. “I will go to heaven with you,” he wrote in one of his letters: so expressing his passionate love of scenery. When the time fixed for our departure came, he was detained by business; and, finding after some days that the detention would be considerable, I, anxious to get away, partly on grounds of health, decided to start in advance and await him at Zurich.
Why give any account of our journey? All who have not been in Switzerland have read about it; and only special genius for description, or else an endowment of humour great enough to evolve amusement out of familiar things, would be an adequate excuse for the narrative. I will limit myself to the briefest outline.
My first acquaintance with the Continent was made at Antwerp; whence, having just time to see the cathedral and Ruben’s picture, I departed for Aix-la-Chapelle. Early next day to Cologne; and, after an hour or two spent chiefly in its then unfinished cathedral, by steamer to Coblentz. On to Maintz and Frankfort next day; feeling a good deal disappointed with the picturesque part of the Rhine. Two nights and a day at Frankfort were made miserable by my first attack of tooth-ache, after an immunity of thirty-three years. Thence to Basle; and thence, after a day, to Zurich. Here I spent a week or so; and then, when the time for my friend’s arrival had been exceeded by some days, I got impatient, and left a letter for him at the post-office telling him that he would find me at the top of the Righi. Two days’ walk brought me there; and he joined me within a few hours of my arrival. The successive journeys of our subsequent days ran thus:—Along the Lake of Lucerne to Fluelin and Amsteg; to Andermatt and Hospenthal; the Furca Pass and up to Furca-horn; over the Rhone Glacier, up the Grimsel Pass, and down to the Handeck Falls; to Meyringen; over by Rosenlaui to Grindelwald; up the Faulhorn; down again, and up the Wengern Alp; to Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken; a day’s rest; by steamer to Thun, and by carriage to Frutigen; over the Gemmi to the baths of Leuk; by carriage to Visp and on foot to Stalden and Nicolai; to Zermatt; a day on the Gorner glacier; up the Riffelberg and Gorner Grat and down; back to Nicolai; back to Visp. Here ended our pedestrian tour. A diligence took us to Vevay and to Basle; the railway thence to Mannheim; steamer down the Rhine to Cologne; railway to Brussels; where my friend left me, and where I spent a few days before returning to London.
I suppose I must say something about the impressions our tour left. My first remark is that we committed the usual error. With an insatiable appetite for scenery and a definitely limited holiday, my friend Lott was constantly a spur; and instead of seeing a moderate amount and seeing it well, we saw a great deal hurriedly.
But what were my impressions? Two unlike answers would seem to be given by two extracts from letters, either of which is misleading if taken by itself. The first is from one written to my father after my return.
“I was much disappointed from the absence of fine colouring. Grey and green and brown are the prevailing tints. In consequence of the clearness of the air there is very little atmospheric effect, and a general absence of those various tones which this gives. In this respect Switzerland is far inferior to Scotland. I remember Jackson expressing the opinion that for pictorial effect Scotland was far preferable; and I quite agree with him.”
The other is from a letter to my uncle William, hurriedly written in pencil, and dated “Top of the Faulhorn, 8000 and odd feet above the sea, 22 Aug. 1853.” This, though it avows no impression, indicates one.
“Here I sit surrounded by a vast panorama of mountains and lakes—on one side the comparatively fertile, inhabited part of Switzerland, on the other the peaks of the high Alps, varying from 10 to 15 thousand feet high, covered with snow and hourly sending down avalanches which send a peal of thunder across the valley seven to ten miles wide, lying between us and these giants of the Alps. From my bedroom window I see at one view the Wetterhorn, the Schrekhorn, the Finsteraarhorn, and the Jungfrau. The nearest is seven miles off, the furthest thirteen; yet so clear is the air and so vast are the heights that they all of them look within two miles.”
The reconciliation between the different feelings implied by these different extracts, is furnished by a sentence which precedes the first of them.
“On the whole, though Switzerland fully equalled my anticipations in respect of its grandeur, it did not do so in respect of its beauty.”
Beauty is deficient both because there is a lack of the warmer and brighter colours and because the forms do not compose well—the lines do not combine picturesquely. But this deficiency of beauty leaves the grandeur undiminished. After a time during which is acquired some power of interpreting the impressions made on the senses, unfamiliar with scenes of such vastness, there all at once comes a revelation; as when, while looking from the smaller mountains on one side of a valley at the great ones on the other, which, instead of dwindling as we have ascended seem to have grown, a cloud comes drifting across their faces and over it their peaks suddenly rise to a height far above that which they previously seemed to have. “Nature is the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance,” says Emerson; and there are few places in which the truth of the saying is more vividly felt than in presence of one of these immense snow-crowned masses which now and again makes the valleys reverberate by its avalanches.
The often-quoted remark of Kant that two things excited his awe—the starry heavens and the conscience of man—is not one which I should make of myself. In me the sentiment has been more especially produced by three things—the sea, a great mountain, and fine music in a cathedral. Of these the first has, from familiarity I suppose, lost much of the effect it originally had, but not the others.
To this brief indication of the mental impressions left by the tour, there has to be added something concerning the physical effects apparently produced by it.
Years before, I had read Andrew Combe’s work The Principles of Physiology applied to the preservation of Health, and had duly accepted the warning given by him against excessive exertion on the part of those who, having previously led sedentary lives, attempt feats of walking and climbing. Yet, aware as I was of the possible mischiefs, I transgressed: not, however, as it seems, without excuse. In the above-named letter written on the Faulhorn, after urging my uncle to see Switzerland, I went on to say—
“There is however great temptation to do too much. The difficulty of getting tolerable accommodation save at certain places, often induces one to go too far, and spite of the feats which the Swiss air enables every one to do, Lott and I overdid ourselves a few days ago, in spite of my previously made resolution to avoid any excess of exertion. However we shall be more resolute in future.”
Of three excesses in walking which I recall (the last being subsequent to the date of the above-named letter, notwithstanding the resolution expressed in it) two were caused by misleading statements contained in Murray’s Guide. This led us to arrange for stopping at places which, when we saw them, we instantly decided to avoid at the cost of two or three hours’ more walking along rough roads and in partial darkness: previous experience having proved that nights made sleepless by fleas were the alternatives.
These details I set down as introductory to the statement that within a few days of my return to London, there began signs of enfeebled action of the heart. There was no mental cause. As said in a letter to my father, while in Switzerland “I cultivated stupidity assiduously and successfully;” and after my return it was some weeks before I got seriously to work.
Two distinguished physiologists have at different times assured me that the heart cannot be overtaxed; but, authoritative though their opinions are, I have found acceptance of them difficult. Among reasons for scepticism are these:—First, the improbability that there are no foundations for the many assertions that extreme exertion, as in rowing matches, sometimes leaves behind a long prostration. Second, there is the unquestionable fact that during states of debility the heart is easily overtaxed: the implication being that if, during an abnormal state, its limit of power may be exceeded, it may be exceeded during a normal state. Third, the truth that other organs have limits to their powers which cannot be over-passed without damage—damage sometimes ending in atrophy—seems scarcely likely to fail in the case of one organ alone. Fourth, such an exception does not seem reconcilable with the hypothesis of evolution; for how, by either natural selection or by direct adaptation, can any organ have acquired a never-used surplus of strength?
Be the interpretation what it may, however, here is a fact, that immediately after my return from Switzerland, there commenced cardiac disturbances which never afterwards entirely ceased; and which doubtless prepared the way for the more serious derangements of health subsequently established.
The record of my doings at this period will be incomplete if I do not mention a visit paid into Suffolk.
One of the places at which my uncle had, in 1852 I think, discharged for a time the duties of the absent clergyman, was Halesworth; and among those who were drawn from neighbouring places by the accounts of his preaching, was Mrs. Trevanion, one of the daughters of Sir Francis Burdett of political celebrity. A friendship with my uncle resulted, which was renewed during Mrs. Trevanion’s sojourns in London. I suppose it was on one of my Sunday evening visits to him at Notting Hill that I first met her; though I cannot recall the occasion.
From my aunt it doubtless was that she heard of my religious opinions, and thereupon became concerned about my state and anxious for my conversion. She was an admirer of Dr. Cumming, one of the popular preachers of that day, and begged that I would accompany her to hear him. There was no escape for me: I had to yield. It is scarcely needful to say that none of the hoped-for effect was produced. While it raises a smile, there is something pathetic in the confidence with which those who have never inquired, think that those who have inquired and rejected, need but to hear once more the old beliefs duly emphasized to be convinced.
During the spring or early summer, it was arranged that after my return from Switzerland I should spend a fortnight with Mrs. Trevanion at her residence in Suffolk—Earl Soham Lodge, near Woodbridge. After nearly a month in London I left it to make the promised visit. The following extracts from a letter to my father, written from Earl Soham on October 8, I quote chiefly because of the indications they give of engagements and intentions.
“The house is built on the ruins of an old castle and is surrounded by the moat that once guarded it. Part of the old walls of the moat still remain; so that it is sufficiently picturesque.
“Mrs. Trevanion had expected other visitors but has been disappointed; so I am here alone. I fear it will be rather dull. However, I have a good deal of writing to do; and having a comfortable sitting room with fire put at my disposal, I shall devote myself to work, and pass the time in that way.
“I have agreed to write an article on ‘Manners and Fashion’ for the Westminster. They wish me to get it ready in time for the January No. in case they should want it; which however they are not sure of doing. Having this and the ‘Method in Education’ to finish by the middle of December, I shall have plenty to do. * * *
“I am going to give notice shortly to read a paper at the next British Association on the ‘Law of Organic Symmetry.’ I was speaking to Professor Forbes about it a few days ago, and he was advising me to fix on the first day of meeting, and says that he will see that it has a good place on the list.”
My visit to Earl Soham I brought to a close as soon as I could, finding it, as I anticipated, very dull. Being nearly twenty years my senior, and having comparatively few subjects of interest in common with me, my amiable hostess did not prove an enlivening companion; and I had not liveliness enough for two. In various ways Mrs. Trevanion resembled her younger sister Lady Burdett-Coutts. In the one there was, as in the other there is, a union between interest in human welfare at large and interest in the welfares of those around, prompting frequent acts of kindness and attention. This is a trait much to be admired; for general philanthropy is often not accompanied by philanthropy in detail.
On the 17th of October I was back in London, and leaving it next day, I spent a week with the Brays at Coventry; whence I departed in time to reach home towards the close of the month.
WRITING FOR QUARTERLY REVIEWS.
That part of a biography which consists of printed gossip, having little or no significance, bears a variable ratio to that part which has significance more or less considerable. Commonly, the trivialities of incident and action, which might have been this way or that way without appreciably affecting the general result, occupy the larger space, and to many readers prove the most attractive; while relatively small interest is felt by them in those passages, occupying relatively subordinate places, which throw light on the genesis of character and belief and conduct.
Of course detailed personalities in considerable amount are indispensable; since, without them, the narrative of a life cannot have the continuity and cohesion required to give it the concreteness of reality. Of such details I have myself found it needful to set down many. But I have sought to give more prominence than usual to the delineations of ideas and the manifestations of sentiments; and I have aimed to show, directly or by implication, the relations of these to innate traits, to education, and to circumstances.
In the life of the man of action an account of external events naturally occupies the first place; but in the life of the man of thought the first place should, I think, be occupied by an account of internal events. Not the origin and description of deeds is now the thing of chief import, but the origin and description of doctrines. Hence I have not scrupled to devote from time to time considerable space to digests of essays, and to such comments on them as seemed requisite to explain their antecedents.
I make these remarks here because, during the period of some eight months to be covered by this chapter, there occurred scarcely anything of moment in the shape of incident. Only those who are interested in tracing the growth of theories will find in it matter to detain them.
“Method in Education” was commenced while I was at Earl Soham, but the inertness of brain consequent on bodily exertion in Switzerland had not been overcome, and little progress was made. Save the first few pages, the essay was written at Derby during November.
Its subject had a triple interest for me. Relating to it there were certain results of observation, and to some extent of experiment, which seemed worth setting forth, considered intrinsically. Then it had direct connexions with psychology, which was at that time dominant in my thoughts. Moreover, mental development had its place in the theory of development at large: serving at once to illustrate this and to be elucidated by it. If not consciously, still unconsciously, the desire to treat of it from the psychological and developmental points of view decided me to make “method in education” the topic for a review-article.
Under its biological aspect, education may be considered as a process of perfecting the structure of the organism, and making it fit for the business of life. Inferior creatures exemplify this truth to a small extent. The behaviour of adult birds to their newly-fledged offspring, and the play of a cat with her kitten, show us ways in which the young are induced so to exercise their limbs and perceptions and instincts as daily to strengthen them and give finish to the various parts called into action. In children the physical education naturally effected by spontaneous play, as well as that artificially effected in a much less desirable way by gymnastics, visibly develops the muscles; and, as every physiologist will infer, develops also the nerves and ganglia which co-ordinate their movements, as well as the nerves and ganglia which are used in perception. A like development accompanies the activities classed as intellectual: there is a finishing of the employed cerebral plexuses. Nay, more than this is true. Every lesson learnt, every fact picked up, every observation made, implies some molecular re-arrangement in certain nervous centres. So that not only that effect of exercise by which the faculties are fitted for their functions in life, but also the acquirement of knowledge serving for guidance, is, from the biological point of view, an adjustment of structure to function.
What is the implication? Evidently that method in education must correspond with method in organization—must be a kind of objective counterpart to it. Organization does not go on at random, but everywhere conforms to recognizable principles; and unless these principles are recognized and conformed to in education, the organizing process must be impeded. It needs but to remember that in its rudimentary state every organism is simple, while it ends in being relatively complex, and often highly complex—it needs but to remember that in its first stage the forms and divisions of an unfolding germ are vague while in the adult they are quite distinct—it needs but to remember that these truths, holding of the transformation in its entirety, hold of it in all its details; to see that they yield guidance to the teacher in framing his system, and that if he disregards them he will commit grave errors; as when he insists on putting into undeveloped minds perfectly exact ideas: exactness being not only unappreciated by, but even repugnant to, minds in low stages.
I need not specify all the conclusions drawn from this general conception, which the essay set forth. I will add only that from it were derived reasons “for making education a process of self-instruction, and by consequence a process of pleasurable instruction.” And I name these two derivative principles only to gain the opportunity of saying that, in the enunciation and advocacy of them, I recognize, more than anywhere else, the direct influence of my father. It was by strengthening certain habits of thought that his chief influence over me had been exercised, and it thus was general only; but in this case it was special. If not by precept yet unmistakably by example, he produced in me an early acceptance of these principles; and there remained but to justify them by affiliating them on the Method of Nature.
That which is chiefly to be noted here, however, is the relation borne by the ideas in this essay to preceding and succeeding ideas. That its pervading doctrine was evolutionary goes without saying. But it yields proof that certain specific evolutionary doctrines were growing. It is said of mind that “like all things that develop, it progresses from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous”; and it is also said that “the development of the mind, as all other development, is an advance from the indefinite to the definite.” Thus are shown the presence, and the incipient spreading, of conceptions which were afterwards to take a far wider range.
The title of this essay when published in The North British Review for May, 1854, was changed to “The Art of Education.” It now forms the second chapter of Education: Intellectual, Moral and Physical.
Some reflections may fitly introduce the next essay. An American—or to speak strictly an Americanized Scotchman,—who maintained the unlimited right of the majority to rule, said to me that if the majority were to pass a law directing what food he should eat, he would obey. He was an enthusiastic upholder of free institutions, or rather, of what he supposed to be free institutions. He would have been greatly astonished had I told him, as I might properly have done, that his conception of freedom was but rudimentary.
There has grown up quite naturally, and indeed almost inevitably, among civilized peoples, an identification of freedom with the political appliances established to maintain freedom. The two are confused together in thought; or, to express the fact more correctly, they have not yet been separated in thought. In most countries during past times, and in many countries at the present time, experience has associated in men’s minds the unchecked power of a ruler with extreme coercion of the ruled. Contrariwise, in countries where the people have acquired some power, the restraints on the liberties of individuals have been relaxed; and with advance towards government by the majority, there has, on the average, been a progressing abolition of laws and removal of burdens which unduly interfered with such liberties. Hence, by contrast, popularly-governed nations have come to be regarded as free nations; and possession of political power by all is supposed to be the same thing as freedom. But the assumed identity of the two is a delusion—a delusion which, like many other delusions, results from confounding means with ends. Freedom in its absolute form is the absence of all external checks to whatever actions the will prompts; and freedom in its socially restricted form is the absence of any other external checks than those arising from the presence of other men who have like claims to do what their wills prompt. The mutual checks hence resulting are the only checks which freedom, in the true sense of the word, permits. The sphere within which each may act without trespassing on the like spheres of others, cannot be intruded upon by any agency, private or public, without an equivalent loss of freedom; and it matters not whether the public agency is autocratic or democratic: the intrusion is essentially the same. My American friend would, I suppose, have admitted that had he been a negro; and had a planter who bought him and set him to work, happened to have his plantation confiscated by the Government; and if the Government, carrying on the planter’s business, made him, the negro, work under the lash as before; his slavery would be not much mitigated by the thought that instead of being coerced by an individual he was now coerced by the nation. Similarly, if he is forced to wear clothes of specified material or pattern, or if he is forbidden to take this or that kind of drink, the effect on him is the same whether the commands come from a despot or from a popular assembly. Had he a more developed conception of freedom, he would in all such matters of personal concern resent dictation by the million, as in past ages he would have resented dictation by the unit, and as he even now resents dictation by the million in respect of his religious beliefs and practices.
The power of the society over the individual is greatest among the lowest peoples. The private doings of each person are far more tyrannically regulated by the community among savages, than they are among civilized men; and one aspect of advancing civilization is the emancipation of the individual from the despotism of the aggregate of individuals. Though in an uncivilized tribe the control of each by all is not effected through formulated law, it is effected through established custom, often far more rigid. The young man cannot escape the tattooing, or the knocking out of teeth, or the circumcision, prescribed by usage and enforced by public opinion. When he marries, stringent regulations limit his choice to women of certain groups, or, as in many cases, he is not allowed to have a wife until he succeeds in stealing one. All through life he must conform to certain interdicts on social intercourse with connexions formed by marriage. So is it throughout. Inherited rules which the living combine to maintain, and the authority of which no one dreams of questioning, control all actions. Similarly during the early stages of civilized societies, when the political and ecclesiastical institutions have become well organized, the despotism they exercise is associated with the despotism exercised by the whole community over every member through its irresistible usages. But on turning from the East, where this connexion has been in all times exemplified, to the West of modern times, we see that along with a decrease of political restraints and ecclesiastical restraints there goes a decrease of ceremonial restraints; so that now these dictates of the majority may, many of them, be broken with impunity or without serious penalty.
Doubtless the current conception of freedom is congruous with existing social life; and a higher conception would be dangerously incongruous with it. Primitive men, having natures in most respects unfitted for social co-operation, were held in the social state only by coercion of one or other kind: those varieties of them which would not submit, having failed to become social. Progress occurred where there existed such obedience to despotic rulers, political and ecclesiastical, as made possible the control of ill-governed and aggressive natures. At that stage the assertion of personal liberties, wherever it occurred, was a fatal impediment to national growth and organization. Only along with the gradual moulding of men to the social state, has it become possible without social disruption for those ideas and feelings which cause resistance to unlimited authority, to assert themselves and to restrict the authority. At present the need for the authority and for the sentiment which causes submission to it, continues to be great. While the most advanced nations vie with one another in committing political burglaries all over the world, it is manifest that their members are far too aggressive to permit much weakening of the restraining agencies by which order is maintained among them. The unlimited right of the majority to rule, is probably as advanced a conception of freedom as can safely be entertained at present; if, indeed, even that can safely be entertained.
Ideas like some of these but less definite, or rather the sentiments appropriate to such ideas, prompted the article on “Manners and Fashion”; named at the close of the last chapter as having been agreed upon for publication in The Westminster Review, and which appeared in April. It was, I suppose, written at Derby before the middle of January.
As just implied, and as may be inferred from the latter part of the article, its original purpose was that of protesting against sundry of the social conventions to which most people submit uncomplainingly. Inherited nature and paternal example had united to produce in me repugnance of these, and especially to such of them as are expressive of class-subordination. But though, when planning the article, evolutionary views were not present to me, they came to the front when executing it. How things have come to be what they are—how they have naturally grown into their present forms, seems to have become a question which in every case presented itself; with the result that some fragment of the general theory of evolution was more or less definitely sketched out.
The truth that Law, Religion and Manners are related as severally being systems of restraints, having been illustrated, their bond of relationship was found in the fact that “originally Deity, Chief, and Master of the ceremonies were identical.” When, out of the primitive group, there arose some man whose remarkable powers, displayed chiefly in war, gave him predominance, the various kinds of control over the rest were simultaneously initiated. And out of this unity of control there was shown to arise that diversity of control exercised by political, ecclesiastical and ceremonial institutions. Restricted to the development of one of these forms of control, the essay proceeded to show that in the genesis of Manners itself, may be traced this same divergence and re-divergence. As with obeisances, which are variously abridged and modified forms of the original prostration, so with titles, modes of address, and ceremonies of all kinds, the uniform has become the multiform.
Though between these conceptions and the developmental conceptions set forth in preceding essays, there is a manifest harmony, yet the phrases previously employed do not recur. The differentiation of the political, ecclesiastical, and ceremonial institutions, is said to be “in conformity with the law of evolution of all organized bodies, that general functions are gradually separated into the special functions constituting them”; but there is no reference to the implied transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous. Similarly, while various of the facts given illustrate the transition from the indefinite to the definite, no mention is made of this trait of development. The substance of the conception had grown in advance of the form—had itself not yet become definite.
It should be added that there here makes its first appearance a doctrine which was, many years afterwards, elaborately developed—the doctrine that propitiation of the ruling man, becoming after his death propitiation of his double expected presently to return, gave origin to ideas and observances which became eventually those we class as religious.
What took me to London in the middle of January? Possibly in part my constitutional impatience of monotony; for life in Derby was always dull, and the change to London life with its exhilarations often served to raise my health up to par when it had been below par. Probably, however, the obtaining of additional information required for articles in hand, and the making of engagements for further articles, were the predominant motives.
Letters written from my old haunt, 20, Clifton Road, St. John’s Wood, contain passages which show what I was doing and intending to do. Here is an extract from one to my father, dated January 20.
“I am in negotiation with Chapman to write a short article on ‘Railway Morals’ à propos of the guarantee system of extensions and preference shares.
“I am busy reading Comte, and am getting up a very formidable case against him. I have nearly finished a sketch of one article, which I have proposed to send to Fraser [then editor of The North British Review] but have not yet had a reply.”
From another dated Jan. 28, I take the following:—
“As you will see by the last of the two enclosed notes from Cornewall Lewis, I am going to write the article on ‘Railway Morals’ for the Edinburgh Review. I do not wish it known that I am going to do it for the Edinburgh; fearing that should the fact get to the ears of the adverse party, some countervailing influence may be used.”
In a letter of 17 Feb. occur the paragraphs:—
“I have agreed to write for the British Quarterly. I took this step in consequence of finding (as you will see from the two enclosed notes from Fraser) that there is so much liability to delays that it is needful to have a good many strings to one’s bow. Should Fraser not insert the Education article in the next number, it will put me somewhat about. However, now that I have arranged to write for the Edinburgh and the British Quarterly in addition, the inconvenience can be but temporary. It would be strange indeed if, when contributing to four Quarterlies, I should not have demand for five articles in the year; seeing that hitherto I have written two a year for the Westminster alone. . . .
“I do not involve myself in the re-publication of ‘Over-Legislation.’ It will be wholly an affair between Chapman and Mr. Morley. I have been making important additions. Chapman could not afford space for the ‘Railway Morals’ in the next number of the Westminster. Hence I thought best to try the Edinburgh, and although its publication will be delayed there, it is a much more influential medium.
“I have just proposed the review of Comte to Dr. Vaughan [then editor of The British Quarterly Review] but fear that I am too late.
“My chief vexation just now is that I have sketches of two important articles on this topic and doubt whether I shall get a place for either.”
Here are passages from a letter written to my mother on 27 Feb.
“I enclose two notes from Dr. Vaughan, for whom I have agreed to write one of the reviews of Comte. . . . I feel somewhat inclined, if it will be convenient, to come down to Derby in April and stay with you into midsummer, on the usual terms [i.e. contributing my share to the household expenses, which I made a sine quâ non]. I propose this partly because I wish to save up a considerable sum for my projected stay in Paris in the autumn, and partly from the wish to put myself under regimen in the way of exercise in boating, &c.
“I have commenced to-day the paper for the Edinburgh on Railway Morals. It will be a terrific exposure.”
I wrote to my father on March 14—
“I am getting very anxious to begin the Psychology, which is constantly growing. . . As soon as I have completed the two articles I have in hand, I shall devote myself wholly to it.”
It seems that I returned to Derby a few days after the last-named letter was written, and there remained until towards the end of June.
Instead of the words “I am busy reading Comte,” used in one of the foregoing extracts, the words used should have been—I am busy reading Miss Martineau’s abridged translation of Comte. This had then been recently issued; and as two of my friends, Mr. Lewes and Miss Evans, were in large measure adherents of Comte’s views, I was curious to learn more definitely what these were. Already, as said in a preceding chapter, I had got through the “Exposition” in the original; and while remaining neutral respecting the doctrine of the three stages, had forthwith rejected the classification of the sciences. I had also read Mr. Lewes’s outlines of the Comtean system, serially published in The Leader. Whether, when I began to read Miss Martineau’s abridged translation, I had any intention of reviewing it, I cannot remember; but evidently, if not present at the outset, the intention was soon formed.
The disciples of M. Comte think that I am much indebted to him; and so I am, but in a way widely unlike that which they mean. Save in the adoption of his word “altruism,” which I have defended, and in the adoption of his word “sociology,” because there was no other available word (for both which adoptions I have been blamed), the only indebtedness I recognize is the indebtedness of antagonism. My pronounced opposition to his views led me to develop some of my own views. What to think, is a question in part answered when it has been decided what not to think. Shutting out any large group of conclusions from the field of speculation, narrows the field; and by so doing brings one nearer to the conclusions which should be drawn. In this way the Positive Philosophy (or rather the earlier part of it, for I did not read the biological or sociological divisions, and I think not the chemical) proved of service to me. It is probable that but for my dissent from Comte’s classification of the sciences, my attention would never have been drawn to the subject. Had not the subject been entertained, I should not have entered upon that inquiry which ended in writing “The Genesis of Science.” And in the absence of ideas reached when I was tracing the genesis of science, one large division of the Principles of Psychology would possibly have lacked its organizing principle, or, indeed, would possibly not have been written at all. In this way, then, I trace an important influence on my thoughts exercised by the thoughts of M. Comte; but it was an influence opposite in nature to that which the Comtists suppose.
I need not here say anything about my strictures on the schemes of Oken and Hegel, each of whom preceded Comte in the attempt to organize a system of philosophy out of the sciences arranged in serial order; nor need I say anything about the proofs given that Comte’s classification of the sciences is neither logically nor historically justifiable; nor about the assigned reasons for holding that the relations of the sciences cannot be expressed by any serial arrangement whatever. This critical part of the article, though originally intended to be the chief part, eventually became merely preliminary to the constructive part; which alone calls for comment in this place as being connected with subsequent developments of thought.
First pointing out how erroneous is the common notion that the knowledge called science is somehow sharply distinguished from common knowledge; and then tacitly affirming the self-evident truth that science must have gradually emerged from common knowledge; the essay proceeds to set forth the process of emergence. Even crude knowledge of things around exhibits prevision of one kind or other. Scientific prevision, acquiring definiteness as the knowledge of a relation between phenomena grows into knowledge of the relation, acquires still greater definiteness as qualitative prevision grows into quantitative prevision—as the ability to predict the kind of foreseen result grows into the ability to predict both the kind and the amount. This advance implies the conception of measure. Ideas of like and unlike, underlying the discriminations which even animals make, are suggested to the primitive man by various things, and especially by organic bodies: like shapes, colours, weights, are shown him by fish from a shoal, birds from a flock, beasts from a herd. Occasionally the objects are so nearly alike as to be scarcely distinguishable; and there emerges the idea of absolute likeness or equality. Of equalities, the most exactly ascertainable are those of lengths. Two fish side by side, showing equality of length, simultaneously imply the ideas of duality and of measurement by apposition. Such experiences, while thus yielding the ideas of equal lengths and equal units of length, which are the root-ideas of geometry, also yield the idea of equal units in the abstract, which is the root-idea of number and of the calculus in general. At the same time, since these organic bodies habitually present like relations among their attributes—size, form, colour, odour, taste, motions—in such wise that two or more of them being given others can be inferred, a concomitant consciousness of likeness of relations results; whence arises ordinary reasoning. Eventually out of this comes the conception of equality of relations, on which scientific reasoning proceeds. Those subsequent steps in the genesis of science thus initiated which are presented by the several sciences as they arise and diverge, cannot here be named. It must suffice to say that along with the process of divergence and re-divergence sketched out, there is sketched out the increasing inter-dependence of the sciences. It is curious, however, that though there are clearly portrayed in the article the increasing heterogeneity in the general body of the sciences, the increasing definiteness shown by all its components, and the increasing integration implied by their mutual influence and aid, there is no specific reference to this advance from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous and from the indefinite to the definite; though these formulæ had been used in a preceding essay. Again the substance of the conception had grown faster than the shape, which had not yet acquired definiteness.
During the spring and early summer there continued those signs of cardiac enfeeblement which set in after my return from Switzerland. They had diminished, indeed, but were still perceptible enough. Towards the end of June I decided to try hydropathy: not, I believe, because I had much faith in the nominal remedy; for it seemed to me then, as now, that the actual remedy is the change from an unhealthy, indoor, hard-worked and often anxious life, to a life of ease, novelty, and amusement, spent largely in the open air, while keeping regular and early hours and eating wholesome food. But whether the causes of improvement to health were essential to the system or concomitant only, it seemed worth while to give them a trial. I went to the establishment in which my uncle had, more than once, derived much benefit. An account of my experiences there is contained in the following paragraphs from a letter to my mother, dated Umberslade Hall, Hockley Heath, Birmingham, 30 June, 1854.
“I would have written earlier but that I waited until I had something definite to report; and I should certainly have written yesterday had not Dr. Johnson taken me out for a drive in his gig, and remained out till after post time.
“I have nothing very definite to tell you, further than that on the whole the palpitations seem to be gradually diminishing and do not generally attract my attention even at night; although still more or less perceptible then, when I purposely direct my attention to them. In other respects I am much as I was. No great effect either one way or other seems to be produced by the treatment, so far as I can judge by my feelings. But being on the whole very well, I don’t know that I have any right to expect any very marked results.
“There are about 24 patients here at present. They are on the whole not a particularly interesting class of persons. My chief companion is Dr. Johnson himself, with whom I have a good deal of talk from time to time. The time however passes pleasantly enough. The Hall stands in the midst of extensive grounds, with plantations and drives, two lakes with boats on them, and plenty of country lanes in the surrounding districts; so that by the aid of walks and games and boating and driving, with the frequently recurring baths, the days slip quietly by.”
There had then but just commenced that transformation which hydropathic establishments have undergone. It has been amusing to watch the process by which classes of English people with ascetic or semi-ascetic ideas, have been betrayed into a mode of enjoyment which they would have looked askance at had it been proposed to them without disguise. If, forty years ago, anyone had advertised a country house in which the guests, living as a family, were to be provided with facilities for passing the time pleasantly, he would have had small chance of success. But the average Englishman has great belief in the benefits of any regime which treats his body severely, and makes him do things that are not agreeable to his sensations. The water-cure consequently fell in with his humour; and he took to it kindly. For companionship, patients brought with them relatives, often much younger, who needed no treatment. Those who took baths presently came to be out-numbered by those who merely utilized the opportunities for amusement; until at length, the hydropathic element becoming comparatively unobtrusive, there have grown up all over the kingdom places in which people assemble to have games and drives and picnics and balls, to flirt and to make matches.
Leaving Umberslade for London before the middle of July, I there occupied myself in bringing to a close some literary engagements. Though, as implied above, the article on “Railway Morals and Railway Policy” had been commenced early in the spring and had been completed at Derby, it was requisite, considering the seriousness of the allegations it made, to submit it, when in proof, to sundry of those who were familiar with the doings of the railway world. After these allegations had received their indorsement there came the need for dissipating the qualms of the editor of The Edinburgh Review—at that time Sir George Cornewall Lewis. I have pleasant recollections of my interview with him, and retain a clear picture of his remarkable face, though I never saw it again.
In a letter to my father dated 5 September 1853, occurs the passage:—“If you will get hold of Tuesday’s Times you will see a report of a meeting of South-Western Railway shareholders in which I took part—moved a resolution and made a speech.” It was from the impression made on me by the doings of the Board at this meeting, that the article in question originated. The experiences of my earlier engineering days had not revealed to me much; partly because I was not behind the scenes and partly because at that time corrupting influences were but beginning. During the railway-mania, however, when I resumed engineering, the motives and actions of those concerned became partially known to me. The conspiring together of lawyers, engineers, and others seeking for professional work, with promoters greedy of premiums, all utterly regardless of those who were betrayed by their hollow schemes, repelled me so effectually that I never applied for a single share, though I might have had many. Having at that time seen something of railway morals from the inside, I now, as proprietor, saw something of them from the outside: knowledge of motives gained in the first case serving to interpret actions in the second. I was indignant at the way in which proprietors were deluded by schemes projected and executed for the benefit of those who governed and those in league with them; and determined to expose the state of things.
As the developmental course of thought which it has been my purpose to trace in preceding brief analysis of articles, is not illustrated by this article, I need not here say anything about its contents further than to note the sole philosophical, or in this case ethical, principle enunciated. This principle was the undeniable one, that by a contract no person can be committed to more than he contracts to do. It was argued that this applies to the proprietary contract as to all other contracts; and that therefore the railway-shareholder cannot in equity be committed by any act, either of a board of directors or of his brother shareholders, to schemes not named in the deed of incorporation. And it was contended that the wide-spread ruin of individuals, and immense loss of capital by the nation in making unremunerative lines, would never have occurred had not the proprietary contract for making a specified railway, been habitually interpreted as though it were also a contract for making unspecified railways.
Concerning, as it did, the interests of multitudinous people, and containing many startling statements, this article attracted much attention—much more attention than anything else I ever wrote. It was eventually, with my assent, republished by Messrs. Longman in their “Traveller’s Library.” Some of the contained revelations brought upon them the threat of an action for libel.
My detention in London during the greater part of July was not without its compensations. Among these were several visits to the Crystal Palace, then recently opened, and then having a beauty which those who have seen it only of late years can hardly imagine. A letter to my friend Lott, expressing the wish that he would join me in visits to it, says:—“but I suppose that nothing can neutralize your yearning for the hills (joined with that of your wife) for this summer at least.” Succeeding paragraphs in the letter I give, because of the sundry things which they indicate.
“I mean to get away from town as soon as I can—perhaps in little more than a fortnight. Not feeling that Umberslade has been beneficial, I am desirous of getting away to the seaside as soon as may be; holding, as I do, that it is the best policy to take prompt measures to get rid of even minor bodily evils, lest they should entail greater ones, as they always tend to do.
“Will the dividends on the American shares be forthcoming before I go? My reason for inquiring is not that I am likely to have any need of them for some months to come, but that there would, I suppose, be some inconvenience in sending the amount to me whilst at Paris.
“I quite sympathize in your wish for the renewal of our pleasant excursions, than which there are few things I have enjoyed more. Next time I hope that Mary Roe [his sister-in-law] will be one of our party. I have great faith in the laughter cure; and her nonsense makes a good ingredient in it. Tell your wife that she should be ashamed of herself to be unwell at Quorn; and that unless she forthwith reports herself well, I shall accuse her of plotting to get to the lakes.”
Above, I have spoken of the attractiveness of the Crystal Palace in its early days. Here from a letter to my mother dated 15 July, let me quote a passage referring to it.
“I have been once at Sydenham. It surpasses even my expectations though I had seen it in progress. It is a fairy land; and a wonder surpassing all others.”
The degradation which it has since undergone, illustrates the way in which too strenuous an effort to make a thing good may end in making it bad. Had there not been so vast an expenditure on the great terraces, the immense flights of steps, the basins, fountains, and water-towers, the dividend on the capital invested in the Palace and its contents, would probably have been sufficient to satisfy shareholders; and there would not have been those frantic efforts to increase returns, which have ended in making the place a compound of bazaar, theatre, fancy fair, refreshment room, and tea-garden.
My matters of business having been transacted, I was now free to commence my long contemplated work on Psychology. Foregoing extracts from letters contain two indications that during the spring there had arisen the question—Why remain in England while writing the book? Why not write it abroad? Easy access to other books was not requisite; for its lines of thought had scarcely anything in common with lines of thought previously pursued; and of such material as was needed for illustration, my memory contained a sufficient stock. Why not then go to France, spend the remainder of the summer on the coast, and winter in Paris? Arrangements in pursuance of this scheme had been gradually made.
At the close of Chapter XIX, where my experience of a remarkable coincidence was noted, I said that a still more remarkable one would have presently to be described. It occurred just before I departed for France. While in London in the spring, I had been attended during indisposition by Mr. Robert Dunn, a medical man then residing in Norfolk Street, Strand. The small claim he had against me I wished to settle before leaving. What happened is told in the following extract from a letter to my father, dated 28 July.
“I met with a most extraordinary coincidence since you left. Calling on Mr. Dunn, the surgeon, I was told by the young man in his surgery that he was out. I said I would leave a card for him. I took one out and gave it to this assistant. I noticed that when he read the name he raised his eyebrows and gave a start. Judge my astonishment on finding that his surprise arose from the fact that his name too was Herbert Spencer. I would almost have taken an oath that there was no other person with the same name. That there should not only be one, but that I should meet with him and hand my card to him, is one of those strange events which we should call absurd in a romance.”
At that time its strangeness seemed much greater than it seems now; for in the days when my double and I were baptized, the name Herbert, though now not uncommon, was extremely rare. Up to the age of 30 I never met any one bearing it.
The incident had a sequel. On my return from France some time afterwards, I again called to pay Mr. Dunn’s account, and again Mr. Dunn was from home. Not wishing to have any further trouble, I said I would pay to this namesake of mine the amount due. The result of course was that I obtained a bill made out to Herbert Spencer and receipted by Herbert Spencer. I still have it among my papers.
Some years afterwards this second Mr. Herbert Spencer was house surgeon to the London Hospital. Eventually he settled at Bradford, in Yorkshire, where he still resided in 1886.
[Afterwards there appeared on the scene a Dr. Herbert Spencer, who now practices in London. From 1888 to 1899 the two names occurred together in The Medical Register. Later came still another Herbert Spencer—a pickpocket! (See daily papers for July 6, 1893.)]
MY SECOND BOOK.
Lying about eight miles north-east of Dieppe, Tréport is a small sea-port at the mouth of a valley which there makes a gap in the fine chalk cliffs extending along the coast each way. Some three miles, perhaps, up the valley, lies Ville d’Eu, containing, among other things, a château which belonged to Louis Philippe, who had also built himself a pavilion on the shore of Tréport. This Royal patronage it was which, I suppose, had brought Tréport into fashion as a sea-side resort—fashion which had not, however, in 1854 risen high enough to spoil it. My father had spent his midsummer vacation there; and his account of the place led me to choose it as my place of sojourn for the rest of the summer.
As the sea-side is found to be salubrious, the common inference is that the nearer the water the more beneficial the effect. This is a great mistake. The air of a beach, especially during warm weather and when the tide is out, is highly charged with vapour, and to many constitutions therefore enervating: differing widely in this respect from the air fifty or a hundred feet higher. My attention was first drawn to this contrast by my experiences at Tréport, where, on this first occasion, I settled myself in the Grande Rue, some distance back from the shore and high above it.
The house had a garden running up the slope towards the western cliffs, and at the top of this garden was a summer-house which made an agreeable writing-room for me in fine weather. Here I commenced The Principles of Psychology. A letter to my father dated 7 August contains the paragraphs:—
“I like the place very well. During some bad weather which lasted over Friday and Saturday, I felt rather disgusted and inclined to go away as soon as I could; but now that the weather is fine again, I feel inclined to stay out the month, as I had intended. The change of feeling is partly due also to the fact that I have, during the last two days, after the usual initial struggle, got into writing cue, and am fairly started with the Psychology. Finding it at first rather repugnant and being dissatisfied with what I did, I felt disgusted with things in general; but now that the inertia is overcome and I am quite satisfied with my work, things seem pleasant enough . . . .
I admire the coast and the cliffs very much; and find plenty to examine on the shore at ebb tide—many things that are new to me. On Sunday I saw a large piece of cliff fall—a slice extending from top to bottom. It was just beyond the end of the parade to the west of the town. I was on the sands just facing it when it fell, and saw the whole process. No harm was done. . . .
I have not explored the country much at present; save going as far as Eu, where I walked on Sunday. I find that that is the Château d’Eu which stands close behind the Church.
It is half past three and I must start off for my walk.”
A tall, finely-built man, obviously English, had several times passed me in the town or on the cliffs, and we had looked askance at one another. At the public room or salon on the beach, I one day handed him a newspaper. This led to friendly interchange of remarks, and in a week or so we took our afternoon walks together. It was Mr. George Rolleston, in later years Professor Rolleston of Oxford. Our intercourse enlivened my stay; for besides being a man of wide culture he had a pleasant facetiousness which gave zest to his talk. Probably but for the acquaintanceship thus commenced, I should not have remained at Tréport as long as I did.
Even as it was my impatience of monotony caused me to leave it while the weather was still hot, and, as it turned out, much earlier than I ought to have done.
Curiosity was doubtless a spur to this premature departure. I was now 34 and had never seen Paris. Naturally the anticipated pleasure hastened my movements. A letter home speaking of my migration, dated Paris 14 Rue de l’Université, 31 August, 1854 says—
“I left Tréport on Tuesday; on which day my month expired, and arrived at Paris in the evening. The last two days have been spent in seeking lodgings, and I have only this morning fixed myself. I am on the south side of the river and about ten minutes’ walk from the Louvre and the Tuileries. . . .
I am certainly astonished at the beauty of Paris, though I have as yet seen only part of it. The Boulevards at night are especially astonishing. The whole aspect of things gives one the idea of a perpetual gala. Nevertheless I cannot but regard the enormous contrast between Paris and the provinces, in respect of advancement, as indicative of essential unhealthiness. The state of the peasantry in my walks about the country seemed to be very miserable—scarcely anything but cottages built of wattling and mud, and scarcely enough spirits in their inhabitants to render them curious as to the passers by. Paris has grown to what it has at the expense of France. . . .
I very much question whether I shall remain here as long as I intended, or anything like it. My letters of introduction are useless at present, as people are away from Paris. I expect I shall feel rather lonely.”
This was the first of many instances showing that I cannot bear to be cut off from my roots, and that I have not patience enough to wait until I root myself afresh. I soon get weary of sight-seeing, and cannot play the flaneur with any satisfaction. Moreover, in this case, the difficulty of carrying on conversation soon made wearisome what little social intercourse was available. When, with the effort to find words, there is joined the consciousness that multitudinous blunders are being made, there naturally results a tendency to abridge interviews, even when they are interesting, which most interviews are not. Hence the resolution notified in a letter to my father dated 12 September, after only a fortnight’s stay.
“I think of leaving Paris at the end of this week and going to Jersey. Almost every one is away at present, and though I meet with great hospitality where it is possible, I feel the want of society very much. It would be a month or more before this would be remedied. Moreover I am not getting on with my work so well as I wish. The quality is satisfactory but not the quantity. And further, Paris is still very hot and is somewhat detrimental to me. I shall therefore, I think, postpone my sojourn here till next year somewhat later in the season; and in the meantime go and set myself down at St. Heliers, where I doubt not I shall get on well with my Psychology, benefit in health, and probably get a sufficiency of pleasant society. Will you in the course of the week write me a letter, poste-restante, St. Heliers, giving me any information you can about hotels; so that I may know on my arrival where to go. I got your letter this morning, and was glad to do so, having not heard for so long. . . .
I spent an evening with the Bradleys [some Derby friends whom I accidentally met] and I join them this afternoon for a walk in the Bois de Boulogne. I have, by means of letters of introduction, made the acquaintance of the Editor of the Revue Contemporaine, the Editor of the Revue Britannique, the editor of the Revue général de l’Architecture, and one of the writers of the Revue des deux Mondes. The third, who was just leaving for Germany, pressed me to go and make use of his country house during his absence. I dine with his family to-morrow.
I was at the fête of St. Cloud on Sunday; and was much amused by the juvenility of the adults. The French never entirely cease to be boys. I saw grey haired people riding on whirligigs such as we have at our own fairs.”
To the list of those I made acquaintance with, should have been added M. Littré, to whom Lewes had given me a letter of introduction. What passed between us I cannot now say. I remember only that he was a mild-mannered man, who had the traits of a student and a recluse. Judging from his appearance, I should have thought he had not stamina enough for his amazing achievement.
The resolution above indicated was carried out; and the next sign of my whereabouts is a letter dated Bree’s Boarding House, Jersey, 26 September. After giving some account of a twenty-seven hours’ journey, chiefly by diligence, which had proved somewhat injurious, the letter continues:—
“St. Malo is a very remarkable and very picturesque old town, strongly fortified, and bearing all the aspect of old times about it. I felt half inclined to stay awhile, but found at the end of two days that it would be very dull, somewhat expensive, and I think not very salubrious.
I am delighted with the island and more particularly with the coast. The formation is volcanic and there is a ruggedness of outline and structure, and a variety, that I have never seen before. Add to which that from the hardness of the rock, the water disintegrates it but little and remains quite clear, which I have never before seen it do. The coast to the S.W. (Portelet Bay and St. Brelades Bay) has delighted me more than any coast I ever saw.
The weather is very pleasant in fineness and temperature and I have benefited considerably. There is not much society here, however, as the season is coming to an end; and what there is I do not find very interesting. I am thinking of leaving next week for Brighton, where I have some freinds, where I may stay awhile on my way back to town. I am the more induced to do this because, though I am getting on tolerably with the Psychology, the hours here do not suit my writing well, and I see that it is needful for me to be in lodgings to make the best of the day; and here lodgings would be insufferably dull now that the place is emptying.
If the weather is fine I think of leaving on Monday next; but should the equinoctial gales set in, and last till after that time, I may probably stay here somewhat longer, so as to get a quiet passage.”
Of course, as for leaving Paris long before I had intended, so for soon leaving Jersey, there were assignable reasons: there always are reasons for doing that which one’s feelings prompt. In either case, the discontented mood consequent on being far from friends, was, I suspect, the chief cause. I can do pretty well without seeing friends for some time, if I am within hail of them; but the consciousness that they are inaccessible is soon followed by depression.
The intention of migrating to Brighton took effect at the time named. In a letter thence, dated 2 Clifton Terrace, 2 October, occurs the following paragraph:—
“The place is very full. Yesterday I met four persons I knew. One was Louis Blanc, with whom I had a long walk and argument. The day before I caught sight of Thackeray talking to some one. Possibly I may see something of him while here. I think I shall get on well with my writing, and hope to benefit in all respects.”
Answering a question from my father respecting the discussion with Louis Blanc, a subsequent letter says—
“My argument with Louis Blanc had nothing to do with Socialism, but with centralization. He admits its injurious effects in France; but thinks that the fault lies in its application in wrong directions.”
As the little man—something under five feet I suppose—was animated, and my own mode of expression not wanting in energy, we drew inquiring glances as we walked up and down the parade. He spoke English remarkably well: having a good choice of words which he put together correctly and articulated with great distinctness—greater distinctness, indeed, than is usual among ourselves. Moreover, he had acquired the English cadence much more nearly than foreigners generally do.
I am reminded of a story which he told concerning a dreadful typographical blunder. The story has not, I think, become generally known; and as it is too good to be lost, I repeat it here. At that time, or not long before, lived a French lady-novelist who wrote as “La Comtesse ———.” The blunder occurred in the closing sentence of one of her stories: a sentence which was intended to embody its moral. As it left her pen the sentence ran—“Bien connaître l’amour il faut sortir de soi.” Instead of this the printers made it—“Bien connaître l’amour il faut sortir le soir.”
Correspondence shows that I was in town before the end of October. Giving the address 4 St. Ann’s Terrace, Acacia Road, I wrote home—
“I enclose a note which I have received since returning to town, relative to a reprint from “Social Statics.” I shall probably consent * * *
I am tolerably well, though not rid of the palpitations, which I suppose will now always continue more or less. However, as there is no organic mischief and they give me no annoyance worth mentioning, I suppose I must not complain.”
In a letter dated 2 November, occurs the paragraph:—
“I am just finishing one of the four divisions of the Psychology—the “General Synthesis.” This, with the Universal Postulate, which with a few additions forms the first part or “General Analysis,” finishes two parts. I am now about to commence the “Special Analysis.” ”
As thus shown, the four parts were not written in the order they followed when printed. Part III was written first: the reason being, I believe, that it contained the fundamental conception which pervades the entire work; and I was anxious to put this conception down on paper in its complete form. This having been done, I reverted to the arrangement of the parts as they were intended to stand; and wrote the remaining ones in the order I, II, IV.
On December 3, I wrote responding to my father’s expressed wish that I should go down to Derby for a time. One reason for assenting was want of society.
“I find it rather dull here at present. There are but few people in town; and of those who were here when I came, some are now gone.”
Passing to other matters the letter continues:—
“The Psychology is going on very well, though not altogether so fast as I could wish. The theory of reasoning is working out beautifully. . . .
You would no doubt regret to hear of the death of Professor Forbes. I am very sorry indeed. He was not only a valuable man of science, but also extremely likable as a man; and I had hoped to cultivate the friendship that had commenced between us. Few men seem to have been more universally regretted.”
In pursuance of the intention indicated in this letter, I presently went home, and, spending Christmas there, remained through part of January. No clue to any occurrences is given by correspondence, save by a letter from my father to my mother, who was away on a Christmas visit. It appears from this that I was unwell, and sometimes got no sleep till five o’clock in the morning: a sign, I suppose, that thinking and writing were beginning to tell upon me.
Towards the end of January I returned to town. It seems that my chief purposes in doing so were to arrange with the printer, and, if possible, to find some publisher who would take the whole or part of the risk of my forthcoming book. While referring to these objects, a letter which I have headed simply Monday, but to which my father has fortunately added the date, 29 Jan. 1855, also contains a passage of importance.
“I got the inclosed this morning relative to the review of Comte for the Edinburgh. It is, you will see, favourable as far as it goes.
Mr. Woodfall is about to send me an introduction to Walton and Maberly, the publishers, whom he recommends. So I shall probably be in negotiation with them in the course of this week.
Chapman was wanting me to write an article when I saw him the other day, on the Maine Law and the Sunday Beer-Bill. He asked whether I ever meant to do any more review-writing: evidently being anxious to get something from me. I declined the article he mentioned, but told [him] I would write him one on The Cause of All Progress, as soon as I was at liberty. If Walton & Co. do not bid for an edition of the Psychology, I may do this article forthwith.”
This last paragraph gives a date to the inception of the general doctrine of evolution; or rather, it shows that this inception was not later than January, 1855. For the article named in it was the one eventually published under the title—“Progress: its Law and Cause.” Doubtless it was during the preceding autumn that the change from homogeneity to heterogeneity, which we have already seen was in course of being recognized as characterizing the change from lower to higher in several diverse groups of phenomena, was recognized as characterizing this change in all groups of phenomena. And doubtless this development of the conception took place while writing the “General Synthesis;” two chapters of which trace, among mental phenomena, the progress from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous, and two other chapters of which exhibit the progress in speciality and in complexity: both involving the same trait.
The next letter to my father, which is dated “Feb. (what day I can’t say) 55,” in its first paragraph implies an inclosed letter from Sir G. C. Lewis. The proposed article on Comte, to which this referred, was obviously the second of the two named in the last chapter as having been originally planned.
“You see that the paper for The Edinburgh is negatived by a pre-engagement. As he invites me, I think I shall propose one on Transcendental Physiology; but not for immediate execution.
I dined at the Coopers on Friday last in company with Professor Owen and his wife, and went with them afterwards to hear him give a lecture at the Royal Institution, on the relation between Man and the anthropoid apes. It was the same thing that I had heard before in his lectures [at the College of Surgeons], and anything but logical. . . .
I have had some negotiations with publishers. Walton and Maberly were prevented from going into the matter by religious difficulties. I am now in negotiation with Smith and Elder. I like very much what I have seen of them, and think it not unlikely from their mode of treating the matter that they will make an offer. They have got Parts I & III now in their hands to form an opinion of the book.”
After some weeks, during which my hopes had been somewhat raised by Messrs. Smith & Elder’s intimation that they took a “favourable” view, I received their proposals. These, to my surprise, practically left me to bear all the risks, with but a remote chance of benefit should the book succeed. In my letter closing the negotiation, I remember saying that if such were their “favourable” terms, I was curious to know what their unfavourable terms might be.
But it was absurd to expect that a publisher could be found who would speculate in a work of so unpopular a kind. Very few grave books pay; most of them fail to return their expenses; and one on so uninviting a subject as psychology, by an author not bearing any endorsement, was sure to entail a loss. I ought to have known at the outset that, as before, so again, I should have to publish at my own risk; or, to speak definitely, should have to pay a penalty for publishing.
The need for economy now became increasingly manifest. I had done no remunerative writing since the preceding midsummer; and the non-receipt of an anticipated dividend on certain American railway-shares which I held, reduced my resources below the amount I had counted upon. It was thus clear that unless I took precautions, my purse would be empty before my book was finished. Leaving a quantity of MS. with the printer, I therefore, in the middle of March, returned to Derby; where I could live at much less cost than I could live in London.
An uneventful three months now followed. Concerning my life at Derby until the close of June, there is scarcely anything to say. The daily routine, and the signs of coming bad health, are the sole things I remember.
I spent something like five hours a day in writing: beginning between nine and ten, continuing till one, pausing for a few minutes to take some slight refreshment, usually a little fruit, and resuming till three; then sallying out for a country walk and returning in time for dinner betwen five and six. I had often warned my friends against overwork, and had never knowingly transgressed. Five hours per day did not seem too much; and had there been no further taxing of brain, no mischief might have been done. But I overlooked the fact that during these months at Derby, as during all the months since the preceding August, leisure hours had been chiefly occupied in thinking. Especially while walking I was thinking. The quickened circulation consequent on moderate exercise, produced in me then, as always, a flow of ideas often difficult, if not impossible, to stop. Moreover the printers were at my heels, and proofs coming every few days had to be corrected: tasks which must have occupied considerable portions of my evenings. Practically, therefore, the mental strain went on with but litle intermission.
That mischief was being done ought to have been clear to me. A broad hint that I was going wrong was this:—One of Thackeray’s stories—The Newcomes I think it must have been—was in course of issue in a serial form. When a new part came out I obtained it from a local library, and, reserving it till the evening, then read it through. As often as I did this I got no sleep all night, or, at any rate, no sleep till towards morning. My appearance, too, should have made me pause. A photograph still existing, which was taken during the spring, has a worn anxious look; showing that waste was in excess of repair. It seems strange that such knowledge as I had of physiology, did not force on me the inference that I was injuring myself, and that I should inevitably suffer.
But giving no heed to these warnings I thoughtlessly went on without cessation; eager to get the book done, and, I suppose, hoping that rest would soon re-establish my ordinary health. Towards the end of June there remained but three chapters to write. These were written elsewhere.
An artist, and head of the School of Art in Derby, Mr. A. O. Deacon, was about to spend his midsummer vacation in North Wales. I had been on friendly terms with him for some years; and our plans were in partial agreement. Travelling together as far as Conway, we there parted—he for Llandudno with his two boys and I for Bettws-y-coed—after having arranged to meet subsequently.
I had fixed upon Bettws as a place where I should get some fishing to occupy leisure times; but, as experience soon proved, the expectation was an ill-grounded one. Experience soon proved, moreover, that my vain hope had taken me to an undesirable place; for Bettws, being at the bottom of a close valley, is very enervating. A further sign of the coming disaster commenced here and continued afterwards; namely lying awake for an hour or two in the middle of each night.
A migration at the end of the week took me to Capel Curig, or rather to a hamlet half a mile to the East of it, Bryntich, where was a small hotel frequented by artists who had not yet won their spurs. Two were staying there. One of them at that time unknown but now well known, was Mr. Alfred Hunt. As I was interested in art, and apt to give utterance to my heresies, there resulted a good deal of lively talk between us, which usefully diverted a little the current of my thoughts.
The weather being fine, my writing while in Wales was done almost wholly out of doors. Furnished with a pocket inkstand I daily started off, manuscript in hand, for a ramble among the hills or along the banks of the Llugwy; and, from time to time finding a convenient place, lay down and wrote a paragraph or two. The opening of the chapter on “The Feelings” was written while reclining on the shore of Llyn Cwlya, a secluded lake some two or three miles from Bryntich. A week or so previously, while at Bettws, this practice had led to an amusing incident. After lying for some time with eyes fixed on the paper, I raised my head and saw, a few feet off in front, a semi-circle of sheep intently gazing at me: doubtless puzzled by a behaviour unparalleled in their experience. I was at the time busy with the chapter on “Reason,” and had I thought of it might have used the incident as an illustration. For it is a truth made manifest not only by comparing lower animals with men, but also by comparing different grades of men with one another, that whereas inferior intelligences go on making multitudinous observations to little purpose (drawing either no conclusions or wrong conclusions), superior intelligences, from a few observations properly put together, quickly draw right conclusions.
After some ten days at Bryntich, I removed to a place a few miles higher up the valley, where Deacon and I had agreed to meet.
This place was Pen-y-Gwyrid—a place of sad memories to me; for it was here that my nervous system finally gave way. Deacon failed to keep his appointment: writing me a letter from Nant Mill saying that he had commenced a picture there, and could not leave. The result was that, in the absence of all other guests at the hotel, I was alone; and thinking went on during meals and in the evening, as well as while I was at work and while I was walking. Some days seemed to have passed without manifest mischief, as witness the following passages from a letter to my mother, dated 16 July:—
“I send you a line to say that I am well, and enjoying myself as much as hard work will let me. I am at present staying just under the foot of Snowdon. . . . It is a far finer mountain than I expected. The weather to-day is wet and dreary; but on the whole it has been very favourable. . . .
I leave this on Wednesday next for Beddgelert, where I shall probably stay a week and from whence I shall probably ascend Snowdon in company with Deacon.”
But before this removal the mischief was done. One morning soon after beginning work, there commenced a sensation in my head—not pain, nor heat, nor fulness, nor tension, but simply a sensation, bearable enough but abnormal. The seriousness of the symptom was at once manifest to me. I put away my manuscript and sallied out, fishing-rod in hand, to a mountain tarn in the hills behind the hotel, in pursuance of a resolve to give myself a week’s rest; thinking that would suffice.
Next day came a walk to Beddgelert. That place being much shut in, proved, as I might have known it would, very enervating. After two days I left for Carnarvon and afterwards for Bangor; taking up my abode at Garth Point for a week. While there I managed to finish everything but the chapter on “The Will,” with which the work ends.
The close of the month found me back at home; where this last chapter was completed under great difficulties. I alternated between house and garden: writing a few sentences and then pacing up and down for a time to dissipate head-sensations—a persistence in physiological wrong-doing which brought on further serious symptoms.
Meanwhile the printers had overtaken me. There remained only to see the last proofs; make arrangements with the publishers; give directions about advertisements and the distribution of the work for review; and send copies to friends. Imprudently (and as I look back on these past days I am struck by my frequent imprudences) I went to London to transact these matters of business. Without any serious delay, everything might have been done by letter; and I ought to have remembered that London was not the place in which to find the quiet I needed.
During my short stay in London there did, indeed, occur an excitement which exacerbated my disorder. Meeting one afternoon Mr. F. O. Ward, a friend named in a previous chapter, I was pressed by him to join a dinner-party which he was giving that evening. I resisted: telling him of my break-down and of my consequent unfitness. But he was urgent and I weakly yielded. In a letter to my father I find an account of the dinner and its effect.
“I foolishly allowed myself to be persuaded to dine last night with Ward, one of the chief sanitary men, to meet Owen and Chadwick, and Rawlinson (late sanitary commissioner in the Crimea), Simon, the sanitary officer of the City of London, and other notables. I had the audacity (to the immense amusement of Owen and other unconcerned guests) to make an attack upon all these sanitary leaders—charging them with garbling evidence, misleading the public, &c. &c. The fight lasted the whole evening, and on two or three occasions I raised an immense laugh at their expense. But as I expected, I paid for it: I got no sleep all night.
I start to-morrow morning; and doubt not the sea-air will soon set all right.”
This expectation proved, alas! immeasurably too sanguine. I had no adequate conception of the damage which preceding months had done. The pursuit of health, now commenced, was fated to be unsuccessful; for health, in the full sense of the word, was never again to be overtaken.
Here, before narrating the incidents of that long interval which, in so far as concerns my active life, was a blank, let me say something about The Principles of Psychology, and the reception it met with.
At the time when it was published, extremely few were prepared even to entertain its fundamental conception, much less to agree with it; and nearly all were, in virtue of their established convictions, distinctly antagonistic. Hence the average criticisms were pretty certain to be unsympathetic. Two critics, indeed, were fully appreciative—Mr. G. H. Lewes and Dr. J. D. Morell. Most were as civil as could be expected considering the difference of view. Some were decidedly hostile. Among the last was Mr. R. H. Hutton, who made the book the text for an article entitled “Modern Atheism,” published in the National Review, a then-existing quarterly organ of the Unitarians, of which he was one of the editors. A review so entitled was of course damaging; and the more so because it gave the cue to some other reviewers. Among all the criticisms however, favourable or unfavourable, none gave a systematic account of the book. Anyone who, though possessed by the beliefs then current alike in the scientific world and the world at large, had thought it worth while to make a brief exposition, might have written somewhat as follows:—
We are not about to review this work after the ordinary manner of reviewing; for where dissent is complete there can be none of the usual mingling of approval with disapproval. Our attitude towards the work is something like that of the Roman poet to whom the poetaster brought some verses with the request that he would erase any parts he did not like, and who replied—one erasure will suffice. We reject absolutely the entire doctrine which the book contains; and for the sufficient reason that it is founded on a fallacy. It takes for granted the hypothesis, repudiated by all men of science at the present day, that the various species of animals and plants have arisen through the successive modifications slowly produced by the working together of natural causes—“the development hypothesis” as it is called. It is true that throughout the greater part of the volume this hypothesis is not named; but towards its close Mr. Spencer distinctly avows his adhesion to it: apparently implying that he had not originally intended to do this, but at length found that the course of his argument necessitated the avowal. It seems strange that Mr. Spencer should have supposed that men intelligent enough to read his book, should not be intelligent enough to see that the development hypothesis is tacitly implied in almost every page.
Under the circumstances of the case we shall therefore limit ourselves to a resumé of these “principles of psychology” so fallaciously based. In doing this we shall not follow the order adopted by Mr. Spencer, which seems to us an ill-judged one. Taking first Part III, with which the work ought to have commenced, we will afterwards describe in succession Parts IV, II, and I.
This “General Synthesis,” as Part III is named, sets out with the proposition that a truth which any group of phenomena presents in common with the most nearly allied group of phenomena, must be its most general truth. The phenomena most nearly allied to those of mind are those of bodily life: the two being specialized divisions of the phenomena of life at large. Life, Mr. Spencer contends, is made up of changes connected in such ways as to have a certain correspondence with connected actions and agencies in the environment; or, in other words, it is a continuous adjustment of inner relations to outer relations. He says that the degree of life varies as the degree of correspondence; and then he traces the increase of the correspondence through ascending forms of life, in a series of chapters in which it is described “as direct and homogeneous”; “as direct but heterogeneous”; “as extending in space”; “as extending in time”; “as increasing in speciality”; “as increasing in generality”; “as increasing in complexity &c.” The general argument running through these chapters is that the form of life which we call mind, emerges out of bodily life and becomes distinguished from it, in proportion as these several traits of the correspondence become more marked.
In the next part, “Special Synthesis,” an endeavour is made to show in what way this gradually increasing correspondence between relations among changes in the organism and relations among phenomena in the environment, is established. The first proposition is that the changes constituting intelligence are in the main distinguished from the changes constituting bodily life by being serial only, instead of being both serial and simultaneous: their seriality becoming more marked as intelligence increases, and becoming conspicuous in the highest intellectual processes, such as reasoning. The next proposition is that to effect a correspondence between the relations among mental states and the relations among external phenomena, it is needful that the tendencies of the various mental states to cohere in consciousness, must be proportionate to the degrees of constancy of the connexions between the environing phenomena they represent. And the third proposition is that the establishment of this kind of adjustment between inner relations among states and outer relations among phenomena, is step by step effected by the experiences of the outer relations among phenomena. The familiar doctrine of association here undergoes a great extension; for it is held that not only in the individual do ideas become connected when in experience the things producing them have repeatedly occurred together, but that such results of repeated occurrences accumulate in successions of individuals: the effects of associations are supposed to be transmitted as modifications of the nervous system. Succeeding chapters apply this theory to the interpretation of “Reflex Action,” “Instinct,” “Memory,” “Reason,” “The Feelings,” and “The Will.” It is needless here to follow the argument in detail. Suffice it to say that beginning with those simple automatic actions carried on by finished nervous connexions, which are of such nature that on a stimulus being applied the appropriate motion irresistibly follows; and passing on to instincts, which are regarded as compound reflex actions in which a combined cluster of stimuli produce automatically a combined cluster of motions; Mr. Spencer argues that in proportion as the connected antecedents and consequents in the environment become more involved, and in proportion as the connected clusters of internal changes, answering to them respectively, also become more involved, the sequences, alike internal and external, are at once less frequent and less unvarying in character. The result is that the clusters of internal changes, no longer being exactly adjusted and unhesitating, there occur brief times during which certain of them take place hesitatingly or slowly, and become appreciable parts of a consciousness; and thus conscious perception, memory, reason &c. become nascent. Evidently the theory everywhere implied in this part, as in the preceding part, is that all types of mind, animal and human, are products of a perpetual converse between organism and environment; the effects of which are, generation after generation, registered as minute structural changes in the nervous system; and that along the various lines of descent which have ended in the various types of animals now existing, there have been thus produced those different nervous organizations adjusted to their respective habits of life.
Of course if Mind has been actually built up by this process, it can be, if not actually, yet theoretically, unbuilt by a reverse process. If it is composed of inner relations adjusted to outer relations, then it can be resolved into such inner relations. Mr. Spencer does not say this but apparently assumes it; and he seems to have written the part entitled “Special Analysis,” for the purpose of exhibiting the resolution of Mind into such components. Limiting himself to intellectual actions, he begins with the most involved of these—compound quantitative reasoning. This he aims to show is at every step a recognition of equality or inequality between relations severally existing between two clusters of equal relations. Descending through less involved forms of quantitative reasoning and coming down to ordinary reasoning, he argues that this differs only in the respect that the compared relations, no longer of measurable kinds, are now recognized not as equal or unequal but as like or unlike. In a succeeding chapter on classification, naming, and recognition, he finds no difficulty in showing that these mental acts are effected by the assimilation of clusters of relations (along with the impressions between which they exist), to their likes in past experience. There come next a number of chapters in which a kindred analysis of our perceptions is attempted—first those of special objects, then those of body, as presenting its several classes of attributes, and then those of space, time, motion and resistance: the aim throughout being to show that in every process of perception, a cluster of mental states, held together in relations like previously known relations, is partially or wholly classed with clusters previously known that were similarly composed. Mr. Spencer then proceeds to the relations themselves, grouping them as relations of Co-intension, Co-extension, Co-existence, Con-nature. At length he comes down to the ultimate relations of Likeness and Unlikeness, out of the variously compounded consciousnesses of which, he contends that all acts of intelligence are framed. In the closing chapter he insists upon this “unity of composition,” as he calls it: regarding it as evidence of the truth of his analysis, and apparently regarding it also as justifying his general theory. For if Mind is resolvable into continually established relations among states of consciousness, the conclusion harmonizes with the theory that Life is a continuous adjustment of inner relations to outer relations, and that Mind emerges from it as fast as the adjustment becomes more extended, more involved, and more complete.
The remaining part, “General Analysis,” which in the work itself comes first, is, it seems, an elaboration of an Essay entitled “The Universal Postulate,” originally published in The Westminster Review. Its subject-matter, otherwise described, is the ultimate criterion of belief; and its thesis is that in the last resort we must accept as true a proposition of which the negation is inconceivable. One might have expected that in discussing this topic, there would be no occasion for reference to the theory pervading the rest of the book. Nevertheless it is brought in by implication. Dealing with beliefs as products of experience, and contending that those beliefs of which the terms have been most frequently connected in experience are those which have the best warrant, Mr. Spencer holds that those of which the terms have been connected in experience perpetually, and without exception, are those of which the negations become inconceivable. And it appears that, regarding the effects wrought on the nervous system as transmissible; and thinking that these effects produce, by accumulation, organic connexions; he holds that those which have been repeated perpetually and uniformly in the experiences of all preceding generations produce “forms of thought.”
Succinctly stated, these are the doctrines set forth in The Principles of Psychology. It seems not improbable that here and there a credulous reader will be misled by the coherence and symmetry of the theory into acceptance of it: forgetting that it is based on an assumption which is not only entirely unwarranted, but which, directly at variance with Revelation, is rejected alike by all people of common sense and by all authorities in Science who have expressed their opinions. It is, indeed, strange that any one should have had the courage, not to say the audacity, to base an elaborate theory upon a postulate thus universally discredited. We suspect that hereafter Mr. Spencer’s volume will be relegated to a shelf on which are grouped together the curiosities of speculation.
Some such review as this might, with a little license of imagination, be supposed to have been written when the work was published in 1855. I say with a little license of imagination, because any one accepting, as the review implies, the beliefs concerning the organic world current at that time, would have been unlikely to bestow so much trouble in making an abstract. The days were days when the special-creation doctrine passed almost unquestioned. Though for the interpretation of the structure of the Earth’s crust, miracle was no longer invoked, it was invoked for the interpretation of the fossils imbedded in the Earth’s crust. This was unhesitatingly regarded by nearly all as a rational compromise; and any one expressing dissent was liable to be laughed at.
EIGHTEEN MONTHS LOST.
Tréport had proved so beneficial during my month’s stay the year before, that I decided to revisit it after my break-down. My friend Lott, who was invalided by a lame knee, agreed to follow me; and he arrived at the end of August, after I had been at Tréport about ten days.
Sometimes basking on the shingle, sometimes collecting specimens for two aquaria which we established—now taking rides and now spending an hour at the Salon near the sea, or at he shooting-gallery, we remained at Tréport till Sept. 18, with varying results in respect of health, and then returned by way of Calais and Dover. Next day we parted at Folkestone, where I remained a week.
Huxley, then recently married, was spending his honeymoon at Tenby; and I wrote to him making inquiries about the place. The result was that at the end of the week I journeyed thither. Letters show that I had hoped to benefit by going out dredging, and also by the pleasures of companionship. But I was disappointed. My state was such that I had to shun society: being unable to bear more than a few minutes’ conversation. I describe myself as “leading a very quiet life, looking at neither books nor newspapers”; and I enlivened my solitude by exploring St. Catherine’s Rock and its caves for creatures to fill my aquarium. and by watching their habits.
Reading the correspondence of these and subsequent months has somewhat changed my conception of myself. Having all through life had an even flow of spirits, unvaried by either elation or depression, I have usually supposed that I tended towards neither sanguine nor despondent views. But my statements and anticipations at this time make me think that I must be constitutionally sanguine. On the average, letters give the impression that satisfactory progress is being made, and that recovery may be looked for in a short time—an impression not at all congruous with my recollections. Here is a paragraph from a letter of 10 October, which I quote partly in illustration of this trait and partly because of the fact it contains.
“The average of my nights is better, though they vary a good deal. Last night was my best for a long while, in consequence apparently, of my having adopted a new and more efficient mode of keeping up the cerebral circulation through the night. I wet the head with salt and water; put over it a flannel night cap; and over that a waterproof cap which prevents evaporation. The effect is that of a poultice. Last night I did not lose more than two hours between 10 and 7. I awoke in the middle of the night, and by repeating the wetting went to sleep again in about an hour. If this plan continues to answer I shall do very well; for sleep is all that is wanted.”
But it did not continue to answer, and yet there is no mention of its failure. It may be that I was anxious to put the best face on matters when writing home. That the desire to relieve the fears entertained about me, was a part cause of these unduly favourable reports, I am the more led to suspect on finding no reference to the serious exacerbation of my disorder produced, when at Tréport, by reading a little too much while under the influence of quinine, joined with that of other tonic treatment, and producing a state of hot head which lasted for several days. This imprudence it was, I believe, which made permanent a morbid condition that might otherwise have been but temporary.
At the beginning of November I returned to Derby, much worse than I was when I left it early in August.
Not many years previously had settled at Nottingham, Dr. W. H. Ransom—a physician who presently became the leader of his profession in that place. My father suggested that I should consult him, and we went over together. Dr. Ransom was a specially fit adviser; for he had himself been a nervous sufferer. Attainment of the highest honours at his examination had been followed by a collapse from which it took a long time to recover.
He entered very fully into my case, telling me for my guidance various results of his own experience. I remember the shock given me by the statement that two years had elapsed before he was able to resume work: the implication being that the like might be the case with me. Ah! if I had known what the future was to bring forth, how I should have rejoiced over the prospect of a termination to my disorder—even though delayed for that interval.
Of his various suggestions I need here name only that which determined my movements for some time after. He said I ought to lead a rural life: taking up my abode in a farm-house, where, among other things, I could have the use of a horse. On naming Devonshire as a region towards which I had leanings (letters show that I had thought of crossing over from Tenby) he demurred somewhat on the ground of climate; but as he did not insist much on this objection I decided to go there.
A brief interval elapsed before an advertisement in the Devonshire papers had any result; and then the result was only a single reply. This promised fairly well, and I therefore journeyed to the south-west early in December.
The place at which I settled myself for a time, was Well House, Ideford, near Chudleigh. Besides myself there were, as inmates, an ensign from India on furlough, and his brother. Joined to the family, which included a governess, these made a sufficiently lively circle. A letter home, dated December 11, says—
“I have been riding yesterday and to day, and have enjoyed it much. The scenery all round is very beautiful—more so even than I had expected. So far the climate is anything but relaxing: it has been a sharp frost ever since I have been here. Last year there was a month’s skating on the water in Ugbrook Park, close by here—one of the most picturesque parks I have seen.”
And then comes a sentence illustrative of my sanguineness:—“At the present rate I shall soon be quite right; for I feel quite well, and sleep pretty nearly as well as I ordinarily do.”
Daily rides along the Devonshire lanes, now to Bishopsteignton, Teignmouth, or Dawlish, and now on the top of Haldon, passed the time pleasantly; and indoors, occasional hours were passed with the microscope, in the use of which I was trying an experiment. Thinking that in many cases greater power of penetration is the need, rather than more exact definition of such part of an object as lies in focal plane, it occurred to me that instead of the object glass having a wide aperture, the aperture should be the smallest which would admit a sufficiency of light. I therefore had made for me a movable cap to the object glass, having in its centre an opening about the size of a pin-hole; and, for illumination, I used direct sunlight passed through oiled tissue paper, to destroy the parallelism of the rays. The experiment was not without success; but I was, I believe, deterred from prosecuting it by finding that the rays diffracted by the edges of the hole interfered too much.
Let me name here an instructive fact which I observed during my stay. On Christmas Eve I thought I would amuse my host’s little daughter by showing her how a holly-berry with a pin thrust through it, will dance about in a vertical jet of air, in the same way that a ball does when placed in a jet of water. The farmer, a man of substance but of very little culture, was looking on; and I expected that he would show astonishment and curiosity on seeing for the first time so anomalous a behaviour. To my surprise he did neither; but displayed absolute indifference. Many years afterwards I was reminded of this experience by the accounts given of the comparative indifference which low savages display, when shown looking-glasses, watches, or other remarkable products of civilized life. Surprise and curiosity are not traits of the utterly ignorant, as they are commonly supposed to be, but of the partially cultured; and non-recognition of this truth vitiates the speculations of mythologists. They tacitly assume that the primitive man wonders at those great natural changes in the Heavens and on the Earth which he daily witnesses, and tries to account for them. But it is quite otherwise. He does not concern himself about them any further than as they affect satisfaction of his material deeds. If a member of the Max Müller school would cross-examine a few rustics concerning the Moon’s phases, he would see how baseless is his supposition respecting the mental states of the early races whose ideas he so definitely describes. No villager marvels at the monthly changes of the Moon; nor does he ever think of asking from an educated person how they are caused. Nay, if an explanation is volunteered he shows no interest. All through life he looks at these perpetual transformations with entire indifference: unless, indeed, in so far as he fancies they affect the weather.
Before the end of the first week in January I had become impatient with my slow progress at Ideford and decided to try Marychurch near Torquay. After two days there I concluded that, except in frosty weather, the climate of Devonshire was too relaxing; and thereupon decided to go home and find some place in the North.
A change of decision which took place while on my way, is indicated in the following letter; which I give in full because all parts of it are relevant to one or other point of interest.
Lanes Farm, Brimsfield Nr. Painswick.
“My dear Potter
Your letter reached me in Devonshire—the last region to which I had wandered in search of health—just as I was leaving in consequence of finding the climate too mild. On my journey towards home it occurred to me to try the Cotswold Hills, which seemed likely enough to furnish a keen bracing air; and I have for the last ten days been seeking an abode.
I postponed replying to your letter until I had settled myself; and now that I have done so, I find the place and climate so unsuitable that I am thinking of going on Friday.
I should very much like to accept your kind invitation before going back to Derby; but I am almost afraid to do so. I am obliged to shun intellectual society: being unable to bear the excitement of it without injury. It seems beforehand very easy to avoid argument or disquisition; but in practice I find it next to impossible when the temptation arises. It will, I think, be most prudent to relinquish the various gratifications which your invitation holds out, until I can partake of them with less risk.
I am perfectly willing to try your remedy for rationalism. Indeed, marriage has been prescribed as a means of setting my brain right in quite another sense: the companionship of a wife being considered the best distraction—in the French not in the English meaning of the word. But the advice is difficult to follow. I labour under the double difficulty that my choice is very limited and that I am not easy to please. Moral and intellectual beauties do not by themselves suffice to attract me; and owing to the stupidity of our educational system it is rare to find them united to a good physique. Moreover there is the pecuniary difficulty. Literature, and especially philosophical literature, pays badly. If I married I should soon have to kill myself to get a living. So, all things considered, the chances are that I shall continue a melancholy Cœlebs to the end of my days.
Putting two and two together, I have my suspicions respecting the authorship of Laura Gay. But I will say nothing until I have internal evidence. My address has been too uncertain to admit of the copy which has been sent to me at Derby being forwarded. With kindest regards to Mrs. Potter and yourself,