Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXVII.: MY SECOND BOOK. 1854—55. Æt. 34—35. - An Autobiography, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XXVII.: MY SECOND BOOK. 1854—55. Æt. 34—35. - 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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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.