Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXIX.: SOME SIGNIFICANT ESSAYS. 1856—7. Æt. 36—37. - An Autobiography, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XXIX.: SOME SIGNIFICANT ESSAYS. 1856—7. Æt. 36—37. - 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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SOME SIGNIFICANT ESSAYS.
During my consultation with him, Dr. Ransom advised me never in future to live alone. He thought, and no doubt rightly thought, that my solitary days in lodgings had been largely instrumental in bringing on the physiological disaster which had already cost me so much of life and of work, and was thereafter to cost me far more. Probably he inferred that in the absence of distractions my brain had been active during times which were nominally times of rest; and he doubtless recognized the truth that besides this positive mischief, there had been the negative mischief which lack of society and its enlivenments entails.
I willingly yielded to his suggestion; and, on arriving in town at the close of December, 1856, took steps to find a family with which to reside. My requirements were fairly well met at No. 7, Marlborough Gardens, St. John’s Wood, then occupied by a solicitor, whose business, as I gathered, had been ruined by his negligence, and whose wife was endeavouring to eke out their diminished means by taking an inmate. Ordinarily the presence of children is regarded by one who wishes accommodation of this kind as an objection; but it was not so by me. As I was at an age when, in the normal order of things, I should have had a growing-up family of my own, there was, I suppose, some natural desire to be surrounded by boys and girls—or rather, I should say, by girls. Perhaps actual paternity would have changed my feelings in the matter; but otherwise I fear the daughters would have come in for undue shares of affection. Here, two little girls of five and seven were just fitted to serve as vicarious objects of the philoprogenitive instinct; and, with the rest of the circle, supplied that liveliness of which I was in search in a greater degree than a party of adults would have done.
I may remark in passing that I take some little time to establish friendly relations with children; because, in the treatment of them, I ever feel inclined to respect their individualities. Very commonly strangers begin to caress them forthwith without considering whether they may or may not like to have liberties taken. Children often rebel internally, if not externally, against this disregard of their dignity; and, where they are allowed full freedom, and themselves left to make the advances, they sometimes show preferences for those who so treat them.
The family afforded facilities for observations and experiments which afterwards proved useful when treating of education. Surprise has not unfrequently been expressed to me that, being a bachelor, I should have interested myself in questions concerning the management of children, and should have written on them with some success. But in common with most bachelors, I had various opportunities of watching children, and watching the conduct adopted towards them, and watching also the effects. The remark that bystanders often see most of the game, is applicable to domestic life as to many other things. Though it is true that actual members of the domestic circle must have experiences the outsider cannot have, yet the outsider’s views have their value, and are indeed almost indispensable. Being free from the emotions of parenthood, and in many cases thereby incapacitated for judging, he is in other cases enabled to judge more fairly.
Among the advantages of the house was that it stood within five minutes’ walk of Huxley’s house; and one of the remembrances connected with my return to town, is that I was in time to join a New Year’s Day dinner Huxley gave. I name the fact, because it was the first of a long series of such dinners at which I had the pleasure of being a guest. For more than twenty years I failed to be present but once only: being on that occasion detained at Derby. In later years ill-health sometimes, and at other times absence abroad, broke the custom.
Of course the first thing to be done in the way of work, was to fulfil the engagement made in the autumn of 1854, to write for the Westminster the article on “Progress: its Law and Cause.” Suspended for more than two years, this undertaking had, I suppose, been the subject of thought in the interval; and, I suppose, also the subject of some anxiety. Regarding the generalization I wished to set forth as important, I must have been occasionally irritated by my prolonged inability. Still, I was it seems content to let the months slip by without making any effort; and so far as I can remember was without any great feeling of restlessness. Dr. Ransom, indeed, urged me not to worry myself about loss of time; but I suspect that his advice would have weighed but little with one who was constitutionally more energetic.
January, February and two-thirds of March were occupied in preparing the article. Writing home on February 4th, I remark—“On the average I get on with my MS. at the rate of about a closely written page of post-paper per day, which takes me from two to three hours; and though it usually congests my head more or less before I have got half through, I do not find I permanently suffer.” I succeeded, but only just succeeded, in completing the MS. in time; and I remember that my face bore clear traces of the strain. As the essay occupies but 41 pages, giving an average of some half-page per day, it may be imagined what was still my state after eighteen months’ rest. However, no mischief was done. Contrariwise, the effort proved beneficial.
Of the article itself, which formed the initial instalment of the Synthetic Philosophy, I may remark that its title shows the side from which the generalizations set forth in it had been approached. The use of the word “progress” implies that its originating thought concerned human affairs and human nature; for the ordinary connotations of the word refer almost exclusively to man and his doings. The doctrine had been at the outset anthropocentric. Such vague foreshadowings of it as occurred in The Proper Sphere of Government and in Social Statics, were obviously of this character. Though in “The Development Hypothesis” there was shown the presence of a conception not directly relevant to human progress; yet in the subsequent essays “A Theory of Population,” “The Art of Education,” “The Genesis of Science,” &c., the idea of progress shows itself chiefly in relation to humanity and its products: being recognized, however, as not restricted to these. And then in the Principles of Psychology, while mental development is treated of as exhibited throughout the animal kingdom at large; yet the obvious purpose of the general survey made, is to find a key to the mental development of man. Doubtless the implied belief that mental progress in man is part of a general mental progress, tended to subordinate the anthropocentric view. Nevertheless, as I have said, this essay on “Progress: its Law and Cause” betrayed by its title the course of its genesis. Though it began by pointing out that the word progress is commonly used in too narrow a sense; yet the fact that I continued to use the word shows that I had not then recognized the need for a word which has no teleological implications.
On reconsidering the general ideas set forth in the article, I am struck by the fact that there failed to appear among them certain general ideas previously reached, and which should, in their developed forms, have occupied important positions. Already in the essays on the “Genesis of Science,” and the “Art of Education,” as well as in the Principles of Psychology, increase of definiteness had been recognized as a characteristic of advancing development; and already, in each of these, there had also been recognized as characterizing one or other kind of development, a growing integration. Yet in this essay on “Progress: its Law and Cause,” there is no recognition of these traits as holding of things in general. The sole trait of progress alleged and illustrated throughout all its stages, is the transition from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous; and the sole cause assigned is the multiplication of effects. Traits which had been previously alleged as accompanying this transition in sundry particular classes of phenomena, seem to have dropped out of sight. Only at subsequent periods were they re-recognized and presented in their places as characters of the universal transformation.
Something should be said concerning the way in which the genesis of organic forms is interpreted. In the first or inductive part, multiplication of the varieties of them throughout geologic time, is one of the assigned illustrations of the change from homogeneity to heterogeneity. In the second or deductive part, this change, in common with all the other changes instanced, is interpreted as consequent on the multiplication of effects. Every species is represented as continually forced, alike by its normal multiplication and by occasional geologic or climatic alterations in its habitat, to spread into other habitats—not in one direction only, but in many directions: the result being to produce numerous divergences and re-divergences of structures, and occasionally higher structures. But while in this view there was nothing incongruous with views since enunciated—while the old conception that successively higher organic beings form a series or chain was tacitly repudiated, and there was tacitly implied the conception of perpetual branching and re-branching of species; yet the causation indicated was inadequate. At that time I ascribed all modifications to direct adaptation to changing conditions; and was unconscious that in the absence of that indirect adaptation effected by the natural selection of favourable variations, the explanation left the larger part of the facts unaccounted for.
The article drew some attention: not, of course, from the reading world in general, but from a scattered few of the more thoughtful. Little comment, however, was made; and that which was made was not particularly helpful. The only remark I now recall was that the second half of the article, which had for its purpose to give a rationale of the universal change described in the first part, was not of much value: the implication being that the induction might properly remain without any search for a deductive interpretation of it. Happening to know, as I did, that the criticism came from a University man specially distinguished in formal logic, I was struck with the strangeness of his implied belief that the empirical stage of a generalization may be contentedly accepted as its final stage.
“Now we have got to the top and shall have a view all round,” is often the remark accompanying the last few steps when ascending an eminence. And then, notwithstanding past experiences, there is a feeling of surprise on discovering further on a more elevated peak previously hidden. Such incidents are recalled to me by repeated similar mistakes in mental ascents. With the completion of the article on “Progress: its Law and Cause,” I supposed that no further height had to be reached; but very shortly the lifting of the mist disclosed near at hand a point considerably above that on which I was resting. A survey all round made it manifest that there was another general cause for the change from homogeneity to heterogeneity—a cause which, in order of time, takes precedence of the multiplication of effects. This further conclusion must have been promptly reached; since the article enunciating it was written in the interval between the beginning of April and the latter part of June.
There then existed, and had existed for some years before, a quarterly called the National Review. It had been established by adherents of the Rev. James Martineau in opposition to the Westminster Review, which had ceased to be adequately representative of their views. The editors of this new quarterly were Mr. Walter Bagehot and Mr. R. H. Hutton. I offered, and Mr. Hutton accepted, an article embodying, along with some less important generalizations, the generalization just indicated.
I proposed for it the title “Transcendental Physiology:” wishing to imply that it was concerned with those physiological truths which, not taking note of divisions among species, genera, orders, classes, or even kingdoms, hold of all organisms—truths of which the familiar one that like produces like, may be taken as typical. One section had for its purpose to show that with advance in the forms of life there is an increasing differentiation of them from their environments. There was also set forth the general truth that with the differentiations which become increasingly marked during the developments of individual organisms, there simultaneously go on integrations, which it was contended should be recognized as part of the developmental process. But the leading conception which the essay contained, was the above-indicated further cause of progress—the instability of the homogeneous. This was dwelt upon as being, like the multiplication of effects, a principle holding not among organic phenomena only, but among inorganic and super-organic phenomena. And with this further step I erroneously supposed that the interpretation of progress was complete. I say progress, but I ought to say evolution; for now the word is introduced and begins to be used in place of progress. The only further fact of significance is that I recurred to the analogy recognized in Social Statics, between individual organisms and social organisms; and that, especially in connexion with the process of integration exemplified in both, urged that comparisons between the two sets of phenomena should be made with a view to mutual elucidations.
The article was issued in the October number of the National Review under the title of “The Ultimate Laws of Physiology,” which I adopted in deference to editorial wishes: restoring the original title, however, when the essay was republished along with others in a permanent form.
My life at this time was somewhat monotonous. A letter to my mother of March 31st, however, shows that a few distractions occurred.
“I called on John Mill a short time ago. We had a long chat. He was very friendly and asked me to call again. [This was the first time I saw Mill. The call was prompted by the receipt, while in Scotland during the previous autumn, of a copy of the new edition of his Logic, in which he had replied to my criticism upon him.]
“I dined lately at Mr. Charles Buxton’s and met there Greg, Huxley, and Sir Henry Holland. I see Mr. Buxton is since elected M.P. for Newport. I am glad of it. He is a genuine and sensible man.
“The Smiths have taken a beautiful house at Richmond for the spring. I spent a Sunday with them a few weeks ago; and am to go down again on Saturday next to stay over Sunday. They are delightful friends.
“At the suggestion of Lewes I have been distributing about thirty copies of the ‘Princ. of Psy.’ among the leading men of science and philosophy.”
Doubtless Lewes had made this suggestion on learning from me that there was very little sale of the Psychology, and on thinking that some use might be made of it by distribution if not otherwise.
How did I pass my leisure hours? In those days I was not a member of a club; and now that I have been for many years habituated to one, I am at a loss to understand what I did in the latter part of the day. Then, as always after my nervous breakdown, reading, even of the lightest kind, told upon my brain just as much as working. So far as I can remember, a walk into town, half-an-hour at a public news-room, and a walk back served to fill part of the afternoon; and the rest was spent in such miscellaneous ways of killing time as might offer themselves.
Mention of these returns from town in the afternoon, reminds me that I sometimes called at the Museum in Jermyn Street at the hour when Huxley usually left, that we might walk back together. Involved as the hypothesis of organic evolution was in most of my thinking, it not unfrequently cropped up in our talk, and led to animated discussions in which, having a knowledge of the facts immensely greater than mine, he habitually demolished now this and now that argument which I used. But though continually knocked down, I continually got up again. The principle which he acted upon was that of keeping judgment in suspense in the absence of adequate evidence. But acknowledging, though I did, the propriety of his course, I found myself in this case unable to adopt it. There were, as it seemed to me, but two imaginable possibilities—special creation and progressive development; and since the doctrine of special creation, unsupported by evidence, was also intrinsically incredible, because incongruous with all we know of the order of Nature, the doctrine of development was accepted by me as the only alternative. Hence, fallacious as proved this or the other special reason assigned in support of it, my belief in it perpetually revived.
Returning from this digression to the account of my daily routine, I have to add that the evening usually brought whist, into which I was initiated by my hosts. Up to that time I had never played any game of cards. Neither then nor after did I become a tolerable player. I have not a memory of the required kind. To me it has ever been a marvel that after a hand people should be able to remember all that has been done.
My stay in town came to an end somewhat prematurely. Disappointed in their hopes of adequately adding to a failing income, my hosts were obliged to give up the house. The result was that I had to remove before midsummer. After a short time at home I started for a fishing expedition to the north.
Fishing had proved so good a sedative, by uniting moderate exercise with pleasurable occupation of mind, that it became then and afterwards a deliberately chosen pursuit; and one to which, indeed, it would have been well had I devoted myself more frequently and for longer intervals than I did. The western lowlands held out temptations. There was the riven Ken, said to contain salmon; and there were lochs, to the owner of some of which I had an introduction. Rail to Dumfries, coach to Castle Douglas (for there was then no railway) and on foot to Dalry brought me to the ground. The excursion was planned as a pedestrian one, with no impedimenta but rod and fishing basket, and such small selection of needful things as the fishing basket would contain. I had a great dislike to the annoyances entailed by baggage; and it was always with some feeling of elation that I cut myself free from everything but what I could carry about me. Like children, portmanteaus and trunks are hostages to fortune. For many years I tended, not only when moving but when stationary, to minimize my belongings as much as possible: my love of freedom showing itself, among other ways, in aversion to that passive tyranny which material possessions exercise over one. I wonder how I should have tolerated travelling with a wife’s half-dozen boxes to look after!
“’Tis distance lends” sport to the river, as well as “enchantment to the view.” Wherever the rumour of good angling takes one, the habitual experience is that, not just there but a little further away, is the great success to be had. So it proved with the Ken at Dalry; and after a few days I gave up hope from it. An expedition in search of something better to a loch in the neighbourhood, was followed by an experience characteristic of the locality. On returning to Dalry after a night’s absence, I found the place alive with people brought together by what proved to be an annual hiring fair. On entering the inn I had been staying at, I found all the rooms below crowded with men smoking and drinking; and after looking in vain for some quiet place, decided to take refuge in my bedroom. To my dismay, on going upstairs, I found my bedroom also full of men smoking and drinking. Had I been prone to study human nature in the concrete as well as in the abstract, I might have utilized the occasion. But a retreat and a protest below stairs came much more naturally to me: the result being eventually advantageous, for they found me comfortable accommodation in an adjacent house.
A week or so was passed at Andarroch, a farmhouse a few miles to the north of Dalry, and a short distance from the banks of the river. Spending leisure time, now in rambling over the moors, now in trying with one or other lure to tempt some salmon which were lying below the falls of the Ken, I spent the mornings in writing part of the essay on the “Origin and Function of Music.” I forgot to say that before leaving town, an engagement for this essay had been made with the editor of Fraser’s Magazine. As usual, the leading thought was evolutionary. The inquiry which had arisen in my mind was—How has music naturally originated? An obvious corollary from the doctrine set forth in the Principles of Psychology, was that the musical faculty, in common with all faculties, must have arisen by degrees through complications of pre-existing elements in human nature. Clearly music excites one or other emotion, and does this because it expresses one or other emotion. How comes it to express one or other emotion? Feeling of every kind, sensational or emotional, tends to discharge itself in muscular contractions. Among muscular contractions produced by the discharge are those which strain the vocal organs. Emotion consequently expresses itself not only in visible movements, but in sounds: the one, like the other, being violent in proportion as the emotion is strong. Not in loudness only, but in pitch and in timbre do the sounds emitted vary with the kind and intensity of the emotion; and not in these respects only, but also in the range of tones which the emotion produces, as also in the rapidity with which the tones succeed one another. Here, then, were certain physio-psychological phenomena which evidently in sundry ways linked the natural expression of emotion with musical expression. Added to which there was the familiar fact that the cadences used in ordinary speech are expressive of feeling, and vary as feelings vary. Hence came the question—Is not music a development of this natural language of the emotions? The article aimed to show in detail that it is.
How strong becomes the craving for companionship after a period of solitude! Before leaving Derby I had persuaded my artist-friend Deacon to join me in Scotland; and after a fortnight, during which I held speech with none save strangers (and I am a long time in breaking the ice with strangers), I got very impatient for his arrival—so impatient, that I walked some ten miles to the railway-station at Minnihive to meet him at the appointed time. He disappointed me, however; and after having at Minnihive an experience like that above described, consequent upon a hiring fair, I had next day to walk back disconsolately alone. When a few days after my friend joined me, we made our way across country to Beoch on Loch Doon—my abode for a week the year before. There, now in rambling, now in fishing, now in writing, a pleasant fortnight was passed: talking to the old farmer and his wife being occasionally among the distractions. For me, and I suspect for most southrons, a small amount of conversation with those who talk broad Scotch suffices; since the degree of attention required to follow speech much divergent from one’s own in its words and pronunciation, soon becomes fatiguing. How entirely relative to the desires and to the mental state is the idea of beauty, was, I remember, interestingly shown on some of these occasions. Enlarging, as Beoch did (he was sometimes called by the name of the place), on the beauty of England, into which he had once made a journey, he meant, I found on inquiry, the beauty of its rich pastures and fine fields of corn; and to him the barrenness of the adjacent hills and moors was equivalent to ugliness. So little interest was felt in the picturesque, that to my surprise I found the wife, although she had lived there twenty years, had never been to the top of an adjacent hill some 1,000 feet high, which I climbed within a few days of our arrival. If there exists among mountain-bred peoples that strong love of home which is alleged of the Swiss (though considering how much they have had to expatriate themselves, it may simply be that the occasions for displaying home-sickness have been more frequent among them), it is probably less because they love the beauties of their land than because its multitudinous striking features afford holds for early associations which cannot arise in a flat country, where every locality is like every other.
The improvement in health achieved during the season in London, was increased in Scotland by the fresh air, exercise, fishing, and—I was going to say—quiet. But I am arrested by the remembrance that to nervous subjects country places often prove the reverse of quiet. The early chirping of sparrows and, still worse, the clucking and crowing of fowls, are dreadful inflictions to them. I have often entertained sanguinary feelings towards a vociferous cock, which, after I had passed the first part of the night in tossing from side to side, began crowing just as I was beginning to get a little sleep, and kept me awake during the ensuing hours. At Beoch a droll incident was associated with this experience. My bedroom faced the farm-yard, and to get sufficient air in a small room I had to keep the window partially open. The result was that the early crowing of the cock was a great torment to me. To remedy the evil, the good people shut up the cock in a barn on the oposite side of the yard. But as the bottom of the barn-door was worn away and the pavement hollow, the space sufficed both for the light of the dawn to advertize the cock that it was time to begin crowing, and to allow the sound to be heard almost as clearly as before. The device they then hit upon, which proved quite effectual, was to place him under an inverted bucket, and there keep him until I was getting up. It was amusing to observe how, when released, he endeavoured to make up for lost time by crowing with immense energy and rapidity.
The appetite for fishing having been pretty well satisfied, my article finished, and Deacon’s vacation nearly ended, we turned our faces southward and travelled together as far as Penrith. Not having seen anything of the English lakes, I there left him and made a détour: walking to Ulswater and along its banks to Patterdale; next afternoon ascending the Kirkstone Pass, and getting so drenched that I had to stop at the little inn at the top, which boasts itself as the highest inhabitated house in England; descending thence to Windermere and by railway to Derby.
I have omitted to name an engagement which was made before I left London in the early summer. A letter to my father, written apparently in May, contains the following passage:—
“I have agreed to write another article for the Westminster in October on the meddling system. I think of entitling it—“Representative Government: what is it good for?” the aim being to show that it is specially fit for administering justice and specially unfit for anything else.”
This article I commenced on my return home from Scotland, and completed it during a visit I paid to my friends at Standish in September.
I may remark of it that, in addition to the political aspect indicated in the above extract, it has aspects of a more general kind. Beyond a further development of the doctrine of limitation of duties, and a further bringing to bear of biological truths on Sociology, there was involved in it the general theory of evolution in so far as it implies that specialization of structures in adaptation to special functions, is an advance in organization. Unfortunately the resulting conceptions were then, as they are now, “caviare to the general.” That inferences drawn from the laws of organization have a practical bearing on politics, seemed thirty years ago, as it seems at present, an absurd fancy. There still continues the tacitly-implied belief, alike among statesmen and people, that there are no laws of organization. The conception of natural law, which does not exist in the savage, is as yet but rudimentary in the civilized.
Leaving Standish towards the close of September, and spending on my way a few days in town, where nothing nothing tempted me then to settle down for the winter, I went on to Brighton.
I had for some time contemplated a republication of the various essays I had written for quarterly reviews and other periodicals. Not being essays in criticism, or discussions of passing topics, or papers written for those who seek to kill a vacant hour, but being the vehicles of ideas which, as it seemed to me, were of permanent value, and on the elaboration of which I had spent much trouble, I, from the outset, looked forward to a time when they would be gathered together and issued in the form of a volume. They had now become sufficiently numerous; and while at Brighton I prepared them for republication. The preparation consisted not in any modifications of substance, either by additions or subtractions or alterations; but simply in improvements of expression. Whether or not I inherit the liking for revision from my father, who was much given to correcting both his own writing, and that of others, I do not know. But all through my life I have had a pleasure in doing that which to many authors gives pain. Matter which has been revised in manuscript, and again revised in proof, always presents itself to me as needing revision when I have decided to republish it; and even on a second republication the need to go carefully through it again is peremptory with me. When revising print, or even re-revising it, the sight of a page on which there does not occur a sprinkling of erasures and marginal alterations, gives me a vague feeling that I have not done my duty by it; and not unfrequently I go over it again to see whether anywhere a briefer expression can be substituted or a superfluous word omitted. It is surprising how difficult it is to write in succession any considerable number of sentences which are in all respects proof against criticism—surprising, too, to discover, after the lapse of years, how many imperfections had been on previous occasions overlooked.
One of the Members of Parliament from Brighton in those days, Mr. Conyngham, was an acquaintance of mine; and when I one day called upon him, he suggested that I should accompany him to call on Buckle (recently made famous by the first volume of his History of Civilization in England), who had taken a house in Sussex Square for the autumn. On being introduced to Buckle, I was a little startled to see a face and head not unfamiliar to me. Presently I remembered that I had often seen him at the cigar-divan in the Strand, some ten years before, at a time when I frequently spent the Sunday evening there. He was a chess-player of note; and in those days the cigar-divan was one of the chief places of meeting for men given to chess. He must have become bald very early; for the absence of hair, pretty much as marked in 1846 as in 1857, was one of the traits by which I remembered him. I cannot recall anything that passed; but existing between us as there did, some sympathy of feeling, though not much community of idea, the introduction initiated an acquaintanceship.
Towards the close of October or beginning of November, I had completed all the work that was practicable at Brighton, and went back to London.