Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXI.: PLANS FOR EXECUTING IT. 1858—59. Æt. 38—39. - An Autobiography, vol. 2
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CHAPTER XXXI.: PLANS FOR EXECUTING IT. 1858—59. Æt. 38—39. - Herbert Spencer, An Autobiography, vol. 2 
An Autobiography by Herbert Spencer. Illustrated in Two Volumes. Vol. 2 (New York: D. Appleton and Company 1904).
Part of: An Autobiography
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PLANS FOR EXECUTING IT.
I had left London before the end of June; and it was not until the first of July that the two papers by Mr. Darwin and Mr. Wallace on the operation of Natural Selection in causing divergence of species, were read before the Linnæan Society. I have but a vague impression of the way in which this event became known to me; but my belief is that I remained in ignorance of it until my return to town in October.
A reason confirming me in this belief is furnished by a paragraph contained in a letter to my mother dated 29 November, which runs as follows:—“I have been distributing a few volumes of my Essays. Enclosed are some of the acknowledgments, from Dr. Latham, Dr. Hooker, and Mr. Charles Darwin.” As the volume had been published in December, 1857, I was, when I came upon this passage, at a loss to understand why this distribution had not been made until November, 1858. But the probable explanation is that, when I learnt the nature of Mr. Darwin’s paper and learnt that Dr. Hooker accepted his interpretation, I sent copies of the volume to them and to a few others, because of the essay on the Development Hypothesis contained in it. The following is Mr. Darwin’s acknowledgment:—
No, it is not as follows; for on consideration I decide to omit it. Notwithstanding the compliments it contains, which seemed to negative publication, I was about to quote it, because it dispels, more effectually than anything else can, a current error respecting the relation between Mr. Darwin’s views and my own. But the reproduction of it would be out of taste, and I leave the error to be otherwise corrected.
Here I may fitly comment on certain difficulties which I foresee will from time to time present themselves—difficulties in choosing between two alternatives, each of which is objectionable. If, after long periods of non-success, there came to an autobiographer incidents implying success, and the increased appreciation indicated, mention of these cannot be omitted without partially falsifying the narrative. On the other hand, as they reflect some kind of honour on him, the mention of them appears indicative of vanity; though it may result from a desire to give a complete presentation, or from the feeling that against the debit items of the account it is but fair that the credit items should be placed. What, then, is to be done? At first sight it seems possible for one who narrates his own life and draws his own portrait to be quite truthful; but it proves to be impossible.
There are various media which distort the things seen through them, and an autobiography is a medium which produces some irremediable distortions.
Immediately on my return to town I proposed to the editor of the Medico-Chirurgical Review to write an essay on “The Laws of Organic Form” for publication in January, 1859. The title shows that the essay contained a further extension of evolutionary views. The germinal idea had occurred to me in the course of a country ramble with Mr. G. H. Lewes in the autumn of 1851.
The thesis was that organic forms in general, vegetal and animal, are determined by the relations of the parts to incident forces. Radial symmetry, bilateral symmetry, and asymmetry, alike in stationary and moving organisms, were shown, one or other of them, to become established, according as the parts are similarly disposed towards the environment all round an axis, or similarly disposed on two sides of an axis, or not similarly disposed on any side. The explanation given was that here the necessities entailed by position and there the necessities entailed by locomotion, entailed likenesses between parts which were conditioned in like ways. This general interpretation of external forms was congruous with the more special interpretation of internal forms in the case of the vertebrate skeleton—an interpretation appended to the critique on Prof. Owen’s theory.
A systematized and elaborated statement of the hypothesis set forth in this essay, was in later years incorporated in Part iv. of the Principles of Biology.
What induced me to take up the subject, I cannot remember; but while at Derby in October, I collected some materials for an article on “The Morals of Trade,” and, continuing my inquiries in London, began writing it as soon as the article above named was completed.
This was one of the few exceptions to the general rule. Many examples have made it clear that nearly everything I wrote had a bearing, direct or indirect, on the doctrine of evolution. Here, however, there appears no trace of any such bearing; unless, indeed, it be in the tacit recognition of the moral modifiability of human nature and the moral adaptation of men to the passing social state. The article took for its especial topic, not those multitudinous small dishonesties which characterize retail trade, but those larger and less familiar ones which vitiate the transactions of manufacturers, merchants, and wholesale dealers. A further object of the essay was to show that the dishonesty of the classes not engaged in trade is proved by numerous illustrations to be as great in degree though different in kind. And yet another object was to suggest that a remote cause for such dishonesties, alike of traders and others, is the indiscriminate admiration given to whatever implies wealth.
Originally written for the Quarterly Review but not accepted by the editor, the article was published in the Westminster Review for April, 1859. I may add, as a curious incident, that many years afterwards the Rev. Canon Lyttelton applied to me for permission to republish it in a pamphlet along with a sermon of his own on the same subject—a permission which I cheerfully gave. That an ecclesiastic should take a step which coupled his name with mine, curiously exemplified the spread of liberality in religious opinion.
In a letter to my father dated 16 November, 1858, there occurs the remark:—“The arrangements at Malvern House are not so good as they were. The number is much smaller—Mr. Parry and myself being the only inmates not of the family:” inconvenient changes of hours being also named. And then a letter of 15 December says of my hosts that:—“They are going to make some arrangements which will make it no longer convenient to have me. They express great regret at the necessity of separation. I, too, am sorry; for I doubt whether I shall find a place altogether as suitable.”
Had it not been that Mr. Parry—the old gentleman I have referred to as being eighty and a wit—had also to take his departure, I should have concluded that my host had been prompted by the wish to prevent any further influence exercised by me over his son: a youth of some nineteen or twenty. Not, indeed, that I had knowingly exercised such influence; but the son had got hold of my books, and imbibed from them ideas of a kind his father did not approve. Naturally enough, he desired to prevent what he regarded as a perversion; and his desire, though clearly not the sole cause, may have been a part cause for making the domestic change which took place.
My removal was long postponed, however; for my letters continue to be dated from 13, Loudoun Road up to the beginning of February; at which date, having failed to find a desirable habitat, I went down home for a few weeks.
During the latter part of 1858, as during its earlier part, there had been constantly before me the question—How to carry out my undertaking? The general conception had of course been enlarging, and gaining in definiteness while it gained in fulness; and I was growing eager to find some way of setting it forth after the manner sketched out at the beginning of the year. The difficulties in the way were very great. What little property had come to me from my uncle Thomas, had been nearly all frittered away. Partly it had been spent in the publication of books which were not simply unremunerative, but entailed positive losses. And of what had not thus been sunk, most had gone in costs of living and travelling about during the eighteen months in which my nervous breakdown had prevented me altogether from working. As may be inferred, when these drafts upon it had been met not very much remained of the legacy of £500 left to me in 1853. During the period described in the last two chapters, I was able to work at the best only three hours a day, and often not that; and there occasionally came relapses which forced me to leave off for a time entirely. To these facts must be added the further one, that my essays, not usually of a kind to be written off-hand, but involving much thought and inquiry, brought me but small returns. The articles for the Medico-Chirurgical Review were paid for at the rate of either six pounds or six guineas per sheet (sixteen pages); and the others at the rate of ten pounds per sheet. Clearly such being my limited capacity for work, and such being the remuneration for what I did, it was not easy for me, though practising every economy, to meet my expenses.
How then was it possible to execute my project—a project sufficiently extensive and onerous even for one in full health and having income enough to maintain him while devoting himself to non-paying work. What to do, was a question frequently occupying my not very hopeful thoughts, and was a question sometimes discussed with friends. One of the schemes I entertained, not in a sanguine way it is true, shows how hardly pressed I was to find some plan. Chapman, when the Westminster Review came into his hands, had established what he called an “Independent Section”—an appended portion in which was published, now and again, a paper of which he thought well, though he did not wish to commit the Review to its conclusions. My proposal was that I should write instalments of the System of Philosophy, or at any rate of the first volume, to be published in this independent section—some two or three sheets per quarter: being paid for them at the ordinary rate. Naturally enough Chapman did not think favourably of this proposal, and it dropped through. Wild as it was, however, it was not so wild as one made by my friend Lewes. Knowing that I was not without mechanical ingenuity, and that I had years before profited by an appliance I had registered, he suggested that I should get my income by small inventions, and devote my leisure time to the work! I remember that George Eliot joined me in laughter at this amusing proposal. It was made by one who little knew how precarious are the proceeds of inventions, and how frequently inventors reap losses rather than gains.
Thus the year ended without disclosing any way of doing that which I now felt to be my work in life.
Before leaving town as above indicated, several small matters of interest occurred, as shown in the following extracts from a letter home, written on January 10.
“I have agreed with Chapman to do an article for him on the relative values of different kinds of knowledge. I have not fixed the title yet. But its chief aim is to go in for more science.
I am pretty well—as well as Xmas excitements allow. But I should be all the better for less going out.
The matter of Chapman’s business has dropped through. It would not have done unless I had devoted all my time to it. So it is to be carried on by Chapman’s late assistants—Birt & Fergusson.
I shall probably leave this house in about a week. I am going to take an advertisement to the Times to-day.
I will send you the new number of the Medico-Chi. containing my article on the “Laws of Organic Form,” shortly. At present Lewes has it.
I did not after all go down to Hastings. Sir J. Trelawney and his family returned to town sooner than was expected.
The Potters are in town, and I spent Saturday evening with them. I am to go and see them in the spring.”
The third of the foregoing paragraphs recalls a fact which I had completely forgotten. Chapman, a sanguine speculative man, who, during his career as a publisher, lasting some fourteen or fifteen years, had been losing money, was at this date forced to retire: deciding, at the same time, to resume those studies in preparation for the practice of medicine, which had been interrupted when he became a publisher. Among those who had assisted him with loans was Mr. Octavius Smith; and, judging from what occurred, he had, I presume, become the chief creditor. Now-a-days but few publishers are alarmed by so-called heterodox opinions in the books offered to them; but at that time Chapman was the only respectable publisher through whom could be issued books which were tacitly or avowedly rationalistic. Hence, being broad-minded and anxious that the spread of liberal opinion should not be hindered, Mr. Smith wished the business to be carried on. Having, as it seemed, some confidence in my judgment, he suggested that I should undertake to superintend it: perhaps thinking that after giving it due attention, I should have sufficient leisure to carry out the undertaking which he knew I had at heart. But probably I saw that, difficult as it is even for one fully disciplined to make an enterprise of such a kind answer by devoting to it all energies, it would be impossible to make it answer if neither of those conditions was fulfilled.
The article above named as having been agreed upon, which was eventually entitled “What Knowledge is of most worth?” and now forms the first chapter in the little work Education, &c., was commenced either just before my departure for Derby or shortly afterwards. I recall the date because of an important incident connected with it. Before the essay was half done, I suffered one of my not infrequent relapses, and had to suspend work. My father was at the time much troubled by the interference of the Local Sanitary Board with property of his in Derby—some thirteen small houses which, instead of being improved by alterations on which the authorities insisted, had been so much damaged that some of his tenants left. Hence he contemplated a memorial to the Town Council, complaining of the treatment he had received. He was, however, peculiar in the respect that while energetic about small things, he was almost paralyzed by things of moment. Anxious that the proposed memorial should be written, knowing that if left to himself my father would not write it, and yet feeling that my own state of brain would not allow me to write it for him, I said that if he would be amanuensis I would try to do the work for him by dictating. He agreed; and the experiment, being tried, proved successful. It did more—it initiated a practice which I thereafter adopted. I made the satisfactory discovery that my head would bear dictating much more easily than it would bear writing; and I at once foresaw that this discovery would considerably affect my future course.
On my return to town in March I settled myself at 24, Oakley Square. A letter dated 23rd April contains the paragraph:—“I have got an amanuensis, and find the dictation answers. I do fully half as much again or more, and with greater ease.”
I may here remark that from the beginning I never experienced any difficulty. Friends to whom I afterwards recommended dictation, asserted either that they should not be able, or that they had not been able, to collect their thoughts under such conditions. One of them who, yielding to my repeated exhortations, tried the experiment, told me on inquiry that it had failed. On asking why, he said that his landlady, not having succeeded in finding, as he requested, a youth to play the part of scribe, suggested that perhaps her daughter might serve. He accepted the proposal; but, on making a trial, confessed that he found himself thinking much more about the girl than about his work. This, it seemed to me, was a very inadequate experience on which to found a generalization. Avoiding a distraction of this kind, I was but little impeded. The disturbance to thought produced by the consciousness that another was waiting for me, though I think I felt it a little at first, soon became inappreciable. Did not the change of method affect my style? is a question which will be asked. Not very greatly I think. After this article, of which the first half had been written and the second half dictated, was published, I put to a competent judge of composition the question whether he could decide where the transition was made. He was unable to do this; and remarked only that he thought the latter part of the essay was more declamatory—I think that was the word—than the earlier part. Nevertheless I believe the practice of dictating, thereafter followed, did injure my style. The general experience is that diffuseness results when the pen is held by another. One who, when writing by proxy, makes it a point to keep his amanuensis going, is obviously more likely to use a defective expression than when, holding the pen himself, he has no external incentive to abridge any pause he makes for thinking. Only where, as in my own case, there is acquired the habit of so far ignoring the amanuensis as to take whatever time may be needed for choosing the best form of words, is the effect on the quality of the product likely to be small. Still, an effect is, I think, traceable. It has been remarked to me more than once that Social Statics is better written than my later books. Though doubtless a good deal is due to the nature of subject—though The Study of Sociology, akin in matter, approaches more nearly in manner to Social Statics than any other work of mine; yet there remains a difference. Social Statics was, I remember, characterized as epigrammatic; but none of my later books could be rightly thus characterized.
The essay “What Knowledge is of most worth?” reference to which has called forth these parenthetic remarks, was published in the Westminster Review for July, 1859. Since then, the claims of science have received increasing recognition; but when this essay was written, its leading thesis, that the teaching of the classics should give place to the teaching of science, was regarded by nine out of ten cultivated people as simply monstrous. Even now, changed though the general feeling is, more space for science is but reluctantly yielded; and in such places as public schools the space is still very small. To one who never received the bias given by the established course of culture, and on whom the authority of traditions and customs weighs but little, the state of opinion about the matter appears astounding. To think that after these thousands of years of civilization, the prevailing belief should still be that while knowledge of his own nature, bodily and mental, and of the world physical and social in which he has to live, is of no moment to a man, it is of great moment that he should master the languages of two extinct peoples and become familiar with their legends, battles, and superstitions, as well as the achievements, mostly sanguinary, of their men, and the crimes of their gods! Two local groups of facts and fictions, filling a relatively minute space in the genesis of a World which is itself but an infinitesimal part of the Universe, so occupy students that they leave the World and the Universe unstudied! Had Greece and Rome never existed, human life, and the right conduct of it, would have been in their essentials exactly what they now are: survival or death, health or disease, prosperity or adversity, happiness or misery, would have been just in the same ways determined by the adjustment or non-adjustment of actions to requirements. And yet knowledge subserving the adjustment which so profoundly concerns men from hour to hour, is contemptuously neglected; while the best preparation for complete living is supposed to be familiarity with the words and thoughts, successes and disasters, follies, vices, and atrocities, of two peoples whose intelligence was certainly not above ours, whose moral standard was unquestionably lower, and whose acquaintance with the nature of things, internal and external, was relatively small. Still more when from the value of knowledge for guidance we pass to the value it has for general illumination, may we continue to marvel at the perversity with which, generation after generation, students spend their years over the errors of ancient speculators who had no adequate data for their reasonings, while all that modern science, having for materials the accumulated and generalized observations of centuries, can tell respecting ourselves and our surroundings, they ignore; or if they glance at it, do so at leisure hours as at something relatively unimportant. In times to come this condition of opinion will be instanced as one of the strange aberrations through which Humanity has passed.
Concerning this article I may add that, while it had no direct bearing on the doctrine of evolution, its insistence on comprehensive scientific culture, was an insistence on the acquisition of that knowledge from which the doctrine of evolution is an eventual outcome.
Sometime during this spring occurred an incident which I may name partly for its intrinsic interest, and partly as a lesson.
Already I have mentioned the fact that, while yet the first of the Scenes of Clerical Life was but partly written, I was told by George Eliot, on whom I had frequently urged the writing of fiction, that she had commenced; and, as I think I have said, I was for some time the sole possessor of the secret. Of course curiosity concerning the authorship of these stories accompanied the interest in them; and amusement was afforded me by the speculations I heard ventured—in some cases by her friends. After the publication of Adam Bede the curiosity became greater and the speculation more rife; and it was by-and-by guessed that she was the anonymous author. Chapman, knowing that if anyone knew I did, one day suddenly addressed me—“By the way, Mrs. Dunn told me the other night that Miss Evans is the author of Adam Bede: is it true?” “Mrs. Dunn!” I replied; “who told Mrs. Dunn any such thing?” “Oh, that she didn’t say.” “I do not see how Mrs. Dunn should know anything about it; she can have no means of learning.” Thus I fenced as well as I could, but all to no purpose. Chapman soon returned to the question—“Is it true?” To this question I made no answer; and of course my silence amounted to an admission.
When next I went over to Wandsworth, I told them what had occurred, and was blamed for not giving a denial: the case of Scott being named as justifying such a course. Leaving aside the ethical question, however, a denial from me would have been futile. The truth would have been betrayed by my manner, if not otherwise. I have so little control over my features that a vocal “No” would have been inevitably accompanied by a facial “Yes.”
The lesson which the incident teaches is that a secret cannot safely be committed even to one in whom perfect confidence may be reposed. For, as we see, scrupulous faith will not always prevent unintended disclosure. I may add that fortunately no harm was done. The secret was leaking out; and, moreover, the reason for keeping the secret had no longer much weight.
When thinking about ways of prosecuting my scheme, there sometimes arose the question—Is there any post under Government which I might consistently accept, and which would give me the needful leisure? Of course most of the offices which might else have served were unavailable by one holding the views I did, and still do, concerning the limitations of State-functions. An inspectorship of prisons occurred to me as a position which might be filled without any dereliction of principle; since maintenance of order is a State-function which I have ever insisted upon as essential. It was, however, a foolish hope that such an office would, after I had discharged its duties, leave me any time for writing. But my mood was that of the drowning man who catches at a straw.
There is proof that the thought of obtaining some post of this kind had been entertained towards the close of the preceding year. Then, and during subsequent months, I obtained testimonials from sundry leading men. Among them were Mill, Huxley, Tyndall, Grote, Hooker, Fraser, Sir Henry Holland, and Sir G. C. Lewis. Several were strongly expressed; and especially those of Mill, Huxley, and Tyndall.
Of all posts likely to answer my purpose, that of stamp-distributor was the most promising. It is one of which the duties are in large measure mechanical and can be to a considerable extent performed by a subordinate. Either at the close of 1858 or in the spring of 1859, the stamp-distributorship for Derby fell vacant, and I made an effort to obtain it. Lord Derby was then Prime Minister; and Lord Stanley (the present Lord Derby) was Secretary of State for India. He had read some of my books; and, as I knew from the editor of the Westminster, had expressed approval of some of my articles. Hence I hoped something from his friendly intervention: the appointment of an impecunious author to such a place being not without precedent. The claims of party proved too strong, however. The place was given to the editor of a provincial Conservative paper who had been useful in his locality.
A letter from Hooker written at the time proves to me a fact which I had absolutely forgotten—namely, that I had thought of a foreign consulship as a post which might possibly give me adequate leisure. This was a very erroneous supposition, Hooker told me.
What was my daily life during this period? The question is one I cannot answer more definitely than by saying that, after a walk of half-an-hour or so, the morning was devoted to work—or as much of the morning as the state of my head would allow; and that during the rest of the day I had to kill time as best I might. I suppose I walked a good deal in the afternoon; and did much of my thinking while walking—a habit which was, and has since been, physically injurious, however much otherwise beneficial. A story I have told of myself as a boy, shows how apt I was to become mentally absorbed at an early age; and in later life, states of absorption, different as were the subjects of thought, were scarcely less marked. I once discovered to my dismay that I sometimes passed those living in the same house with me, and, though I looked them in the face, remained unconscious that I had seen them.
It is clear, however, from letters, that my social circle was extending. Beyond mention of engagements to friends already named there are occasionally such passages as:—
“I dined yesterday in company with Mr. Roebuck, his wife and daughter, and some other notabilities.” [One of the said notabilities was, I remember, the late Mr. Charles Austen]. “Sir J. Trelawney has invited me to go yachting with him for a few days.” “I dined in company with Tyndall on Wednesday. He gave us an account of his night on the top of M. Blanc.” . . . “Dr. Arnott called on me yesterday and stayed an hour.” [Dr. Arnott, at that time well known by his Elements of Physics, liked the article “What Knowledge is of most worth,” and had obtained my address from the editor of the Westminster.] . . . “I am going to Dr. Carpenter’s to-night, to meet Mr. Morell.”
Dr. Morell, known at that time by his book on The Recent Philosophy of Europe, has long resided in Capri, and has dropped out of public thought. During dinner a story was told about some eccentric member of the Carpenter family, who had adopted a boy with a view to carrying out his own ideas of a good education. He shortly found that the undertaking was more onerous than he expected, and thereupon cast about for a wife: giving one whom he found to understand that the rearing of the boy was to be considered the primary purpose of the marriage. Dr. Morell’s comment was—“Ah, I see: Rule of Three inverse.”
Of amusements in those days there is but little to say. Now that operas were no longer free to me. I never went—the cost was too great; and I but rarely saw a play. Occasionally some music was heard during the seasons when there were going on the promenade concerts, which were at that time conducted by their promoter, Jullien. Especially on what were announced as classical nights did I go. Even then there was often a good deal which I rather tolerated than enjoyed—much that seemed to me manufacture rather than inspiration. A friend of mine, Pigott, said of orchestral music, that when from any one instrument there came something worth listening to, all the other instruments forthwith entered into a conspiracy to put it down; and though his remark ignored too much the larger effects of orchestral combinations, it pointed to the fact that most orchestral combinations are not sufficiently coherent. Ballads had ceased to give me the pleasure which they did in the early days; but above all I was, and am still, intolerant of such solos as were performed by Sivori and other celebrities of the kind—mere displays of executive skill. When I go to a concert, I do not go to hear gymnastics on the violin.
I may remark in passing that the applause given to such performances well illustrates the vitiation of opinion. Usually after a display of wonderful mechanical dexterity by an instrumentalist, the members of the orchestra applaud. Observing this, many of the audience, thinking these cultivated musicians must be the best judges, applaud loudly; and the rest of the audience join in the applause, lest they should be thought persons of no taste: the truth being that the brother instrumentalists applaud, not the music produced, but the triumph over difficulties. And thus the mass of hearers, following authority as they suppose, are led to accept as music what is in fact the murder of music. In this case, as in multitudinous other cases, every one says and does what every one else says and does—lacking courage to do otherwise; and so helps to generate or to maintain a sham opinion. Considering that the ordinary citizen has no excess of individuality to boast of, it seems strange that he should be so anxious to hide what little he has.
Early in May, 1859, I left town for Gloucestershire to spend ten days at Standish. It must, I think, have been on this occasion that I initiated my little friends there—a troop of children, all girls, whom I had severally seen grow up from infancy—in Natural History, by establishing an aquarium and giving them lessons in the use of the microscope. Hitherto our afternoon walks had been walks simply; but now they became expeditions in search of interesting objects. My visits being the occasions for rambles further afield and less restrained than those taken in charge of a governess, were, I believe, looked forward to as bringing extended liberties and more varied amusements. The pleasurable associations thus established in early days affected our relations throughout our after lives.
Returning to town for a few days only, I left for Derby some time before the end of the month, and there recommenced work. The lives and deaths of periodicals would form a good topic for an essayist. Annually a considerable number are born, and annually a considerable number die,—now scarcely surviving infancy, now killed by starvation in middle life, and now coming to an end in old age in consequence of that increasing rigidity which will not allow of adaptation to new conditions. Out of the periodicals to which I have contributed, I can count up ten newspapers, magazines and quarterlies, which have thus disappeared. One of them was the Universal Review, a then recently established organ of opinion for which I had been asked to write an article. It was one of those which die early; but it survived long enough to publish the essay on “Illogical Geology” which I had undertaken for it. This was written, or rather dictated, during a six weeks’ sojourn at Derby.
The topic was one which gave occasion for expressing evolutionary ideas in a new direction; and I presume that the consciousness of this was dominant with me when I undertook the subject. There were the changes of the Earth’s crust itself to be considered from a developmental point of view, as well as the changes of the past life on its surface. As originally proposed, the article was to have been a review of the works of Hugh Miller; but these eventually became simply the text for a discussion of what seemed to me the errors of orthodox geology, as exemplified in them as well as in the works of Murchison and Lyell. The title “Illogical Geology” sufficiently shows that the article called in question the legitimacy of current conclusions, considered as following from the evidence assigned. No more in this case than in the case of Prof. Owen’s theory, should I have ventured to express dissent concerning matters of fact; but, accepting the facts as stated, an outsider was not unwarranted in considering whether the inferences were legitimately drawn from them.
The assumption made by some that strata in different parts of the Earth, called by the same name, were contemporaneous, and the more defensible assumption made by others, that if not single strata yet systems of strata were everywhere contemporaneous, were shown to be inconsistent with various of the admissions and assertions elsewhere made. The dogma then accepted by geologists, that certain great breaks in the succession of organic remains imply almost complete destructions of living things and creations of new floras and faunas, was contested; and it was argued that the acknowledged course of geological changes would, along with small breaks, necessitate these great breaks. Naturally a chief aim was that of showing that the arguments against the hypothesis of evolution which Hugh Miller and others drew from palæontology, were fallacious. But I was candid enough to admit that while geological evidence did not disprove the development hypothesis, neither did it prove it: contending that the most we can expect is to find congruity between the hypothesis and the evidence yielded by comparatively recent fossil forms. This congruity has since been shown to exist.
In those years and after, a craving for the mountains recurred annually; and when, along with satisfaction of it I could satisfy a craving for the sea, I rejoiced in doing so. Leaving home early in July, I took the coast of Cumberland on my way north; settling myself for a week or so at Drigg, close to the since-established watering-place known as Sea-scales. My artist-friend Deacon joined me there with his two boys. A walk over to Wast-water was one of our excursions; and there was a subsequent migration to St. Bees.
A change of ministry had occurred in June; and Sir G. C. Lewis had become Home Secretary. He was editor of the Edinburgh Review at the time I wrote for it the article on “Railway Morals and Railway Policy:” an interview and some correspondence having been thereby occasioned. Moreover he had written me some friendly criticisms on the doctrine set forth in the essay on “Progress: its Law and Cause.” So that I was not without hope that, having stamp-distributorships in his gift, I might through him obtain one, and thereby be enabled to live while carrying out my scheme. Before leaving Derby I had forwarded to him the testimonials above named, and while at Drigg received his reply. I cannot now find it; but I remember distinctly enough that it was not encouraging—so little encouraging in fact that I thereafter gave up all hope.
The 19th of July found me at Achranich, the highland paradise of my kind friends with whom I had before spent a delightful two months, and with whom I was now to spend another like interval. As said in a letter home on the 21st—“Fishing, riding, driving, walking, talking and laughing, are capital stimuli, and have given me two good nights:” a sentence I quote partly to indicate the enjoyable life, and partly to show that the question of more or less sleep still remained dominant. I must add that the expression “good nights” is relative only in meaning; for my best night would, by any one in health, be called a bad one.
“The day was one I shall never forget,” is the closing sentence of a letter written during the last week of my stay. It describes “the most charming excursion I ever had.” This was an excursion by boat “down the Sound of Mull, up Loch Sunart and Loch Teachus; and home by land,” which I name not so much for its own sake, though “the scenery was splendid and the colouring marvellous;” as because in our party of twelve there were several of known names. One was Professor Sellar, whose works on Roman literature are of high repute; another was Miss Cross, who some years later published a volume of graceful poems, but, marrying and dying soon afterwards, did not fulfil the promise then made; and a third was Mr. John Cross, who, long afterwards, married George Eliot and wrote her life. Young and vivacious as were nearly all members of the party, and elated as all were by sailing over a sunny sea amid islands and mountains made gorgeous by the autumn colouring of trees, bracken and decaying lichens, the occasion united a variety of pleasures which but rarely come together; so that I remember saying after our return that the day must be marked not by one white stone but by many.
Reaching home about the 20th September, I occupied myself in fulfilling an engagement made before I left town in the spring. A letter to my father dated 29th April contains the paragraph:—“Dr. Sieveking has asked me to review Bain’s new book ‘The Emotions and the Will’ for the Medico-Chirurgical; and I have consented.”
This review I undertook mainly because of the connexion which the subject had with the general question of evolution. Its aim was to show that the phenomena presented by the emotions can be truly understood only from the evolution point of view. Bain and I were on terms, if not exactly of friendship, yet of friendly acquaintanceship; but I said in the article all that I thought: giving credit at the same time that I expressed dissent. Some of my criticisms touched fundamentally his method and his general conceptions; but he, in a way unusual with authors, accepted them in good part. Indeed I cannot remember anyone, known to me either directly or indirectly, who has maintained an attitude so purely philosophical; and in whom the interests of truth have so greatly predominated over all personal interests. In after years we became more intimate and eventually established cordial relations.
Towards the end of October I returned to town and again took up my abode in Oakley Square. Though my letters at the time do not betray discouragement, yet I can scarcely have failed to feel it; for now, after the lapse of nearly two years, I seemed no nearer to the execution of my project than on the day when it first took possession of me.
A PLAN FIXED UPON.
The closing months of 1859 were occupied in fulfilling several literary engagements. Masson, my acquaintance with whom, made nearly ten years before, had ripened into a friendship which has since continued and increased in warmth, was at that time Editor of Macmillan’s Magazine, then recently established. He asked me to write an article for him, and I agreed to do so. I had also arranged to write one for the Westminster on “The Social Organism,” and one for the British Quarterly on “Prison Ethics.”
Most readers are, I suspect, weary of the analyses, made for the purpose of showing the bearings of successive essays on the general doctrine which occupied my mind; but near as I am now to the end of the series, I may be excused for continuing them. That the conception of the Social Organism is an evolutionary one, is implied by the words; for they exclude the notion of manufacture or artificial arrangement, while they imply natural development. Briefly expressed in Social Statics, and having grown in the interval, the conception was now to be set forth in an elaborated form. The leading facts insisted on were, that a social organism is like an individual organism in these essential traits:—that it grows; that while growing it becomes more complex; that while becoming complex its parts acquire increasing mutual dependence; and that its life is immense in length compared with the lives of its component units. It was pointed out that in both cases there is increasing integration accompanied by increasing heterogeneity; to which I might have added increasing definiteness, had my ideas at that time been fully matured. The article appeared in January, 1860; and some attention was drawn by a promulgation of ideas which to the average mind seemed simply whimsical.
The essay on “Prison Ethics,” written at this time but not published in the British Quarterly until the subsequent July, though not evolutionary in aspect was evolutionary in spirit. Its conclusions were based on the laws of life, considered first in themselves and then as conformed to under social conditions. The right of society to coerce the criminal up to certain limits but not beyond those limits, was a deduction. But the essentially evolutionary characteristic was the doctrine that not only the ethically justifiable treatment but the treatment alone successful in reforming criminals, is that of insisting on self-maintenance while they are under restraint—keeping them subject to those requirements of social life which they have not conformed to. The thesis defended was that with criminals, as with all living beings, there will go on adaptation to circumstances if they are forced to live under those circumstances: a corollary from the doctrine of organic evolution.
The brief paper on the “Physiology of Laughter” which I wrote for Macmillan’s Magazine, also participated, though not conspicuously, in the family traits. It was evolutionary as being an explanation of laughter in terms of those nervo-muscular actions which are displayed everywhere throughout the animal kingdom from moment to moment; and especially as using for a key the law that motion follows the line of least resistance—a law previously recognized as one needful to be taken account of in the interpretation of evolutionary processes.
While these articles were in hand, the Origin of Species was published. That reading it gave me great satisfaction may be safely inferred. Whether there was any set-off to this great satisfaction, I cannot now say; for I have quite forgotten the ideas and feelings I had. Up to that time, or rather up to the time at which the papers by Mr. Darwin and Mr. Wallace, read before the Linnæan Society, had become known to me, I held that the sole cause of organic evolution is the inheritance of functionally-produced modifications. The Origin of Species made it clear to me that I was wrong; and that the larger part of the facts cannot be due to any such cause. Whether proof that what I had supposed to be the sole cause, could be at best but a part cause, gave me any annoyance, I cannot remember; nor can I remember whether I was vexed by the thought that in 1852 I had failed to carry further the idea then expressed, that among human beings the survival of those who are the select of their generation is a cause of development. But I doubt not that any such feelings, if they arose, were overwhelmed in the gratification I felt at seeing the theory of organic evolution justified. To have the theory of organic evolution justified, was of course to get further support for that theory of evolution at large with which, as we have seen, all my conceptions were bound up. Believing as I did, too, that right guidance, individual and social, depends on acceptance of evolutionary views of mind and of society, I was hopeful that its effects would presently be seen on educational methods, political opinions, and men’s ideas about human life.
Obviously these hopes that beneficial results would presently be wrought, were too sanguine. My confidence in the rationality of mankind was much greater then than it is now.
In a letter to my father dated January 20, occurs the sentence—“I shall send you something that will surprise you in a few days.” This sentence referred to the programme of the System of Philosophy, then in type.
During the autumn of 1859 I abandoned all thought of obtaining any official position which would give me sufficient means while affording me a share of leisure. What then was I to do?—How was I to execute my project? Among plans despairingly thought over there occurred to me that of issuing by subscription. Favourable opinions were expressed by friends with whom I discussed it—among others by the Leweses. George Eliot’s diary shows that I dined with them at Wandsworth on November 19th; and I have a tolerably distinct remembrance that we then talked the matter over. The earliest impression I have of the programme (which is marked “revise”) is dated simply January NA, 1860: a blank for the day of the month being left until I had obtained the criticisms of various friends—Huxley, Tyndall and others. Along with an outline of the proposed series of works, severally divided into their component parts, and each part briefly described, the programme stated the method of issue as follows:—
“It is proposed to publish in parts of from five to six sheets octavo (eighty to ninety-six pages). These parts to be issued quarterly; or as nearly so as is found possible. The price per part to be half-a-crown; that is to say, the four parts yearly issued to be severally delivered, post free, to all annual subscribers of ten shillings.”
A long delay occurred before general distribution of the programme. An authoritative endorsement was needful; and much time was occupied in obtaining weighty names of first subscribers, to be printed on the back. The cheerful aid of friends was afforded me—Huxley being especially helpful; and in the course of some six weeks, an imposing list was got together—the chief men of science, a considerable number of leading men of letters, and a few statesmen. In Appendix A will be found a reprint of this programme; and with it these names of sponsors. The date is March 27, 1860.
Comparison of it with the rough draft drawn up in January, 1858, shows that while the outline of the scheme, in so far as the component works are concerned, is substantially the same; and that while, between the delineated contents of each volume in the one case and in the other, there is in some cases a correspondence of a general kind and in other cases an approach to a specific correspondence; there is an amount of difference showing that during the intervening two years the conception had undergone a marked development. Growth of the series from seven volumes to ten, had resulted from expansion of the Principles of Biology from one volume to two, and expansion of the Principles of Sociology from one volume to three; while within each volume the divisions had multiplied, and there had been arrived at a mode of dealing with each subject in a systematic manner common to them all.
I may remark here that though during these two years there had thus been an extensive further evolution of the original conception, the evolution which subsequently took place, was but small. On comparing the volumes as summarized in the printed programme, with the volumes as since published, it will be seen that the last correspond with the first, save by containing some relatively small additions. In the Principles of Psychology there has been introduced (but not until the edition of 1880) a part entitled “Congruities”; while in the Principles of Sociology, beyond a change in the order of two of the divisions, there has been introduced a division dealing with Domestic Institutions; and there will, if I live to complete the second volume, be introduced a division dealing with Professional Institutions.
The plan succeeded fairly well. Thanks, no doubt, to the influential names attached to the circular, the issue of it was followed by numerous responses. In the course of the spring there came in between three and four hundred names of subscribers: the number finally reached being over 440. Assuming my ability to write four numbers per annum, and supposing that all the subscribers paid their subscriptions (which a considerable proportion in such cases never do) the gross proceeds would have been some £200 a year. From this, however, had to be deducted the costs of printing, binding, and issuing; which would have reduced the proceeds to perhaps £120 or £130 a year. I dare say I should have been sanguine enough to proceed on the strength of this calculation, even had no addition to these proceeds been in prospect. But there was an addition in prospect.
Some years previously I had made the acquaintance of an American whose sympathies were enlisted on my behalf by perusal of some of my books or essays—Mr. E. A. Silsbee of Salem, Mass. While yet the circular was in its unfinished state, I sent to him a copy, accompanied by the inquiry whether he thought that subscribers might be obtained in America. His reply, dated February 14, held out much encouragement; and a letter of March 6, written after the circular had been sent to New York, contained a sentence the significance of which was shown by subsequent events. The sentence runs—“Mr. Youmans, a very popular and intelligent lecturer on scientific subjects, well known by his works on Chemistry, Physiology, &c., entered with great enthusiasm into the project.” Devoting himself with characteristic vigour to the furtherance of my scheme, this previously-unknown friend succeeded in obtaining more than two hundred subscribers.
The relation thus initiated was extremely fortunate; for Prof. Edward L. Youmans was of all Americans I have known or heard of, the one most able and most willing to help me. Alike intellectually and morally, he had in the highest degrees the traits conducive to success in diffusing the doctrines he espoused; and from that time to this he has devoted his life mainly in spreading throughout the United States the doctrine of evolution. His love of wide generalizations had been shown years before in lectures on such topics as the correlation of the physical forces; and from those who heard him I have gathered that, aided by his unusual powers of exposition, the enthusiasm which contemplation of the larger truths of science produced in him, was in a remarkable degree communicated to his hearers. Such larger truths I have on many occasions observed are those which he quickly seizes—ever passing at once through details to lay hold of essentials; and having laid hold of them, he clearly sets them forth afresh in his own way with added illustrations. But it is morally even more than intellectually that he has proved himself a true missionary of advanced ideas. Extremely energetic—so energetic that no one has been able to check his over-activity—he has expended all his powers in advancing what he holds to be the truth; and not only his powers but his means. It has proved impossible to prevent him from injuring himself in health by his exertions; and it has proved impossible to make him pay due regard to his personal interests. So that towards the close of life he finds himself wrecked in body and impoverished in estate by thirty years of devotion to high ends. Among professed worshippers of humanity, who teach that human welfare should be the dominant aim, I have not yet heard of one whose sacrifices on behalf of humanity will bear comparison with those of my friend.
Returning from this tribute of admiration, it remains only to say that, the number of the American subscribers added to that of the English ones, having produced a total of about six hundred, my hopes appeared to be justified, and I resolved to proceed.
I was just free from all ties to periodicals. The last of them had been an engagement to prepare for the Westminster Review, an article on “Parliamentary Reform: the Dangers and the Safeguards,” which was published in April. Years passed before I interrupted my chief work to do anything more in the way of essay-writing.
I may fitly say a few words about this article; less because of its evolutionary bearings than because of the well-grounded fears expressed in it. Not, indeed, that it had no evolutionary bearings. Its ultimate thesis that “as fast as representation is extended the sphere of government must be contracted,” which is a corollary from the thesis upheld some years before, that representative government is the best possible for the administration of justice and the worst possible for everything else, is a practical application of the general doctrine that social progress is accompanied, and should be accompanied, by increasing specialization of functions; and this is an evolutionary doctrine. But that which may be distinguished as the practical part of the article, was an argument showing that unless with the extension of political power there went such direct imposition of public burdens as caused an unceasing consciousness of the way in which public expenditure weighs upon each, there would be an injurious increase of governmental interference and a multiplication of governmental agencies. And it was contended that whereas in the past the superior few had inequitably used their power in such ways as indirectly to benefit themselves at the cost of the inferior many; so the inferior many, becoming predominant, would inequitably use their power in such ways as indirectly to benefit themselves at the cost of the superior few: such superior few being understood to include not the socially superior only but also the superior among those of lower status.
Unhappily this prophecy has been fulfilled,—fulfilled, too, much sooner than I expected. And another extension of the franchise since made, so great as entirely to destroy the balance of powers between classes, and so made as to dissociate the giving of votes from the bearing of burdens, will inevitably be followed by a still more rapid growth of socialistic legislation.
I was now just forty; and I calculated that at the rate of progress specified in the circular, I should get through the undertaking by the time I was sixty. It would have been a sanguine anticipation even for one well in body and brain; and for one in my state it was an absurd anticipation.
Indeed when I look back on all the circumstances,—when I recall the fact that at my best I could work only three hours daily,—when I remember that besides having not unfrequently to cut short my mornings, I from time to time had a serious relapse; I am obliged to admit that to any unconcerned bystander my project must have seemed almost insane. To think that an amount of mental exertion great enough to tax the energies of one in full health and vigour, and at his ease in respect of means, should be undertaken by one who, having only precarious resources, had become so far a nervous invalid that he could not with any certainty count upon his powers from one twenty-four hours to another!
However, as the result has proved, the apparently unreasonable hope was entertained, if not wisely, still fortunately. For though the whole of the project has not been executed, yet the larger part of it has.