Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXII.: A PLAN FIXED UPON. 1859—60. Æt. 39—40. - An Autobiography, vol. 2
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CHAPTER XXXII.: A PLAN FIXED UPON. 1859—60. Æt. 39—40. - 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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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.