Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXIX.: SAD EVENTS. 1866—67. Æt. 46—47. - An Autobiography, vol. 2
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CHAPTER XXXIX.: SAD EVENTS. 1866—67. Æt. 46—47. - 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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Early one morning towards the close of April, I received a telegram which led me to take the first train to Derby. The cause will be at once inferred; and the issue of that cause will be seen in the following passage from a letter to Professor Youmans, dated May 7:—
“Before you receive this you will probably have received the Derby paper which I posted to you on Friday, containing a paragraph which you will read with melancholy interest: a brief tribute of respect to my late father. I was called down to him by telegraph this day fortnight, and found him seriously ill, but not, as I supposed, or as any one supposed, in immediate danger. He got gradually worse, however, and died on the Thursday night. As you may imagine the shock has been great and has unnerved me greatly. Indeed I found my system running down so rapidly, and such serious symptoms showing themselves, that I have been obliged to come up to town for a few days change of scene, lest I should fall into some nervous condition out of which it would take me a long time to recover.
Fortunately we are able to keep this sad loss from my mother. She has gradually fallen into that state of mental debility and forgetfulness which renders it easy to evade her inquiries. Not remembering things for more than a few hours, and often for not more than a few minutes, she is habitually under the impression that it is but a few hours since she saw my father. It is a great satisfaction that she is saved from the suffering which knowledge of the truth would give her.
I return to Derby probably at the close of this week.”
But for an imprudence, my father might well have lived another ten years. Some workmen were altering the drainage on his property, and he, not duly heeding the bitter East wind, stood by giving directions: being at the time in a depressed state, caused by long-continued anxiety about my mother. A resulting congestion, or inflammation, of the lungs quickly became serious. He did not die of the disease, however, but of the treatment. The physician (now long since deceased) believing that he would die of exhaustion unless he got rest, decided to administer morphia. Probably he did not allow sufficiently for the extreme enfeeblement and for the choked state of the lungs: for the dose he gave was an overdose and proved fatal.
I name this detail as introductory to a detail of more significance. My father died in a morphia-dream, the subject of which was the high-handed action of Governor Eyre in Jamaica. Since the days of the anti-slavery agitation he had ever been deeply interested on behalf of the Negroes; and the Eyre-prosecution, then pending, greatly occupied his mind. His last audible words concerned the controversy which was raging at the time; and implied a dim idea of his state mingled with the ideas of his dream; for they expressed the complaint that when he was so ill, it was cruel to draw him into an argument about the matter.
It was not an unfit ending for a consciousness which all through life had been occupied with the interests of his fellows and those of mankind at large. The ambition which, when I was a boy, he so often set before me—to be “a useful member of society”—was an ambition ever dominant in himself: too dominant, indeed, for he sometimes unduly sacrificed personal welfare to public welfare. Would that the world were peopled with such. What a marvellously different world it would be!
Though at the time of his death he was seventy-six, my father had not made a will. I suppose this mattered little; for the disposition of his property by will would probably have been the same as that which resulted from his intestacy.
Of course the settlement of his affairs kept me a good deal at Derby; and there by and bye came detentions caused by the sale of property. A number of small houses possessed by him I promptly decided not to keep. Even when an agent is employed to collect rents and look after minor repairs, small house-property entails on its owner much trouble and vexation. All through life I had seen the way in which my father was worried by matters of business which his agent had to refer to him; and all through the latter part of his life I had seen the way in which he was further worried by the interferences of the sanitary authorities, who were continually insisting on alterations (some of them made necessary by their own blunders) and occasionally driving away tenants by the insanitary results they produced. Not even had I been likely to live permanently in Derby, would I have continued to own property which, troublesome enough otherwise, had become a source of perpetual exasperations.
But the care of my mother, which now devolved upon me, was the chief cause for my frequent presence in Derby. Though a good nurse, under the oversight of a sister-in-law, was to be trusted to a considerable extent, yet visits by me at short intervals were obviously necessary. The carrying on of my work had of course to be adjusted as best it might. Compromising the requirements enabled me to diminish the hindrances. During a fortnight in London, where I had my amanuensis, materials, and sources of information, I prepared sufficient manuscript to occupy me something like a week at Derby in revising; and then came another fortnight in London, followed by another week at Derby.
Alternations thus arranged, determined the course of my life during the remainder of 1866 and the first half of 1867.
July of this year brought me a great surprise. My friend Youmans arrived, and was the bearer of startling intelligence and something more. It appeared that when the notice of cessation reached him, he determined that my undertaking should not drop if he could prevent it; and with characteristic energy he began to provide for its continuance. Saying nothing to me about the matter, he had, during the intervening six months, busied himself in raising a fund which he arranged should come to me in the form of a testimonial; or rather, in a form which, as it turned out, left me little choice but to accept. He handed me a letter from Mr. Robert B. Minturn, of the firm of Grinnell, Minturn & Co., who had undertaken to act as a kind of trustee, and who, telling me what the sympathy of the Americans had prompted them to do, hoped that I would not prevent their sympathy from taking effect. Unavoidably this action of my American friends eventually became known; and soon after midsummer summer statements concerning the results had appeared in American journals and had been copied in some English journals. These statements were incorrect; and Prof. Youmans thought it needful to publish in one of the London papers a letter containing a correct statement. As this letter gives the facts in a more authoritative way than any I can give them myself, it will be best to quote it.
“Aug. 11. 1866.
The paragraph which you lately published on the authority of the American papers, “that Professor Youmans recently left that country in order to present to Mr. Herbert Spencer 5,000 dollars and a very valuable gold watch, as a testimonial from his American admirers,” requires some correction; as it mis-states both the amount contributed and my own purpose in coming to this country. The case is this:—Nearly all Mr. Spencer’s writings have been republished in America, where they have been both widely read and very highly appreciated. Many of his friends there, feeling a deep indebtedness to him for works by which they knew he had been the loser to a serious amount, thought that they could not more suitably express their gratitude than by a substantial testimonial. But knowing that Mr. Spencer had decisively declined some overtures on the part of his friends in England, having the kindred purpose of preventing the cessation of his philosophical series, and preferring not to be placed in a like predicament, they invested 7,000 dollars in his name in public securities, which, as they belong to no one else, he is of course at liberty either to appropriate or leave to accumulate for the benefit of his heirs.
E. L. Youmans.”
Thus I was practically put under coercion; for even could I have decided to baulk my American friends, it would have been absurd to do this by letting their gift and its accumulated interest go eventually to an unknown person.
The presentation watch named in Prof. Youman’s letter, was one of those manufactured by the Waltham Watch-Company, at the time when they were making their reputation—watches of a quality which they presently ceased to make; as I learned long afterwards from their agent over here. It has proved a great treasure as a time-keeper, and has excited the envy of friends who have known its performances.*
In July 1866 the British Association was at Nottingham. I had never been to one of their meetings. Now, however, partly because it met so near my home but chiefly because my friend Youmans wished to be present, I spent a good many days there: going to and from Derby every day.
While recalling the incidents of the occasion, there comes back to me one which has but little connexion with the occasion. I have above referred to the fact that the Eyre-prosecution was then pending, and that hot controversies were going on concerning it. These controversies arose at times and places often unfit; as I remember happened during a dinner at the house of Dr. Ransom, who entertained daily while the meeting of the Association continued. I was taking an active part in the matter; having become a member of the Jamaica Committee, formed for carrying on the prosecution: a committee which, headed by John Mill, was remarkable for containing all the leading evolutionists—Darwin, Huxley, Wallace, and myself, besides others less known. Indeed the evolutionists, considering their small number, contributed a far larger proportion to the committee than any other class. I may add here that notwithstanding a charge made by Lord Chief Justice Cockburn to the Grand Jury, thoroughly justifying the prosecution, and emphatically denying the assumed power of a governor to proclaim martial law as Governor Eyre had done, the Grand Jury ignored the bill; and thus tacitly asserted that a deputy ruler may rightly suspend the established law whenever he considers it needful, and set up military tribunals to hang or shoot or otherwise punish as they may think well. That cultivated Englishmen should not have perceived that the real question at issue was whether free institutions were to be at the mercy of a chief magistrate, seems at first marvellous; but it is marvellous only on the supposition that men’s judgments are determined by reason, whereas they are in far larger measure determined by feelings.
Of the proceedings of the Association, some few memories remain. There was the presidential address by Mr. (now Sir William) Grove, on “Continuity;” more instructive to the uninitiated than to the advanced. There was a lecture, too, by Dr. (now Sir Joseph) Hooker, narrating some results of the Antarctic Expedition. And then there was the dinner of the Red Lions: an annual occasion on which the saying Dulce est etc. is taken to heart.
After the meeting of the Association was over, Prof. Youmans and I started upon a tour in North Wales which I induced him to take with me: his assent being, I suspect, due more to the wish for a favourable occasion for prolonged talks and consultations, than to a desire to see the scenery; for his sight had been so impaired by the chronic ophthalmia which at one time entailed years of blindness, that he was scarcely able to appreciate landscape beauties.
Not pausing till we reached Beaumaris, we spent one day there, another at Carnarvon, and another if not two at Bedgellert. Thence an enjoyable coach-drive by Port-Aberglaslyn, Harlech, and along the sea-coast, brought us to Aberdovey. Here we took lodgings for a week, and Mrs. Youmans joined us from London. Reading and working mainly occupied my energetic friend. Leaving him indoors, busy with an article for the New Englander, demolishing a critic who had attacked me, I made use of the out-door opportunities: one day being spent in a bootless fishing excursion, and another in making an expedition with Mrs. Youmans to Aberystwith. The train which, at the end of the week, took my friends back to London, took me as far as Machynlleth; where I bade them a temporary good-bye and set out on a pedestrian tour. The first day’s walk, during the greater part of which I had Cader Idris before me, brought me to Dolgelly. Before the end of the next day I reached Bala. And the day after that saw me at Llangollen; whence I took the railway for Chester.
What was my subsequent course I cannot now remember, and there are no letters to remind me. I have long been under the impression that from 1856 onwards until quite recently, I had invariably made an annual visit to some part of Scotland; but I now incline to think that in 1866 an exception occurred. I believe that I returned to Derby, and thence, after a time, to London: possibly having decided that under the circumstances it was needful that I should confine my movements to places within a day’s journey of home.
On going back and noting my various changes of residence, the reader might reasonably infer that I am by nature nomadic. But his generalization would be disproved by the single fact now to be named. On my return to town towards the end of September 1866, I settled myself at 37 Queen’s Gardens, Lancaster Gate, and have made that my home up to the present time—a period of over 21 years.
The house is situated in a salubrious locality, and has Kensington Gardens within three or four minutes walk. Experience proved it to be quiet and well managed; and it contained a group of inmates above the average of those one finds living en pension. There was a retired government officer belonging to the Stores Department—a Mauritian of French extraction, honourable in feeling, a great snuff-taker, and one who regretted that duelling had ceased. Next to him came an admiral, who every day drank the Queen’s health, and displayed piety and militancy in a not unusual combination. Another naval officer there was who uttered Radical sentiments, fostered in him, I fancy, by disappointment in his profession, for which he was evidently incompetent; and there was also a captain in the army, occupied in some philanthropic work in London. Then came a maiden lady, between 70 and 80, who had acquired a certain stock of information, ideas, and feelings, in her teens, and had never since added to or modified them. These were fixtures. After them may be named sundry who were semi-settled—the wife of a judge in the West Indies, staying in England for her health, pretty and inane; an Indian tea planter, quiet and not unintelligent; an Australian with wife and daughter, come back to spend his money. From time to time there were other visitors from the Colonies—from New Zealand, from the Cape, from Canada. Occasionally, too, there were Americans; of whom I remember the episcopal bishop of Illinois with his children. And then to these settled and semi-settled, must be added those who came for short periods—for the London season, or for a few weeks. Humdrum was the circle they formed, as indeed are most social circles. But on the whole I was tolerably contented with my surroundings.
I have said that 37 Queen’s Gardens was the address of my new abode; but after a few years this address was slightly changed. Our hostess, Miss Shickle, took the next house No. 38, and by a doorway broken through, united the two houses. Thereafter No. 38 became my address. As the dining-room and general drawing-room were in No. 37, No. 38 was quieter; and I was enabled to seclude myself as much as I wished. In fact I saw no more of my fellow guests than one sees of those who daily come to the table d’hôte of a Continental hotel. As the arrangements were such as freed me from all trouble and provided for my needs satisfactorily, I was never seriously tempted to make any change.
At the same time that I settled myself in Queen’s Gardens, I took, at No. 2 Leinster Place, about three minutes walk off, a room to serve me as a study, with the option of taking an additional room if need be. Here I collected and arranged all my books, papers, and other things needful for work; and here I spent my mornings. I thus protected myself against all interruptions: the servants at Queen’s Gardens being forbidden to give any further reply to visitors than that I was not at home.
A blank which occurs here, alike in my memory and in records, extends to January 14, 1867; at which date I find that I sent to my American friend a letter containing the following passage.
“I think it is since I wrote last, that they have been wanting me to become a candidate for the professorship of Mental Philosophy and Logic at University College—a post for which they would not have Martineau, who had offered himself. I declined, however, without hesitation. Since then, I have had to resist similar overtures made by Masson, who wanted me to stand for the Moral Philosophy chair at Edinburgh, which is likely soon to be vacant. One proposal, however, I have assented to. Mr. Grote wishes to nominate me on the senate of the London University, when there occurs an occasion; and as this will not involve much tax on my time, I have made no objection.”
This extract yields me conclusive proof that in respect even of interesting occurrences, my memory has in some cases failed utterly. In the absence of the above passage I should have been not simply unconscious that I had ever been asked to become a candidate for a professorship, but should not have believed it had it been alleged.
I may add that Mr. Grote’s proposal came to nothing. Whether the nomination was ever made I do not know, for I never heard anything further about the matter.
The next incident to be set down is one of which I need no reminder. Had I needed one, however, I should have found it in my next letter, dated February 25. Instead of describing it afresh it will be best to describe it in the words then used to my American friend, as follows:—
“I am not sure whether I mentioned to you when you were here, that I had been devising, and was about to have made, an invalid bed on a new principle. During my father’s brief illness, I was struck with the amount of suffering and exhaustion entailed on patients when they are very feeble, by turning them over, raising them up, getting them out of bed and into it again &c. Thinking over the matter after my father’s death, it seemed to me that it would be very easy to avoid all these evils, and to make a bed that would put a patient in any conceivable attitude, and turn him over, or put him out of bed, without any effort on his part. As my mother was getting very feeble, and the time seemed soon likely to come when such a bed would be of advantage to her, I decided to carry out my idea. In the course of the autumn I put the working drawings into the hands of a man in Derby; and after a great deal of delay, caused partly by my present frequent absence, in London, and partly by the difficulty of getting things done just as I wanted, I succeeded, about a month ago, in getting it completed and put to use. Since then my mother has been in it, and, to my great satisfaction, likes it extremely. Enclosed I send you a set of photographs, which will give you a general idea of its construction and the various things it will do. Considering it is the first made, it answers very well; and in making a second, it can be in several respects so improved as to answer perfectly: being, at the same time, rendered both lighter and cheaper. As you will see it consists of two frame-works; the upper of which is hinged in such ways as to admit of raising the body to any inclination and bending the legs to any angle; while the lower frame-work, supporting this upper one, rests on a large ball and socket, admitting of movement in all directions, and admitting of being locked fast in any position. . . .
I decided not to take out any protection for the idea: wishing that an appliance which will, as I think, so greatly diminish human suffering, should be sold as cheaply as possible; and I have just been making an agreement with an invalid bed-maker, binding him down to a moderate rate of profit. I hope not long hence to send you photographs of the frame-work in its improved form.
Meanwhile, if you should think well, you might, when occasion offers, inquire for some fit man to undertake the manufacture of it in New York: taking care, however, as I have done, not to disclose the idea until some kind of agreement is made, such as to secure its sale at a moderate price.”
Though it is five months later in date, I may most conveniently add here a passage from another letter referring to this matter.
“After long provoking delays, and no end of bother, I have got completed, and brought to London, the improved invalid-bed. Various medical men, Bence Jones, Sharpey, Lockhart-Clark, Marshall, Dunne, Bastian, Hart &c. have been to see it, and very much approve of it.”
My decision not to patent the invalid-bed proved to be ill-advised. I hoped to facilitate the use of it, but experience proved that I hindered the use of it. Had I made it a protected invention, I might have induced some one to undertake the manufacture and sale of it; but as it was, no one thought it worth while to invest the necessary capital. As I have not myself had the spare energy requisite to bring it into use, it has remained unused. (For description and illustration see Appendix D.)
Such ease from comfort and from variety of attitude as was given by the invalid-bed, though in the opinion of the nurse it prolonged life for some months, could of course not do more than this. As spring advanced into summer, more than one sudden summons to Derby indicated that the last days were approaching; and soon after midsummer came the close of a life which had been full of quiet virtues. Here is the announcement of it to my American friend.
“You will infer from the black border what has happened. I am now alone in the world—having no nearer relatives than cousins; with none of whom I have any sympathy.
My mother after her long period of feebleness died on Sunday—having had but a week of positive illness. For these two years her life has been so monotonous and burdensome a one that, sad as the ending of it necessarily seems, it is to be regarded as a cessation of a painful consciousness.”
The failure of the faculties which had for years been going on, was fortunately not of a distressing kind; but rather one which tended to mitigate, by obliviousness, the evils to be borne. During this mental decay the ideas and sentiments which had been dominant throughout life, became more dominant by contrast with those which faded. It was pathetic to see how, when there was no longer the power to discharge domestic duties and religious observances, they constantly occupied the mind. Early in the day came directions about household matters; and later in the day came repeated suggestions that it was time to prepare for going to chapel. These alternate thoughts survived to the last; and thus ended a life of monotonous routine, very little relieved by positive pleasures.
I look back upon it regretfully: thinking how small were the sacrifices which I made for her in comparison with the great sacrifices which, as a mother, she made for me in my early days. In human life as we at present know it, one of the saddest traits is the dull sense of filial obligations which exists at the time when it is possible to discharge them with something like fulness, in contrast with the keen sense of them which arises when such discharge is no longer possible.
[* ]I find in a letter, written in December, 1880, after the watch had been in my possession fourteen years, a paragraph respecting it which may fitly be quoted:—“I have several times intended to tell you how wonderfully well my American watch has been going of late. It has always gone with perfect regularity, either losing a little or gaining a little; but of course it has been difficult to adjust its regulator to such a nicety as that there should be scarcely any loss or gain. This, however, was done last summer. It was set by the chronometer-maker in July, and it is now half a minute too slow; never having varied more than half a minute from the true time since the period when it was set. This is wonderful going. As the Admiral says, one might very well navigate a ship by it.” [In 1890 it went with equal nicety: lost 42 seconds in half a year.]