Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XLI.: AN IMPRUDENCE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES. 1867. Æt. 47. - An Autobiography, vol. 2
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CHAPTER XLI.: AN IMPRUDENCE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES. 1867. Æt. 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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AN IMPRUDENCE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
Up to this time I had not felt the need for any assistance beyond that yielded by an ordinary amanuensis. Such materials as were stored up in memory, joined with such further materials as were accessible without much labour, served me while writing First Principles.
Though for writing The Principles of Biology there was required a far larger amount of information than I possessed, the result proved that I did not miscalculate in believing that I should be able to furnish myself with such detailed facts as were requisite for the setting forth of general conceptions. Nor did The Principles of Psychology, partly executed and now to be completed, cause me to seek external aid. The data for the subjective part, which was dealt with after a manner unlike that commonly adopted, were lying ready internally; and the views taken of the objective part were so little akin to those of preceding psychologists, that no extensive study of their writings was necessary. But I had long been conscious that when I came to treat of Sociology, the case would be widely different. There would be required an immense accumulation of facts so classified and arranged as to facilitate generalization. I saw, too, that it would be impossible for me to get through the amount of reading demanded, and that it would be needful for me to read by proxy, and have the collected materials prepared for use. Not, indeed, that this was my first idea. I began by thinking that I must have a secretary who would read to me. I soon became aware, however, that the requirements could not be thus met; and that I must get some one to devote himself, under my superintendence, to the gathering and grouping of data.
There was no time to be lost. The elaboration and completion of the Psychology I expected would occupy me some two or three years; and unless, by the end of that time due preparation had been made, I foresaw that I should suddenly have before me the task of building without bricks—or, at any rate, building without any adequate supply of bricks. While staying with Professor Masson in the Vale of Yarrow, I named to him my need, and begged him to let me know if he heard of any one likely to serve my purpose. My friend’s aid soon proved to be efficient. Within a month, while still at Ardtornish, I received from him a letter recommending a young Scotchman, Mr. David Duncan, well known to him and to Professor Bain, under whom he had studied. Qualms of conscience had obliged him to relinquish a clerical career, for which he had been intended; and he was seeking something to do. He seemed too good for the place, and I said as much in the correspondence which ensued; but notwithstanding my somewhat dissuasive representations, he decided to accept, and joined me in Town not long after I returned.
Of course preliminary discipline was needed by any one who undertook the work I wanted done; for my conception of the required data was a wider one than he would be likely to frame for himself. Indications of the climate, contour, soil, and minerals, of the region inhabited by each society delineated, seemed to me needful. Some accounts of the Flora and Fauna, in so far as they affected human life, had to be given. And the characters of the surrounding tribes or nations were factors which could not be overlooked. The characters of the people, individually considered, had also to be described—their physical, moral, and intellectual traits. Then, besides the political, ecclesiastical, industrial, and other institutions of the society—besides the knowledge, beliefs, and sentiments, the language, habits, customs, and tastes of its members—there had to be noticed their clothing, food, arts of life &c. Hence it was necessary that Mr. Duncan and myself should go through some books of travel together, so that he might learn to recognize everything relevant to Sociology.
It resulted that beyond my morning’s work, continued, when I was well, from 10 till 1, during which interval Mr. Duncan acted as amanuensis, some work of so light a kind that it hardly seemed worthy the name, now filled an hour or two at the end of the day. Though reading had the same effect on me as dictating, and though half an hour over a book in the evening made my ordinarily bad night decidedly worse, yet I hoped that I might listen when read to without suffering from it. It was a foolish hope. Many experiences might have shown me that the effect would be mischievous.
My nervous affection had been from the beginning of such a nature that disturbance of the cerebral circulation was caused by whatever necessitated persistent mental action, no matter of what kind. Often when at a loss how to pass the time, I have been asked—“Why do you not read a novel?” But the effect of reading a novel is just the same as that of reading a grave book. When at my worst, half a column of a newspaper as surely brings on head-symptoms as do two or three pages of metaphysics. Whatever involves continued attention produces the effect. Dr. Ransom, who had suffered from a similar affection, told me that he brought on a relapse by too persistently watching, through the microscope, the early changes in the fertilised ova of fishes; and he further told me that disorders akin to his own and to mine, were common in Nottingham among the lace-menders—a class of women who, all day long, have the attention strained in looking for, and rectifying, small flaws which have been left by the lace-making machines. Hence I might have known that continuous attention to a reader would have nearly the same result as continuous reading. This presently proved to be the case. My restless nights were very soon made more restless. Without thinking what I was doing I nevertheless persevered; and by and bye found that I had brought about one of my serious relapses.
I have nothing to remind me of the date, but I imagine that this disaster occurred early in December.
In a previous chapter I named the fact that I had recourse to morphia when my nights became much worse than usual; and doubtless on this occasion I sought thus to bring on again the periodicity of sleep, which, once broken through for some time, had to be re-established by artificial means.
And here it occurs to me to describe, for the benefit of those who have not experienced them, some of the effects of morphia on dreams. In me it gives extreme coherence to the ideas evolved. Unlike the actions and events of an ordinary dream, which are linked on by accidental suggestions in such wise that they form a rambling series, the actions and events of a morphia-dream are almost like those of the waking state, in their rationality and orderly connexion. For a long time the thoughts which arise bear a logical relation to some primary thought, and the actions performed continue to be in pursuance of some original intention. Occasionally this trait was so stiking that I next morning recorded the dream illustrating it. Here is an account of one.
“Another peculiarity that has occasionally struck me is the continual occurrence of events or thoughts which, though coherent, are unexpected and do not seem accounted for by any simple process of association. Last night, for example, I happened just to awake at a moment when I was able to lay hold of a portion of a dream presenting these peculiarities. I imagined that I was reading the review of some book which the reviewer brought to a close by condemning the extremely strong language used by the writer, and then proceeded to give an example of it. The example commenced thus:—
‘Has this cur the slightest tender-heartedness—is he even hearted at all?’
Immediately on reading this I was startled by the oddity of the word ‘hearted’ thinking to myself—What made the man use such a word? I supposed he meant to write, ‘Has he any heart?’ This was a parenthetical thought, and I remember that the paragraph went on to a considerable length; and then that the reviewer wound up by two or three lines, in which he made a quite unexpected parallel, of which, though unexpected, I soon saw the meaning.
In these cases it seems as though there were going on, quite apart from the consciousness which seemed to constitute myself, some process of elaborating coherent thoughts—as though one part of myself was an independent originator over whose sayings and doings I had no control, and which were nevertheless in great measure consistent; while the other part of myself was a passive spectator or listener, quite unprepared for many of the things that the first part said, and which were nevertheless, though unexpected, not illogical.”
When thinking them over I have put different interpretations on these phenomena. At first I ascribed them to a double consciousness. But as in the word tenderheartedness there occurs the fragment “hearted;” and as in such instances as “wrongheadedness” the word “headed,” included as a component of the compound word, is also used by itself; it seemed possible that by association in a consciousness active enough to be influenced by it, but not active enough to perceive in time that the word suggested by analogy is not used, the word “hearted” might be evolved; and that then its unfamiliarity might suddenly arouse attention to its strangeness. Afterwards, however, I reverted to the hypothesis of a double consciousness arising from independent action of the two hemispheres of the brain—independent action due to a lack of that complete co-ordination which exists during the waking state.
In ordinary dreams, thoughts which seem valuable or witty, turn out on awaking to be nonsensical or inane; but in morphia-dreams there sometimes arise thoughts which would not discredit the waking state. I have made a memorandum of one which occurred in an imaginary circle of friends, one of whom, referring to a recently-published book, said—“Oh, have you seen the Rev. Mr. So-and-so’s story called ‘The Lily’: it is the most beautiful moral essay I ever read.” Whereupon, in my dream, I remarked—“Ah, I see: a sermon that ‘cometh up as a flower’.” This happened shortly after the publication of Miss Broughton’s first novel; and evidently the title of it partially determined the course which my dream took.
It is an interesting physiological inquiry, what peculiar state of the circulation it is which combines the implied activity of brain with closure of the senses to external impressions.
Various efforts were now made to restore my constitutional equilibrium. In the latter part of December I went to Malvern for some 10 days—not to undergo hydropathic treatment, though I went to a hydropathic establishment. No great advantage resulted. Then, dated London, 2nd January, 1868, a letter to Youmans says:—
“To-morrow I am going off into Glostershire, where, if the frost which has now set in, lasts, I hope to get some skating; and I count upon this for doing a great deal towards setting me right again.”
Shortly after I reverted to another form of exercise, previously found beneficial. In reply to an invitation from Lott written on January 25:—
“When I returned from Standish I was considerably better, and recommenced work; and, though I have since been worse again, still I do not think that Derby life, even though joined with the pleasant circle of No. 7, would have been quite the thing for me.
I have resorted to my old remedy of playing rackets, and have to-day derived considerable benefit. By continuing this, and doing a little work, I hope to restore again my easily disturbed balance.”
This expectation was disappointed, however. The state, brought on in December and continued through January, persisted till the end of February; and it then seemed needful to make a thorough change in my life. A letter to Youmans, dated 29 Feb., says:—
“After losing a great deal of time during the last two months, hoping to get into working order by using half-measures, I have been at length compelled to take a more decisive course. I start to-morrow morning for Italy, where I propose to spend some two months—expecting that by the end of April, by the combined effects of desisting from all excitements, intellectual and social, and getting the exhilaration due to so much novelty, I shall regain my ordinary state.”
An incident of moment to me, affecting greatly my daily life throughout future years, occurred just before I started. I was elected into the Athenæum Club by the Committee. There are two modes of election: the one by ballot, and the other under what is known to the members as Rule 2—a rule allowing the Committee to select from the list of candidates nine annually who have special claims: the purpose being to maintain the original character of the Club, which, at the outset, brought together the chief representatives of Science, Literature, and Art.