Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XLVIII.: A RETROSPECTIVE GLANCE. 1874. Æt. 54. - An Autobiography, vol. 2
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CHAPTER XLVIII.: A RETROSPECTIVE GLANCE. 1874. Æt. 54. - 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 RETROSPECTIVE GLANCE.
Before saying anything about my next book, or rather about my life during the time it was in hand, it will be well to look back from this advanced stage of my undertaking to the earlier stages. This retrospective glance discloses a certain trait not hitherto named.
For now I had come round a second time to the topic with which I commenced my career as a writer; after having made, first a narrower, and then a wider, circuit of exploration. In 1842, while but two and twenty, the predominant interest I displayed, apart from interests in subjects bearing on civil engineering, was an interest in the politico-ethical question—“What are the duties of the State, and what are not its duties”. There resulted the letters, and subsequently the pamphlet, on The Proper Sphere of Government. In the interval between 1842 and 1848, a consciousness that the conceptions set forth in this pamphlet were crude and incomplete, prompted me to enter on new fields of thought and inquiry. Various readings in politics and ethics, joined with some excursions into biology and psychology, gave to these conceptions more developed forms and more satisfactory foundations. A desire to set forth the ethical principles reached, and the derived conclusions respecting the right limits of governmental action, led, in 1848, to the commencement of Social Statics. At the close of 1850 the results of this widened range of inquiry, as embodied in that work, were published: the completion of the first circuit having brought me round, in the latter chapters, to my original topic.
In the subsequent seven years, less from intention than from unconscious proclivity, this process was repeated. Not only subjects nearly allied to the politico-ethical, but also subjects remotely allied to it, occupied my attention and were dealt with in various essays. This extension of the range of inquiry, leading to more general conclusions, ended in those most general conclusions set forth in the programme of the Synthetic Philosophy, written out in the first days of 1858. In this the doctrines concerning social organization, and after them the ethical doctrines, were, by their positions in the series of volumes described, represented as the outcome of the doctrines included in the volumes on Biology and Psychology, as well as of those included in First Principles. That is to say, the politico-ethical conclusions held, had come to form the terminal part of a system the earlier parts of which prepared the way for it. From that date, 1858, down to the time now arrived at, the years had been spent in writing the volumes in which the simpler sciences, forming the true bases of the most complex sciences, were dealt with. At length, in 1874, the second circuit, immensely wider than the first, had been traversed; and I had come round once more, not immediately to the topic with which I set out, but to the science of Sociology at large, which eventually rises to this topic.
Beyond this long and elaborate preparation, which, at first pursued without conscious reference to an end, was, during the preceding 16 years, consciously pursued with such reference, there had been a preparation not contemplated. The Descriptive Sociology had been for seven years in progress; making me gradually acquainted with more numerous and varied groups of social phenomena, disclosing truths of unexpected kinds, and occasionally obliging me to abandon some of my pre-conceptions. And then, lastly, I had been incidentally led into writing a book which, ostensibly for the instruction of others, served at the same time for self-instruction—The Study of Sociology. In setting forth the difficulties to be encountered and the varieties of bias to be guarded against, I became myself better disciplined for the task I was about to undertake.
This second recommencement, forming a new departure in my work, seems to call for some definite division in the narrative; and I have therefore thought it well here to commence Part X.