Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER L.: A SERIES OF ARTICLES. 1877—78. Æt. 57—58. - An Autobiography, vol. 2
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CHAPTER L.: A SERIES OF ARTICLES. 1877—78. Æt. 57—58. - 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 SERIES OF ARTICLES.
While words are necessary aids to all thoughts save very simple ones, they are impediments to correct thinking. Every word carries with it a cluster of associations determined by its most familiar uses, and these associations, often inappropriate to the particular case in which the word is being used, distort more or less the image it calls up. An instance of this is furnished to me by an incident which occurred when about to commence my next volume.
Government, conceived apart from any particular species of it, is a form of control. But, when we think of government, we instantly think of a ministry, a legislature, laws, and police—we think of that particular kind of government made dominant in consciousness by the reading of newspapers and by conversation over dinner-tables. If, on occasion, we extend the conception of government so as to include the control exercised over men by clergy, creeds, and religious observances, it is rather by deliberate analysis than by spontaneous association that we are led to do this. And neither spontaneously nor after consideration do we habitually include in our conception of government the regulative influence of usages, manners, ceremonies; though, as measured by its effects on men’s conduct from hour to hour, this kind of government is more powerful than any other. While I was not so swayed by current ideas as to ignore the governmental nature of ceremonies, I was swayed to the extent of under-estimating its relative importance. Hence, in the programme of the Synthetic Philosophy, the divisions III, IV, and V, of the Principles of Sociology, stood in the order Political, Ecclesiastical, Ceremonial; and in this order I was about to write them.
But the process of reading and arranging my memoranda brought with it a revelation. There dawned upon me the truth that political government is neither the earliest nor the most general; but that, in order of evolution, and in order of generality, ceremonial government precedes it. There are small social groups without any kind of political control; but there are none without that control which is exercised by established modes of behaviour between man and man. Even among the rudest savages there are peremptory rules of intercourse—rules more peremptory, indeed, than those existing among the civilized. Thus it became manifest to me that Ceremonial Institutions stand first; and there was a resulting change in the order of my work.
In what manner to publish was a question which now arose. No longer tied to a serial issue, but proposing to issue the remaining divisions of the Synthetic Philosophy in volumes, I still had to choose between certain alternatives. I might continue writing, and make no sign until the second volume was completed; or I might publish instalments of it in the shape of magazine-articles.
This last course was one which I should probably not have thought of, had not a preceding experience suggested it. The Study of Sociology made its first appearance as a series of articles in the Contemporary Review. Why should I not in like manner bring out Ceremonial Institutions chapter by chapter? In a letter to Youmans, dated May 26, 1877, I find the following passage referring to the matter:—
“I think of beginning with the division treating of Ceremonial Institutions, and, in connexion with this, am entertaining the thought of preliminary publication in chapters. The subjects will be popular and novel, as well as instructive, and will bear detachment in the shape of magazine-articles, under the titles of “Mutilations,” “Presents,” “Obeisances,” “Salutations,” “Titles,” “Badges,” “Dresses” &c. I shall probably propose them to Morley for the Fortnightly, and they would probably suit you also.”
Before anything was settled there presented itself the further question—Why should the serial publication be limited to England and America? Why not publish at the same time in periodicals on the Continent? Translations of my books had made my name known abroad; and it occurred to me as possible that editors would like to have early proofs of the articles sent them in time for translation, so that they might be issued in their respective magazines when they were issued here. My anticipation proved not ill-founded; and arrangements were accordingly made such that, as the successive chapters were published in England and America, they were simultaneously published in France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Russia.
None of these chapters were, however, as yet written; and it was only after the lapse of some six months, occupied in preparing them, that the publication thus described commenced.
During this summer, as during the preceding summer, several picnic water-parties had been given by my friends the Potters on the Thames above Taplow—chiefly in the grounds of the Duke of Sutherland, where a picturesque cottage by the water-side has been provided for those who, on such occasions, obtain permission to use it. Picnics are about the most enjoyable of social gatherings, and these had been very pleasant.
Why should not I give a picnic? was a question that resulted. Entertainments of friends had, up to this time, been limited, first of all to occasional dinners given at an hotel; afterwards to dinners given at the Athenæum, which were necessarily restricted to members; and only in more recent years, when I had come to have adequate facilities, at Queen’s Gardens. Of course, among the friends who came to these parties, there were no ladies. But to a picnic ladies in due proportion might be invited. This consideration furnished a motive enforcing others that arose; and a picnic was decided upon.
St. George’s Hill, Weybridge, was the place I fixed upon; and, having obtained permission from Admiral Egerton to do so, I there, in July, assembled a number of friends—between a dozen and twenty I think. The experiment was a success, but it created considerable surprise. One of the ladies, I remember, could not refrain from expressing her astonishment—“A philosopher, and give a picnic!” She exhibited afresh what I have before remarked on: she identified philosophy with disregard of pains and contempt for pleasures.
Picnics generally drag a little towards the close; and to avoid the dragging I adopted the device of changing the scene. The carriages were ordered to fetch us between five and six, and in them we drove to the Oatlands-Park Hotel. After an hour or so spent by some in playing a game of one or other kind, and by some in rambling about the grounds, we went indoors for a “high tea”. The animation was thus kept up to the last. A like routine was followed on subsequent occasions, which recurred annually until my bad health compelled desistance.
A few weeks earlier than this first picnic, I had passed by Weybridge on my way to Godalming and Witley, where the Leweses had just bought a country house. They presently derived much benefit in health from it: not wholly from the fresh air, but partly from taking to an outdoor game. Often when at the Priory, I had urged them not to spend their evenings in reading aloud, but to find some indoor amusement; and I suggested a billiard-table as a resource. They were deaf to my arguments. Soon after they bought the house at Witley, however, a letter from Lewes told me that they had been following, if not the letter, yet the spirit of my advice, and had taken to lawn-tennis, with the effect of improving their physical state. It is a great mistake for adults, and especially for adults who work their brains much, to give up sports and games. The maxim on which I have acted, and the maxim which I have often commended to my friends is—Be a boy as long as you can.
This mention of a letter from Lewes calls to mind an earlier one in which he gave me a fact that bears upon a question recently discussed—the question whether writers of fiction feel much sympathy with their characters: the consensus of opinion appearing to be that they do. Certainly George Eliot did. Clear proof was given to me by a passage in the letter I have referred to, which ran:—“Marian is in the next room crying over the distresses of her young people.”
Two or three incidents of interest dating in the autumn of this year, sufficiently justify an account of my doings during it.
Rheumatism, which had been troublesome for some time, prompted me to visit Buxton on my way North. In the train which took me there about the middle of July, were Prof. Goldwin Smith and his wife, who were bound for the same place with a view to benefiting Mrs. Smith’s health. It happened that we went to the same hotel. The result was that I saw a good deal of them, and had many pleasant talks during my ten days’ stay. I have never been able to understand him: the manifestations of nature on different occasions having been so widely unlike. When, in 1861, a relapse obliged me to issue a notice that the next number of my serial must be postponed, and that subsequent numbers would appear at irregular intervals, Prof. Goldwin Smith wrote me a letter of condolence. From him alone, out of 450 subscribers, there came this mark of sympathy—a mark of sympathy the more surprising, because we were but slightly acquainted and he was theologically an antagonist. On the other hand, when, after the Data of Ethics was published, he commented upon it in the Contemporary Review, he made misrepresentations so grave, and, it seemed to me, so inexcusable, that I had to expose them in a subsequent number of that periodical. How to reconcile the two traits of character thus implied has always been a puzzle to me. I can only suppose that he does not perceive the gravity of the statements he makes.
From Buxton I betook myself to Whitby: being prompted by the prospect of companionship with the Huxleys, who were about to spend their autumn there. Unfortunately the greater part of my stay passed before they arrived; and the search for ammonites, for which the place is famed, did not much console me. One incident has remained in my memory, and is worth recording. Seating himself at the same table at the hotel one day, a clergyman of advanced years entered into conversation with me over our dinner. It turned out that he had, when young, resided in or near Derby, and had known my father. This disclosure led to friendly talk, in the course of which he remarked on the great change which had taken place in the general state of men’s minds during his life. He said that, whereas in his early days indifference was the rule, nowadays everybody is in earnest about something or other. The contrast struck me as one of great significance.
An excursion-steamer by-and-by took me to Scarborough; whence, after a time, I departed for the North: staying a day at Edinburgh to see Masson, and then, after a short pause at Innellan, proceeding to Ardtornish, where the record shows I arrived on August 15.
Have I, or have I not, named the fact that yachting had become one of the recreations at Ardtornish. Mr. Valentine Smith, to whom the estates had descended on his father’s death, had built himself a fine steam-yacht of 450 tons burthen, the “Dobhran” (pronounced Doran, the Gaelic name for a sea-otter); and excursions in this varied the routine of fishing, grouse-shooting, and deer-stalking. Two extensive ones were made this season, the last of which ended in a catastrophe. Taking our course up the Sleat Sound, we had coasted the western side of Skye as far as Dunvegan; and, anchoring in the loch for the night, had visited the ancient castle, where the honours were done by Miss McLeod—a polished old lady whose presence in so wild and remote a region seemed anomalous. Next day we steamed along the northern coast of the island, and onwards to Gairloch; and then, taking to a wagonette provided by our host, we drove along the shore of Loch Maree and through Glen Torridon: going on board the yacht in Loch Torridon, where it had been sent round to meet us. The following morning saw us going South between the island of Raasay and the mainland; and now came the disaster. Mr. Smith and the captain had gone below to consult the charts before entering Loch Carron: leaving the vessel in the charge of the mate, with directions respecting his course. But the mate, thinking he could make a short cut, quickly put an end to our cruise. The following letter to Lott, dated 9 Sept. 1877, tells what happened:—
“In the papers of about a week ago, you might have seen the brief account of the wreck of the steam-yacht Dobhran on a sunken rock near the shore of Applecross. This was the yacht of my friend here, Valentine Smith. There were eight of us, besides a crew of 21. We had been cruising about Skye, Dunvegan, Gairloch, Torridon, and were coming south to Loch Carron, when the mate brought us to grief. The vessel struck and heeled over to about 45° forthwith, and her stern began to sink. We all got into the boats safely in about five minutes. She is still on the rocks, and the insurers are trying to raise her and will probably succeed. She cost about £20,000 and is insured for £15,000.”
Having all got safely into the boats, we hung around for some time to see what would happen: some of the sailors fearing that the vessel, which was continuing to blow off steam, would explode (but with what reason I could not understand), and others fearing that she would slip off the rock and go down. Spite of all protests, Mr. Smith, with the daring characteristic of the family, insisted on going on board again to get the ship’s papers and other valuables; and presently returned, bringing, among other things, a quantity of wraps for the ladies. After a time we were taken on to Strome Ferry by another yacht, and, our host and his cousin remaining behind to look after the wrecked vessel, the rest of us made the best of our way back to Ardtornish. Eventually the insurers succeeding in getting off the “Dobhran”. She was duly repaired and has since led an active life every season.
The record kept at Ardtornish shows that I left that place on Sept. 13, and, I suppose, returned straight to town.
During the remainder of the year little occurred calling for mention. My daily routine was broken by a short stay at Wykehurst, and a longer one at Standish, and there also occurred a visit from my friend Youmans. A letter to him written on Dec. 17, after his return to America, contains a quotable passage:—
“About ten days ago I received from Russia a copy of a Russian translation of No. I. of the Descriptive Sociology—“English”. I was at first puzzled to make out what it was—whether it was the Descriptive Sociology for Russia which they proposed to undertake, or whether it was a translation; but comparison of dates, divisions and names, finally made it clear that it was a translation. What a go-a-head people they are!”
This was the translation referred to in an extract some time since given, which indicated that the professors of the University of Kiev were about to undertake it. Commenting on the mental inertness of most people here, a Russian once told me that in his country the young men starve themselves to buy books: a fact which seems related to that great receptivity which these professors exemplified. Certainly their proceeding implies a strange contrast between the appreciation of the Descriptive Sociology in Russia and its non-appreciation in Britain.
Whether it was during this autumn, or whether it was at an earlier period, that I decided to have a set of my books permanently bound, I cannot now remember; but the incident resulting from the decision remains the same in either case. “Why should I not treat myself to copies in handsome bindings?” I asked. So I went to the binders to consult and order. Various samples of leather were shown to me. Some I objected to as unfit in colour—too gay perhaps, or too sombre; while this was too dark, and that too light. At length the manager, seeing the kind of thing I wanted, put his mouth to the speaking tube and called—“Mr. Jones, send me some light divinity calf”. The sample brought down proved to be just the thing I wanted; and, accordingly, in “light divinity calf” my books were bound.
The year 1878 opened for me with a serious illness. A letter dated Feb. 16, concerning it, I quote chiefly because it serves to explain the step I took the winter after:—
“Perhaps I am the more apt to put this construction on the matter [inferring Youmans’ illness from his silence] because I have myself been seriously unwell since I wrote last. More than a month ago, I got one chill upon another, and, mismanaging things, got into a state of pyrexia—pulse high, temperature over 100—and passed eleven days indoors: the most miserable eleven days I remember; for, upon the whole, my life thus far has been tolerably free from illnesses that have kept me within doors. . . .
As I was saying to the doctor, who has just now left me, I begin to find more and more difficulty in reconciling the physical, intellectual, and moral requirements of my life. More and more each winter there is forced upon me the experience that five months of bad weather,—cold, wet, gloomy, relaxing, by turns—is trying to my system, and that I profit greatly by getting away to some sunnier and drier region on the South Coast of England, and perhaps should do the like still better on the South Coast of Europe. But the difficulty of meeting the mental requirements is insuperable. I cannot take my friends with me; and in the absence of ability to pass the time in reading to any extent, I get dreadfully bored; so that when I go away for a week, and have profited by the better sleeping and other physical advantages, I always rejoice greatly when the last days come, enabling me to return to town from my wearisome banishment. I really cannot see how I am to manage matters; having to choose, on the one hand, between the physical mischiefs of a winter in London, and, on the other hand, the delay of work and moral depression resulting from a winter spent elsewhere, in the absence of friends about me I care for, and in the absence of those occupations which enable me to kill time.”
The sequence of this illness was a ten-days stay at Brighton to recruit. Entries in my diary show that a fortnight after my return came another week indoors, implying that my state was still unsatisfactory.
Two extracts from letters dated respectively May 10 and May 15, may fitly be given here. The first shows the commencement of a task which was slowly completed in the course of some years:—
“Talking of occupying greater space, I took up a while since the first volume of the Sociology, and, on beginning to re-read the earlier part, found that there was much that could be condensed; not by omitting anything, but by cutting out superfluous qualifications and clauses that were entirely unimportant. I have gone through several chapters, and on averaging them I conclude that I can economize to something like the extent of three lines a page; and this will, I think, effect an abridgment of some 60 or 70 pages on the whole volume. I feel alike pleased and disgusted with this result—pleased that there is so much room for improvement, and disgusted that the improvement is called for.”
The second extract concerns a matter of more interest: to me at least, if not to others:—
“I think you take in the Revue Scientifique. Just look at No. 45, for 11 May, 1878, which I have just received. You will find in it an Essay by M. Paulhan, entitled “Le Progres, d’apres M. Herbert Spencer”, which is a review based upon the translation of the Essay by M. Burdeau. It has for me, and possibly will have for you, a certain interest as pointing out what I had forgotten—the extent to which the general theory of Evolution, as set forth in First Principles, is indicated in “Progress its Law and Cause”, in other directions beyond the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous: how segregation and integration and coherence are incidentally and vaguely implied; and how also what he calls the metaphysical defect is similarly implied. I had not been conscious, until thus pointed out by this French critic, that the rudiments of the other parts of this theory of Evolution were lying there in germ; and the fact is interesting to note.”
Certainly it seems strange I should have needed a critic to reveal to me the extent to which, in 1857, I had expressed ideas which I thought were reached in subsequent years.
Of occurrences during the season, only one calls for notice—a visit to Paris, extending from May 18 to May 27, in company with my friend Lott, to see the International Exhibition, then just opened.
Paris was unseen by him save through such glances as he got during a few hours when on his way to join me in Switzerland in 1853; and it was pleasant to play the guide and participate in his interest. Of course, joining the chief sights with the contents of the Exhibition, and with the display in the Salon, which opened while we were there, gave us so much to look at that our time was overfilled.
I see by my diary that I did not, during our stay, desist entirely from such work as might be done in the shape of revising. Being able to do so little each day, I was always reluctant to sacrifice wholly the working power which each day gave me. I remember correcting some MS. when seated in the garden of the Trocadero, while Lott pursued his researches in the annexed Exhibition Building.
The chief incident which this visit brought forth, may be conveniently described in the words of a letter dated May 30:—
“I am just back from Paris not the better, but rather the worse for my excursion. Too much sight-seeing and too many excitements of one kind or other, have rather knocked me over, so that I am by no means in working order. I am, however, better this morning and hope to be able to do something to-morrow. I send you by this same post a French paper, Le Temps, from which you will see that I did not escape, as I had intended to do, from seeing some of my Parisian friends. Anxious to avoid all social excitements, I postponed calling on Baillière until I had been in Paris for a week, and only two days before starting back: thinking that I should so render impossible the making of any engagements. However, I was deluded. Within twenty-four hours he got up the dinner you see noticed, and I had no escape from it.”
Failure of the reporter to understand my English speech, made in response to the compliment paid me, led three French papers to represent me as having proposed “Fraternity” as a toast. The statement was repeated in the English papers; and, being at once ludicrous and annoying, I had to publish a letter correcting it.
I regretted that the non-intimation of my presence in Paris prevented me from seeing Dr. Cazelles—my first and chief French translator—who had been drawn from his home in the South by the International Exhibition; and to whom I should have liked to express personally my thanks for his conscientious labours.
The successive articles agreed on as above described, had been coming out in the Fortnightly Review and other periodicals during the half-year: the first having appeared in January, and the last in July. Not, indeed, that the series of chapters proposed to be thus issued was so concluded; for there were others which remained. But no more had a periodical publication.
The reason for the cessation was that the articles had not proved as attractive as I expected. I thought that the genesis of ceremonies of all kinds would be found not uninteresting, and that, as the illustrations were many of them curious, and many of them piquant, people would be led to give attention. To judge from the Press-notices, however, this was not so. There was, indeed, along with the facts cited, now strange and now amusing, a doctrine set forth—a theory which served to link them together. I suppose this element proved repugnant. It seemed as if the mass of readers preferred to have their amusement unadulterated by thought. The result is shown in the following letter, dated May 15, 1878; which, after describing this lack of interest displayed, continues—
“Thinking that Morley might be led to regret that he had undertaken to publish the whole series of chapters, I wrote to him the other day saying that I thought, from what I saw, that the series was not successful in respect of popularity; and that I did not wish that he should feel himself bound to fulfil our engagement by occupying his pages with matter that turned out not to be advantageous; and that consequently we would, if he pleased, publish no more. Though himself apparently surprised at the result, he recognizes the fact to which I drew his attention; and, thanking me for making the proposal, which he says he hardly likes to entertain, yet yields to it if I wish: suggesting, however, the desirability of publishing the next instalment in his June number—that is, the chapter on ‘Forms of Address’.”
Five chapters were in consequence of this decision withheld: some of them already written, and the closing ones unwritten. The entries in my diary appear to imply that I completed them before doing anything else; or, at any rate, before devoting myself entirely to the task I proposed next to undertake.