Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER LX.: REFLECTIONS - An Autobiography, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER LX.: REFLECTIONS - 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
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
[Written Four Years Later.]
If we pass over that earliest conception of the supernatural which exists among various uncivilized and semi-civilized peoples, who believe in a material resurrection—who think the dead man reappears in substantial shape, has to be fought over again in battle, as the Fijians believe, or gets up from his grave at night and goes hunting, as is asserted by many savages; and if we begin with the ghost-theory under that modified form in which the double, more or less spiritualized, goes away at death, returning to the body after a shorter or longer period; we see that at the outset the idea of a relation between character and bodily structure is excluded. Along with the notion of duality there grows up the assumption that character inheres in the ghost, and that the body is merely the ghost’s house, having no causal relation to it. This is the necessary implication, too, of all the various doctrines of metempsychosis. The soul which, according to some forms of the doctrine, is condemned to be encased in numerous inferior creatures, one after another, is manifestly regarded as independent of its material embodiment, and not as in any sense a product of its material embodiment.
How far back may be traced the belief that there exists a connexion between mind and brain, it is difficult to say. It seems probable that very early the phenomena of idiocy raised the thought of some such relation, qualifying the current dualism—qualifying it, however, in an inconsistent way. For at a time when there was recognized the “narrow forehead of the fool,” there was no assertion of the logical implication that a man’s nature is determined by his cerebral development. Even in our own day, though this truth is recognized in the scientific world, and in a half-and-half way in the unscientific world, yet by most people it is asserted in one breath and denied in another. The same man who now speaks contemptuously of another as having no brains, now contests the doctrine that character varies with brain. Nevertheless it is clear that some sort of dependence is currently admitted.
But there remains to be made a further admission. There has still to be recognized the truth that, in both amounts and kinds, mental manifestations are in part dependent on bodily structures. Mind is not as deep as the brain only, but is, in a sense, as deep as the viscera.
Before specifying the psycho-physical connexions which more especially concern us, let me name certain subordinate ones not here in question, though they should be noted.
There are the ways in which perfections and imperfections of face and limbs have reactive influences on character. Much might be said about the mental effects of bodily deformity. One who knows that he is looked upon by those around with disfavour, can scarcely avoid being in some measure soured—cannot feel the friendship for them which he might otherwise feel. At the same time his temper is almost certain to be injuriously influenced by the consciousness of inability to compete with others in sports and games, and to obtain those satisfactions which efficiency brings: envy being a probable result. Conversely, the man of fine physique, prompted by proved strength and skill to attempt things beyond the powers of most, and to gain applause by success, has his mental attitude modified, in some respects favourably and in other respects unfavourably. Achievements produce content with himself and an increase of friendliness to those who applaud him; though, at the same time, he may be rendered haughty and unsympathetic in his other relations.
So it is with beauty and ugliness. A fine face is a letter of recommendation which usually begets more kindly treatment from all than would else be experienced; and, though a very ugly face will draw from a few special attentions, intended to dissipate the depressed consciousness accompanying it, yet in most cases this consciousness is not weakened but strengthened by others’ behaviour. There is neglect, if nothing more; and this, causing a sense of social isolation, tends to repress the sympathies.
It is true that the reactive effects of these physical traits on psychical traits are variable, and sometimes opposite; according as they fall on one or another original nature. Women show us that the possession of great facial attractions may, if the nature is essentially sympathetic, conduce to increase of sympathetic manifestations; since the genial behaviour to one who has great beauty excites in such case a kindred response, and increases the natural kindliness of disposition. Conversely, a handsome woman who is decidedly egoistic is usually made worse by her handsomeness—lives chiefly for admiration, and becomes more regardless of others’ claims than she would else be. So, too, great bodily powers in a man may, according to the original balance of his feelings, lead him to treat those of inferior strength either less kindly or more kindly than he would have done were he not thus distinguished. In like manner deformity or ugliness may, instead of souring those characterized by it, have, in some cases, a reverse effect. It may prompt them to make themselves attractive in other ways than by their physical traits.
All I wish here to note is that, given an inherited cerebral structure and accompanying balance of mental traits, the development of the external organs, if it departs considerably from the ordinary standard, makes the mental traits different from those which the same brain would have yielded had it been associated with ordinary face or limb.
But now I pass from indirect relations to direct relations. The psycho-physical connexions which I more especially refer to, are those existing between the mental manifestations and what we distinguish as the constitution; meaning, thereby, the sizes and qualities of the various vital organs, and those peripheral extensions of them which take the forms of arteries and veins.
Consciousness forthwith ceases if the current of blood through the brain is stopped. The amounts and kinds of the mental actions constituting consciousness vary, other things equal, according to the rapidity, the quantity, and the quality, of the blood-supply; and all these vary according to the sizes and proportions of the sundry organs which unite in preparing blood from food, the organs which circulate it and the organs which purify it from waste products.
That intellectual and emotional manifestations are changed in their kinds and amounts by changes among these factors, many know, though few recognize the implications. The quantity of mental action shown in energy of will and flow of spirits ebbs during the prostration of illness; and the quality of mental action is altered as well as the quantity. Supposing there is enough vitality to cause display of feeling (which sometimes there is not), the display frequently takes the form of irritability. We have daily proof, too, that the volume of emotion, and consequently the efflux of muscular energy, is diminished by fatigue and accompanying fall in the circulation through the brain. And everyone has seen how great are the effects on the mind of medicinal agents which change the quantity and quality of the cerebral blood-supply—the influence, now exhilarating, now stupefying, of alcohol; the primarily exciting, and secondarily sedative, results of opium; the improved spirits which tonics often produce; and the lowered mental energies following use of medicines like the bromide of potassium, which, persisted in, sometimes causes extreme depression.
But, if variations of both ability and feeling are caused by variations in those physical processes which enable the brain to act, then it follows that permanent differences in the sizes and proportions of the organs carrying on those physical processes—differences which distinguish one constitution from another—must have permanent effects on the mental manifestations, both intellectual and moral. Men’s characters must be in part determined by their visceral structures.
Primarily, the question concerns the amount of life—the amount of that molecular change from which results the energy expended in both bodily activities and mental activities. The evolution of this energy depends on the cooperation of sundry vital organs, and the efficiency or non-efficiency of each one affects all the others and affects the total result: the brain being implicated alike as a recipient of more or less blood which is more or less fit in quality, and as being also a generator of nerve-force which influences the actions of the viscera. Let us look at the three sets of visceral factors separately.
First must be named the structures constituting the alimentary system, which may severally be well or ill developed. There may be inability to deal with an adequate quantity of food, or there may be slovenly digestion, having the effect that much of the food taken in is thrown away—unmasticated lumps which the over-taxed stomach gets into the habit of passing on inadequately triturated, and therefore unutilized. Or, again, there may be solvent secretions of which some are unfit in quantity or quality or both. If one or other of these causes necessitates a deficient amount of blood, the vital actions, those of the brain included, must, other things equal, go on slowly or feebly or be soon checked. It is true that the food eaten is no measure of the nutriment absorbed. But, whether smallness of the alimentary system or imperfect action of it be the reason, chronic deficiency of blood must entail chronic cerebral inactivity, intellectual and emotional. Conversely, there is evidence that an unusually active digestion may, other things equal, be a factor in unusual mental energy. Handel, so wonderfully productive, so marvellous for the number and vigour of his musical compositions, may be named in illustration.
Abundance of good blood will not be followed by vividness of thought or power of feeling, unless there is efficient propulsion of it. Great cerebral action implies great waste and rapid repair; and, if the repair does not keep pace with the waste, prostration must soon result. If the slowness of the blood-supply is temporary the activity will soon flag, and if it is constitutional there will be a low standard of mental manifestation. The emotions especially, which are relatively costly, will be feeble; and this will result in lack of energy and want of will. When, at the one extreme, we see that stoppage of the blood-supply is immediately followed by insensibility, and, at the other extreme, see that exalting the blood-supply by a medicinal agent which raises the power of the heart, produces elation of feeling and increase of vigour, it becomes manifest that permanent differences between the efficiences of the structures which carry on circulation, must cause permanent differences between the amounts of mental manifestation. Not only is power of heart a factor in power of mind, but quality of the arteries is also a factor. Those in whom the blood-vessels, inadequately contractile, soon yield under stress, have not the untiring energy of those whose blood-vessels can bear persistent action without yielding.
And then, beyond quantity of blood and circulation of blood, comes the further factor—purification of blood. Professor Michael Foster has recently been enlarging on the truth that fatigue is chiefly caused by the accumulation of waste products in the system. The depurating organs fail to get rid of these with adequate speed; and the blood becomes fuller than usual of substances which, instead of aiding the functions, tend to arrest them. A familiar example is the effect produced by great exertion in running. This increases the carbonic acid in the blood more rapidly than it can be eliminated by the lungs. The being “out of breath,” as we say, and the need for temporary desistence, show us how presence of an overcharge of a poisonous substance impedes the vital actions. A corollary is that those in whom the lungs are ill-developed will have a constitutionally lower activity, bodily or mental, or both. Similarly, deficient size of the kidneys, entailing imperfect excretion of the waste products they get rid of, and consequent accumulation of them in the blood, causes hindrance to nervous action; as is implied by the fact that stoppage of the excretion produces dimness of sight, at other times deafness, and, when extreme, brings on drowsiness, torpor, and coma. So, too, it is if the liver fails in its action. Lowness of spirits, drowsiness, and torpor, are among the symptoms of liver-derangement; and these are aspects of diminished nervous energy. The implication is, then, that those who have by nature livers or kidneys below the average in development, are to that extent likely to be characterized by some failure in the genesis of nerveforce, and by consequent lack of animation.
Details apart, however, the general conclusion is undeniable. If by skin, lungs, liver, and kidneys, waste-products of the muscular, nervous, and other activities are excreted—if the existence of these depurating structures implies that, unless by their agency effete matters are got rid of, life must cease; it is a corollary that life must be impeded if one or other of them is deficient in size or quality. And it follows that the brain, depending for its action on a due supply of blood duly purified, must be affected in its efficiency by every variation in the development of this or that excreting organ.
But now we come to the truth of chief significance. Not the quantity of mind only, but the quality of mind also, is in part determined by these psycho-physical connexions. Amount and structure of brain being the same, not only may the totality of feelings and thoughts be greater or less according as this or that viscus is well or ill developed, but the feelings and thoughts may also be favourably or unfavourably modified in their kinds. Difference of disposition is caused both directly and indirectly.
Directly, the effect of imperfect supply of blood to the brain is shown in reluctance to do many things which require energy, and in consequent failure of duty towards self and others. One of the absurdities current among both cultured and uncultured is that it is as easy for one man to be active as for another. If A is diligent and B idle, the condemnation of B always takes for granted that the cost of effort is the same to A and B. Though everyone knows that during the prostration of illness, or before good health has been recovered, it is a great trial to make even a small exertion, yet scarcely any draw the inference that the lack of energy, temporarily existing in such cases, exists permanently in other cases, and throughout life makes activity more or less difficult. Character is affected in sundry ways. Often the individual thus made inert by constitution, cannot be at the trouble of doing needful things for his own benefit, but persistently submits to a serious inconvenience rather than take measures to remove it. And if even when personal pains and pleasures are in question he will not exert himself, naturally he is reluctant to exert himself when the pains and pleasures of others are in question. A, who is constitutionally active, takes trouble in doing things for others’ gratifications, and is credited as essentially altruistic; while B, though his absence of effort for others is due to constitutional inactivity, and not to want of sympathy with them, is thought essentially egoistic. Differences hence resulting may affect even the discharge of equitable obligations; for while to the man of restless energy the liquidation of a claim may present no obstacle, it may present a great obstacle to an equally conscientious man of inert nature.
But now, beyond these qualitative mental differences which arise directly from quantitative differences of mental energy, there are other qualitative differences arising indirectly—differences of disposition seemingly consequent on inherited differences of brain, but really consequent on differences between the blood-supplies to the brain. For the higher emotions are physiologically more expensive than the lower; and, when the blood-supply is deficient, fail before the lower do. In the Principles of Psychology, §§ 249-261, I have set down various corollaries from the truth that from cerebral actions of simple kinds, which are directly related to maintenance of life, and are, therefore, essentially egoistic, we rise by successive complications to those highest governing cerebral actions which, most involved in their compositions, arise from less fully organized structures, the actions of which are most liable to fail. Ancient and simple nervous connexions, and accompanying mental cohesions, which are primary and deep down in the nature, are more persistent than those superposed ones which are relatively modern and complex; and, consequently, when the tide of blood ebbs, these last become feeble or disappear while the first remain: the result being that the surviving egoistic feelings are no longer kept in check by altruistic feelings. Examples of this causation in its temporary form are familiar. When a child who is ordinarily amiable becomes pettish and fretful, the medical man suspects that the alimentary canal is not doing its duty, and finds that, the cause of failing nutrition having been removed, the mental perversions disappear. So, too, in adult life the visceral derangements produced by over-work and anxiety are often followed by ill-temper. Even the recognized differences between irritability before dinner and equanimity (sometimes joined with generosity) after dinner, suffice to show that, when flagging pulsation and impoverished blood are exchanged for vigorous pulsation and enriched blood, there results that change in the balance of the emotions which constitutes a moral change. And, if there are such temporary mental unlikenesses due to temporary physiological causes, there must be analogous permanent mental unlikenesses due to permanent physiological causes. It becomes clear that in this respect, as in other respects, the mind is as deep as the viscera.
These general conclusions are intended to introduce certain special conclusions. Often it has been a question with me why, in certain respects, I contrast unfavourably with both father and mother. Probably in chief measure the cause is of the kind just explained—a physiological cause. I have never shown the unfailing diligence which was common to them; and there has not been displayed by me as great an amount of altruistic feeling as was displayed by both. One apparent reason is that the cerebral circulation has, by certain bodily traits, been throughout life rendered less vigorous than it should be.
Besides his large brain, my father, as a part of his fine physique, had a large chest; and, as a result of well-developed thoracic viscera, had an abundant supply of energy. I have heard him say that he looked back with astonishment at the work he did when a young man; and even during later life, though his activity was not judiciously directed, he was always busy about something. In physique my mother was not of so fine a type, and the constitution, though fairly well balanced, was by no means so vigorous: the development of the thorax being rather below than above the average standard. But she had an overwhelming sense of duty, and, throughout life, was daily forced by it to expend energy in excess of the normal amount; so that, spite of all protests, she eventually brought herself to a state of chronic prostration. This overwhelming sense of duty was, doubtless, in its origin religious: the moral feelings, naturally decided, were reinforced by the religious feeling. But in me the cooperative factors were not the same as in either. The visceral constitution was maternal rather than paternal. Traits of bony structure imply that the thoracic viscera are not so well developed as they were in my father; and that, as a consequence, the circulation and aeration have not been constitutionally so good.
As far back as I can remember there have been signs that the periphery of the vascular system has not been well filled. Except in hot weather, or after walking several miles, the ends of my fingers have been inadequately distended; coldness of the hands has been an ordinary trait; and relative dryness of the skin has also shown deficient blood-supply at the surface: an obvious implication being that in the brain also, the blood-supply, when not increased by excitement, has been below par. It is true that my extraordinary feat in walking when a boy of 13, seems to prove that there was at that time no deficiency in either heart-power or lung-power; and, if we pass over the evidence from thoracic development, it might be inferred that the damage done by this enormous overtax on a half-finished body, was the primary cause of this defective function throughout after life. Certainly it seems likely to have been a part cause. Be this as it may, however, there is undeniable evidence that, either from deficient propulsive power or from some chronic constriction of the arterioles, the remoter plexuses of blood-vessels everywhere have commonly not been duly charged. Hence a somewhat deficient genesis of energy, or, at any rate, a genesis of energy not as great as that displayed in my father.
The same cause has probably operated in producing that further moral difference above indicated. In respect of negative beneficence the likeness to both father and mother is fairly well marked. In early days there was none of that tendency towards cruelty which boys so commonly display, and, throughout later life, the infliction of pain or the witnessing of pain inflicted, has ever been repugnant; save, indeed, under the excitement of argument, when I have usually shown but little regard for the feelings of opponents. But in the kind of beneficence distinguishable as positive—that which implies not passivity but activity—I perceive a decided difference between myself and my parents. My father especially, with his abundant energy, was active on behalf of others—doing things which would either give them pleasure or be indirectly beneficial. But my greater inertia, caused in the way shown, has tended to hinder such actions. The incentives to them have been commonly neutralized by dislike to taking the requisite trouble. This initial difference has doubtless originated a difference of mental tendency; for, where the yielding to sympathetic promptings has commenced, there is established the habit of so yielding, and, conversely, under opposite conditions there arises the habit of not yielding. In respect to one kind of altruistic action, however, I recognize no deficiency. The sentiment of egoistic justice is strong in me, and sympathetic excitement of it produces a strong sentiment of altruistic justice. Consequently, there is not only a readiness to join others in opposition to political injustice, but a readiness to take up the causes of individuals unjustly dealt with. Abundant energy is furnished in such cases by the anger which the sight of aggression generates in me.
A cooperative cause may be named as having accentuated the contrast between the amount of the wish to avoid giving pain and the amount of the wish to give pleasure. From time to time it has seemed to me that in families brought up from generation to generation ascetically, and acting up to the belief that the pursuit of pleasure is wrong, it happens that while there is a frequent witnessing of suffering, and familiarity with the natural language of suffering, and therefore ability to sympathize with suffering, there is a relatively infrequent witnessing of pleasure, and an unfamiliarity with the natural language of pleasure, and consequently a relative inability to sympathize with pleasure. And, if there thus results a relative inability to sympathize with pleasure, the temptation to give pleasure must be less than usual, at the same time that the desire to avoid giving pain may be as great as usual or greater. Having in my own case recognized this as a possible cause of the difference, or at least a cooperative cause, I was some years ago struck by a parallel inference drawn by the Rev. Dr. Martineau, à propos of his sister, in The Daily News for December 30, 1884:—
“That in our early home the parents were so ‘cruel’ as ‘to starve the emotions in’ their children by ‘lack of tenderness in manner or feeling’ (3 4), I can in no wise admit as a characteristic of that particular household, though the allegation would have a certain amount of truth if turned into a general description of the prevailing habit of the time. In old Nonconformist families especially, the Puritan tradition, and the reticence of a persecuted race, had left their austere impress upon speech and demeanour unused to be free; so that in domestic and social life there was enforced, as a condition of decorum a retenue of language and deportment strongly contrasting with our modern effusiveness.”
An influence of this kind was certainly at work both in the Spencer family and in the Holmes family, and may have had its effect on me. But I here name it chiefly with a view to the general implication that asceticism tends to produce inability to sympathize with others’ pleasures, and therefore a lack of desire to give them pleasures.
Leaving these psycho-physical interpretations of character, I pass now to those which are more especially psychical—those which depend on structure of brain rather than on the pressure at which the brain is worked. For, let me remark in passing, there are two distinguishable sources of mental power. It may result from an ordinary brain worked at unusually high pressure, or from a brain which, in some respects not ordinary, is worked at medium pressure or even low pressure: the one giving manifestations of great intensity but not special in their kinds, the other giving special manifestations. It is with the last that we are here concerned.
Whatever specialities of character and faculty in me are due to inheritance, are inherited from my father. Between my mother’s mind and my own I see scarcely any resemblances, emotional or intellectual. She was very patient; I am very impatient. She was tolerant of pain, bodily or mental; I am intolerant of it. She was little given to finding fault with others; I am greatly given to it. She was submissive; I am the reverse of submissive. So, too, in respect of intellectual faculties, I can perceive no trait common to us; unless it be a certain greater calmness of judgment than was shown by my father; for my father’s vivid representative faculty was apt to play him false. Not only, however, in the moral characters just named am I like my father, but such intellectual characters as are peculiar are derived from him. We will look first at three fundamental ones.
Though an intution is not inheritable, the capacity for an intuition is, and I inherited an unusual capacity for the intuition of cause. Already I have commented on the curious display of it when, as a boy of thirteen, I called in question the dictum of Dr. Arnott, endorsed by my uncle Thomas, respecting inertia. Without instruction, and without special thought, I had reached a truer insight into ultimate dynamical relations than those who were much older and far better cultured. Always my father had been prone to inquiries about causes. The habit of making them implied that the consciousness of causation was dominant in him; and often during my boyhood, as I have before said, he put to me questions about causes: not, however, questions of the fundamental kind just referred to. But the aptitude for conceiving causes, primarily inherited, had been rendered by practice unusually strong; and there had been produced a latent readiness to grasp the abstract necessity of causal relations. This has been shown in my course of thought throughout life. Though my conclusions have usually been reached inductively, yet I have never been satisfied without finding how they could be reached deductively. Alike in various detached essays and in that general doctrine which has chiefly occupied me, this fact is conspicuous; and it is equally conspicuous in my political thinking, which is pervaded by an unconquerable belief in the effects of general causes working generation after generation: exemplified, for instance, in my often repeated prophecy that a nation which fosters its good-for-nothings will end by becoming a good-for-nothing nation.
Of the two further intellectual traits inherited from my father, the first to be named is the synthetic tendency. That this was dominant in him is proved by his little work entitled Inventional Geometry, containing a multitude of problems to be solved by synthetic processes which pupils are to discover. Both the tendency in himself and the encouragement of the tendency in me, were seen when, during my youth, he led me through the successively more complicated problems in Perspective: requiring me to find out the modes of solving them. It scarcely needs saying that the synthetic tendency has been conspicuous in all I have done from the beginning. Social Statics set out with a fundamental principle, and built upon it a coherent body of conclusions. My first essay, published not long after —“A Theory of Population, deduced from the general Law of Animal Fertility”—proved by its title that its argument was synthetic, while the same trait, manifested in many subsequently-written essays, clearly declared itself in the organization of the series of works which I commenced in 1860, and finally took an overt form in the title of that series.
But the synthetic tendency has in me been accompanied by an almost equal analytic tendency. Though in my father’s mind this was less manifest, it nevertheless existed to a greater extent than it exists in most minds. Indeed, his habit of seeking for causes implied it; since the detection of a cause cannot be achieved without analysis. But in him the analytic tendency, like the synthetic tendency, was relatively limited in its range. He occupied himself much more with the concrete, and much less with the abstract, than it became my habit to do. While the analytic tendency was more pronounced in me, it also displayed itself in a wider sphere. There was an early illustration of it in the progress from the views set forth in The Proper Sphere of Government to those set forth in Social Statics. The last work grew out of the first in consequence of an inquiry for the common origin of the conclusions which the first set forth separately; and the analysis which disclosed the common principle involved in them, preceded the synthesis which constituted the body of the work. Not long after, an essay on “The Universal Postulate” furnished a more pronounced illustration of the analytic tendency; for the purpose of that essay was to identify the common character of all those beliefs, established immediately by perception or mediately by reason, which we regard as having absolute validity. So, a few years later, with the Theory of Evolution at large. It was not enough that the general transformation should be shown to arise from the instability of the homogeneous and the multiplication of effects. It was needful that these also should be analyzed and shown to be corollaries from the persistence of force—a truth defying further analysis. So that, both subjectively and objectively, the desire to build up was accompanied by an almost equal desire to delve down to the deepest accessible truth, which should serve as an unshakable foundation.
One further cardinal trait, which is in a sense a result of the preceding traits, has to be named—the ability to discern inconspicuous analogies. Of course, in the process of taking to pieces some group of phenomena, there come into view those factors which are deep-seated and necessary, as distinguished from those which are superficial and not necessary. So, too, is it in the process of building up. A coherent fabric of conclusions cannot be framed unless there is a recognition of primary and unchangeable connexions, as distinguished from secondary and changeable ones. Evidently, then, the habit of ignoring the variable outer components and relations, and looking for the invariable inner components and relations, facilitates the perception of likeness between things which externally are quite unlike—perhaps so utterly unlike that, by an unanalytical intelligence, they cannot be conceived to have any resemblance whatever. An example is furnished by the analogy between a social organism and an individual organism. A vague recognition of this analogy was seen in an article named in Chapter XV as written in 1844, in which, commenting on the propagation of the evil consequences of dishonesty among citizens, I argued that a society has a common life which implicates all its individuals. This preparedness for recognizing a definite analogy presently had its effect. When writing Social Statics, there was made the statement that social organizations and individual organizations are similar in their phases of development. It was pointed out that a low society, like a low animal, is made up of like parts performing like functions; whereas, as fast as societies and organisms become more highly evolved, they severally become composed of unlike parts performing unlike functions. Evidently this was a parallelism recognized only by ignoring all concrete characters of the parts and thinking only of the essential relations among the parts—an analytical process of stripping off whatever the two things had not in common. And then, when the nakedness of the essential relations in each permitted comparison of them, it became manifest that the fundamental analogy was determined by the operation of the same cause in each: this cause being the mutual dependence of parts. It became manifest that it is the mutual dependence of parts which constitutes either the one or the other a living aggregate, and that it is because of the increasing mutual dependence of parts, and consequent increasing unity and vitality of the aggregate, that there is in both cases shown an advance from a homogeneous structure to a heterogeneous structure.
To the co-operation of these intellectual tendencies, the first three of which were exhibited in my father, and apparently transmitted with increase, and the last of which, a derivative result of the others, took in me an activity not apparent in him—to these tendencies, I say, working together throughout wider ranges of thought, must be in large measure ascribed whatever I have done.
One further intellectual trait, in part derived from the foregoing and in part of more general nature, must be set down. Already there has been named the fact that in boyhood and youth I was much given to castle-building: not differing from other young people in respect of the tendency, but only in respect of its degree. The absorption which, as indicated in Chapter II, went to the extent of talking to myself as I walked through the streets, and the love of picturing adventures, nightly indulged in, which, on awaking, often made me vexed because I had gone to sleep before having had my fill, proved that ideal representation was habitual; and continuance of it under other forms in later life was shown by the fact, named in Chapter XXXI, that when out of doors I sometimes passed those living in the same house with me without knowing that I had seen them, though I looked them in the face. This activity of imagination, not greater than in many others, but in me specialized by the synthetic tendency, has had an effect which at first sight seems anomalous.
Probably many readers of the foregoing pages will have been struck by the heterogeneity in my mental occupations and objects of interest. Fully to perceive how apparently unlike one another these have been, it is requisite to bring into juxta-position sundry of the subjects of speculation occupying my later life with the appliances and improvements devised during my earlier life. The products of mental action are then seen to range from a doctrine of State-functions to a levelling-staff; from the genesis of religious ideas to a watch escapement; from the circulation in plants to an invalid bed; from the law of organic symmetry to planing machinery; from principles of ethics to a velocimeter; from a metaphysical doctrine to a binding-pin; from a classification of the sciences to an improved fishing-rod joint; from the general Law of Evolution to a better mode of dressing artificial flies.*
There is something almost ludicrous in this contrast between the large and the small, the important and the trivial; but, as facts in that natural history of myself which I have aimed to give, it is fit that they should be indicated. The almost equal proclivities towards analysis and synthesis above pointed out, seem to be paralleled by almost equal proclivities to the abstract and the concrete, the general and the special; or, otherwise regarded, equal proclivities to the theoretical and the practical. But for every interest in either the theoretical or the practical, a requisite condition has been—the opportunity offered for something new. And here may be perceived the trait which unites the extremely unlike products of mental action exemplified above. They have one and all afforded scope for constructive imagination. Evidently constructive imagination finds a sphere for activity alike in an invention and in a theory. Indeed, when we put the two together, we are at once shown the kinship; since every invention is a theory before it is reduced to a material form.
In this, as in so many other traits, I recognize inheritance from my father: in some directions with increase, and in others without. His constructive imagination was shown not only by his Inventional Geometry, but by sundry small inventions; and it was shown much more conspicuously by his Lucid Shorthand, in which it appears under both the analytic and the synthetic aspects. It was shown, too, by an unusual ability for solving puzzles, alike of the mental and of the mechanical kinds. In this I could not compare with him; but in both mechanical inventions and in the union of philosophical analysis and synthesis, this applied form of constructive imagination appears to have been further developed while transmitted.
And here this last remark introduces a group of facts at once striking and instructive.
When discussing the question whether the effects of use and disuse are inherited, I have sometimes been tempted to cite evidence furnished by sundry of my own traits; but have refrained because of dislike to making public statements about them. Here, however, as included in an autobiography, I may fitly set down these instances of modifications, mental and bodily, resulting from specialities of habit in ancestors.
It has been remarked that I have an unusual faculty of exposition—set forth my data and reasonings and conclusions with a clearness and coherence not common. Whence this faculty? My grandfather passed all his life in teaching, and my father, too, passed all his life in teaching. Teaching is, in large measure, a process of exposition. Hour after hour, day after day, the master of a school, or one who gives private lessons, spends time in explaining. If he is worth his salt, he does not simply listen to rote-learnt lessons, but takes care that his pupils understand what they are learning; and, to this end, either solves their difficulties for them, or, much better, puts them in the way of solving them by making them comprehend the principles on which solutions depend. The good instructor is one in whom nature or discipline has produced what we may call intellectual sympathy—such an insight into another’s mental state as is needed rightly to adjust the sequence of ideas to be communicated. To what extent my grandfather possessed this intellectual sympathy I do not know; but his daily life cultivated it to some extent. My father possessed it in a high degree, and throughout life cultivated it. I possess it in a still higher degree: so, at least, I was told, when a young man, by one who had experience of my father’s expositions and of mine. It appears, then, that the faculty has developed by exercise and inheritance.
No one will deny that I am much given to criticism. Along with exposition of my own views there has always gone a pointing out of defects in the views of others. And, if this is a trait in my writing, still more is it a trait in my conversation. The tendency to fault-finding is dominant—disagreeably dominant. The indicating of errors in thought and in speech made by those around, has all through life been an incurable habit—a habit for which I have often reproached myself, but to no purpose. Whence this habit? There is the same origin as before. While one-half of a teacher’s time is spent in exposition, the other half is spent in criticism—in detecting mistakes made by those who are saying lessons, or in correcting exercises, or in checking calculations; and the implied powers, moral and intellectual, are used with a sense of duty performed. And here let me add that in me, too, a sense of duty prompts criticism; for when, occasionally, I succeed in restraining myself from making a comment on something wrongly said or executed, I have a feeling of discomfort, as though I had left undone something which should have been done: the inherited tendency is on its way to become an instinct acting automatically.
Similarly to be explained as resulting from inheritance, is an allied trait—disregard of authority. Few have shown this more conspicuously. As an early illustration may be remembered the incident narrated of myself as happening at the age of 13, when I called in question the doctrine of inertia set forth in Dr. Arnott’s Physics and defended by my uncle, and persisted in my dissent spite of this combined authority against me. Out of illustrations furnished by later life may be named my published rejection, in 1858, of the conception of nebulæ then universally accepted in the astronomical world; and again my rejection of Owen’s theory concerning the archetype and homologies of the vertebrate skeleton, at that time accepted in the biological world and taught in some medical schools. My books show submission to established authority, only in cases where my knowledge of data needed for judgment was obviously inadequate (as, say, in the higher Mathematics, or the higher Physics, or in Chemistry) and where, consequently, the opinions of experts were to be accepted. For this trait, so unusual in its degree, there is, as said above, the same explanation as before. For what is the attitude perpetually maintained by the teacher? Always in presence of his pupils he is himself the authority, subject to no other. All through adult life the mental attitude of subordination is made foreign to him by his function. Such contact as he occasionally has with superiors, bears but a very small ratio to the contact he has with inferiors. Hence the sentiment of submission to authority is but little exercised.
A closely-allied trait, or in part another aspect of the same trait, has to be indicated—the absence of moral fear. In the account of my life at Hinton, a passage from a letter written by my uncle to my father was quoted, commenting upon this. He said:—
“The grand deficiency in Herbert’s natural character is in the principle of Fear. And it is only so far as his residence with me has supplied that principle in a degree unusual to him, that after a few struggles he entirely surrendered himself to obey me with a promptness and alacrity that would have given you pleasure to witness; and the more obedient I have observed him the more I have refrained from exercising authority. By Fear, I mean both that ‘Fear of the Lord’ which ‘is the beginning of wisdom,’ and that fear of Parents, Tutors, &c.”
Deficient fear of those superior to me in age or position, of course implied want of respect for authority; but it included a further element—disregard of the consequences which such disrespect might bring. And this trait, conspicuous in my boyhood, has been in later life shown throughout my writings; for nowhere have I betrayed any fear either of an individual or of the aggregate of individuals. It has, in fact, never occurred to me to hesitate because of foreseen mischiefs; or rather, I have not foreseen them because I have not thought about them. It has been thus even in cases where public disapprobation was unmistakable; as in my persistent opposition to State-education—an opposition expressed when 22, and expressed with equal or greater strength when 73; though for these many years past I have been conscious that almost the whole world is against me. And now observe that we have the same explanation as before. For what is the relation between a master and his pupils? It is a relation from which the sentiment of fear on his side is excluded. The school is a small society; and in it the master fears neither any one member of it nor the whole assemblage.
I pass now to a bodily trait no less significant. My hands are unusually small—smaller than the hands of a woman of less than my own height. Both in size of the bones and in development of the accompanying muscles they are considerably below what they should be. How is this? If the lives passed by my father and grandfather are considered, a cause is manifest. Both of them did nothing more, day by day, than wield the pen or the pencil, and neither of them was given to sports of any kind or to any exercises which might have served to keep up the sizes of the hands. Occasionally, when a young man, my father went fishing, and sometimes, though rarely, he did a little gardening of a light kind; but the exercise of the hands beyond that which his daily avocations entailed was scarcely appreciable. In me, then, the hands show the result of two generations of diminished action.
Thus the inheritance of acquired characters is exemplified in four mental traits and one bodily trait.
It is rightly said that a man has the defects of his qualities—that, along with certain advantages his nature yields him, there go certain disadvantages. On considering the effects of the inherited traits above enumerated, I am struck with the verification of this truth which some of them afford.
Lack of regard for authority, and fearlessness of the consequences entailed by dissent from other men’s opinions, have been part causes of what success I have had in philosophical inquiry. Such reverence for great names as most feel, and resulting acceptance of established doctrines, would have negatived that independence without which I could not have reached the conclusions I have. Never stopping to ask what has been thought about this or that matter, I have usually gone direct to the facts as presented in Nature, and drawn inferences afresh from them—occasionally, it may be, untrue inferences, but in other cases inferences which are true. Meanwhile the implied moral nature has had—especially in early life—injurious consequences. Little as the fact was recognized by my father, the insubordination shown during my childhood and boyhood was, as I have indicated, a trait indirectly caused by absence of subordination throughout his life and the life of his father. The resulting chronic disobedience, so often deplored, led not only to direct evils, but to various indirect evils: chiefly the attitude of antagonism, the alienation of feeling, the undermining of the affections, and the consequent weakening of that influence which should be exercised through them: a diminished activity of sympathy being also an accompaniment. So that this trait, advantageous to me as a thinker, was otherwise disadvantageous.
Instead of saying “was,” I ought to say “has been,” for I recognize certain detrimental effects extending throughout adult life. One has been a tendency to under-estimate the past as compared with the present. Doubtless this has been partly due to reaction against the over-estimating which is current. To me it has seemed obvious that boys, early impressed with the products of Greek and Roman civilization—products sundry of which appeal strongly to the instincts of the savage, dominant in them at that age—never recover from the resulting bias, but remain throughout life subject to the perverted judgments then formed. They read everything ancient with a predisposition to appreciate, and everything modern with a predisposition to depreciate.
Uninfluenced in this way, I have very likely been carried to the other extreme. Take, for example, the opinion about Plato. Time after time I have attempted to read, now this dialogue and now that, and have put it down in a state of impatience with the indefiniteness of the thinking and the mistaking of words for things: being repelled also by the rambling form of the argument. Once when I was talking on the matter to a classical scholar, he said—“Yes, but as works of art they are well worth reading.” So, when I again took up the dialogues, I contemplated them as works of art, and put them aside in greater exasperation than before. To call that a “dialogue” which is an interchange of speeches between the thinker and his dummy, who says just what it is convenient to have said, is absurd. There is more dramatic propriety in the conversations of our third-rate novelists; and such a production as that of Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew, has more strokes of dramatic truth than all the Platonic dialogues put together, if the rest are like those I have looked into. Still, quotations from time to time met with, lead me to think that there are in Plato detached thoughts from which I might benefit had I the patience to seek them out. The like is probably true of other ancient writings.
The a priori conclusion that reaction against current error almost certainly leads to an opposite error, implying that, being so intensely modern, I undervalue that which is ancient, has been impressed on me a good deal of late years by recognizing the great progress made during some of the earliest civilizations—Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian. But while it has become clear that the remains left by these eastern nations prove them to have been more advanced, both in the arts and in thought, than I had supposed, and that lack of reverence for what others have said and done has tended to make me neglect the evidence of early achievements, it has also become clear that the common educational bias, against which my own bias is a reaction, has led to a like under-estimation of pre-classic progress. The great indebtedness of the Greeks to the peoples who preceded them in civilization, is yearly becoming more conspicuous.
The critical tendency dominant in me, because perpetually exercised by father and grandfather, has similarly entailed advantages and disadvantages. In presence of current opinions it has prompted examinations, often disclosing errors and causing rejections; while, as already implied, the fault-finding spirit, leading to more or less disagreeableness in social intercourse, has also partially debarred me from the pleasures of admiration, by making me too much awake to mistakes and shortcomings.
In conversation the critical tendency has constantly led to discovery of reasons for disagreement rather than reasons for agreement. To name those points in respect of which another’s view coincided with my own, has not usually occurred to me; but it has always occurred to me to name the points of non-coincidence between our views.
A further effect has been to render my enjoyment of works of art less than it might else have been. The readiness to dwell upon defects has diminished the appreciation of beauties, by pre-occupying consciousness. Possibly there are perfections in various paintings of the old masters which impress me but little, because I am keenly alive to the many mistakes in chiaroscuro which characterize them. These force themselves on my attention in a way which they would not do were there no such constitutional aptitude for seeing the imperfections. When looking at Greek sculpture, too, I constantly observe how unnatural and inartistic is the drapery. Though in large measure I admire the more important parts of the works, my admiration is much less than it would be but for the vivid consciousness of this drawback. In some measure the like happens with music. Many years ago, when I attended the opera a good deal, I remarked to one who was frequently my companion—George Eliot—how much analysis of the effects produced deducts from enjoyment of the effects. In proportion as intellect is active emotion is rendered inactive. And a like result necessarily accompanies criticism, since the critical process involves more or less the analytical process. So is it also with my appreciation of literature—more especially poetry. In these various cases it is not that I am reluctant to admire—quite the contrary. I rejoice in admiration; and rejoice when at one with others in their admiration. But it rarely happens that the work of art of whatever kind is so satisfactory in every way as to leave no room for adverse comment.
Not in respect of works of art only, but also in respect of some works of Nature, this tendency has been shown: the works of Nature being, in this case, persons. An illustration occurred during the first year of my friendship with the Potters. Mr. Potter had a younger sister—a great beauty, alike in face and figure. During the visit of my uncle and aunt to them in Upper Hamilton Terrace, and during an evening I was spending there, my aunt said to me:—“Well, what do you think of Miss Potter?” Any other young fellow would have launched out into unmeasured praise. But my reply was:—“I do not quite like the shape of her head”: referring, of course, to my phrenological diagnosis. The incident has dwelt in my memory, because I afterwards blamed myself for the absurd way in which I had singled out a trait that did not, on theoretical grounds, quite satisfy me, and ignored all that there was calling for admiration.
It seems probable that this abnormal tendency to criticize has been a chief factor in the continuance of my celibate life. Readiness to see inferiorities rather than superiorities, must have impeded the finding of one who attracted me in adequate degree.
Lest the above anecdote should be taken to imply deficient appreciation of physical beauty, I must add that this is far from being the fact. The fact is quite the reverse. Physical beauty is a sine quâ non with me; as was once unhappily proved where the intellectual traits and the emotional traits were of the highest.
How difficult is the judging of character; and yet how little hesitation most people have in forming positive judgments. “What do you think of Mr. So-and-so?” has been the question occasionally put to me concerning someone I have seen for an hour. And then, after my reply that I was unable to form an opinion so soon, there has come an expression of surprise. It is true that occasionally, where the manifestations have been clear—perhaps in a handsome woman spoiled by adulation, who makes great claims and has become distinctly selfish—my estimate has been formed forthwith, and a sufficiently strong prejudice—if it is to be so called—established. But in average cases decision is suspended until I have had considerable evidence.
Sometimes I have expressed my belief about this matter by the paradox that nobody knows himself and nobody knows any one else; meaning, by this extreme statement, that the possibilities of a nature are never disclosed until it has been placed in all circumstances, and that no nature ever is placed in all circumstances. Generally, the conditions of life have been so comparatively uniform that very few tests have been applied, and very few phases of character made visible in conduct.
An experience of early years gave me a vivid consciousness of the way in which feelings are readily determined this way or that way by accidents. It was in the days of my difficulties, when regard for economy obliged me always to travel in third-class carriages: then far less comfortable than they are now. Opposite to me, on one occasion, sat a man who, at the time I first observed him, was occupied in eating food he had brought with him—I should rather say devouring it, for his mode of eating was so brutish as to attract my attention and fill me with disgust: a disgust which verged into anger. Some time after, when he had finished his meal and become quiescent, I was struck by the woe-begone expression of his face. Years of suffering were registered on it; and, while I gazed on the sad eyes and deeply-marked lines, I began to realize the life of misery through which he had passed. As I continued to contemplate the face and to understand all which its expression of distress implied, the pity excited in me went to the extent of causing that constriction of the throat which strong feelings sometimes produces. Here, then, were two utterly antagonistic emotions aroused within a short time by the same person under different aspects. In the absence of the change described, either of these might have arisen without the other, and either of them, had it been expressed alone, would have given to other persons an untrue conception of me; an untrue conception which, indeed, I should have had of myself, had not the circumstances been varied in the way they were.
In respect of the intellectual faculties, experience shows that manifestations are often determined by accidents. Here is a skilful physician, who, in the leisure part of his later life, shows considerable ability in water-colour landscape—an ability not discovered until a vacation at the seaside in company with an artist friend, led to an attempt. One whose forte is mathematics, being led by accident into a musical circle, proves to have musical gifts which neither he nor others suspected. And some exceptional occasion discloses the fact that a distinguished chemist is also a born orator. But what is true of the intellectual faculties is also true of the emotional faculties. Each nature is a bundle of potentialities of which only some are allowed by the conditions to become actualities.
In this latter part of my life a personal illustration has forced this truth upon me in a marked way. During early years, and throughout mature years, there was no sign of marked liking for children. It is true that when, as narrated, I took up my abode with a family in Marlborough Gardens, I did not make the presence of children an objection—rather the contrary. It is true, also, that during my many visits to Standish, recurring throughout a large part of my life, I was always on good terms with the bevy of little girls who were growing up. But my feeling was of a tepid kind, and, as I learned from one of them when she was adult, the belief, or at any rate her belief, was that I did not care much for children. Had it not been for a mere accident this might have remained her belief and mine also. When at Brighton in 1887, suffering the ennui of an invalid life, passed chiefly in bed and on the sofa, I one day, while thinking over modes of killing time, bethought me that the society of children might be a desirable distraction. The girls above referred to were most of them, at the time I speak of, married and had families; and one of them—Mrs. W. Cripps—let me have two of her little ones for a fortnight. The result of being thus placed in a nearer relation to children than before, was to awaken, in a quite unanticipated way, the philoprogenitive instinct—or rather a vicarious phase of it; and instead of simply affording me a little distraction, the two afforded me a great deal of positive gratification. When at Dorking a year afterwards, I again petitioned to have them, and again there passed a fortnight which was pleasurable to me and to them. Such was the effect that from that time to this, the presence of a pair of children, now from this family of the clan and now from that, has formed a leading gratification—I may say the chief gratification—during each summer’s sojourn in the country.
Evidently, but for the thought, and consequent experiment, at Brighton, my nature, in so far as this part of it is concerned, would have remained unknown to me and unknown to every one else.
So is it with character throughout its entire range. The remark that the manifestations of feelings are greatly changed by marriage is often made. The new circumstances initiate a new balance; and without doubt all other new circumstances have their effects in bringing out traits not before known to exist.
The motives which cause the essential actions of life are simple. No one fails to identify the appetite which normally prompts eating; though, in an invalid state, this prompting feeling may become complicated, or replaced by other feelings. So, too, with the love of children. Variations in its quality do not mask its essential nature. But when we come to those complex emotions which originate the complex actions of life, there is usually great difficulty in deciding what are the proportions among their components. The conduct which social relations daily call out, and the activities into which all are led, may be generated in various ways, and probably in no two persons are generated in exactly the same ways—in no two persons are the elements of them alike in their kinds and their ratios.
Occasionally I have asked myself what have been the motives prompting my career—how much have they been egoistic and how much altruistic. That they have been mixed there can be no doubt. And in this case, as in most cases, it is next to impossible to separate them mentally in such way as to perceive the relations of amount among them. So deep down is the gratification which results from the consciousness of efficiency, and the further consciousness of the applause which recognized efficiency brings, that it is impossible for any one to exclude it. Certainly, in my own case, the desire for such recognition has not been absent. Yet, so far as I can remember, ambition was not the primary motive of my first efforts, nor has it been the primary motive of my larger and later efforts. The letters on The Proper Sphere of Government were prompted solely, I believe, by the desire to diffuse what seemed to me true views. That this was a chief motive to the rationalization and elaboration of them constituting Social Statics, seems implied by the fact that, had it not been for the publisher, Mr. Chapman, I should have issued the work anonymously. And of later evidences there is that furnished by the Descriptive Sociology, on which I continued to spend money and labour after the absence of public appreciation became manifest.
Still, as I have said, the desire for achievement and the honour which achievement brings, have doubtless been large factors. Where I have been forestalled in the promulgation of an idea, I have unquestionably felt some annoyance; though the altruistic sentiment acting alone would have made me equally content to have it promulgated by another as by myself. In controversy, again, the wish for personal success has gone along with the wish to establish the truth—perhaps has predominated over it, as I fancy it does in most. For fighting excites the personal feeling so as to make it primary rather than secondary. Nor can it be denied that, in the prosecution of my chief undertaking, I have been throughout stimulated by the desire to associate my name with an achievement. Though from the outset I have had in view the effects to be wrought on men’s beliefs and courses of action—especially in respect of social affairs and governmental functions; yet the sentiment of ambition has all along been operative.
Two other prompters have had shares. There has been the immediate gratification which results from seizing and working out ideas. As I once heard a scientific friend say, the greatest satisfaction he knew was that yielded by a successful day’s hunting—figuratively thus expressing the discovery of facts or truths. And it has been with me a source of continual pleasure, distinct from other pleasures, to evolve new thoughts, and to be in some sort a spectator of the way in which, under persistent contemplation, they gradually unfolded into completeness. There is a keen delight in intellectual conquest—in appropriating a portion of the unknown and bringing it within the realm of the known.
Of these two remaining prompters the other, allied to the last though distinguishable from it, is the architectonic instinct—the love of system-building, as it would be called in less complimentary language. During these thirty years it has been a source of frequent elation to see each division, and each part of a division, working out into congruity with the rest—to see each component fitting into its place, and helping to make a harmonious whole. That the gratification of this instinct has been a not unimportant factor, I find at the present moment clear proof. As soon as I have ended this series of reflections, I am about to commence Part VII of the Principles of Sociology—“Professional Institutions”—in the hope that after finishing it I may be able to finish also the next part—“Industrial Institutions,” and so complete the third volume. What spurs me on to this undertaking? Though the genesis of the professions constitutes a not uninteresting subject, it does not seem that a coherent account of it, showing how the general process of evolution is afresh illustrated, is of any public importance. Nor can I suppose that by executing this piece of work I shall add in any appreciable degree to my own reputation: this will be practically the same whether I do the work or not. Clearly, then, my desire to do it is the desire to fill up a gap in my work. My feeling is analogous to that of the architect when contemplating the unfinished wing of a building he has designed, or one of the roofs only half-built. Like the restless desire he would feel to supply these missing structures, is the restless desire I feel to complete these divisions now wanting.
Though it is partly included in the last factor, there should be definitely named a further factor—the æsthetic sentiment. There appears to be in me a dash of the artist, which has all along made the achievement of beauty a stimulus: not, of course, beauty as commonly conceived, but such beauty as may exist in a philosophical structure. I have always felt a wish to make both the greater arguments, and the smaller arguments composing them, finished and symmetrical. In so far as giving coherence and completeness is concerned, I have generally satisfied my ambition; but I have fallen short of it in respect of literary form. The æsthetic sense has in this always kept before me an ideal which I could never reach. Though my style is lucid, it has, as compared with some styles, a monotony that displeases me. There is a lack of variety in its verbal forms and in its larger components, and there is a lack of vigour in its phrases. But the desire for perfection has in this, as in the building up of arguments, prompted unceasing efforts to remove defects.
Here I am struck with a proof that this architectonic instinct and this æsthetic sentiment, now chiefly operative as stimuli, must be very dominant; since they are making me persevere spite of strong deterrents. With a brain lamed when I was five and thirty, and since that time so frequently put wrong by over-work, or other excitement, as to have been made almost incapable of bearing activity, I am, at seventy-three, urged on to do a little more of the task I set myself thirty-three years ago.
My state of brain is now such that I am obliged to break the small amount of work I do into short lengths. I dictate for ten minutes and then rest awhile; and, as I have observed this morning (July 24, 1893), I do not usually repeat this process more than five times, making a total of fifty minutes. Very frequently (as at the time I am revising this in proof) I dare not do more than three times ten minutes or twice ten minutes; and often I dare do nothing. When above my average, there is the addition of a little revising in the afternoon, done in a similar manner—a few sentences at once. Throughout the rest of the day the process of killing time has to be carried on as best it may.
Walking has to be restricted to two or three hundred yards when at my best, and occasionally has to be given up altogether. A drive of an hour and a quarter or an hour and a half, in a carriage with india-rubber tyres, is all the further exercise practicable; and continually a little excess in this produces injurious effects, now and then demanding entire desistence. Reading, even of the lightest kind, is almost as injurious as working. Everyday the temptation to read has to be resisted: a few pages at once being alone practicable. Very often forgetfulness leads to a transgression of the limits; bringing, as a penalty, a night worse than usual. So is it with conversation. When I am below my average, this has to be given up altogether, and when at my best has to be kept within narrow bounds. Even much listening is negatived. I make use of ear-stoppers, which when I cannot conveniently leave the room, enable me to shut out the voices of those around sufficiently to prevent me from understanding what is said; for damage results from the continuous attention which listening involves.
The mischief caused by continuous attention prevents use of the microscope, in which I had this year hoped to occupy a little time while here (Pewsey). A small amount of it produced general disturbance, which lasted several days; and now I find that three or four minutes at a time is as much as I can bear. Games, too, of all kinds are rendered impracticable. Even the simple child’s game of spillicans, requiring intent observation and careful action of the muscles, proves too much for me. Cards are quite out of the question; and I have not tried backgammon since 1887, when, being at the time in a low condition, two games caused a serious relapse.
Of course this constitutional state, varying within wide limits, usually forbids social intercourse. I have not been at a soirée for these ten years; and only on a few occasions since 1882 have dared to dine out: the last occasion being nearly two years since, when the imprudence was severely punished. Public amusements are rigorously excluded. When in the United States in 1882, I went to a theatre, but never since. Concerts, too, are negatived. Half-an-hour proved more than enough the last time I attended one. Nor can any considerable amount of drawing-room music be borne. When, two years ago, Mr. Carnegie presented me with a piano, I made arrangements with a professional lady to give me an hour’s performance upon it weekly; but two experiments sufficed to cause desistence. I got no sleep afterwards on either occasion.
Thus the waking hours have to be passed in an unexciting and, by implication, in an uninteresting way—lying on the sofa or lounging about, and, when the weather and the place permit, as now, sitting very much in the open air, hearing and observing the birds, watching the drifting clouds, listening to the sighings of the wind through the trees, and letting my thoughts ramble in harmless ways, avoiding as much as possible exciting subjects. But of course, debarred, as I thus am, from bodily and mental exercise and most kinds of pleasures, no ingenuity can prevent weariness.
When I speak of the waking hours, meaning of course the day, as passed in this manner, I apparently imply that the hours of the night are not waking hours. But in large measure they are. If the day has been gone through with prudence, and I have taken my dose of opium (1½ grains) at the right hour, then between half-past ten and perhaps one, perhaps two, perhaps half-past two, broken sleep is obtained—never continuous sleep. After that come hours of sleeplessness and tossing from side to side; mostly followed, but sometimes not followed, by more broken sleep before the servant comes with my breakfast in the morning, at 8. And then the dreams accompanying such sleep as I obtain, though not bad in the sense of being dreadful or horrible, are usually annoying.
Yet this state which I have brought myself to by forty years of brain-work—a brain-work which would have been by no means too much had I not at the outset overstrained myself—I am impelled to maintain by this desire to continue the task I have undertaken. This architectonic instinct tyrannizes over me. Such more comfortable life as I might lead if I would cease altogether to tax myself, I decline to lead. And this I suppose for the reason that, though more comfortable in one sense, it would be on the whole less comfortable. Besides being debarred from that slight pleasurable excitement given me by the trifling amount of work I am able to do daily, there would be the perpetual consciousness of something left undone which I wanted to do. The weariness would become still worse had I to spend the whole day in killing time, with such small means of doing it.
Contemplation of these physical consequences of my career leads me to think of the other consequences—the question,—What advice would I give to an aspirant, pecuniary, social, &c.; and the thought of them raises who, in early or middle life, thought of devoting himself to philosophy, or to some other division of grave literature: prompted to do so by the belief that he had something important to say? Supposing the something to be really of importance (against which, however, the probabilities are great, notwithstanding his own confident opinion), deterrent advice might fitly be given.
In the first place, unless his means are such as enable him not only to live for a long time without returns, but to bear the losses which his books entail on him, he will soon be brought to a stand and subjected to heavy penalties. My own history well exemplifies this probability, or rather certainty. Had it not been for the £80 which, in 1850, I proved to the printer was coming to me under the Railway Winding-up Act, I should have been unable to publish Social Statics. Only because the bequest from my uncle Thomas made it possible to live for a time without remunerative labour, was I enabled to write and publish the Principles of Psychology. For two years after The Synthetic Philosophy had been projected, no way of bringing it before the world was discoverable. When, at length, mainly by the aid of scientific friends, without whose endorsement I could have done nothing, it became possible to get together a sufficient number of subscribers, it was presently proved that, partly because of my inability to keep up the intended rate of publication, and partly because of losses entailed by numerous defaulters, I should have been obliged to desist before the completion of First Principles, had it not been that the death of my uncle William, and bequest of the greater part of his property to me, afforded the means of continuing. Not even then were my difficulties ended. Six years’ persistence in work which failed to yield such returns as, added to other sources of income, sufficed to meet my modest expenses of living, brought me, in 1866, to an impending cessation. After finding that in the course of the years devoted to philosophical writing, I had sunk more than £1100, and was continuing to lose, I announced that when the volume then in hand was completed I should discontinue. Only because the necessity for discontinuance was removed, partly by the American testimonial and partly by my father’s death, which diminished the responsibilities coming upon me, was the notice of cessation cancelled. Even after that, several years elapsed before the returns from my books became such as put me quite at my ease. And only in subsequent years did my income become ample. Evidently it was almost a miracle that I did not sink before success was reached.
As the difficulties of self-maintenance while pursuing a career analogous to mine, are almost insuperable, the maintenance of a wife and family must of course be impossible. One who devotes himself to grave literature must be content to remain celibate; unless, indeed, he obtains a wife having adequate means for both, and is content to put himself in the implied position. Even then, family cares and troubles are likely to prove fatal to his undertakings. As was said to me by a scientific friend, who himself knew by experience the effect of domestic worries—“Had you married there would have been no system of philosophy.”
If the prompting motive is the high one of doing something to benefit mankind, and if there is readiness to bear losses and privations and perhaps ridicule in pursuit of this end, no discouragement is to be uttered; further than that there may be required greater patience and self-sacrifice than will prove practicable. If, on the other hand, the main element in the ambition is the desire to achieve a name, the probability of disappointment may still be placed in bar of it. Adequate appreciation of writings not adapted to satisfy popular desires, is long in coming, if it ever comes; and it comes the more slowly to one who is either not in literary circles, or, being in them, will not descend to literary “logrolling,” and other arts by which favourable recognition is often gained. Comparative neglect is almost certain to follow one who declines to use influence with reviewers, as I can abundantly testify.
Even should it happen that, means and patience having sufficed, the goal is at length reached and applause gained, there will come nothing like the delights hoped for. Of literary distinction, as of so many other things which men pursue, it may be truly said that the game is not worth the candle. When compared with the amount of labour gone through, the disturbances of health borne, the denial of many gratifications otherwise attainable, and the long years of waiting, the satisfaction which final recognition gives proves to be relatively trivial. As contrasted with the aggregate of preceding pains, the achieved pleasure is insignificant. A transitory emotion of joy may be produced by the first marks of success; but after a time the continuance of success excites no emotion which rises above the ordinary level. It is, indeed, astonishing to what an extent men are deluded into pursuit of “the bubble reputation,” when they have within their reach satisfactions which are much greater: supposing, at least, that the endeavours to gain these greater satisfactions are not disappointed, which unhappilly they very often are.
And, then, beyond the fact that literary success when it comes, if it ever does come, brings pleasures far less than were anticipated, there is the fact that it brings vexations and worries often greatly exceeding them. While the approbation looked for often does not come, there often comes instead undeserved disapprobation. Adverse criticisms of utterly unjust kinds frequently pursue the conscientious writer, not only during his period of struggle but after he has reached his desired position. Careless mis-statements and gross misrepresentations continually exasperate him; and if he measures the pains produced by these against the pleasures produced by due appreciation, he is likely to find them in excess.
Beyond the evils which the aspirant will have to bear in the shape of blame for ascribed oversights which do not exist, and ascribed errors which are not committed, and ascribed absurdities which are in truth rational conclusions, he may have to bear graver evils. If his writings are of kinds which arouse antagonisms, political, religious, or social, there will be visited upon him the anger of offended prejudices, or of threatened interests, or both.
Already, in giving an account of my uncle Thomas, I have pointed out the extent to which the odium theologicum, joined with the animosity caused by attack on class-interests, may prompt grave calumnies. One who raised his parish from a low and neglected state to a state of relative culture and prosperity; one who spent all his spare time in efforts to benefit the working-classes by lectures and writings; one who, returning from the scenes of his philanthropic exertions, always reached home on Saturday night so as to give his two services on the Sunday; one who for discharge of his clerical duties, and for activities which went far beyond them, received the pittance of £80 a year; was actually described as a sinecurist! One whose efforts were devoted to the moralization of men so strenuously that he eventually killed himself by them, was described as not even expending the efforts which an ordinary parish priest devotes to the mechanical performance of his routine functions in return for a good income! While doing an excess of work, he was stigmatized as doing none!
From theological antagonism I have myself suffered but little; and, indeed, have met with an amount of forbearance and sympathy which has surprised me. On me, however, there have of late come the effects of political animosity. In my first work, Social Statics, it was contended that alienation of the land from the people at large is inequitable; and that there should be a restoration of it to the State, or incorporated community, after making due compensation to existing landowners. In later years I concluded that a resumption on such terms would be a losing transaction, and that individual ownership under State-suzerainty ought to continue. In his Progress and Poverty, Mr. Henry George, quoting the conclusion drawn in Social Statics, made it a part-basis for his arguments; and, when my changed belief was made public, his indignation was great. There resulted after some years a work by him entitled A Perplexed Philosopher, in which he devoted three hundred odd pages to denunciation, not only of my views but of my motives, and assailed me as a traitor to the cause of the people. He alleged that my change of opinion must have resulted from a wish to ingratiate myself with the landed and ruling classes: applying to me Browning’s lines in The Lost Leader—“Just for a handful of silver he left us, just for a ribbon to stick in his coat.” This he did in face of the fact that in works quoted by him, I have spoken disrespectfully of the two most conspicuous members of these classes, Mr. Gladstone and Lord Salisbury (Study of Sociology, chap. xvi, and Principles of Ethics, §130); and have thus spoken of each at the time when he was Prime Minister, and had in his hands the dispensing of honours and patronage! Then, turning his fiction into a fact, and working himself into a fury over it, Mr. George does not scruple to manufacture evidence in its support. He says:—
The name of Herbert Spencer now appears with those of about all the Dukes in the kingdom as the director of an association formed for the purpose of defending private property in land (p. 201).
I am a member of but one political body. This body, which I was in part instrumental in establishing, was subsequently joined by sundry men of title, and among them two dukes. This body is the London Ratepayers Defence League!
Mr. George’s book, circulated in the United States and in England, has been reviewed in various journals which have accepted its statements; and many have quoted its denunciations, apparently supposing that there was ground for them. Even The Times cites, without any condemnation of it, Mr. George’s charge that I have “abandoned the necessary inferences, from motives less abstract and considerably less creditable, than those founded on sound logic and the truth of things.” (January 12, 1893.)
Here, then, are lessons for one who, dealing with theological, political, or social subjects, says candidly what he believes. If his career leads him to set forth views exciting class-animosities, or individual-animosities, he may count upon greater evils than are entailed by the stupidities and misinterpretations of critical journals; and must take into account the possibility, if not the probability, that he will be injured by utterly false interpretations of his motives and by consequent vilifications.
Is it then that these various dissuasives, had they been put before me when I began my career, would have stopped me; or do I regret that I was not stopped by such dissuasives? I cannot say yes. If at the outset the many chances against success had been specified, it is doubtful whether desistence would have resulted. Nor even had I seen clearly the evil to be entailed in the shape of ill-health, would this further deterrent have sufficed. Once having become possessed by the conception of Evolution in its comprehensive form, the desire to elaborate and set it forth was so strong that to have passed life in doing something else would, I think, have been almost intolerable. The perpetual consciousness of a large aim unachieved would have been a cause of chronic irritation hardly to be borne.
Little, then, as I should encourage another to follow my example and throw prudence to the winds, it will readily be understood that, as things have turned out, I find no reason to regret the course I took and the life I have passed: very much the contrary, indeed. Nearly all men have to spend their energies, year after year, in occupations which are more or less wearisome, if not repugnant, simply that they may gain the means of living for themselves and their dependents; and have not the daily satisfaction of working towards a greatly-desired end. The artist of genius may, indeed, be named as one whose labour subserves the double purpose of bringing him material support and realizing his conceptions: the pleasurableness of the last being doubtless very great. The born musician, or painter, or poet, experiences an intensity of pleasure in his work which no other man does. But omitting these, men at large have to pass their days in duties from which they would gladly be excused. Quite different has been my lot: my chief complaint having been that state of brain every day forbade me to continue when I wished to do so. Even taking into account chronic disturbance of health, I have every reason to be satisfied with that which fate has awarded me.
Moreover, these disturbances of health have not been of a kind so difficult to bear as those borne by many who have no compensations for them. They have not entailed on me any positive suffering; unless, indeed, the weariness and irritation of perpetual bad nights come under that name. I have not been subject to much positive pain: less, I think, than most are. And then, during the greater part of the time since my break-down in 1855, the constitutional state, which seems to have become adapted to a small amount of broken sleep, has not been such as to negative many of the pleasures within reach. It is true that, reading to any considerable extent being injurious, light literature has been almost wholly cut off, and restriction of evening excitements has been imperative; but otherwise, up to the age of 62, the deprivations were not great. Only during the last ten years, and especially during the last six years, have I been more and more cut off from most relaxations.
And here let me exclude some misapprehensions likely to be caused by what has been said above. Naturally it will be inferred that the chronic perturbations of health described, and especially those which of late years have brought me to what may be called an invalid life, must be indicated by an invalid appearance. This is far from being the case. Neither in the lines of the face nor in its colour, is there any such sign of constitutional derangement as would be expected. Contrarywise, I am usually supposed to be about ten years younger than I am. And this anomalous peculiarity conforms to a medical observation which I have seen made, that nervous subjects are generally older than they look.
Thus, if I leave out altruistic considerations and include egoistic considerations only, I may still look back from these declining days of life with content. One drawback indeed there has been, and that a great one. All through those years in which work should have had the accompaniment of wife and children, my means were such as to render marriage impossible: I could barely support myself, much less others. And when, at length, there came adequate means the fit time had passed by. Even in this matter, however, it may be that fortune has favoured me. Frequently when prospects are promising, dissatisfaction follows marriage rather than satisfaction; and in my own case the prospects would not have been promising. I am not by nature adapted to a relation in which perpetual compromise and great forbearance are needful. That extreme critical tendency which I have above described, joined with a lack of reticence no less pronounced, would, I fear, have caused perpetual domestic differences. After all my celibate life has probably been the best for me, as well as the best for some unknown other.
And now, having made these reflections concerning my own nature and its relation to the work I have done, what have I got to say concerning things at large? Besides those products of experience which, in my books, have been organized into a coherent whole, what further products have been collaterally formed. In these my declining days, what noteworthy differences have arisen in the aspects which the world around presents to me?
Not very much has to be said beyond emphasizing what has been already said. In various of my later books there have been indicated those modifications of views which mature years had brought concerning political, religious, and social affairs. The years which have since elapsed have served but to make these modifications more marked. All that remains is to set them forth in their accentuated shapes, after asking what probability there is that the opinions formed in this closing part of life are nearer to the truth than those formed in its earlier part.
The comparative conservatism of old age has various factors. In part it results negatively from diminished energy. Strength prompts action; and action, resulting in change, familiarizes the mind with changes and makes the effecting of them relatively attractive: enterprise is a trait of youth. Not diminished strength only, but hardening habit also, tends to make changes less and less attractive. To break through the usages of thought and conduct gradually established, becomes at once difficult and repugnant. Then, to these obstacles resulting from constitutional alteration are added others arising from what is in one sense mental growth. Things which in early life look simple and easy to deal with, are found, as life goes on, to be complex and deeply rooted. In what appeared wholly evil there are discovered elements of good below the surface; and what once seemed useless or superfluous is discovered to be in some way beneficial, if not essential. In each man as he grows old such factors act in various proportions and combinations: those due to senility being usually the chief.
In myself those due to wider observation and longer thought are, I believe predominant. I believe this because the aversion felt in early days for the older types of social organization survives. Now, as at first, not only is autocracy detestable, but there persists a dislike to that form of personal rule seen in qualified monarchical governments. I still sometimes think to myself, as I thought fifty years ago, how ludicrous would be the account given by some second Micromegas who, looking down on the doings of these little beings covering the Earth’s surface, told how, to some member of a particular family, they assigned vast revenues and indulgences beyond possibility of enjoyment, ascribed beauty where there was ugliness, intelligence where there was stupidity, traits of character above the average where they were below; and then daily surrounded these idealized persons with flattering ceremonies, accorded to them extensive powers, and treated with contumely any who did not join in the general worship. Holding that true loyalty consists in honouring that which is intrinsically honourable, and showing reverence for a worth demonstrated by conduct and achievement, I feel at present, as in the past, irritated by such observances as those which lately showered multitudinous wedding presents, and contributions of money from countless men and women, on two young people who, enjoying luxurious lives, have neither benefited their kind nor shown the least capacity for benefiting them. Hence it is clearly not because of any change of sentiment that I look with greater tolerance on monarchy; but simply because wider knowledge has led me to perceive its adaptation to the existing type of man. Institutions of every kind must be regarded as relative to the characters of citizens and the conditions under which they exist; and the feelings enlisted on behalf of such institutions must be judged, not by their absolute fitness but by their relative fitness. While the average feelings of people continue to be those which are daily shown, it would be no more proper to deprive them of their king than it would be proper to deprive a child of its doll.
Chiefly, however, the greater contentment I feel now than of old with established governmental forms, is due to the strengthened belief that there is a necessary connexion between the natures of the social units and the nature of the social aggregate. A cardinal doctrine of M. Comte and his disciples, is that individual men are products of the great body in which they exist—that they are, in all their higher attributes, created by that incorporated humanity called by Comte the supreme being. But it is no less true, or rather it is much more true, that the society is created by its units, and that the nature of its organization is determined by the natures of its units. The two act and re-act; but the original factor is the character of the individuals, and the derived factor is the character of the society. The conception of the social organism necessarily implies this. The units out of which an individual organism builds itself up, will not build up into an organism of another kind: the structure of the animal evolved from them is inherent in them. So, too, is it in large measure with a society. I say “in large measure” because the relations between the two are less rigid. In an animal the units and the organism have worked together, acting and reacting, for millions of years; but in a society for only a few thousands of years, and in the higher types of societies for only a few hundreds of years. Hence the character of the society inheres in the characters of its units far less deeply. Still, it inheres in so considerable a degree that complete change from one social type to another is impracticable; and a suddenly-made change is inevitably followed by a reversion, if not to the previous type in its old form, yet to the previous type in a superficially different form.
Illustrations of this truth are arising before our eyes. While old kinds of coercive government are dissolving, new kinds of coercive government are evolving. The rule of the monarch and the landed class, unqualified in feudal days, and in part replaced by the rule of the middle class after the Reform Bill, has since then been in larger part replaced by that of the working class, which is fast becoming predominant. But the temporary freedom obtained by abolishing one class of restraints, which reached its climax about the middle of the century, has since been decreased by the rise of another class of restraints, and will presently be no greater than it was before. We have been living in the midst of a social exuviation, and the old coercive shell having been cast off, a new coercive shell is in course of development; for in our day, as in past days, there co-exist the readiness to coerce and the readiness to submit to coercion.
Here, then, I see a change in my political views which has become increasingly marked with increasing years. Whereas, in the days of early enthusiasm, I thought that all would go well if governmental arrangements were transformed, I now think that transformations in governmental arrangements can be of use only in so far as they express the transformed natures of citizens.
Less marked, perhaps, though still sufficiently marked, is a modification in my ideas about religious institutions, which, indicated in my later books, has continued to grow more decided. While the current creed was slowly losing its hold on me, the sole question seemed to be the truth or untruth of the particular doctrines I had been taught. But gradually, and especially of late years, I have become aware that this is not the sole question.
Partly, the wider knowledge obtained of human societies has caused this. Many have, I believe, recognized the fact that a cult of some sort, with its social embodiment, is a constituent in every society which has made any progress; and this has led to the conclusion that the control exercised over men’s conduct by theological beliefs and priestly agency, has been indispensable. The masses of evidence classified and arranged in the Descriptive Sociology, have forced this belief upon me independently: if not against my will, still without any desire to entertain it. So conspicuous are the proofs that among unallied races in different parts of the globe, progress in civilization has gone along with development of a religious system, absolute in its dogmas and terrible in its threatened penalties, administered by a powerful priesthood, that there seems no escape from the inference that the maintenance of social subordination has peremptorily required the aid of some such agency.
Much astonishment may, indeed, reasonably be felt at the ineffectiveness of threats and promises of supposed supernatural origin. European history, dyed through and through with crime, seems to imply that fear of hell and hope of heaven have had small effects on men. Even at the present moment, the absolute opposition between the doctrine of forgiveness preached by a hundred thousand European priests, and the actions of European soldiers and colonists who out-do the law of blood-revenge among savages, and massacre a village in retaliation for a single death, shows that two thousand years of Christian culture has changed the primitive barbarian very little. And yet one cannot but conclude that it has had some effect, and may infer that in its absence things would have been worse.
At any rate, it is clear that, with men as they have been and are, the ultimate reasons for good conduct are too remote and shadowy to be operative. If prospect of definite eternal torture fails to restrain, still more must prospect of indefinite temporal evil fail. When we study the thoughts of the average British elector, who can conceive no reason for voting thus or thus save some material advantage to be gained, we may see that threats and promises of intense pains and vivid pleasures are alone likely to influence his conduct in marked ways.
Then, again, there is the truth, which is becoming more and more manifest, that real creeds continually diverge from nominal creeds, and adapt themselves to new social and individual requirements. The contrast between mediæval Christianity and the present Christianity of protestant countries, or again the contrast between the belief in a devil appointed to torment the wicked, strenuously held early in this century, and the spreading denial both of a devil and of eternal punishment, or again the recent expression of opinion by a Roman Catholic that there may be happiness in hell, suffice to show the remoulding of what is nominally the same creed into what is practically a quite different creed. And when we observe, too, how in modern preaching theological dogmas are dropping into the background and ethical doctrines coming into the foreground, it seems that in course of time we shall reach a stage in which, recognizing the mystery of things as insoluble, religious organizations will be devoted to ethical culture.
Thus I have come more and more to look calmly on forms of religious belief to which I had, in earlier days, a pronounced aversion. Holding that they are in the main naturally adapted to their respective peoples and times, it now seems to me well that they should severally live and work as long as the conditions permit, and, further, that sudden changes of religious institutions, as of political institutions, are certain to be followed by reactions.
If it be asked why, thinking thus, I have persevered in setting forth views at variance with current creeds, my reply is the one elsewhere made:—It is for each to utter that which he sincerely believes to be true, and, adding his unit of influence to all other units, leave the results to work themselves out.
Largely, however, if not chiefly, this change of feeling towards religious creeds and their sustaining institutions, has resulted from a deepening conviction that the sphere occupied by them can never become an unfilled sphere, but that there must continue to arise afresh the great questions concerning ourselves and surrounding things; and that, if not positive answers, then modes of consciousness standing in place of positive answers, must ever remain.
We find, indeed, an unreflective mood general among both cultured and uncultured, characterized by indifference to everything beyond material interests and the superficial aspects of things. There are the many millions of people who daily see sunrise and sunset without ever asking what the Sun is. There are the university men, interested in linguistic criticism, to whom inquiries concerning the origin and nature of living things seem trivial. And even among men of science there are those who, curiously examining the spectra of nebulæ or calculating the masses and motions of double-stars, never pause to contemplate under other than physical aspects the immeasurably vast facts they record. But in both cultured and uncultured there occur lucid intervals. Some, at least, either fill the vacuum by stereotyped answers, or become conscious of unanswered questions of transcendent moment. By those who know much, more than by those who know little, is there felt the need for explanation. Whence this process, inconceivable however symbolized, by which alike the monad and the man build themselves up into their respective structures? What must we say of the life, minute, multitudinous, degraded, which, covering the ocean-floor, occupies by far the larger part of the Earth’s area; and which yet, growing and decaying in utter darkness, presents hundreds of species of a single type? Or, when we think of the myriads of years of the Earth’s past, during which have arisen and passed away low forms of creatures, small and great, which, murdering and being murdered, have gradually evolved, how shall we answer the question—To what end? Ascending to wider problems, in which way are we to interpret the lifelessness of the greater celestial masses—the giant planets and the Sun; in proportion to which the habitable planets are mere nothings? If we pass from these relatively near bodies to the thirty millions of remote suns and solar systems, where shall we find a reason for all this apparently unconscious existence, infinite in amount compared with the existence which is conscious—a waste Universe as it seems? Then behind these mysteries lies the all-embracing mystery—whence this universal transformation which has gone on unceasingly throughout a past eternity and will go on unceasingly throughout a future eternity? And along with this rises the paralyzing thought—what if, of all that is thus incomprehensible to us, there exists no comprehension anywhere? No wonder that men take refuge in authoritative dogma!
So is it, too, with our own natures. No less inscrutable is this complex consciousness which has slowly evolved out of infantine vacuity—consciousness which, in other shapes, is manifested by animate beings at large—consciousness which, during the development of every creature, makes its appearance out of what seems unconscious matter; suggesting the thought that consciousness in some rudimentary form is omnipresent. Lastly come the insoluble questions concerning our own fate: the evidence seeming so strong that the relations of mind and nervous structure are such that cessation of the one accompanies dissolution of the other, while, simultaneously, comes the thought, so strange and so difficult to realize, that with death there lapses both the consciousness of existence and the consciousness of having existed.
Thus religious creeds, which in one way or other occupy the sphere that rational interpretation seeks to occupy and fails, and fails the more the more it seeks, I have come to regard with a sympathy based on community of need: feeling that dissent from them results from inability to accept the solutions offered, joined with the wish that solutions could be found.
[* ]See Dr. E. Hamilton’s Recollections of Fly Fishing, p. 92.