Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX H.: HERBERT SPENCER AND HIS AMERICAN FRIENDS. - An Autobiography, vol. 2
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APPENDIX H.: HERBERT SPENCER AND HIS AMERICAN FRIENDS. - Herbert Spencer, An Autobiography, vol. 2 
An Autobiography by Herbert Spencer. Illustrated in Two Volumes. Vol. 2 (New York: D. Appleton and Company 1904).
Part of: An Autobiography
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Your readers will hardly need telling that epistolary humour is not always to be taken literally, and that the phrase about his being “devil’s advocate” to Mr. Spencer (i. 333)—“There is no telling how many brilliant speculations I have been the means of choking in an embryonic state”—is meant rather as a consolation for a young worker in biological science, to whom my father proposed to act in the same useful, if ungrateful capacity, than as a definite statement as to Mr. Spencer’s biological writings, in which, I understand, a comparison of the MSS. with the printed volumes shows the removal of but four* such speculative passages during the proof stage.
HERBERT SPENCER AND HIS AMERICAN FRIENDS.
[Letter published by Prof. Youmans to correct erroneous impressions current in America.]
To the Editor of The Tribune.
I ask a portion of your space to correct certain misstatements which have appeared in the newspapers in reference to the assistance given to Mr. Herbert Spencer from this country in publishing his works. Repeated contradictions of these erroneous statements have already appeared in your columns, but they seem to have failed of their purpose, as the following extract from a recent evening paper will show. The writer said: “The considerable sums that have been transmitted to Mr. Spencer from his American publishers have been the means, as he himself has borne witness, of enabling him to apply himself in singleness of purpose to the one great life-work. If Mr. Spencer should be spared to us only long enough to complete this work (the philosophical system) it is significant to consider it will be to his American revenue that the saving from frittering bread-and-butter work, which would otherwise have been a necessity, of fruitful years sufficient to its completion will be due.”
It is no doubt a creditable thing that a few persons in this country, seeing the great public importance of Mr. Spencer’s labors, and learning that they were in peril of interruption for lack of support, contributed liberally to prevent a result which they believed would be a public calamity; but if the matter is to be talked about and boasted of as a national honor, it becomes important to know exactly how the case stands. A glance at the facts will show that the writer above quoted claims altogether too much. The circumstances were these.
During the early part of his career as a philosophical writer, Mr. Spencer was habitually a loser by his labors; not simply in devoting time without return, but in having to spend in publication sums which were only in part repaid by sales, and he was consequently forced to make repeated inroads upon his property. His projected philosophical system was a formidable undertaking which he expected to occupy twenty years of time, and which would involve heavy expenditure, which no publisher would undertake. To meet this he chose the form of subscription as the only plan holding out any inducement of enabling him to prosecute the work. Accepting the assurances he received that it would be sustained, he commenced publication in 1860, with about 450 English subscribers and about 250 from this country. But owing to causes which need not be named the enterprise was not sustained. In two or three years the English subscription fell off to about 300 and the American ceased entirely. His American publishers paid him a copyright on his books, but that, with the proceeds from the English subscriptions, was insufficient to protect him from loss. Early in 1866 he found, upon examining into his affairs, that spite of every effort to economize he had, in the course of his literary career, frittered away nearly $6,000, and that if he went on much longer in the same way nothing would be left; and so, with much reluctance, he announced the discontinuance of the serial.
But English thinkers were by no means indifferent to the fate of the undertaking. Mr. Mill made a noble proposal, offering to assume the entire pecuniary responsibility of going on with the work, but Mr. Spencer declined it. A movement was afterward made by certain leading scientific men to secure an artificial increase in the circulation of his serial. This Mr. Spencer at first resisted, but was afterwards induced to consent to the arrangement in a qualified form. While the matter was pending, however, the sudden death of Mr. Spencer’s father occurred, and altered the aspect of the case; so that he at once canceled the arrangement, and resolved to continue the work at his own expense.
Meantime, moved by the announcement that Mr. Spencer’s series was to stop for lack of support, and knowing that he had been a heavy loser by the publication of works of great value to the public, some of his American friends contributed a sum to repay his losses, and help the project on; and in July, 1866, when going to England, I was commissioned to hand over to Mr. Spencer the documents showing that $7,000 had been invested in his name in American securities. The funds were not sent to him as a largess, or because he was personally in want of them, but they were sent to aid in carrying on an extensive and very important work which was threatened with arrest because of non-support. Mr. Spencer was not consulted, and the thing was so done that he had no choice but to acquiesce in the arrangement. The spirit in which he did it is shown in the following letter:
My Dear Sir: Though my friend Dr. Youmans, by expressions in his letters, had led me to suppose that something was likely to be done in the United States with the view of preventing the suspension of my work, yet I was wholly unprepared for anything so generous as that which I learned from your letter of June 25. In ignorance of the steps that were being taken, I had thought that possibly a revival and extension of the American list of subscribers would be attempted; and my thought having taken this direction, the unexpected munificence of my American friends quite astonished me, as it has astonished all to whom I have named it. Not simply the act itself, but also the manner in which the act has been done, is extremely gratifying to me. Possibly you are aware that while on the one hand I had decided that I ought not to continue sacrificing what little property I possess, I had, on the other hand, resolved not to place myself in any questionable position; and, in pursuance of this resolve, I had negatived sundry proposals made here in furtherance of my undertaking. But the course adopted by my American friends is one which appears to give me no alternative save that of yielding. Already in the case of the profits accruing from republished works, which I declined to receive unless the cost of the stereotype plates had been repaid to those who furnished the funds, they defeated me by saying that if I did not draw the proceeds they would remain in Messrs. Appleton’s hands; and I foresee that were I now to be restive under their kindness, they would probably take an analogous step. I therefore submit, and I feel less hesitation in doing this because the strong sympathy with my aims which has from the beginning been manifested in the United States, makes me feel that impersonal rather than personal considerations move those who have acted in the matter, and should also guide me. Will you, therefore, be so good as to say to all who have joined in raising this magnificent gift, which more than replaces what I have lost during the last 16 years, that I accept it as a trust to be used to public ends, and that, at the same time, feelings of another kind compel me to express my gratitude as well as my admiration. Let me add that while the material results of their act will be that of greatly facilitating my labors, the approval conveyed by it in so unparalleled a way from readers of another nation, cannot fail to be a moral stimulus and support of great value to me. Believe me, my dear Sir, very sincerely yours,
Robert B. Minturn,Esq., New-York.
Mr. Spencer’s statement that the action of his American friends would have the effect of greatly facilitating his labors, soon proved true, and in a way that he himself hardly anticipated. Instead of continuing to employ a youth as an amanuensis, he was able to engage a gentleman of university education to give him assistance of a higher kind. Not, indeed, that he wanted this assistance to carry on his regular philosophical series; but he foresaw that in dealing with the “Principles of Sociology” (the great work of his system in three volumes), he would require the collection and classification of a very large amount of materials. This was begun in 1867, simply with a view of facilitating his own work, but it quickly proved to be so important that Mr. Spencer decided to have it carried out for general use. Though subsidiary to his main enterprise this was an immense undertaking, and one which is destined to prove of great public moment. Mr. Spencer wanted the most comprehensive and accurate knowledge concerning all the diversified phases of human society, as a basis of inquiry into the laws of its development. Devising a method by which the different orders of sociological facts could be tabulated, and readily compared, he divided the races of mankind into three great groups—the existing savage races, the existing civilized races, and the extinct civilized races—with the view of working out the whole subject in the most exhaustive manner. He has engaged three gentlemen of the requisite qualifications to take each a division of the work and devote to it five years of research. The work is already considerably advanced, and portions of the “Descriptive Sociology,” as it will be called, have been slowly passing through the press for the last two years, and Mr. Spencer hopes to be able to issue the first numbers in the course of the Autumn.
These statements will make manifest the nature of the misapprehension that has arisen. When, a few months ago, in a letter to Mr. Appleton, part of which appeared in The Evening Post, Mr. Spencer said that his chief reason for gratification at the increase of returns from this country, was that he would be able to push forward more rapidly the sociological tables, the allusion was to this supplementary undertaking. Of course the outlay implied by it, including the cost of printing only, to be returned after a considerable time, is great; and the rate of progress is determined by his ability to meet this cost. The reference of the above-quoted writer to Mr. Spencer, as having himself borne witness to the importance of his American receipts, must therefore be interpreted by these facts. Although he has received probably more sympathetic encouragement from this country than from his own, and although more of his books have been sold here than there, yet it is neither true that he has received more money from his American than from his English sales, nor that his American income could have alone sustained him, nor that the continuance of his “System of Philosophy” was dependent upon assistance from the United States. Mr. Spencer is very far from underrating the great benefits he has derived from American appreciation and American generosity; but if claims are to be made as to who shall have credit in the matter, he has a right to ask that no injustice be done to his English friends, who were equally appreciative of his work, and equally generous in their proposals to sustain it.
New York, June 5, 1872.
E. L. Youmans.
[* ][Not quite correct. There were two in First Principles and two in the Biology.]