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SPENCER. 1. An Autobiography. By Herbert Spencer. Two vols.

London: Williams and Norgate, 1904. 2. Social Statics. By Herbert Spencer. London: Chap

man, 1850.

3. A System of Synthetic Philosophy. By Herbert Spencer.

Ten vols. London: Williams and Norgate, 1862–96.

And other works by the same author. It was eminently in accordance with the fitness of things that the philosopher of evolution should end by writing the evolution of himself; and in spite of its ponderous length and other palpable faults, the result is a very interesting human document. If Spinoza said that he would treat of God and the mind exactly as if he were concerned with lines, planes, and solids, Spencer analyses himself in these pages much as he might dissect a natural history specimen. If we add to the outspoken candour of its self-analysis the unconscious revelations of mind and character of which it is full, and the details which it furnishes of his early upbringing and the history of his ideas, it is manifest that the two volumes give us a much more intimate knowledge than we have hitherto possessed, both of the antecedents of the man and the milieu in which his work was produced. Consequently they must be an important aid to a better estimate of that work, both in its strength and its limitations. The history of an idea or a set of ideas is often the best criticism that can be offered. Of the 'Autobiography' itself, as a literary product, it would be easy to speak too harshly. Some allowance must be made for the circumstances of its composition. Dictated as a rough outline of facts so early as 1875, it was taken up again in 1886 after the last and most serious breakdown in Spencer's health, when more serious mental work was impossible. A little time was spent daily in putting the memoranda into shape; but even this was not done in chronological order. Haunted, as he was apt to be, by the thought that he might not survive to complete the record, he decided to take up first the sections which he deemed of most importance, passing thus freely back and forward

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from one period of his life to another, and gradually filling up the gaps of the narrative as destiny proved kinder than his fears.

Such a desultory mode of composition explains many redundancies and repetitions; and the ebb-tide of mental energy during which much of it took shape may also explain the frequent slackness of style and the prolixity of non-significant detail through which the reader has often to plough his way. There is a lack of proportion in the narrative, especially as it advances in the second volume. Sometimes it is as if the writer were at the mercy of his memoranda ; and we have a chronicle of journeys and incidents possessing no interest beyond the fact that they happened at a certain date, and help Spencer to block out the blank spaces of his memory. At other points an association of ideas betrays him into general reflections; and he airs for a page or two some of his favourite nonconformities,' with which readers of his works are already sufficiently familiar. It is at times -an unkind reader might say in the author's style-as if the centres of inhibition had temporarily abdicated their function. Shall we say that such causes as these help to explain the 1098 pages to which the volumes run? or must this damning fact be ascribed to an egotism so massive and unconscious that it loses all the pettiness of ordinary vanity? Spencer makes an excuse for the egotistic suggestion which the autobiographical form necessarily involves, but it does not seem to have occurred to him that the scale of his posthumous monument would be taken as the true measure of his self-absorption.

Still, after all these grave deductions have been made. the • Autobiography' somehow succeeds in holding the reader's interest and even engaging his sympathy. It lies in the nature of the man who is its subject that we find in it neither the beautiful simplicity of character which charms us in Darwin, nor the vivid personality which gives light and animation to Huxley's Life' Spencer's story owes its attraction chiefly to its frankness, to the transparent honesty of the narrator, and the absence of all affectation or pose.

Paradoxical as the statement may seem in view of Spencer's achievement, the mind here portrayed, save for the command of scientific facts and the wonderful faculty of generalisation, is common

Vol. 200,-No, 399,


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place in the range of its ideas; neither intellectually nor morally is the nature sensitive to the finest issues. Almost uneducated except for a fair acquaintance with mathematics and the scientific knowledge which his own tastes led him to acquire, with the prejudices and limitations of middle-class English Nonconformity, but untouched by its religion, Spencer appears in the early part of his life as a somewhat ordinary young man. His ideals and habits did not differ perceptibly from those of hundreds of intelligent and straight-living Englishmen of his class. And to the end, in spite of his cosmic outlook, there remains this strong admixture of the British Philistine, giving a touch almost of banality to some of his sayings and doings. But, just because the picture is so faithfully drawn, giving us the man in his habit as he lived, with all his limitations and prejudices (and his own consciousness of these limitations, expressed sometimes with a passing regret, but oftener with a childish pride), with all his irritating pedantries and the shallowness of his emotional nature, we can balance against these defects his high integrity and unflinching moral courage, his boundless faith in knowledge and his power of conceiving a great ideal and carrying it through countless difficulties to ultimate realisation, and a certain boyish simplicity of character as well as other gentler human traits, such as his fondness for children, his dependence upon the society of his kind, and his capacity to form and maintain some life-long friendships. A kindly feeling for the narrator grows as we proceed ; and most unprejudiced readers will

l close the book with a genuine respect and esteem for the philosopher in his human aspect.

For the student of Spencer's personality and ideas the opening chapters of his 'natural history,' in which he depicts the stock of which he came and the social surroundings in which his early years were passed, are probably the most valuable. This account of his ancestry in particular the picture of his father and of the uncle who superintended his education--gives us already, in large letters,' some of the most striking intellectual and moral features which we associate with the philosopher. Spencer sums up the outstanding characteristics of the race as 'independence, self-asserting judgment, the tendency to nonconformity, and the unrestrained display of




their sentiments and opinions, more especially in respect of political, social, and ethical matters. A general

absence of reticence' and 'a tendency to disagree' are perhaps simpler and more illuminative phrases. Wesleyanism was traditional in the family; but they dissented more or less from that form of dissent. In the case of Spencer's father, ‘his repugnance to all living authority led him to the Quakers' meeting-house—not, according to his son, because he had adopted any of their special tenets, but because the system was congruous to his nature in respect of its complete individualism and absence of ecclesiastical government.' Among negative traits of the family Spencer instances 'a comparatively small interest in gossip. Their conversation ever tended towards the impersonal. .

There was no considerable leaning towards literature. Their discussions never referred to poetry or fiction or the drama. Nor was the reading of history carried to any extent by them. And though in early life they were all musical, the æsthetic in general had no great attractions. It was rather the scientific interpretations and moral aspects of things which occupied their thoughts.' Ethical and political discussion were the very breath of their nostrils, and they were all reformers of a radical type.

The noteswe get of Spencer's desultory and fragmentary education are also instructive. He had a boy's taste for natural history; and through helping his father to prepare experiments for his pupils he gained some acquaintance with physics and chemistry, and interest sufficient to carry him through a popular manual of the latter subject. In a skipping way he read a good deal in the medical and scientific periodicals lying about the house, besides books of travel and history from the various libraries of the town. During the years of his more systematic education under his uncle the chief feature of the boy was his repugnance to language-study and his leaky memory in that direction. To mathematics he took more kindly. The sum of his acquirements when he returned home at the age of sixteen was meagre enough. "A fair amount of mathematics had been acquired ; and the accompanying discipline had strengthened my reasoning


powers. In the acquisition of languages but trifling success had been achieved ; in French nothing beyond the early part of the grammar and a few pages of a phrase-book; in Greek a little grammar, I suppose, and such knowledge as resulted from rendering into English a few chapters of the New Testament; and in Latin some small ability to translate the easy books given to beginners—always, however, with more or less of blundering. Education at Hinton was not wide in its range. No history was read; there was no culture in general literature; nor had the concrete sciences any place in our course. Poetry and fiction were left out entirely.' For the three and a half years following this, up till his twenty-first birthday, he was learning his profession as an engineer, and actively engaged on the London and Birmingham and other railways then in course of construction. During these important years his mental development continued in the same course. His mathematical studies were carried further; and his letters to his father at this time were filled with geometrical problems and solutions. He did not, however, proceed to the higher developments of the subject, for at a later period we hear of his succumbing to his constitutional idleness' in an attempt to master the differential calculus. The letters also discuss mechanical problems, and contain speculations on various questions in physics. Some lectures on chemistry in the town where he was placed prompted a resumption of that study; and the collection of the fossils disclosed by the railway cuttings through the blue lias clay led to some study of geology and to the purchase of Lyell's ' Principles,' then recently published. But beyond these scientific and practical interests there is no record of those stirrings of the higher life of the imagination or those impulses towards the deeper problems of philosophy and religion which commonly visit thoughtful youth in early years. Spencer, indeed, makes at this time the impression of a matter-of-fact young Englishman of an inventive turn of mind and with a distinct bent towards reflection on physical problems, but without much emotional depth of nature or delicacy of feeling, and with an almost singular absence in his composition of what Carlyle used to call the mystical' element, that is to say, the specifically religious and metaphysical impulse. The religious beliefs in which he had been

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