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The Study Of Literature
English Literature Of The 19th Century:
 John Richard Green

 Alexander William Kinglake

 Poets Of The Later Victorian Period

 William Morris

 Algernon Charles Swinburne

 Sir Edwin Arnold

 William Watson

 Alfred Austin

 Herbert Spencer

 Henry Drummond

 Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century

Herbert Spencer

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The philosophical writer who has had the widest and most penetrating influence upon the intellect of the Century is Herbert Spencer, the apostle of evolution, even beyond Darwin. He was born in 182o at Derby, where his father was a schoolmaster of especial note for his skill in teaching geometry. Herbert, at the age of seventeen, became a railway engineer and soon contributed papers on technical subjects to engineering journals. In 1842 he published a pamphlet on "The Proper Sphere of Government," and in 1848 was made sub-editor of the "Economist," which position he held five years. He had in the meantime published "Social Statics; or the Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified, and the First of Them Developed," which was in 1892 abridged and revised in connection with his later "Man and the State." In 1852 Spencer contributed to the "Westminster Review" an article on "Manners and Fashion," showing that political, religious and ceremonial forms are protective envelopes within which a higher humanity is gradually developed, but are cast aside when they become hindrances. In 1855 he published his "Principles of Psychology," which was afterward incorporated in his "Synthetic Philosophy." In 186o his prospectus of this system was issued, announcing that it would be complete in ten volumes. The next twenty-five years were spent in carrying out this elaborate programme with immense labor and phenomenal ability. The doctrine of evolution, toward which he had been moving even before Darwin had published his "Origin of Species," was now made the basis and guide in all human affairs as in the world of nature. Evolution he defines to be "an integration of matter and concomitant dissipation of motion, during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity." After the introductory treatise on "First Principles" (1862), came "Principles of Biology," of "Psychology," of "Sociology," "Ceremonial Institutions," "Political Institutions," "Ecclesiastical Institutions." The "Data of Ethics" was issued among these, out of its proper order on account of its importance. The sciences relating to the inorganic world he omitted as sufficiently treated in other ways. The aim of his philosophy is to encourage the scientific study of life and society as the practical means of attaining the highest good The absolute and infinite is regarded as unknowable, though the exercise of trying to find it out may not be altogether unprofitable.

Before this grand work was fairly commenced, Spencer issued his valuable treatise on "Education Intellectual, Moral and Physical," from which a few principles are here briefly stated. Science is compared to Cinderella, the household drudge, who has been despised by her haughty sisters, but is now to be advanced to the highest station. Knowledge must be made attractive to the pupil if he is to be benefited. The aim of moral education is to make self-governing beings. The preservation of health is a primary duty for the discharge of which the laws governing the body must be known. All of these principles have been approved and put in practice by the leading teachers of today.

The next in popularity of Spencer's work is "The Study of Sociology" (1874) which sets forth the means of ascertaining the principles by which human society should be regulated. His political views are presented in "The Man versus the State" (1884), in which he opposes the later tendency of Liberalism to compulsory laws, making it indeed a new form of Toryism; he also objects to the belief in the divine right of Parliament as the great political superstition of the present time, as the belief in the divine right of Kings was of the past. The only proper function of government, as he has always held, is to protect life, property and order, leaving the settlement of the general relations of society to individual action. Spencer has thus been a determined foe of Socialism and an advocate of individualism. He has not hesitated to enter into controversy on behalf of his views. Herbert Spencer was also the editor of a series of volumes called "Descriptive Sociology," in which it was intended to bring together a repertory of facts concerning the physique, habits and customs of several sections of the human race. Eight volumes had been issued when the work was suspended on account of the enormous expense involved. In spite of ill health, which threatened to prevent the conclusion of his proposed great "Synthetic System of Philosophy," Spencer worked steadily and systematically till it was completed in 1897. He persistently refused to join scientific societies or accept university honors or do anything which might distract him from his self-appointed work.

Spencer's idea of evolution was gradually worked out through diligent study of scientific facts, and was eventually extended till it embraced the whole universe. Then in explication of his system he reversed the process, applying his theory to the basic conditions of the world, and showing its agreement with recorded facts. This requires that immense amount of illustration from every department of science, with which his work seems to some to be overloaded. His philosophical system, the only strictly inductive one in the world, has quickly been accepted by students of science, and has gradually won its way among philosophers. Its far-reaching effects are felt in every department of thought.

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