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FACTS AND COMMENTS



FACTS AND COMMENTS



BY



HERBERT SPENCER




NEW YORK AND LONDON

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

1910



Copyright, 1902
By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY



3



I 653
fll



PKEFACE



\^



During the years spent in writing various sys-
K^ tematic works, there have from time to time arisen
ideas not fitted for incorporation in them. Many of
these have found places in articles published in re-
views, and are now collected together in the three
volumes of my essays. But there remain a number
which have not yet found expression: some of them
relatively trivial, some of more interest, and some
which I think are important.

I have felt reluctant to let these pass unrecorded,
and hence during the last two years, at intervals now
long and now short, have set them down in the fol-
lowing pages. Possibly to a second edition I shall
make some small additions, but, be this as it may, the
volume herewith issued I can say with certainty will

be my last.

H. S.

Brighton, llarch, 1903.



215857



CONTENTS.



PAGB

A Business Principle 1

Some Regkets 6

A Problem 13

A Few Americanisms 16

Presence of Mind 19

The Corruption of Music 26

Spontaneous Reform 29

Feeling versus Intellect ,35

The Purpose of Art ,44

Some Questions 49

The Origin of Music 52

Developed Music 61

Estimates of Men 79

State Education .'' 83

The Closing Hours 94

Style 97

Style Continued 106

Meyerbeer 113

The Pursuit of Prettiness 116

Patriotism , 123

Some Light on Use-Inheritance 128

Party Government 135

Exaggerations and Mis-statements 145

Imperulism and Slavery ...,,.. 157

Tii



yiii CONTENTS.

PA08

Re-barb ARIZ ATioN .172

Regimentation • 189

Weather Forecasts 201

The Regressive Multiplication of Causes . . . 210

Sanitation in Theory and Practice 216

Gymnastics 225

Euthanasia 231

The Reform of Company-Law 234

Some Musical Heresies 245

Distinguished Dissenters 258

Barbaric Art 265

Vaccination * . • 270

Perverted History 274

Grammar 280

What should the Sceptic say to Believers? . , , 292

Ultimate Questions! 300

Appendix— Some Experiences of Criticism . . . 305



FACTS AND COMMENTS.



A BUSINESS-PRINCIPLE.

Among the many cases of malpractices by solicit-
ors recently brought to light, one is especially strik-
ing as seeming at variance with all probability. To
suppose that a solicitor who has been President of
The Incorporated Law Society and also chairman of
its Disciplinary Committee could be guilty of divert-
ing to his own use large sums belonging to clients,
seems contrary to common sense. " Surely here is
a man who may be implicitly trusted," would be the
remark made to any one who doubted the wisdom
of giving him unchecked administrative power. As
we see, however, the scepticism would have been
justified.

Not unfrequently I have been astonished at the
confidence with which men deliver their securities
and the control of important transactions to their
legal agents. " Everybody does it," each thinks to
himself, " and I suppose I may safely do it." This
unlimited trust seems the more remarkable after
considering the utter absence of trust shown by the

1



2 A BUSINESS-PRINCIPLE.

various deeds and documents left In a lawyer's Lands.
Eacli of tliese amounts to an elaborate profession of
distrust in tliose ■with whom business-transactions
have been, or arc, or will be, carried on. Clauses
are inserted to shut out all possibilities of evasion or
perversion, and the whole is so witnessed as to insure
that the specified claims and liabilities can be legally
proved. Yet all these precautions having been
taken, the security supposed to be gained is aban-
doned. Everything is placed In the legal agent's
hands, trusting that he will act honestly; and this
notwithstanding the fact that the repute alike of
law and of lawyers Is not of the highest! Surely a
surprising inconsistency!

Many years ago, when on the managing conmilt-
tee of a club, I disgusted the secretary by remarking
that in matters of administration, as In matters of
business at large, the maxim should be: — Do not
suppose things are going right till it is proved they
are going wrong, but rather suppose they are going
wrong till it is proved they are going right. This
was a hard saying for an official to hear; but I hold
it to be a saying worthy of recognition by those who
are concerned with affairs, private or public. While
Ignoring thls-^flile of conduct In the many cases
where It Is most Important to follow It, the mass of
people follow it tacitly, If not avowedly, in respect
of ordinary transactions. What Is the meaning of



A BUSINESS-PRINCIPLE. 3

taking a receipt, if not an implied belief in the need
for excluding the possibility of going wrong? "Wliat
are the detailed specifications of every contract and
the naming of penalties in case of non-performance?
What is the requiring of security when engaging an
employe? Or what are the many clauses in an Act
of Parliament which are inserted to prevent evasion ?
These are all recognitions of the truth that things
will go wrong unless they are made to go right. And
has not every one daily proof of this in the briberies
of servants by tradesmen, the illicit commissions of
agents, the favouritism shown to certain Government
contractors, the purchasing of titled names to
strengthen the directing boards of new schemes?
Yet in certain spheres confidence continues undimin-
ished and scepticism is reprobated. See for example
the history of bank-failures, repeated generation
after generation, nearly all resulting from this habit
of supposing that things are going right because it
has not been shown that they are going wrong.
Though managers who have embezzled, directors
who have drawn on the funds of the bank for their
own uses, and boards who have launched into wild
speculations, have time after time shown the proprie-
taries the need for such measures as shall bring to
light misdoings before they have reached great pro-
portions, no safeguards are sought. Almost Incredi-
ble is the way in which auditors are usually ap-



4 A BUSINESS-PRINCIPLE.

pointed to banking companies and to companies at
large. Manifestly the institution of an audit was
suggested by tbe experience tbat managers or man-
aging bodies could not be implicitly trusted to make
exact statements of tlie finances, but needed check-
ing by an independent person. The need having
been recognized, one might have supposed that care
would be taken that the check should continue effi-
cient. But we see no care taken. Year after year
reports of company-meetings state that auditors re-
tire but are eligible for re-election, and they are
forthwith re-elected; so that if there should be any-
thing wrong in their own doings, or in their rela-
tions with the managing body, there is no likelihood
of disclosure. The truth that for a system of au-
dit to be efficient the auditors should be frequently
changed, passes unregarded. Doubtless inconve-
nience will be alleged as a reason for not changing;
but inconvenience attends every safeguard. You can-
not be insured against fire or accident for nothing;
and you cannot be insured against dishonesty without
paying.

While taught, and professing to believe, that the
human heart is deceitful above all things and desper-
ately wicked, men in cases like these tacitly assume
that the human heart is not at all wicked and is quite
trustworthy. The rational belief lies between these
extremes. It should ever be borne in mind that with



A BUSINESS-PRINCIPLE. 5

a type of human nature sucli as now exists, going
wrong is certain to occur in course of time if there
are left any openings for going wrong, and that the
only prudent course is to be ever seeking out the
openings and stopping them up.



SOME EEGRETS.

In a paragraph quoted with, applause from Mr.
Ruskin, I met the statement that " all other efforts in
education are futile till you have taught your people
to love fields, birds, and flowers." Merely noting
that in the absence of a predisposition no amount of
teaching will produce such a love, I make the obvious
remark that life as a whole is not to be included in
a love of l^ature; and I point the remark by asking
what must be thought of Dr. Johnson? Almost de-
void though he was of the sense of natural beauty,
few will dare to contend that his education was futile.
But we have in this • assertion one of those multi-
tudinous random exaggerations characterizing Mr.
Euskin's writings.

In reasonable measure the sentiment he expresses
is shared in by most people, and by me is shared in
very largely. Often when among the Scotch moun-
tains I have pleased myself with the thought that
their sides can never be brought under the plough:
here at least ISTature must ever remain unsubdued.
Though subordination to human wants is sometimes
suggested by the faint tinklings of distant sheep-



SOME REGRETS. 7

bells, or by some deer on the sky-line, yet tliese do not
deduct from, but rather add to, the poetry of the
scene. In such places one may forget for a while the
prosaic aspects of civilization.

I detest that conception of social progress which
presents as its aim, increase of population, growth of
wealth, spread of commerce. In the politico-eco-
nomic ideal of human existence there is contemplated
quantity only and not quality. Instead of an im-
mense amount of life of low type I would far sooner
see half the amount of life of a high type. A pros-
perity which is exhibited in Board-of-Trade tables
year by year increasing their totals, is to a large ex-
tent not a prosperity but an adversity. Increase in
the swarms of people whose existence is subordinated
to material development is rather to be lamented than
to be rejoiced over. AYe assume that our form of
social life under which, speaking generally, men toil
to-day that they may gain the means of toiling to-
morrow, is a satisfactory form, and profess ourselves
anxious to spread it all over the world; while we
speak with reprobation of the relatively easy and con-
tented lives passed by many of the peoples we call
uncivilized. But the ideal we cherish is a transitory
one — appropriate, perhaps, to a phase of human de-
velopment during which the passing generations are
sacrificed in the process of making easier the lives of
future generations. Intrinsically, a state in which



8 SOME REGRETS.

our advance is measured by spread of manufactures
and a concomitant production of such regions as the
" Black Country," looking as though it had lately
been invaded by an army of chimney-sweeps, is a
state to be emerged from as quickly as may be. It
is a state which in sundry respects compares ill wnth
the past, and is far from that which we may hope
will be attained in the future.

One of its evil results is the threatened sub-
mergence of those still-remaining traces of a life
which, though ruder and simpler, left men some
leisure in which to live.

This over-running of the old by the new strikes
me afresh with every summer's sojourn in the coun-
try, and deepens my regret. An American lady, after
staying for some time in England, expressed to me
the opinion that a country without ruined castles and
abbeys is not worth living in. I fully understood her
feeling and to a considerable extent sympathized with
her. Though intensely modern and having but small
respect for ancient ideas and institutions, I have
great pleasure in contemplating the remains be-
queathed by the times that are gone. I^ot that the
interest is in any degree an historical one. A guide
who begins his daily repeated series of facts or fic-
tions about the ancient place he is showing me over,
quickly has his story cut short. I do not care to be
distracted by it from the impression of antiquity and



SOME REGRETS. 9

from enjoyment of the half -hidden beauties of the old
walls and arches made more picturesque by decay.
And so is it with the old rural life that is rapidly
passing away as towns and town-habits and town-
ideas invade the country.

As in numerous parts of the Earth appropriated
by us the native races are being " improved " out of
existence, so at home the progress of " improvement "
is yearly leaving less and less of the things which
made the country attractive. Under the western end
of the South Downs, where I have taken up my abode
this season, daily drives show me beauties future gen-
erations will not see. The vast hedges overrun with
clematis, and bryony, and wild hop, occupying as
they do great breadths and casting wide shadows, are
not tolerated by the advanced agriculturist. It is the
same with the broad strips of greensward and wild
flowers bordering the by-roads, no less than with the
tortuous lanes, such as those around Woolbeding and
Iping, where the track, deep down below the surface,
is over-arched by foliage here and there pierced by
sun-gleams. All of them seem fated to go, and to
leave only post-and-rail or wire fences, or dwarf,
closely-cropped hedges. The cottage roofs of thatch
are being everywhere replaced by slate or tile roofs;
and there is a gradual disappearance of half-wooden
houses. Another trait of the country, familiar in my
early days, is disappearing. Where a brook crossed
2



10 SOME REGRETS.

tlie road, a couple of planks and a handrail served to
carry over pedestrians, while horses, carts, and car-
riages had to go through the water: an inconvenience
only in times of flood. But now County Councils
with members severally anxious to gain popularity
by proposing something which " gives work," will
soon replace all these by brick or stone bridges. Only
here and there, where a path through the fields is car-
ried over a small stream by a foot-bridge, will it still
be possible to lean over the handrail and watch the
minnows as they slowly come out of their hiding-
places into which your shadow had frightened them.

Various usages, too, which as seen in recollection
are picturesque, are disappearing. ITowadays it is a
rare thing to find gleaners; and in many parts of
the country the gathering of mushrooms is forbid-
den. "No longer when passing a barn on a winter's
day may one hear the alternating thuds of the flails,
and no longer may one be awakened on a bright morn-
ing in June by the sharpening of scythes — a sound
so disagreeable in itself but made so delightful by its
associations.

While in some respects we may envy posterity, we
may in one respect pity them. This disappearance
of remnants and traces of earlier forms of life, intrin-
sically picturesque as well as picturesque by associa-
tion, will deprive them of much poetry which now
relieves the prose of life. Everywhere it is the same.



SOME REGRETS. 11

Egypt, made like Europe by railways, steamboats,
and hotels scattered along tlie Nile, will soon cease
to excite the feelings proper to its antiquity. Mod-
ernized Rome is losing all likeness to Rome as it was
even fifty years ago. And liere around us tlie ro-
mance of tbe past is being extinguished by the dull
realities of the present. Of course we shall bequeath
many remains of existing civilization; but it may well
be doubted whether they will be as interesting as
those which old times have bequeathed to us.



A PEOBLEM.

People devoid of musical perceptions have some
compensations: one of them being that they are not
persecuted by tunes which have obtained lodgments
in consciousness and cannot for a time be expelled.
Most if not all who have ordinarily good ears are
liable to be annoyed by these invading melodies —
often those vulgar ones originating in music-halls and
everywhere repeated by street-pianos. One remedy
for the evil, which is temporarily if not permanently
efficient, is that of voluntarily taking up in thought
some other melody: the result being that as con-
sciousness will not contain both, the original intruder
is for a time extruded. There is some danger, how-
ever, that the invited occupant will get possession in-
stead. This, however, by the way.

My reason for referring to this annoyance is that
the associated facts throw a side-light on the dispute
concerning the Ego. Metaphysical discussions often
postulate the innate knowledge of a distinct, coherent,
ever-present personality. With some it is an axiom
that along with the consciousness of objective exist-
ence there is indissolubly joined the consciousness of

12



A PROBLEM. 13

subjective existence — the idea of Self is inseparable
from the idea of not-Self. This dogma appears at
first sight unassailable. But when the consciousness
of Self is critically examined, difficulties present
themselves ; and, among them, difficulties of the class
I have just exemplified. For it is not always possible
to say of certain portions of consciousness whether
they are to be included in the Ego or not. In the in-
stance named the reason for doubt is conspicuous;
and it is especially conspicuous when, as in my own
case and in the cases of others I have cross-ques-
tioned, the intruding melody persists during sleep.
Repeatedly I have observed on awaking that it was
the first thing of which I was conscious. What then
is the mode of existence of this organized set of tones,
so coherent that when partly repeated it insists on
completing itself, and then after an instant recom-
mences? In what way does this rebellious portion of
consciousness stand related to the rest? We can hard-
ly include it in what we call the Ego, seeing that the
Ego continually tries to repress it and fails. And
yet if it is not a part of the Ego, what is it?

There are numerous facts of kindred nature.
When I look at my hand the impression received un-
questionably forms part of my consciousness —
whether to be considered as a passing phase of the
Ego itself, or as an effect wrought on it, is a question
we may leave undiscussed. But now near the margin



14 A PROBLEM.

of the large visual area which takes in multitudinous
objects in the room, there is on the one side a vague
impression of the fireplace, of which I may or may
not think, and on the other side, of the window, the
idea of which as a window may or may not enter my
mind. There is also an outermost fringe of the visual
area from which there come to me impressions that
are meaningless unless I turn my eyes towards their
source: even if I think of them I cannot, without
moving, tell their natures. In what relations, then,
do these various indefinite impressions stand to the
Egol I cannot even say that they form parts of con-
sciousness in the ordinary sense, since, while observ-
ing things immediately before me, I am scarcely
aware that these remote ones are there, though they
are unquestionably included in the aggregate filling
my mental field. Still less can I say how these vague
outliers stand related to that part of consciousness
which I regard as my mental Self. Like questions
may be raised respecting the desires and emotions,
faint or strong, which often continue to intrude spite
of endeavours to keep them out; and which thus
seem to be modes of consciousness in antagonism with
the consciousness thought of as constituting the Ego.
But the most distinct and striking example of this
detached antagonistic portion of consciousness is that
with which I set out — the invading melody. For its
tones form an organized and integrated cluster of



A niOBLEM. 15

states of consciousness quite independent of sucli part
of consciousness as I call myself, and which is in con-
flict with it and continually triumphs over it.

From the physio-psychological point of view the
interpretation of this phenomenon is not difl&cult ; but
how the pure metaphysician is to solve it I cannot see.



A FEW AMEKICANISMS.

"When to protest against new words or new uses
of old words, and wLitn to accept tliem, is not easy
to decide. If purists had ruled from the beginning,
language would never have progressed. Without
hesitation, however, we may condemn perversions of
words, and may frown on the pedantry which adopts
long words where short ones would be as good or
better.

Some misapplications of words that are common
in America have often vexed me — one especially, the
use of the word " claim " instead of " say " or " as-
sert " or " affirm " or " allege "; e. g. — " I claim that
he knew all about it before he laid the bet." This
abuse has of late, I am sorry to say, made its appear-
ance in English journals of repute, even in The Times.
A monthly magazine furnishes me with a double ex-
ample. An English critic and the American writer
he criticizes, both pervert the word in the space of
three sentences. Speaking of the Cubans the one
says : — " The claim that they are not capable of gov-
erning themselves has not been established in the
writer's experience"; and the other says: — "It is
not intended in this description of affairs to claim
16



A FEW AMERICANISMS. 17

that the Cubans are without faults." This misuse is
inexcusable because there are sundry words serving
rightly to express the intended meaning, while the
word employed does not express it. A thing claimed
is a thing which may be possessed; but one who
claims that A behaved better than B, implies posses-
sion in no sense either actual or potential.

Business men in America often commit another
linguistic outrage — not indeed of the same kind but
of a kind to be strongly reprobated. Here are exam-
ples. " The company have leased the new line and
will operate it." " The cost of operating the factory
has been so-and-so." Everywhere these words replace
the words " work " and " working " — words which,
though open to objection, have not the vice of mere
pedantry. And now this abuse, too, is creeping in
here. I have just met with the sentence : — " Auto-
matic couplers can be operated with ease."

A corruption no less reprehensible, common in
American speech, is the use of " on " in place of
" in " : — " I met him on Broadway " ; " 1 found him
071 the cars." Here we have a deliberate abolition
of a convenient distinction which in good English
is uniformly observed. The word " in " implies in-
closure more or less decided — " in a box," " in a car-
riage." The word " on " negatives inclosure — im-
plies that the object is not shut up, and, further, that
there are no restraining boundaries near it. The dis-



18 A FEW AMERICANISMS.

tinction is marked witli precision in two sucli phrases
as — " in a field " and " on a common " : the circum-
stances being in all respects alike save in the presence
of inclosing fences in the one case and their absence
in the other case. The disuse of this convenient dis-
tinction is a retrograde step, for development of lan-
guage, as of thought, is a progress in establishing dis-
criminations — a making of existing words more precise
and introducing others to mark further differences.

Men ought to regard their language as an in-
heritance to be conserved, and improved so far as that
is possible, and ought not to degrade it by reversion
to lower types. It should be a matter of conscience
not to misuse words; it should also be a matter of
conscience to resist misuse of them. Especially
should our own language be thus guarded. If, as
several unbiassed foreign judges hold, the English
language will be, and ought to be, the universal lan-
guage, it becomes the more a duty to mankind to
check bad habits of speech.

Perhaps a little might be done if in return for
criticisms on Americanisms like those above passed,
Americans were systematically to expose deteriora-
tions in the language as spoken here. They might,
for example, mercilessly ridicule that vulgar misuse
of the word " awfully " which has now continued for
more than a generation. There is plenty of scope for
denouncing of kindred perversions.



PRESENCE OF MIND.

While most faculties admit of increase by edu-
cation, there are some universally recognized as in-
nate, and but little capable of change. "We may in-
clude Presence of Mind among tbese. Still, by cer-
tain disciplines a great faculty of tbis kind may be
made greater and a small one may be to some degree
augmented.

A generation ago the autobiography of a well-
known conjurer or prestidigitateur — it may have been
Houdin — contained an instructive passage, quoted in
a review which I saw. It was to the effect that some-
times the autobiographer and his son, when going
along a street, competed with one another in naming


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Online LibraryHerbert SpencerFacts and comments → online text (page 1 of 18)