Review of Reviews,  12 (1895), 399–407.

Character Sketch. Mr. Herbert Spencer. By One Who Knows Him



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Evolution, Darwinism, Philosophy, Nomenclature, Natural Law, Engineering, Geology, Creationism, Population, Embryology, Animal Development, Organicism, Biology, Physiological Psychology, Sociology, Publishing, Materialism, Superstition, Religion, Ethics, Reading

    Insists that although Herbert Spencer is not particularly familiar to 'the "man in the street" of our latter-day civilization', and it is 'in foreign nations, above all, that he is known and respected', his contribution to modern British thought has been enormous, and, indeed, 'unconsciously to ourselves, we are all Spencerians'. It is, after all, to Spencer that 'we owe distinctively the general doctrine of evolution as a whole: to Darwin we owe only the minor principle of the origin of species by natural selection'. (399) Spencer even gave this particular principle 'the alternative name of "Survival of the Fittest", by which it is now perhaps even more familiar than by the one it received from its original sponsor', although Spencer himself has 'never accepted the all-sufficiency of natural selection' proclaimed by 'the younger and more dogmatic followers of Darwin' (403). Contends that 'evolutionism was not the work of a single mind, or even of a group of minds; it was a necessary moment and foregone conclusion in the slow unrolling of human thought with regard to the origin and system of the universe. It was itself evolved by slow degrees in a hundred minds; and each step in the process was almost necessarily implied by the various steps that had already preceded it' (401). Unlike all other evolutionary thinkers, however, Spencer provided 'a broad philosophical and organising mind capable of taking up these scattered strands, and weaving them into the tissue of a coherent system' (402). Recommends F Howard Collins' Epitome of the Synthetic Philosophy as 'a refresher or index', but insists that 'you must read the "Synthetic Philosophy" through, not once or twice, but "tearfully and prayerfully" many times over' in order to 'assimilate its inner meaning'. Also warns that 'If there is anything that you believe, and you don't want to be disturbed in your belief, my advice to you is—avoid Herbert Spencer. You will find your whole social, moral, religious, and political world turned topsy-turvy before your very eyes, and you will be compelled to think, whether you like it or lump it' (407). Nevertheless, Spencer is 'by no means a materialist. Though his attitude may best, perhaps, be described as one of ultimate Monism, he is, on the whole, rather more spiritual and ideal than material' (406).

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