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Herbert Spencer
by [?]

His standard of life was high–his sense of justice firm; with pretense and hypocrisy he had little patience, while for the criminal he had a profound pity.

Music was to him a relaxation and a rest. He knew the science of composition, and was familiar in detail with the best work of the great composers.

In order to preserve the quiet of his thoughts in the boarding-house, he devised a pair of ear-muffs which fitted on his head with a spring.

If the conversation took a turn in which he had no interest, he would excuse himself to his nearest neighbor and put on his ear-muffs. The plan worked so well that he carried them with him wherever he went, and occasionally at lectures or concerts, when he would grow more interested in his thoughts than in the performance, he would adjust his patent.

So well pleased was he with his experiment that he had a dozen pairs of the ear-muffs made one Christmas and gave them to friends, but it is hardly probable they had the hardihood to carry them to a Four-o’Clock. Seldom, indeed, is there a man who prizes his thoughts more than a polite appearance.

In an address before the London Medical Society, in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-one, Spencer said, “The man who does not believe in devils during his life, will probably never be visited by devils on his deathbed.” Herbert Spencer died December Eighth, Nineteen Hundred Three, in his eighty-fourth year. Up to within two days of his death, his mind was clear, active and alert, and he worked at his books with pleasure and animation–revising, correcting and amending. He never lost the calm serenity of life. He sank gradually into sleep and passed painlessly away. And thus was gracefully rounded out the greatest life of its age–The Age of Herbert Spencer.

He left no request as to where he should be buried, but the thinking people who recognized his genius considered Westminster Abbey the fitting place–an honor to England’s Valhalla. The Church of England denied him a place there before it was asked, and the hallowed precincts which shelter the remains of Queen Anne’s cook and John Broughton the pugilist are not for Herbert Spencer. His dust does not rest in consecrated ground.

Herbert Spencer had no titles nor degrees–he belonged to no sect, party, nor society. Practically, he had no recognition in England until after he was sixty years of age. America first saw his star in the east, and long before the first edition of “Social Statics” had been sold, we waived the matter of copyright and were issuing the book here. On receiving a volume of the pirated edition, the author paraphrased Byron’s famous mot, and grimly said, “Now, Barabbas was an American.”

However, Spencer was really pleased to think that America should steal his book; we wanted it–the English didn’t. It took him twelve years to dispose of the seven hundred fifty volumes, and most of these were given away as inscribed copies. They lasted about as long as Walt Whitman’s first edition of “Leaves of Grass,” although Whitman had the assistance of the Attorney-General of Massachusetts in advertising his remarkable volume.

Henry Thoreau’s first book fared better, for when the house burned where the remnant of four hundred copies lingered long, he wrote to a friend, “Thank God, the edition is exhausted.”

England recognized the worth of Thoreau and Whitman long before America did; and so, perhaps, it was meet that we should do as much for Spencer, Ruskin and Carlyle.

One of the most valuable of the many great thoughts evolved by Spencer was on the “Art of Mentation,” or brain-building. You can not afford to fix your mind on devils or hell, or on any other form of fear, hate and revenge. Of course, hell is for others, and the devils we believe in are not for ourselves. But the thoughts of these things are registered in the brain, and the hell we create for others, we ourselves eventually fall into; and the devils we conjure forth, return and become our inseparable companions. That is to say, all thought and all work–all effort–are for the doer primarily, and as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. This sounds like the language of metaphysics, which Kant said was the science of disordered moonshine. But Herbert Spencer’s work was all a matter of analytical demonstration. And while the word “materialist” was everywhere applied to him, and he did not resent it, yet he was one of the most spiritual of men. A meta-physician is one who proves ten times as much as he believes; a scientist is one who believes ten times as much as he can prove. Science speaks with lowered voice. Before Spencer’s time, German scientists had discovered that the cell was the anatomical unit of life, but it was for Spencer to show that it was also the psychologic or spiritual unit. New thoughts mean new brain-cells, and every new experience or emotion is building and strengthening a certain area of brain-tissue. We grow only through exercise, and all expression is exercise. The faculties we use grow strong, and those not used, atrophy and wither away. This is no less true, said Spencer, in the material brain than in the material muscle. A new thought causes a new structural enregistration. If it is the repetition of thought, the cells holding that thought are exercised and trained, and finally they act automatically, and repeated thought becomes habit, and exercised habit becomes character–and character is the man. It thus is plain that no man can afford to entertain the thought of fear, hate and revenge–and their concomitants, devils and hell–because he is enregistering these things physically in his being. These physical cells, as science has shown, are transmitted to offspring; and thus through continued mind-activity and consequent brain-cell building, a race with fixed characteristics is evolved. Pleasant memories and good thoughts must be exercised, and these in time will replace evil memories, so that the cells containing negative characteristics will atrophy and die. And when Herbert Spencer says that the process of doing away with evil is not through punishment, threat or injunction, but simply through a change of activities–thus allowing the bad to die through disuse–he states a truth that is even now coloring our whole fabric of pedagogics and penology. I couple these two words advisedly, for fifty years ago, pedagogics was a form of penology–the boarding-school with its mentors, scheme of fines, repressions and disgrace! And now we have lifted penology into the realm of pedagogics. I doubt me much whether the present penitentiary is a more unhappy place than a boys’ English boarding-school was in the time of Squeers.