**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Herbert Spencer
by [?]

When thirteen years old Herbert went to live with his uncle, the Reverend Thomas Spencer, at Bath. Here the same methods of education were continued that had been begun at home–conversation, history in the form of story-telling, walks and talks, and mathematical calculations carried out as pleasing puzzles. In mathematics the boy made rapid progress, but the faculty of observation was the dominant one. Every phase of cloud and sky, of water and earth, rock and mountain, bird and bush, plant and tree, was curious to him. He kept a journal of his observations, which had the double advantage of deepening his impressions by recounting them, and second, it taught him the use of language.

The best way to learn to write is to write. Herbert Spencer never studied grammar until he had learned to write. He took his grammar at sixty, which is a good age to begin this interesting study, as by that time you have largely lost your capacity to sin. Men who swim exceedingly well are not those who have taken courses in the theory of swimming at natatoriums from professors of the amphibian art–they were boys who just jumped in. Correspondence-schools for the taming of broncos are as naught; and treatises on the gentle art of wooing are of no avail–follow Nature’s lead. Grammar is the appendenda vermiformis of pedagogics: it is as useless as the letter q in the alphabet, or as the proverbial two tails to a cat, which no cat ever had, and the finest cat in the world, the Manx cat, has no tail at all.

“The literary style of most university men is commonplace, when not positively bad,” wrote Herbert Spencer in his old age. “Educated Englishmen all write alike,” said Taine. That is to say, they have no literary style, for style is character, individuality–the style is the man. And grammar tends to obliterate all individuality. No study is so irksome to everybody, except to the sciolists who teach it, as grammar. It remains forever a bad taste in the mouth of the man of ideas, and has weaned bright minds innumerable from all desire to express themselves through the written word. Grammar is the etiquette of words, and the man who does not know how to properly salute his grandmother on the street until he has consulted a book, is always so troubled about his tenses that his fancies break through language and escape.

Orators who keep their thoughts upon the proper way to gesticulate in curves impress nobody. If poor grammar were a sin against decency, or an attempt to poison the minds of the people, it might be wise enough to hire men to protect the well of English from defilement. But a stationary language is a dead one–moving water only is pure–and the well that is not fed by springs is a breeding-place for disease. Let men express themselves in their own way, and if they express themselves poorly, look you, their punishment shall be that no one will read them. Oblivion, with her smother-blanket, waits for the writer who has nothing to say and says it faultlessly. In the making of hare-soup, I am told the first requisite is to catch your hare. The literary scullion who has anything to offer a hungry world will doubtless find a way to fricassee it.

* * * * *

When seventeen, Herbert Spencer was apprenticed to a surveyor on the London and Birmingham Railway. The pay was meager–board and keep and five pounds for the first year, with ten pounds the second year “if he deserved it.” However, school-teachers and clergymen are used to small reward, and to make a living for one’s self was no small matter to the Spencers. The youth who has gotten his physical growth should earn his own living, this as a necessary factor in his further mental evolution.