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Herbert Spencer
by [?]

Neither William George Spencer, Herbert’s father, nor Thomas, his uncle, seemed ever to anticipate that they were helping to develop the greatest thinker of his time. They themselves were obscure men, and quite happy therein, and if young Herbert could attain to a fair degree of physical health, make his living as an honest surveyor or as a teacher of mathematics, it would be all one could reasonably hope for. And thus they lived out the measure of their days, and passed away unaware that this boy they claimed in partnership was to be the maker of an epoch.

Young Spencer began his surveying work by carrying a flag, and soon he was advanced to “chainman.” His skill in mathematics made his services valuable, and his willingness to sit up nights and work out the measurements of the day, so pleased his employer that the letter of the contract was waived and he was paid ten pounds for his first year’s work, instead of five. He invented shorter methods for bridges and culverts, and I believe was the first engineer to build a cantilever railroad-bridge in England.

When he was twenty-one he had so thoroughly mastered the work that his employers offered to place him in charge of a construction-gang at a salary of two hundred pounds a year, which was then considered high pay. He, however, loved liberty more than money, and his tastes were in the direction of invention and science, rather than in working out an immediate practical success for himself.

He returned home and invented a scheme for making type; and had another plan for watchmaking, which he illustrated with painstaking designs. Half of his time was spent in the fields, and he made a large botanical collection–indexing it carefully, with many notes and comments.

He also wrote articles for the “Civil Engineers’ and Artisans’ Journal.” For these he received no pay, but the acceptance of manuscript gives a great glow to a writer’s cosmos: young Spencer was encouraged in the belief that he had something to offer the public. But his father and kinsmen saw only failure in these days of dawdling; and the money being gone, Herbert Spencer, aged twenty-two, went up to London to try to get a renewal of the offer from his old employer.

But things had changed–chances gone are gone forever, and he was told that opportunity knocks but once at each man’s door. Sadly he returned home–not disappointed in himself, but depressed that he should disappoint others. His inventions languished–nobody was interested in them.

To get a living was the problem, and writing seemed the only way. And so he prepared a series of articles for “The Non-Conformist,” and there was enough non-conformity in them so he was paid a small sum for his work. It proved this, though–he could get a living by his pen.

In these “Non-Conformist” articles, Spencer put forth a daring statement concerning the evolution of the soldier, that straightway made him a few enemies, and gave his clerical uncle gooseflesh. His hypothesis was this: When man first evolved out of the Stone Age, and began to live in villages, the oldest and wisest individual was regarded as patriarch or chief. This chief appointed certain men to punish wrongdoers and keep order. But there were always a few who would not work and who, through their violence and contumacious spirit, were finally driven from the camp. Or more likely they fled to escape punishment–which is the same thing–for they were outcasts. These men found refuge in the mountain fastnesses and congregated for two reasons–one, so they could avoid capture, and the other so they could swoop down and “secure their own.” Robbery and commerce came hand in hand, and piracy is almost as natural as production.

Finally, the robbers became such a problem to industry that terms were made with them. Their tribute took the form of a tax, and to make sure that this tax was paid, the robbers protected the people against other robbers. And then, for the first time, the world saw a standing army. An army has two purposes–to protect the people, and to collect the tax for protecting the people.