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Herbert Spencer
by [?]

In the year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-five, Spencer issued his “Principles of Psychology,” showing that the doctrine of evolution was then with him a fixed fact. The struggle was on, and from now forward his life was enlisted to viewing this theory from every side, anticipating every possible objection to it, and restating the case in its relation to every phase of life and nature.

Spencer’s income was small, but his wants were few, and a single room in a boarding-house sufficed for both workshop and sleeping-room. To a degree, he now largely ceased original investigations and made use of the work of others. His intuitive mind, long trained in analytical research, was able to sift the false from the true, the trite from the peculiar, the exceptional from the normal.

* * * * *

The year Eighteen Hundred Sixty should be marked on history’s page with a silver star, for it was in that year that Herbert Spencer issued his famous prospectus setting forth that he was engaged in formulating a system of philosophy which he proposed to issue in periodical parts to subscribers. He then followed with an outline of the ground he intended to cover. Ten volumes would be issued, and he proposed to take twenty years to complete the task.

The entire Synthetic Philosophy was then in his mind and he knew what he wanted to do. The courage and faith of the man were dauntless. Michael Rossetti once said, “Spencer, Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall and Wallace owe nothing to the universities of England, except for the scorn and opposition that have been offered them.” But patriotic Americans and true are glad to remember that it was Professor E. L. Youmans of Yale who made it possible for Spencer to carry out his great plan. Five years after the prospectus was issued, Spencer was again penniless and was thinking seriously of abandoning the project. Youmans heard of this and reissued the prospectus, and sent it out among the thinking men of the world, asking them to subscribe. The announcement was then followed up by letters, and Youmans forced the issue until the sum of seven thousand dollars was raised. This he took over to Europe in person and presented to Spencer, with a gold watch and a box of cigars. Youmans found Spencer at his boarding-house, and together they wandered out in the park, where Youmans presented the philosopher the box of cigars. The great man took out one, cut it in three parts and proceeded to smoke one, then Youmans handed him the gold watch and the draft for the money.

Spencer took the gifts of the watch and cigars and was much moved, but when it was followed by the draft for seven thousand dollars, he merely gasped and said: “Wonderful! Magnificent! Magnificent! Wonderful!” and smoked his third of a cigar in silence. And when he spoke, it was to say: “I think I will have to revise what I wrote in ‘First Principles’ on the matter of divine providence.”

Those who have read Spencer’s will must remember that this watch, presented to him by his American friends, is given a special paragraph.

Spencer once said to Huxley, “From the day I first carried that watch, every good thing I needed has been brought and laid at my feet.”

“If I have succeeded in my art, it is simply because I have been well sustained,” said Henry Irving in one of his modest, flattering, yet charming little speeches.

Sir Henry might have gone on and said that no man succeeds unless well sustained, and happy is that man who has radioactivity of spirit enough to attract to him loving and loyal helpers who scintillate his rays.

The average individual does not know very much about Edward L. Youmans, but no man ever did greater work in popularizing nature study in America. And if for nothing else, let his name be deathless for two things: he inspired John Burroughs with the thirst to see and know–and then to write–and he introduced Herbert Spencer to the world. It is easy to say that Burroughs was peeping his shell when Youmans discovered him, and that Spencer would have found a way in any event. We simply do not know what would have happened if something else occurred, or hadn’t.