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Herbert Spencer
by [?]

Youmans was born in a New York State country village, and very early discovered for himself that the world was full of curious and wonderful things, just as most children do. He became a district school-teacher, and so far as we know, was the very first man to publicly advocate nature study as a distinctive means of child-growth. He taught his children to observe; then he gave lectures on elementary botany; he studied and he wrote, and he worked at the microscope.

And he became blind.

Did the closest observer on the continent cease work and grow discouraged when sight failed? Not he.

He no more quit work than did Beethoven cease composing music when he no longer was able to hear it.

We hear with the imagination, and we see with the soul. Youmans’ sister, Eliza Anne, became his guide and amanuensis; he saw the things through her eyes and inspected the wonders with his finger-tips.

He became professor of Physics and Natural History at Yale, and when the New England Lecture Lyceum was at its height, he rivaled Phillips, Emerson and Beecher as a popular attraction. He made science a pleasure to plain people, and started Starr King off on that tangent of putting knowledge in fairylike and acceptable form. Youmans’ lecture on “The Chemistry of a Sunbeam” is one of the unforgettable things of a generation past, so full of animation and rare, radiant spirit of good-cheer was the man. He founded the “Popular Science Monthly,” wrote a dozen books on science, and several of these are now used in most of the colleges and advanced schools of America and England.

The man had a head for business–he became rich.

It was about the year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-six that Youmans was in England on a business errand, introducing his books in the English schools, that he first met Herbert Spencer, having been attracted to him through a chance copy of “Social Statics” that his sister had read to him. Youmans saw that Spencer was going right to the heart of things in a way he himself could not. The men became friends, and of all Youmans’ wonderful discoveries, he considered Herbert Spencer the greatest.

“Sir Humphry Davy discovered, and possibly evolved, Michael Faraday; but I didn’t evolve Herbert Spencer, any more than Balboa evolved the Pacific Ocean,” said Youmans at a dinner given to Herbert Spencer when he visited New York in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-one. The name of Youmans is not in the Hall of Fame as one of the world’s great men, but as naturalist, teacher, writer, lecturer and practical man of affairs, he reflects credit on his Maker. The light went out of his eyes, but it never went out of his soul.

* * * * *

In making payment to a publishing-house for sixty volumes of an American historical work, Speaker Cannon recently made this endorsement on the back of the check:

“This check is in full payment, both legal and moral, for sixty volumes of books. The books are not worth a damn–and are dear at that. We are never too old to learn, but the way your gentlemanly agent came it over your Uncle Joseph, is worth the full amount.”

When Speaker Cannon says the books are not worth a damn, he does not necessarily state a fact about the books: he merely states a fact about himself–that is, he gives his opinion. The value of the books is still undetermined.

The Speaker’s discontent with the books seems to have arisen from the one fact that he had to pay for them.

This condition is a classic one, and the world long ago has conceded to the man who pays, the privilege of protest. When Herbert Spencer issued that world-famous prospectus, announcing his intention to publish ten volumes setting forth his Synthetic Philosophy, it was one of the most daring things ever done in the realm of thought. Spencer was forty, and he was penniless and obscure. He had issued two books at his own expense, and it had taken twelve years to dispose of seven hundred fifty copies of one, and most of the edition of the other was still on hand. Edward L. Youmans had such faith in Spencer that he sent out the prospectus, and followed it up with letters and personal solicitations, until seven thousand dollars was subscribed, and Herbert Spencer, relieved from the uncertainties of finance, was free to think and write.