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Herbert Spencer
by [?]

Among other subscribers secured by Youmans, was the Reverend Doctor Jowett of Balliol. Spencer’s books were issued in periodical parts. After paying for three years, Jowett sent a check to the publishers for the full amount of the subscription, saying, in an accompanying note: “To save myself the bother of periodical payments for Mr. Spencer’s books, I herewith hand you check covering the full amount of my subscription. I feel that I have already had full returns, for, while the books are absolutely valueless, save as showing the industry of an uneducated and indiscreet person, yet the experience that has come to me in this transaction is not without its benefits.”

This is the Oxford way of expressing the Illinois formula, “Your books are not worth a damn–and are dear at that.”

But the curious part of this transaction is that, after the death of Doctor Jowett, his library was sold at auction, and his set of the Synthetic Philosophy brought an advance of eight times its original cost.

Truly my Lord Hamlet doth say:

And prais’d be rashness for it–let us know,
Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well,
When our deep plots do fail.

No one man’s opinion concerning any book, or any man, is final. Speaker Cannon is admired by one set of men and detested by others–all of equal intelligence, although on this point the Speaker might possibly file an exception.

Books are condemned offhand, or regarded as Bibles–it all depends upon your point of view. Speaker Cannon may be right in his estimate of the newly annexed sixty volumes of history that now grace his library-shelves in Danville, proudly shown to constituents, or he may be wrong; but anyway, Cannon’s judgment about books is probably worth no more than was the Reverend Doctor Jowett’s. Gladstone spoke of Jowett as that “saintly character”; and Disraeli called him “the bear of Balliol–erratic, obtuse and perverse.” But Jowett, Gladstone and Disraeli all united in this: they had supreme contempt for the work of Herbert Spencer; while the Honorable Joseph Cannon is neutral, but inclined to be generous, having recently in a speech quoted from the “Faerie Queene,” which he declared was the best thing Herbert Spencer had written, even if it was not fully up to date.

* * * * *

All during his life, Spencer was subject to attacks of indigestion and insomnia. That these bad spells were “a disease of the imagination” made them no less real. His isolation and lack of social ties gave him time to feel his pulse and lie in wait for sleepless nights.

With the old ladies of his boarding-house, he was on friendly terms, and his commonplace talk with them never gave them a guess concerning the worldwide character of his work. Very seldom did he refer to what he was doing and thinking–and then only among his most intimate friends. Huxley was his nearest confidant; and a recent writer, who knew him closely in a business way for many years, says that only with Huxley did he throw off his reserve and enter the social lists with abandon.

No one could meet Spencer, even in the most casual way, without being impressed with the fact that he was in the presence of a most superior person. The man was tall and gaunt, self-contained–a little aloof–he asked for nothing, and realized his own worth. He commanded respect because he respected himself–there was neither abnegation, apology nor abasement in his manner. Once I saw him walking in the Strand, and I noticed that the pedestrians instinctively made way, although probably not one out of a thousand had any idea who he was. No one ever affronted him, nor spoke disrespectfully to his face; if unkind things were said of the man and his work, it was in print and at a distance.