Herbert Spencer: The Successful Author
The Successful Author
All the while, books poured from his pen in a steady stream; his intellectual processes seem not to have suffered from his nervous ailments. First Principles (of his overall Synthetic Philosophy) was published in 1862. The several volumes of Principles of Biology were issued between 1864 and 1867. The Study of Sociology appeared in 1873, and the many volumes of Principles of Ethics and Principles of Sociology were published between the seventies and the nineties. The Man Versus the State appeared in 1884 and the Autobiography in 1904. He published, in addition, several volumes of essays and Fragments as well as the many volumes of Descriptive Sociology, mainly written by several secretaries and collaborators. Many of these books were issued to a select group of subscribers before being released for general publication.
The first few volumes of Spencer's Synthetic Philosophy attracted scant interest in the British press. Most comments dealt with peripheral issues such as his agnosticism. But Spencer enjoyed the esteem of a number of radical thinkers and advanced scientists such as John Stuart Mill, Huxley, and Tyndall, men who helped spread his message. Many of them belonged to the famous dining club that Spencer had joined contrary to his usual custom of withdrawal. This company exercised considerable scientific and public influence, for in included among its member three who became presidents of the Royal Society, five who became presidents of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as a president of the College of Surgeons and a president of the Chemical Society.
When Principles of Biology was completed, Spencer calculated that he had spent altogether nearly œ1,100 in writing and publishing books that had met with indifferent success. Obliged every year to dip into his inherited capital, he issued a notice of cancellation to the few hundred persons who had subscribed to the Synthetic Philosophy. A circular was then drawn up by Mill, Huxley, Tyndall, and others, inviting a wider public to subscribe to the series. At the same time, the death of his father brought Spencer another legacy, and his devoted American follower Edward L. Youmans collected a considerable sum of money from Spencer's American admirers. Soon afterwards his books began to sell well, and he suffered no further material difficulties.
From the seventies on, Spencer became a very successful author. The Study of Sociology, for example, was published serially both in England and America, as well as in book form, netting Spencer more than œ1,500 profit. Many later works also appeared serially in the Fortnight Review in England and the Popular Science Monthly in America, and in book form as well. Apart from his major works, Spencer also continued to contribute to the leading reviews, such as the Contemporary Review and the Nineteenth Century. From the seventies onward, he was a renowned scientist, one of the most eminent Victorians.
Toward the end of his life, Spencer commented bitterly that his Social Statics, which he considered a weak work, had received more critical acclaim than any of his mature writings. But in fact he enjoyed considerable recognition. Principles of Biology was used as a textbook at Oxford. William James assigned both First Principles and Principles of Psychology as textbooks to his Harvard students. William Graham Sumner taught Spencerism in American dress at Yale, and the large printings of Spencer's more popular works indicate his wide appeal among the educated lay public in England and especially in America. By the turn of the century, most of his work had appeared in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Russian translations.
Throughout his life Spencer refused nearly all honors offered him by universities, the government, or scientific bodies. He had no official position and no university degree. Yet during the last quarter of the century he enjoyed an international reputation and influence almost comparable to that of Charles Darwin.
In the last years of his long life, what little time he had for writing he devoted to a wider variety of controversial issues of the day, from opposition to the Boer War to a proposal for the adoption of the metric system in England. An unhappy old man, almost wholly at variance with the political trends of the time, he lived these last few years in almost complete withdrawal from human intercourse. He died on December 8, 1903, at the age of eighty-three. His body, following the provisions of his will, was cremated.
From Coser, 1977:105-107.