The Successful Author

All the while, bookspoured from his pen in a steady stream; his intellectual processes seemnot 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 between1864 and 1867. The Study of Sociology appeared in 1873, and themany volumes of Principles of Ethics and Principles ofSociology were published between the seventies and the nineties. The Man Versus the State appeared in 1884 and the Autobiographyin 1904. He published, in addition, several volumes of essays and Fragmentsas well as the many volumes of Descriptive Sociology, mainlywritten by several secretaries and collaborators. Many of these bookswere issued to a select group of subscribers before being released forgeneral publication.

The first few volumes of Spencer's SyntheticPhilosophy attracted scant interest in the British press. Mostcomments dealt with peripheral issues such as his agnosticism. ButSpencer enjoyed the esteem of a number of radical thinkers and advancedscientists such as John Stuart Mill, Huxley, and Tyndall, men who helpedspread his message. Many of them belonged to the famous dining clubthat Spencer had joined contrary to his usual custom of withdrawal. This company exercised considerable scientific and public influence, forin included among its member three who became presidents of the RoyalSociety, five who became presidents of the British Association for theAdvancement of Science, as well as a president of the College ofSurgeons and a president of the Chemical Society.

When Principlesof Biology was completed, Spencer calculated that he had spentaltogether nearly 1,100 in writing and publishing books that had metwith indifferent success. Obliged every year to dip into his inheritedcapital, he issued a notice of cancellation to the few hundred personswho had subscribed to the Synthetic Philosophy. A circular wasthen drawn up by Mill, Huxley, Tyndall, and others, inviting a widerpublic to subscribe to the series. At the same time, the death of hisfather brought Spencer another legacy, and his devoted American followerEdward L. Youmans collected a considerable sum of money from Spencer'sAmerican admirers. Soon afterwards his books began to sell well, and hesuffered 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 wellas in book form, netting Spencer more than 1,500 profit. Many laterworks also appeared serially in the Fortnight Review in Englandand the Popular Science Monthly in America, and in book form aswell. Apart from his major works, Spencer also continued to contributeto the leading reviews, such as the Contemporary Review and theNineteenth Century. From the seventies onward, he was arenowned scientist, one of the most eminent Victorians.

Towardthe end of his life, Spencer commented bitterly that his SocialStatics, which he considered a weak work, had received more criticalacclaim than any of his mature writings. But in fact he enjoyedconsiderable recognition. Principles of Biology was used as atextbook at Oxford. William James assigned both First Principlesand Principles of Psychology as textbooks to his Harvardstudents. William Graham Sumner taught Spencerism in American dress atYale, and the large printings of Spencer's more popular works indicatehis wide appeal among the educated lay public in England and especiallyin America. By the turn of the century, most of his work had appearedin French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Russian translations.

Throughouthis life Spencer refused nearly all honors offered him by universities,the government, or scientific bodies. He had no official position andno university degree. Yet during the last quarter of the century heenjoyed an international reputation and influence almost comparable tothat of Charles Darwin.

In the last years of his long life, whatlittle time he had for writing he devoted to a wider variety ofcontroversial issues of the day, from opposition to the Boer War to aproposal for the adoption of the metric system in England. An unhappyold man, almost wholly at variance with the political trends of thetime, he lived these last few years in almost complete withdrawal fromhuman intercourse. He died on December 8, 1903, at the age ofeighty-three. His body, following the provisions of his will, wascremated.

From Coser, 1977:105-107.


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