Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Herbert, Auberon Edward William Molyneux
HERBERT, AUBERON EDWARD WILLIAM MOLYNEUX (1838–1906), political philosopher and author, born at Highclere on 18 June 1838, was the third son of Henry John George Herbert, third earl of Carnarvon [q. v.], by his wife Henrietta Anne, eldest daughter of Lord Henry Molyneux Howard, a brother of Bernard Edward Howard, twelfth duke of Norfolk. Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, fourth earl of Carnarvon [q. v.], was his eldest brother. Herbert was educated at Eton, entering the school in Sept. 1850. He had a high reputation for scholarship and general ability, but left early, having been elected to a founder's kin fellowship at St John's College, Oxford, at Easter 1855. He took a second in classical moderations in the Michaelmas term 1857, but did not seek final honours. In May 1858 he joined the 7th hussars at their depot at Canterbury as cornet by purchase, and in June 1859 became a lieutenant, also by purchase. In the autumn of 1860 he joined the service troops at Umballa. In 1861 he returned to England, and in Feb. 1862 sold his commission. He then returned to Oxford, where he was president of the Union in Hilary Term 1862; he graduated B.C.L. in 1862 and D.C.L. in 1865. He lectured in history and jurisprudence at St. John's College, and resigned his fellowship in 1869. During these years Herbert displayed his father's love of adventure. In March 1864 he visited the scene of the Prusso-Danish war, and distinguished himself at Dybbol, near Sonderburg, by sallies from the Danish redoubts for the purpose of rescuing the wounded. As a recognition of his bravery he was made a knight of the Order of the Dannebrog (The Times, 4 April 1864; Nationaltidende, Copenhagen, 13 Nov. 1906). His impressions of the campaign are recorded in his letters to his mother published under the title 'The Danes in Camp' (1864).
The American civil war drew him to the United States, and he witnessed the siege of Richmond. An intention to witness the war of 1866 between Prussia and Austria was frustrated owing to its short duration. During the Franco-German war he went to France, and was present at Sedan. He was outside Paris during the siege, and was one of the very first to enter the city after the capitulation, being nearly shot as a spy on his way in. He remained there during the Commune in the company of his second brother, Alan Herbert, who practised medicine in Paris. In later life he received the Austrian Order of the Iron Crown, third class, for helping to rescue the crew of the Pare, an Austrian vessel wrecked off Westward Ho!
Herbert had early been attracted by politics, and while at Oxford he founded the Chatham and Canning Clubs, conservative debating societies. In July 1865 he was defeated as a conservative candidate in an election in the Isle of Wight. In the summer of 1866 Sir Stafford Northcote, who had just been made president of the board of trade, chose him as his private secretary, a post he held till the autumn of 1868, when he resigned, surprising his chief with the news that he was about to contest Berkshire as a liberal. This election he lost, but in Feb. 1870 he was returned at a bye-election for Nottingham with the support of Mundella. A fortnight after entering the house he made his first speech in the second reading debate on the education bill of 1870 ; he supported the principle that all provided schools should be secular or strictly unsectarian. In July 1871, when the House of Lords had rejected the bill for the abolition of the purchase system, he criticised Gladstone's solution of the difficulty by royal warrant, and urged the House of Commons to take effective action against the veto of the House of Lords, 'a body which was wholly irresponsible' (Hansard, third series, vol. 208). On 19 March 1872 he seconded Sir Charles Dilke's motion for an inquiry into the expenses of the civil list, and followed Sir Charles's example by declaring himself a republican. This led to a scene of great disorder, and the latter part of his speech was inaudible (Hansard, third series, vol. 210). He took a leading part in the passing of the Wild Birds' Protection Act, 1872 (Hansard, third series, vol. 211). At all points an advanced radical, he was an ardent supporter of Joseph Arch and spoke at the mass meeting at Leamington on Good Friday 1872, when the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers' Union was formed (Joseph Arch, The Story of his Life, told by himself, 1898). At the dissolution of 1874 he retired from parliamentary life, but he took an active part in the agitation caused by the Bulgarian atrocities, organised in 1878 the great 'anti-Jingo' demonstration in Hyde Park against the expected war with Russia, and in 1880 championed the cause of Charles Bradlaugh [q. v.], speaking at some of the stormy Hyde Park meetings.
Meanwhile Herbert had become an ardent but independent disciple of Herbert Spencer's philosophy. His creed developed a variant of Spencerian individualism which he described as voluntaryism. But his devotion to Spencer's great doctrine was life-long, and Spencer made him, at his death in 1903, one of his three trustees (Spencer's Autob. 1904, preliminary note). In 1884 Herbert published his best-known book, 'A Politician in Trouble about his Soul,' a reprint with alterations and additions from the 'Fortnightly Review.' In the first chapters the objections to the party system are discussed, and in the last chapter Spencerian principles are expounded and the doctrine of Laissez-faire is pushed to the extreme point of advocating 'voluntary taxation.'
In 1890 Herbert started a small weekly paper, 'Free Life,' which first appeared under the same cover as his friend St. George Lane Fox's 'Political World,' but 'Free Life,? later called 'The Free Life,' soon became a small separate monthly paper, the 'Organ of Voluntary Taxation and the Voluntary State.' The last number was printed on 13 August 1901. In 1906 he summarised his views in the Herbert Spencer lecture which he delivered at Oxford. In 1889 he edited 'The sacrifice of education to examination. Letters from all sorts and conditions of men,' a result of the influentially signed 'Protest' against examinations in the 'Nineteenth Century,' Nov. 1888. He explained his view of the capital and labour problem in 'The True Line of Deliverance,' a criticism of trade unionism, which appeared in a volume of essays called 'A Plea for Liberty' (1891). In an article 'Assuming the Foundations' (Nineteenth Century and After,' Aug., Sept. 1901), he expounded his agnostic position towards religion.
On leaving parliament he took to farming, purchasing Ashley Arnewood farm near Lymington, where he lived till his wife's death in 1886. He then moved to the neighbourhood of Burley in the New Forest, and built, after a pre-existing building, 'The Old House,' which was his home till death. At the same time he travelled much, re-visited America in 1902-3, and often wintered abroad. At first at Ashley Arnewood Farm on a small scale, and subsequently at 'The Old House' on a large scale, Herbert once every summer entertained at tea all comers, without distinction of class, to the ultimate number of several thousands, the gypsies clearing off the remains.
Herbert, a man of singular charm, always scrupulously anxious to distinguish the system he attacked from the men who upheld or lived under it, was penetrated by the belief that the law of equal freedom is the supreme moral law. A keen sportsman and a fine rider in his youth, he gave up sport in later life on account of his objection to taking life, and for the same reason became a vegetarian. But his interests outside his philosophic propagandism were varied. He was one of the first to take to bicycling, and was very fond of adventurous sailing in a small boat. An ardent climber he was a member of the Alpine Club from 1863 to 1872. He was interested in prehistoric remains and made a fine collection of flint implements. He followed with sympathy the investigations of psychic research and made vigorous efforts to preserve the historic character of the New Forest (cf. art. 'The Last Bit of Natural Woodland' in Nineteenth Century, Sept. 1891). He has been compared to Tolstoi, but he always repudiated i the gospel of non-resistance, meeting it with his favourite formula 'Use force only to restrain force and fraud.'
He died at 'The Old House' on 5 Nov. 1906, and was buried at his desire in a grave in the grounds.
Herbert, who was a voluminous writer of letters to 'The Times' and other journals, published, besides the books cited already : 1. 'The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State,' 1885. 2. 'Bad Air and Bad Health,' 1894. 3. 'Windf all and Waterdrift,' a small volume of verses, 1894. 4. 'The Voluntaryist Creed,' 1908, posthumously issued, consisting of the Herbert Spencer lecture of 1906, and 'A Plea for Voluntaryism,' an essay completed just before his death.
Herbert married in 1871 Lady Florence Amabel, daughter of George Augustus Frederick Cowper, sixth earl Cowper. She died in 1886. They had four children: two sons, of whom the elder died in boyhood, while the younger, Auberon Thomas, born in 1876, succeeded his uncle, Francis Thomas de Grey Cowper, seventh earl Cowper [q. v. Suppl. II], as Lord Lucas and Dingwall in 1905, and two daughters, of whom the elder died in 1893.
[The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tribune, 6 Nov. 1906; Westminster Gazette, 7 Nov. 1906; Ringwood Almanac, 1907; family and private information. For his conversion to Spencer's political principles see his Spencer lecture, 1906, p. 6; for letters to him from J. S. Mill and Spencer see Letters of John Stuart Mill, 1910, and Life and Letters of Herbert Spencer, 1908, by Dr. Duncan; for his connection with the Dominicans, a Sunday dining club founded by J. S. Mill in 1865, see Frederic Harrison's Autobiographic Memoirs, 1911, ii. 83.]