Modern Thinkers: Principally upon Social Science. What they Think, and why. By Van Buren Denslow, LL. D. With an Introduction by Robert G. Ingersoll. With Eight Portraits. Chicago: Belford, Clark & Co. Pp. 384.
This volume consists of a series of brief personal sketches of several of the leading thinkers of modern times, together with critical disquisitions on their labors, influence, and character. The thinkers selected for study are all of the aggressive or revolutionary type, and they were chosen furthermore because of the more or less intimate bearing of their advanced ideas on the subject of social science. Three Englishmen, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and Herbert Spencer; two Frenchmen, August Comte and Charles Fourier; a Swede, Emanuel Swedenborg; a German, Ernst Haeckel; and an American, Thomas Paine—are the characters selected for examination.
The author has a brief preface explaining the origin of his book, and offering some preliminary suggestions regarding its method and purpose. The essays were written for the "Chicago Times," and at the suggestion of its editor they were first published in that newspaper. The intelligent interest elicited by them has induced the author to bring them out in this more permanent form. It was an excellent idea, and does credit to the editorial sagacity and liberality of Mr. Storey. People are undoubtedly more and more confining themselves to the reading furnished by newspapers, and we see no reason why, under the pretext that their business is the promulgation of news, the daily press should confine itself exclusively to the scattering of information on ephemeral and frivolous subjects.
Colonel Robert J. Ingersoll contributes a spicy introduction to the volume, briefly presenting his views of the various characters it deals with, and pointedly reillustrating his well-known anti-theological position. In this, however, he is in entire harmony with the spirit of the volume, which is characterized throughout by hostility to everything theological, and abounds in unsparing invectives against the Church, the priesthood, and the Christian gospel. The work is written in a free, vivacious, and somewhat dashing style, and is eminently readable. The mode of treating the subjects is independent, sensational, and bold. Much of its exposition is instructive, evincing good preparation; and much of it will be unsatisfactory to those who prize deliberate and unprejudiced work. As a piece of manufacture, the volume itself is no credit to Chicago.
The essay that has most interested us is on the American subject, Thomas Paine, whom the author regards as the "representative critic, destroyer, and revolutionist of his period. . . . He was gifted, as no man ever was before or since, with the fatal and unhappy faculty of suppressing the good and