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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/866

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IT was the aim of Bacon to bring the great divisions of knowledge into unity. Tired of the sterility of the old philosophies, he proposed a new one that should be both a true interpretation of nature and lead to grand utilities. He divined the method, but his imagination outran the resources of his time, and he could not execute it.

Three centuries of science have now made the fulfillment of Bacon's conception not only possible, but an imperative intellectual necessity; and, among the thinkers of this age who have most clearly perceived and most strongly felt the need of attempting this formidable task, is Mr. Herbert Spencer. He entered upon it as a life-work, and has now devoted twenty-five years of un-remitting thought to the undertaking. As his system is predominantly constructive—a binding together of different orders of ideas by far reaching principles—he has called it "The Synthetic Philosophy." It is now in its main features an accomplished fact, and its appearance is probably the most considerable intellectual event of our times. The periodical press is slow to note the significant incidents of its progress, and so nothing remains but for "The Popular Science Monthly" to repair the omission.

The project, in the nature of the case, was extensive, and it was certainly a worthy thing for a man of ability to forego the common aims of ambition, and dedicate his powers to what required prodigious work, and was even then generally thought to be impracticable and impossible. But, noble as was the scheme, it was neither received with the sympathy nor sustained with the liberality that such an undertaking deserved. Nevertheless, Spencer's system of thought has made its way so successfully as to have become of cosmopolitan import before it is yet completed. His elaborate works have been reproduced in all the leading modern languages, and they are making a powerful impression upon the cultivated mind of the different countries where they are circulated. They are ably criticised in the leading reviews of these countries, and books are multiplying on every hand, directed to the exposition, defense, and refutation of their doctrines.

We have referred to the unfavorable reception of his system. That his views should have met with a formidable resistance was natural and proper, but criticism did not stop here. The attacks of reviewers were too often accompanied by gross personal disparagement. His adversaries, assuming them-selves to be the guardians of great and sacred interests, often wrote with passion, and indulged in the tone of depreciation wholly foreign to the purposes of honorable controversy. The critics are, however, beginning to find that nothing is gained in the long-run by such unfairness. The system pronounced worthless and impotent, or potent only for mischief, is steadily gaining upon the world's favorable appreciation. Spencer has been again and again ostentatiously "crushed," and all men called to witness how the dust of his unsubstantial reputation has gone to the winds. Yet there stands the solid fabric of his labors unharmed, the stronger for every attack, and becoming more stable with each addition as its author steadily proceeds with his task.

What we are now called upon to