Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/280

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



THERE was a strong and perhaps a quite laudable curiosity on the part of many people to know what impression had been made upon the mind of Herbert Spencer when first coming to this country. It was certainly something more than an idle curiosity on the part of a large number of our citizens to learn his impressions, because it was widely known that he is a philosophical student of national institutions, and probably the highest living authority on the science of human society. He has been very widely read and much studied in this country, and it was felt that his views, whether favorable or not, would certainly be interesting, and his criticisms, if he made any, suggestive and valuable.

And it was no doubt because of his respect for this sincere desire, to get at his real views, that Mr. Spencer persistently declined to be hastily and prematurely interviewed by the professionals of the press, whose ways of doing such things are not always favorable to the representation of important truths. What they generally most want is frivolous gossip and personal particulars, to be dressed up for sensational purposes, and to be had exclusively for the benefit of enterprising newspapers. Mr. Spencer was indeed repeatedly applied to by reporters of a better character who would have represented him in his own way, and with fullness and fairness, but the state of his health long made it impossible that he could consent to be questioned.

And there was certainly plenty of reason why he should be in no hurry to venture upon an expression of opinion regarding American social and political affairs. It was easy enough to say how he was struck by the external aspects of American life, but it was not so easy to get familiar with the working of the internal elements and forces of our social and political life. It was easy enough to compare our cities, steam-boats, railroads, rural scenery, and open habits of the people with those of the olden countries, but a very different thing to form an intelligent judgment of the operation of complex institutions and the slow-working social tendencies in a nation that covers a continent. Perhaps no living man is so well aware of the magnitude and the difficulties of the problems now being worked out by the people of these associated States as Mr. Spencer, and he could not but feel that a two months' sojourn among us in a very unfavorable state of health was but a very insufficient preparation for an intelligent verdict upon American social and political problems. Yet his previous occupation with such subjects certainly qualified him to form opinions of what he saw and heard and at the proper time he had no hesitation in expressing them.

And that he was prepared to speak a good deal to the point, to offer views of moment, and suggest weighty criticisms, has been sufficiently proved by the way his opinions have been received in all quarters. They have been very extensively published from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and as extensively commented upon. No such message from any foreigner has ever compelled equal attention, or been received in a better spirit. There has been very wide agreement with Mr. Spencer's most important statements, and, where assent has been denied, it has still been recognized that the questions raised are fundamental, and that Mr. Spencer has done us an eminent service in setting people to thinking about the sources of danger to