By the theory of all such institutions, the relative rank of great men is a determinable thing. The supreme object of the Institute of France, through the organization of its five great Academies, is the extension and improvement of human knowledge in all its comprehensive departments; while, subsidiary to this object, it assumes the function of honoring the men in foreign countries who have contributed in eminent ways to this advance of knowledge. Mr. Spencer is, therefore, to be estimated by the import of his contributions to the progress of thought. The tests of pre-eminence here are not doubtful. To produce any wide or profound impression upon the state of knowledge at the present day requires the rarest order of mind. There must be a thorough mastery of many departments, comprehensive insight, great capacity of generalization and of organization, and the fertility of creative conception, the independence and the originality of ideas that belong to genius. It will not be difficult to show that Herbert Spencer possesses these traits in so marked a degree as to have made him a leading power in the greatest intellectual movement of modern times.
Mr. Spencer published in 1855 a philosophical treatise entitled "The Principles of Psychology," an original and powerful work, putting the science of mind upon a new basis, and which the best judge in England, John Stuart Mill, pronounced "the finest example we possess of the psychological method in its full power." This work anticipated and reduced to valid application in the highest phenomenal sphere those fundamental doctrines of nature and life which have since become firmly established in the scientific world. Holding the principle of evolution to be a fundamental truth while yet it was generally held to be a baseless speculation, he founded upon it a systematic exposition of the laws of mental phenomena. The constitution of mind was investigated by the genetic method, and the development of the mental elements, organic and psychical, was traced from their simplest to their most complex relations in correspondence with the phenomenal relations of environing nature, by intercourse with which all mind is unfolded. The book was greatly in advance of the age, and its significance was at first comprehended by only a few; but these were so powerfully affected by it that a new direction was given to psychological study, and its influence was soon widely recognized in the ablest literature of the subject.
A single illustration of its insight and originality may be here instanced. From early times down to the present, philosophers have been split into two parties over the question of the genesis of ideas, one maintaining that they are innate, and the other that they originate in experience. From Plato to Kant on the one side, and from Aristotle to Locke on the other side, the representatives of these schools have battled over the problem in thousands of futile books, which left the question as unsettled as they found it. Herbert Spencer solved the problem and reconciled the antagonism through the basal
probably but too correct. He says, in his "History of Napoleon": "Founded by the monarchy and for the monarchy, eminently favorable to the spirit of intrigue and favoritism, . . . wasting all its energies in childish tournaments, in which the flatteries that it showers on others are only the foretaste of the compliments it expects in return for itself, the French Academy seems to have received from its founders the special mission to transform genius into bel-esprit, and it would be hard to produce a man with talent whom it has not demoralized. . . . If we examine its influence on the national genius, we shall see that it has given it a flexibility, a brilliancy, a polish, which it never possessed before; but it has done so at the expense of its masculine qualities, its originality, its spontaneity, its vigor, its natural grace. It has disciplined it. but it has emasculated, impoverished, and rigidified it. It sees in taste not a sense of the beautiful, but a certain type of correctness, an elegant form of mediocrity. It. has substituted pomp for grandeur, school-routine for individual inspiration, elaborateness for simplicity, fadeur and the monotony of literary orthodoxy for variety—the source and spring of literary life; and, in the works produced under its auspices, we discover the rhetorician and the writer, never the man. By all its traditions, the Academy was made to be the natural ornament of a monarchical society. Richelieu conceived and created it as a sort of superior centralization applied to intellect, as a high literary court to maintain intellectual unity and protest against innovation."