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 Herbert Spencer

Herbert Spencer

Birth
Derby, Derby Unitary Authority, Derbyshire, England
Death 8 Dec 1903 (aged 83)
Brighton, Brighton and Hove Unitary Authority, East Sussex, England
Burial Highgate, London Borough of Camden, Greater London, England
Memorial ID 2609 · View Source
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Sociologist, Philosopher, Author. He will be remembered for being an early supporter of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. He applied this theory outside of the biological arena to a social one. He was one of the nine like-minded members of Thomas H. Huxley's, X-Club, a group of scientists that met monthly for decades to share ideas in Victorian England. All were fellows of the Royal Society except Spencer, and their main goal was to change society's thinking about science, politics and religion. As the decades passed, these men were not always like-minded; Spence resigned in 1889 after a heated dispute with Huxley over science receiving state support. He is given credit for the term “Survival of the Fittest” in relationship to Darwin's theory of evolution. He was initially best-known for developing and applying the evolution theory to philosophy, psychology, and the study of society, which his called “Synthetic Philosophy.” The only child of nine to survive to adulthood, Herbert's childhood was shaped by his father George, a school teacher with unconventional beliefs and were Methodist that converted to Quakers. Herbert was taught an undisciplined, informal education at home with anti-clerical views. At the age of 13, he went to live with his uncle, the Rev. Thomas Spence who was a clergy living near Bath. He was trained to be a civil engineer for the railroad, but after his employer was bankrupted, he left without his paycheck. Publishing several essays in John Chapman's the “Westminster Review, “ he turned to radial journalism and political writings. “Theory of Population Deduced from the General Law of Annual Fertility” was published in the 2nd edition of “Westminster Review.” From 1845 to 1848 he held a position as writer and then sub-editor for the weekly periodical, “The Economist,” which included a association with controversial people including Huxley and other members of the X-Club. Stubborn in his numerous radical views, he refused to read anything that disagreed with his thinking. In 1851 he published his successful book, “Conditions Essential to Human Happiness” or also called “Social Statics.” Being very liberal, he wrote about evolution and natural selection before Darwin but was not taken serious by the public; in 1852, he published an essay titled “The Development of Hypothesis” in the periodical “The Leader.” Receiving an inheritance form Uncle Tom in 1853 afforded him time to devote himself to his writings without having to work for an income; in 1855 he published his less successful book, “The Principles of Psychology.” Fighting insomnia, depression, and intense moods he would not keep planned lecture dates, thus self-medicated with opium to help with the symptoms. At this point, he wrote the ten-volume, “A System of Synthetic Philosophy” from 1862 to 1893, which was only available by subscription. “Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical” was published in 1880 and still available today. Another piece was “The Man Versus the State in 1884.” He wrote an autobiography, which was published in 1904 posthumously, and it was documented that he claimed to invent the “binding-pin” in 1846, a device for holding pieces of paper together, which would be the forerunner for the paper-clip. As his popularity was on the rise, he was publishing more articles in various magazines. In 1883,he was elected to the French Academy of Morals and Political Sciences as a corresponding member. Although his book “The Study of Sociology” was the center of controversy at Yale University in the United States, he was very influential in this country's thinking with a 1896 statement, “three justices of the United States Supreme Court were avowed “Spencerian.” With his laissez-faire attitude to an economy, he inspired Andrew Carnegie and William Graham Sumner's visions of unbridled and unrepentant capitalism. His reasoning became the “authority” in the English-speaking world. His reputation peaked in the 1870s to early 1880s and declined after the turn-of-the-century, yet, it can be said he was recognized as a man of intelligence and importance during Victorian England. Suffering the last two decades of his life, it is documented that he was in severe chronic pain and depression the day he resigned from the X-Club, thus apologized for his behavior later. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1902. An old bachelor, he died in relative seclusion following a long illness. He was cremated and his ashes interred opposite the grave of Karl Marx and near his good friend Mary Evans, whose pen name was George Elliot. During their friendship, he sat for drawings and photographs done by her. Part of “Society Statics” was reprinted in 2013 as “The Right to Ignore the State.”

Bio by: Linda Davis


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 2609
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Herbert Spencer (27 Apr 1820–8 Dec 1903), Find A Grave Memorial no. 2609, citing Highgate Cemetery (East), Highgate, London Borough of Camden, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .