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Posted October 4, 2010
The author has taken upon himself a Herculean task: to write about the life, mind and work of a man whose collected works encompass some thirty volumes, most of which are hefty tomes covering almost all fields of human inquiry.
Considering the enormity of the task, it is reasonable to expect some errors of omission. Errors of commission, however, are never justifiable. Unfortunately, this book seems to be making false claims from its very beginning. These errors are glaring, and they must be mentioned lest the author gets away with this shady work of bad scholarship.
On page 17, the author writes that "Spencer's An Autobiography was an act of expiation, and a warning to others to avoid his fate." On page 33 the author writes "The mature Spencer regarded his inability to follow his feelings as a loveless tragedy, and wrote An Autobiography to warn others of his plight."
Having read Spencer's autobiography (D. Appleton & Company, 1904) in its entirety, I have found nowhere in these approximately 1,200 pages any evidence supporting either of these claims. Spencer's autobiography is written in a fairly neutral (and often self-satisfied) tone, with almost no expressed feelings of bitterness, loss, tragedy, plight, missed opportunities, or avoidable fate. The only chapter whose overall tone is negative is Chapter LVI, "A Grievous Mistake", and this chapter deals with a specific error Spencer had made, not with a series of lifelong mistakes. In the last chapter, Reflections, Spencer states that his tendency to criticize and point out the negative has damaged his social life, but this is a far cry from supporting the statements made in the book.
On the other hand, there is positive evidence that Spencer did not regret the choices he had made, or the life he had led.
On page 538, Spencer states: "Little, then, as I should encourage another to follow my example and throw prudence to the winds, it will readily be understood that, as things have turned out, I find no reason to regret the course I took and the life I have passed: very much the contrary, indeed."
On page 539: "Even taking into account chronic disturbance of health, I have every reason to be satisfied with that which fate has awarded me."
On page 540: "Thus, if I leave out altruistic considerations and include egoistic consideration only, I may still look back from these declining days of life with content." Later in the page, he mentions that one drawback of the path he had chosen is that he had never gotten married, but he concludes on the same page: "After all my celibate life has probably been the best for me, as well as for some unknown other."
Taking these facts into consideration, I must conclude that it is very unlikely that Professor Francis has ever read Spencer's autobiography. It is astonishing that he chose to make such outlandish comments regarding a book about which he seems to know nothing. These claims call the entire scholarly integrity of the book into question, and they raise the question of whether Professor Francis is at all familiar with Spencer's work. After all, it is far easier to read about Spencer that it is to read Spencer. Professor Francis may have capitalized on the fact that many readers of this book will be satisfied with a second-hand account of Spencer's life and thought, and will not bother to sweat through Spencer's tomes to study the real Sp