THE University needs a good many things. I used to think it needed praying for, but the disappearance of the ulsters has reassured me on that score. The pressing need at this time is a course in the philosophy of Herbert Spencer. For this there arises periodically, at about this time, a dolorous wail, as of a child for the bottle, in the College papers, which I propose to forestall this time with some considerations of a lighter sort.
"As the hart with eager looks
Panteth for the water-brooks,"
so the soul that has been through the ingenious mazes of Cartesian Metaphysics, so ingenious that one is tempted to exclaim as he contemplates them,
"Non e vero
E ben trovato,"*
the soul which has studied the causes of the incarnation, under the sweet reasonableness of the Entretiens of Malebranche, or has rejoiced in the prize clock-system of Leibnitz, - thus, I say, does the soul under these unhappy conditions pant for something more tangible, more solid, than the aforesaid sweet confections, the hermetically sealed thoughts of two centuries ago.
I have spent several leisure hours lately trying to picture to myself some one raising his head from the fathomless sea of Malebranchean ethics (in which he has been kindly permitted to dive for three hours a week and to dabble in as often as he liked), and with a smile repeating Milton's lines,
"How charming is divine philosophy,
Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose," etc.
but I find it quite inconceivable.
But I hear some fearful one exclaim, "Beware lest in avoiding Charybdis you run on Scylla. Beware! the philosophy of Herbert Spencer is anti-Christian." Brother, fear not. This philosophy follows the Christian precept; it is "all things to all men." Under its broad tent meet together Christian and Free-religionist, and enjoy a social chat on the philosophy of the unknowable, in place of the wonted clash of arms. Here too may be seen together the much-lamented combination of "cigarette and ulster" cheek by jowl with the ardent democrat, who sits with his feet on the table to cultivate equality, discussing the philosophy of the absolute, where there shall be no table, no cigarettes, no feet, and no ulsters, but all will be pure thought.
Still further, this philosophy is like Mrs. Winslow's soothing-syrup, - "Children cry for it." I mind me, as the Scotch would say, of an anecdote of my Freshman year, that may illustrate this.
I was talking, one evening, with a member of the present Senior class about the relative merits of Spencer and Mill. I said, "On the whole, I prefer Mill. The stream of Spencer's mind, though being so broad, is of necessity shallow; while on the points that Mill has touched you feel that completeness characteristic of a master mind." "No," he said, " I prefer Spencer. His philosophy is cosmic. You feel a completeness of a higher kind here than in Mill." "By the way," said I, "what books of Spencer have you read?" "Well," he said, "I can't exactly say that I have read any, but I know exactly what he teaches. What books of Mill have you read?" "Well," I said, "I can't exactly say that. I have read any, but I know exactly what he teaches!"
Does not this show an aching void in the student mind waiting to be filled, that we must needs speculate of these authors whether we read them or not?
There is, too, strange and sad as it may seem, a feeling among the more intellectual circles that the coming man will not be a Cartesian. A gentleman connected with the College said to me the other day that Descartes's writings would be regarded in a few years as interesting for intellectual gymnastics, but intrinsically valueless; and whenever I breathe the names of the philosophers I have been so laboriously mastering (?) for the last three years, whether it is Noah Porter or Descartes, whether among my friends or in the "causeries de has bleus" which I attend, I am immediately confronted with the bete noir of Herbert Spencer. Like Banquo's ghost it will not down, but still provokes me with its taunting mystery.
My curiosity is aroused. What and where is this hidden fountain? What magical properties reside in its waters? Ho! every one that thirsteth, let us clamor diligently till we can get a pump and tin dipper placed over the hallowed spot.
B. W. W.
* "Very likely it is n't true,
But then, you know, it's something new."