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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

First principles

Sunday, September 18th., Villa des Nefliers.

I finished the draft of half my play this morning at 7.15 a.m. I worked off and on during most of the rest of the day in arranging the third act, but did not succeed very well.

I had a bad cold.

Every morning now for about a fortnight I have walked for two hours in the forest.

Still immersed in Spencer's "Autobiography". His description of the other boarders at the boarding house where he stayed for so many years is agreeably ironic. 
He says, speaking of Thackeray's insignificance at dinner: "I have heard that he could be a lively companion; but it seems possible that usually when in company he was occupied in observing traits of character and manner. A painter of human nature as variously manifested must ordinarily be more a listener than a talker." Yes, perhaps. But unconsciously occupied. The painter of human nature is not consciously engaged in the act of observation.
The chapter of the "Autobiography" dealing with the finishing and publication of "First principles" is unimposing, and disappointingly deficient in emotion. Compare Gibbon in the finishing of his big work. Nothing of real interest is recorded about the undertaking. This is a pity. But everywhere Spencer's narrative skill is very clumsy, and his little attempts to be dramatic are extraordinarily feeble. i an struck in reading by the stolid indifference with which his biggest books were received. It was appalling; it desolates. yet this kind of reception is quite common. I am also struck throughout by a whole series of odd remarks - almost asides - which give you the disconcerting feeling that nearly all common evaluations are relatively quite wrong. That is, that nearly everything - gifts, acquirements, possessions, achievements - is either under-valued or over-valued.

When I think how "First Principles" by filling me up with the sense of causation everywhere, has altered my whole view of life, and undoubtedly immensely improved it, I am confirmed in my opinion of that book. You can see "First Principles" in nearly every line I write.

Spencer by John McClure Hamilton
In the first volume of A System of Synthetic Philosophy, entitled First Principles (1862), Spencer argued that all phenomena could be explained in terms of a lengthy process of evolution in things. This ‘principle of continuity’ was that homogeneous organisms are unstable, that organisms develop from simple to more complex and heterogeneous forms, and that such evolution constituted a norm of progress. This account of evolution provided a complete and ‘predetermined’ structure for the kind of variation noted by Darwin–and Darwin’s respect for Spencer was significant. But while Spencer held that progress was a necessity, it was ‘necessary’ only overall, and there is no teleological element in his account of this process. In fact, it was Spencer, and not Darwin, who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” though Darwin came to employ the expression in later editions of the Origin of Species. Spencer’s understanding of evolution included the Lamarckian theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics and emphasized the direct influence of external agencies on the organism’s development. He denied (as Darwin had argued) that evolution was based on the characteristics and development of the organism itself and on a simple principle of natural selection. Paradoxically, perhaps, Spencer held an ‘organic’ view of society. Starting with the characteristics of individual entities, one could deduce, using laws of nature, what would promote or provide life and human happiness. He believed that social life was an extension of the life of a natural body, and that social ‘organisms’ reflected the same (Lamarckian) evolutionary principles or laws as biological entities did. The existence of such ‘laws,’ then, provides a basis for moral science and for determining how individuals ought to act and what would constitute human happiness.

See also, September 7th., 'Admiring the Mummer's Wife' - http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/admiring-mummers-wife.html

Additionally for September 18th., see 'Leading the high life' - http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/leading-high-life.html

I was undecided whether to go to bed or to wait up for Noel Coward, who was due to arrive (fast car) at 12.15. Time passed. I didn't go to bed. Coward arrived just after 12.30 quite fresh. At 12.50 I said: "Well, having glimpsed him, I'm going to bed." But we all went to bed at the same time. 2 a.m. This is twice this week that late bed has happened to me. I was vexed with myself. But I argued: Why not break out sometimes and suffer a little! As a fact, I had quite a good night.

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