"To Play Billiards Well Was A Sign Of An Ill-spent Youth"
Context: Most of Spencer's working life was spent in promoting and elaborating Darwinian theories of evolution. The philosophy which he developed from these theories he applied to every phase of man's development, applying the same principles he had already elaborated in biology to other aspects of human growth and society. In working out these systems of evolutionary development he gave his attention to psychology, sociology, ethics, education, and other matters. In education he scorned any study of the liberal arts, believing that all things must have a scientific basis and that science should itself be the basis of all education. His work gained him numerous honors and academic degrees, all of which he politely refused. His later years were spent in preparing his autobiography and in gathering his letters and miscellaneous writings together for publication, work in which David Duncan assisted him. At the same time he spoke up for numerous causes in which liberty played a part. During the last decade of his life an anecdote became current in which Spencer was said to have condemned billiards, a genteel indoor sport highly esteemed and long popular. The story was published repeatedly in various papers, with many variations on the basic theme; though a minor and even petty matter, it was a source of irritation to Spencer. Shortly before Spencer's death, Duncan asked him to dictate a statement that would give the truth of the story and settle it permanently. Spencer obliged with the following account of the anecdote's origin and original form. It is evident that he bitterly regrets having repeated the expression, which has now haunted him for so long:
One afternoon some ten years ago, when seated in the billiard room of the Athenaeum Club, it was remarked to me by the late Mr. Charles Roupell (an Official Referee of the High Court of Justice) that to play billiards well was a sign of an ill-spent youth. Whether there was or was not any game going on at the time I cannot remember, but I am sure he would not have made a remark any way offensive to any one in the room.In the course of that autumn or a subsequent autumn, when we had our interchange of visits with the United Service Club opposite, I repeated this saying of Roupell's–repeated, I say, not giving any implication that it was an idea of my own, and most positively not making it in reference to any game I was playing or had played, or in reference to games played by any one else: it was absolutely dissociated from anybody, and was simply uttered by me as an abstract proposition. This abstract proposition presently made its appearance in. I presume, one or other evening paper. In the first version, I think a young Major was the other party to the story. Then from time to time it went the round of the papers, and having dropped for a while, reappeared in other papers (provincial included), always with variations and additions: the result being a cock-and-bull story, having no basis whatever further than the fact that I once repeated this saying of Roupell's apropos of nobody.