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Title: Critical Miscellanies, Vol. 3 (of 3) - Essay 2: The Death of Mr Mill - Essay 3: Mr Mill's Autobiography
Author: Morley, John, 1838-1923
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  Peculiar office of the Teacher                                      37

  Mill's influence in the universities and the press                  39

  His union of science with aspiration                                40

  And of courage with patience                                        42

  His abstinence from society                                         45

  Sense of the tendency of society to relapse                         46

  Peculiar trait of his authority                                     47

  The writer's last day with him                                      48


  The spirit of search                                                53

  Key to Mill's type of character and its value                       54

  Sensibility of his intellect                                        56

  Yet no reaction against his peculiar education                      57

  Quality of the Autobiography                                        58

  One of its lessons--[Greek: memnêso apistein]                       60

  Mill's aversion to the spirit of sect                               60

  Not a hindrance to systematisation                                  61

  Criticism united with belief                                        63

  Practical difficulties in the union of loyalty with tolerance       64

  Impressiveness of Mill's self-effacement                            65

  His contempt for socialistic declamation                            68

  Yet the social aim paramount in him                                 69

  Illustrated in his attack on Hamilton                               71

  And in the Logic                                                    72

  The book on the Subjection of Women                                 75

  The two crises of life                                              77

  Mill did not escape the second of them                              78

  Influence of Wordsworth                                             79

  Hope from reformed institutions                                     79

  This hope replaced by efforts in a deeper vein                      80

  Popular opinion of such efforts                                     81

  Irrational disparagement of Mill's hope                             82

  Mill's conception of happiness contrasted with his father's         84

  Remarks on his withdrawal from society                              88

  It arose from no moral valetudinarianism                            91


(_May 1873._)

The tragic commonplaces of the grave sound a fuller note as we mourn for
one of the greater among the servants of humanity. A strong and pure
light is gone out, the radiance of a clear vision and a beneficent
purpose. One of those high and most worthy spirits who arise from time
to time to stir their generation with new mental impulses in the deeper
things, has perished from among us. The death of one who did so much to
impress on his contemporaries that physical law works independently of
moral law, marks with profounder emphasis the ever ancient and ever
fresh decree that there is one end to the just and the unjust, and that
the same strait tomb awaits alike the poor dead whom nature or
circumstance imprisoned in mean horizons, and those who saw far and felt
passionately and put their reason to noble uses. Yet the fulness of our
grief is softened by a certain greatness and solemnity in the event. The
teachers of men are so few, the gift of intellectual fatherhood is so
rare, it is surrounded by such singular gloriousness. The loss of a
powerful and generous statesman, or of a great master in letters or art,
touches us with many a vivid regret. The Teacher, the man who has
talents and has virtues, and yet has a further something which is
neither talent nor virtue, and which gives him the mysterious secret of
drawing men after him, leaves a deeper sense of emptiness than this; but
lamentation is at once soothed and elevated by a sense of sacredness in
the occasion. Even those whom Mr. Mill honoured with his friendship, and
who must always bear to his memory the affectionate veneration of sons,
may yet feel their pain at the thought that they will see him no more,
raised into a higher mood as they meditate on the loftiness of his task
and the steadfastness and success with which he achieved it. If it is
grievous to think that such richness of culture, such full maturity of
wisdom, such passion for truth and justice, are now by a single stroke
extinguished, at least we may find some not unworthy solace in the
thought of the splendid purpose that they have served in keeping alive,
and surrounding with new attractions, the difficult tradition of patient
and accurate thinking in union with unselfish and magnanimous living.

       *       *       *       *       *

Much will one day have to be said as to the precise value of Mr. Mill's
philosophical principles, the more or less of his triumphs as a
dialectician, his skill as a critic and an expositor. However this trial
may go, we shall at any rate be sure that with his reputation will
stand or fall the intellectual repute of a whole generation of his
countrymen. The most eminent of those who are now so fast becoming the
front line, as death mows down the veterans, all bear traces of his
influence, whether they are avowed disciples or avowed opponents. If
they did not accept his method of thinking, at least he determined the
questions which they should think about. For twenty years no one at all
open to serious intellectual impressions has left Oxford without having
undergone the influence of Mr. Mill's teaching, though it would be too
much to say that in that gray temple where they are ever burnishing new
idols, his throne is still unshaken. The professorial chairs there and
elsewhere are more and more being filled with men whose minds have been
trained in his principles. The universities only typify his influence on
the less learned part of the world. The better sort of journalists
educated themselves on his books, and even the baser sort acquired a
habit of quoting from them. He is the only writer in the world whose
treatises on highly abstract subjects have been printed during his
lifetime in editions for the people, and sold at the price of railway
novels. Foreigners from all countries read his books as attentively as
his most eager English disciples, and sought his opinion as to their own
questions with as much reverence as if he had been a native oracle. An
eminent American who came over on an official mission which brought him
into contact with most of the leading statesmen throughout Europe, said
to the present writer:--'The man who impressed me most of them all was
Stuart Mill; you placed before him the facts on which you sought his
opinion. He took them, gave you the different ways in which they might
fairly be looked at, balanced the opposing considerations, and then
handed you a final judgment in which nothing was left out. His mind
worked like a splendid piece of machinery; you supply it with raw
material, and it turns you out a perfectly finished product.' Of such a
man England has good reason to be very proud.

He was stamped in many respects with specially English quality. He is
the latest chief of a distinctively English school of philosophy, in
which, as has been said, the names of Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, and
Bentham (and Mr. Mill would have added James Mill) mark the line of
succession--the school whose method subordinates imagination to
observation, and whose doctrine lays the foundations of knowledge in
experience, and the tests of conduct in utility. Yet, for all this, one
of his most remarkable characteristics was less English than French; his
constant admission of an ideal and imaginative element in social
speculation, and a glowing persuasion that the effort and wisdom and
ingenuity of men are capable, if free opportunity be given by social
arrangements, of raising human destiny to a pitch that is at present
beyond our powers of conception. Perhaps the sum of all his distinction
lies in this union of stern science with infinite aspiration, of
rigorous sense of what is real and practicable with bright and luminous
hope. He told one who was speaking of Condorcet's Life of Turgot, that
in his younger days whenever he was inclined to be discouraged, he was
in the habit of turning to this book, and that he never did so without
recovering possession of himself. To the same friend, who had printed
something comparing Mr. Mill's repulse at Westminster with the dismissal
of the great minister of Lewis the Sixteenth, he wrote:--'I never
received so gratifying a compliment as the comparison of me to Turgot;
it is indeed an honour to me that such an assimilation should have
occurred to you.' Those who have studied the character of one whom even
the rigid Austin thought worthy to be called 'the godlike Turgot,' know
both the nobleness and the rarity of this type.

Its force lies not in single elements, but in that combination of an
ardent interest in human improvement with a reasoned attention to the
law of its conditions, which alone deserves to be honoured with the high
name of wisdom. This completeness was one of the secrets of Mr. Mill's
peculiar attraction for young men, and for the comparatively few women
whose intellectual interest was strong enough to draw them to his books.
He satisfied the ingenuous moral ardour which is instinctive in the best
natures, until the dust of daily life dulls or extinguishes it, and at
the same time he satisfied the rationalistic qualities, which are not
less marked in the youthful temperament of those who by and by do the
work of the world. This mixture of intellectual gravity with a
passionate love of improvement in all the aims and instruments of life,
made many intelligences alive who would otherwise have slumbered, or
sunk either into a dry pedantry on the one hand, or a windy, mischievous
philanthropy on the other. He showed himself so wholly free from the
vulgarity of the sage. He could hope for the future without taking his
eye from the realities of the present. He recognised the social
destination of knowledge, and kept the elevation of the great art of
social existence ever before him, as the ultimate end of all speculative

Another side of this rare combination was his union of courage with
patience, of firm nonconformity with silent conformity. Compliance is
always a question of degree, depending on time, circumstance, and
subject. Mr. Mill hit the exact mean, equally distant from timorous
caution and self-indulgent violence. He was unrivalled in the difficult
art of conciliating as much support as was possible and alienating as
little sympathy as possible, for novel and extremely unpopular opinions.
He was not one of those who strive to spread new faiths by brilliant
swordplay with buttoned foils, and he was not one of those who run amuck
among the idols of the tribe and the market-place and the theatre. He
knew how to kindle the energy of all who were likely to be persuaded by
his reasoning, without stimulating in a corresponding degree the energy
of persons whose convictions he attacked. Thus he husbanded the
strength of truth, and avoided wasteful friction. Probably no English
writer that ever lived has done so much as Mr. Mill to cut at the very
root of the theological spirit, yet there is only one passage in the
writings published during his lifetime--I mean a well-known passage in
the Liberty--which could give any offence to the most devout person. His
conformity, one need hardly say, never went beyond the negative degree,
nor ever passed beyond the conformity of silence. That guilty and
grievously common pusillanimity which leads men to make or act
hypocritical professions, always moved his deepest abhorrence. And he
did not fear publicly to testify his interest in the return of an
atheist to parliament.

His courage was not of the spurious kinds arising from anger, or
ignorance of the peril, or levity, or a reckless confidence. These are
all very easy. His distinction was that he knew all the danger to
himself, was anxious to save pain to others, was buoyed up by no rash
hope that the world was to be permanently bettered at a stroke, and yet
for all this he knew how to present an undaunted front to a majority.
The only fear he ever knew was fear lest a premature or excessive
utterance should harm a good cause. He had measured the prejudices of
men, and his desire to arouse this obstructive force in the least degree
compatible with effective advocacy of any improvement, set the single
limit to his intrepidity. Prejudices were to him like physical
predispositions, with which you have to make your account. He knew,
too, that they are often bound up with the most valuable elements in
character and life, and hence he feared that violent surgery which in
eradicating a false opinion fatally bruises at the same time a true and
wholesome feeling that may cling to it. The patience which with some men
is an instinct, and with others a fair name for indifference, was with
him an acquisition of reason and conscience.

The value of this wise and virtuous mixture of boldness with tolerance,
of courageous speech with courageous reserve, has been enormous. Along
with his direct pleas for freedom of thought and freedom of speech, it
has been the chief source of that liberty of expressing unpopular
opinions in this country without social persecution, which is now so
nearly complete, that he himself was at last astonished by it. The
manner of his dialectic, firm and vigorous as the dialectic was in
matter, has gradually introduced mitigating elements into the atmosphere
of opinion. Partly, no doubt, the singular tolerance of free discussion
which now prevails in England--I do not mean that it is at all
perfect--arises from the prevalent scepticism, from indifference, and
from the influence of some of the more high-minded of the clergy. But
Mr. Mill's steadfast abstinence from drawing wholesale indictments
against persons or classes whose opinions he controverted, his generous
candour, his scrupulous respect for any germ of good in whatever company
it was found, and his large allowances, contributed positive elements to
what might otherwise have been the negative tolerance that comes of
moral stagnation. Tolerance of distasteful notions in others became
associated in his person at once with the widest enlightenment, and the
strongest conviction of the truth of our own notions.

       *       *       *       *       *

His career, beside all else, was a protest of the simplest and loftiest
kind against some of the most degrading features of our society. No one
is more alive than he was to the worth of all that adds grace and
dignity to human life; but the sincerity of this feeling filled him with
aversion for the make-believe dignity of a luxurious and artificial
community. Without either arrogance or bitterness, he stood aloof from
that conventional intercourse which is misnamed social duty. Without
either discourtesy or cynicism, he refused to play a part in that dance
of mimes which passes for life among the upper classes. In him, to
extraordinary intellectual attainments was added the gift of a firm and
steadfast self-respect, which unfortunately does not always go with
them. He felt the reality of things, and it was easier for a workman
than for a princess to obtain access to him. It is not always the men
who talk most affectingly about our being all of one flesh and blood,
who are proof against those mysterious charms of superior rank, which do
so much to foster unworthy conceptions of life in English society; and
there are many people capable of accepting Mr. Mill's social
principles, and the theoretical corollaries they contain, who yet would
condemn his manly plainness and austere consistency in acting on them.
The too common tendency in us all to moral slovenliness, and a lazy
contentment with a little flaccid protest against evil, finds a constant
rebuke in his career. The indomitable passion for justice which made him
strive so long and so tenaciously to bring to judgment a public
official, whom he conceived to be a great criminal, was worthy of one of
the stoutest patriots in our seventeenth-century history. The same moral
thoroughness stirred the same indignation in him on a more recent
occasion, when he declared it 'a permanent disgrace to the Government
that the iniquitous sentence on the gas-stokers was not remitted as soon
as passed.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Much of his most striking quality was owing to the exceptional degree in
which he was alive to the constant tendency of society to lose some
excellence of aim, to relapse at some point from the standard of truth
and right which had been reached by long previous effort, to fall back
in height of moral ideal. He was keenly sensible that it is only by
persistent striving after improvement in our conceptions of duty, and
improvement in the external means for realising them, that even the
acquisitions of past generations are retained. He knew the intense
difficulty of making life better by ever so little. Hence at once the
exaltation of his own ideas of truth and right, and his eagerness to
conciliate anything like virtuous social feeling, in whatever
intellectual or political association he found it. Hence also the
vehemence of his passion for the unfettered and unchecked development of
new ideas on all subjects, of originality in moral and social points of
view; because repression, whether by public opinion or in any other way,
may be the means of untold waste of gifts that might have conferred on
mankind unspeakable benefits. The discipline and vigour of his
understanding made him the least indulgent of judges to anything like
charlatanry, and effectually prevented his unwillingness to let the
smallest good element be lost, from degenerating into that weak kind of
universalism which nullifies some otherwise good men.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some great men seize upon us by the force of an imposing and majestic
authority; their thoughts impress the imagination, their words are
winged, they are as prophets bearing high testimony that cannot be
gainsaid. Bossuet, for instance, or Pascal. Others, and of these Mr.
Mill was one, acquire disciples not by a commanding authority, but by a
moderate and impersonal kind of persuasion. He appeals not to our sense
of greatness and power in a teacher, which is noble, but to our love of
finding and embracing truth for ourselves, which is still nobler. People
who like their teacher to be as a king publishing decrees with herald
and trumpet, perhaps find Mr. Mill colourless. Yet this habitual
effacement of his own personality marked a delicate and very rare shade
in his reverence for the sacred purity of truth.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meditation on the influence of one who has been the foremost instructor
of his time in wisdom and goodness quickly breaks off, in this hour when
his loss is fresh upon us; it changes into affectionate reminiscences
for which silence is more fitting. In such an hour thought turns rather
to the person than the work of the master whom we mourn. We recall his
simplicity, gentleness, heroic self-abnegation; his generosity in
encouraging, his eager readiness in helping; the warm kindliness of his
accost, the friendly brightening of the eye. The last time I saw him was
a few days before he left England.[1] He came to spend a day with me in
the country, of which the following brief notes happened to be written
at the time in a letter to a friend:--

     'He came down by the morning train to Guildford station, where I
     was waiting for him. He was in his most even and mellow humour. We
     walked in a leisurely way and through roundabout tracks for some
     four hours along the ancient green road which you know, over the
     high grassy downs, into old chalk pits picturesque with juniper and
     yew, across heaths and commons, and so up to our windy promontory,
     where the majestic prospect stirred him with lively delight. You
     know he is a fervent botanist, and every ten minutes he stooped to
     look at this or that on the path. Unluckily I am ignorant of the
     very rudiments of the matter, so his parenthetic enthusiasms were
     lost upon me.

[Footnote 1: April 5, 1873.]

'Of course he talked, and talked well. He admitted that Goethe had added
new points of view to life, but has a deep dislike of his moral
character; wondered how a man who could draw the sorrows of a deserted
woman like Aurelia, in _Wilhelm Meister_, should yet have behaved so
systematically ill to women. Goethe tried as hard as he could to be a
Greek, yet his failure to produce anything perfect in form, except a few
lyrics, proves the irresistible expansion of the modern spirit, and the
inadequateness of the Greek type to modern needs of activity and
expression. Greatly prefers Schiller in all respects; turning to him
from Goethe is like going into the fresh air from a hothouse.

'Spoke of style: thinks Goldsmith unsurpassed; then Addison comes.
Greatly dislikes the style of Junius and of Gibbon; indeed, thinks
meanly of the latter in all respects, except for his research, which
alone of the work of that century stands the test of nineteenth-century
criticism. Did not agree with me that George Sand's is the high-water
mark of prose, but yet could not name anybody higher, and admitted that
her prose stirs you like music.

'Seemed disposed to think that the most feasible solution of the Irish
University question is a Catholic University, the restrictive and
obscurantist tendencies of which you may expect to have cheeked by the
active competition of life with men trained in more enlightened systems.
Spoke of Home Rule.

'Made remarks on the difference in the feeling of modern refusers of
Christianity as compared with that of men like his father, impassioned
deniers, who believed that if only you broke up the power of the priests
and checked superstition, all would go well--a dream from which they
were partially awakened by seeing that the French revolution, which
overthrew the Church, still did not bring the millennium. His radical
friends used to be very angry with him for loving Wordsworth.
"Wordsworth," I used to say, "is against you, no doubt, in the battle
which you are now waging, but after you have won, the world will need
more than ever those qualities which Wordsworth is keeping alive and
nourishing." In his youth mere negation of religion was a firm bond of
union, social and otherwise, between men who agreed in nothing else.

'Spoke of the modern tendency to pure theism, and met the objection that
it retards improvement by turning the minds of some of the best men from
social affairs, by the counter-proposition that it is useful to society,
apart from the question of its truth,--useful as a provisional belief,
because people will identify serviceable ministry to men with service of
God. Thinks we cannot with any sort of precision define the coming
modification of religion, but anticipates that it will undoubtedly rest
upon the solidarity of mankind, as Comte said, and as you and I believe.
Perceives two things, at any rate, which are likely to lead men to
invest this with the moral authority of a religion; first, they will
become more and more impressed by the awful fact that a piece of conduct
to-day may prove a curse to men and women scores and even hundreds of
years after the author of it is dead; and second, they will more and
more feel that they can only satisfy their sentiment of gratitude to
seen or unseen benefactors, can only repay the untold benefits they have
inherited, by diligently maintaining the traditions of service.

'And so forth, full of interest and suggestiveness all through. When he
got here, he chatted to R---- over our lunch, with something of the
simple amiableness of a child, about the wild flowers, the ways of
insects, and notes of birds. He was impatient for the song of the
nightingale. Then I drove him to our little roadside station, and one of
the most delightful days of my life came to its end, like all other
days, delightful and sorrowful.'

Alas, the sorrowful day which ever dogs our delight followed very
quickly. The nightingale that he longed for fills the darkness with
music, but not for the ear of the dead master: he rests in the deeper
darkness where the silence is unbroken for ever. We may console
ourselves with the reflection offered by the dying Socrates to his
sorrowful companions: he who has arrayed the soul in her own proper
jewels of moderation and justice and courage and nobleness and truth, is
ever ready for the journey when his time comes. We have lost a great
teacher and example of knowledge and virtue, but men will long feel the
presence of his character about them, making them ashamed of what is
indolent or selfish, and encouraging them to all disinterested labour,
both in trying to do good and in trying to find out what the good
is,--which is harder.


_Chercher en gémissant_--search with many sighs--that was Pascal's
notion of praiseworthy living and choosing the better part. Search, and
search with much travail, strikes us as the chief intellectual ensign
and device of that eminent man whose record of his own mental nurture
and growth we have all been reading. Everybody endowed with energetic
intelligence has a measure of the spirit of search poured out upon him.
All such persons act on the Socratic maxim that the life without inquiry
is a life to be lived by no man. But it is the rare distinction of a
very few to accept the maxim in its full significance, to insist on an
open mind as the true secret of wisdom, to press the examination and
testing of our convictions as the true way at once to stability and
growth of character, and thus to make of life what it is so good for us
that it should be, a continual building up, a ceaseless fortifying and
enlargement and multiplication of the treasures of the spirit. To make a
point of 'examining what was said in defence of all opinions, however
new or however old, in the conviction that even if they were errors
there might be a substratum of truth underneath them, and that in any
case the discovery of what it was that made them plausible would be a
benefit to truth,'[2]--to thrust out the spirit of party, of sect, of
creed, of the poorer sort of self-esteem, of futile contentiousness, and
so to seek and again seek with undeviating singleness of mind the right
interpretation of our experiences--here is the genuine seal of
intellectual mastery and the true stamp of a perfect rationality.

[Footnote 2: Mill's _Autobiography_, 242.]

The men to whom this is the ideal of the life of the reason, and who
have done anything considerable towards spreading a desire after it,
deserve to have their memories gratefully cherished even by those who do
not agree with all their positive opinions. We need only to reflect a
little on the conditions of human existence; on the urgent demand which
material necessities inevitably make on so immense a proportion of our
time and thought; on the space which is naturally filled up by the
activity of absorbing affections; on the fatal power of mere tradition
and report over the indifferent, and the fatal power of inveterate
prejudice over so many even of the best of those who are not
indifferent. Then we shall know better how to value such a type of
character and life as Mr. Mill has now told us the story of, in which
intellectual impressionableness on the most important subjects of human
thought was so cultivated as almost to acquire the strength and quick
responsiveness of emotional sensibility. And this, without the too
common drawback to great openness of mind. This drawback consists in
loose beliefs, taken up to-day and silently dropped to-morrow;
vacillating opinions, constantly being exchanged for their contraries;
feeble convictions, appearing, shifting, vanishing, in the quicksands of
an unstable mind.

Nobody will impute any of these disastrous weaknesses to Mr. Mill. His
impressionableness was of the valuable positive kind, which adds and
assimilates new elements from many quarters, without disturbing the
organic structure of the whole. What he says of one stage in his growth
remained generally true of him until the very end:--'I found the fabric
of my old and taught opinions giving way in many fresh places, and I
never allowed it to fall to pieces, but was incessantly occupied in
weaving it anew. I never in the course of my transition was content to
remain, for ever so short a time, confused and unsettled. When I had
taken in any new idea, I could not rest till I had adjusted its
relations to my old opinions, and ascertained exactly how far its effect
ought to extend in modifying or superseding them' (p. 156). This careful
and conscientious recognition of the duty of having ordered opinions,
and of responsibility for these opinions being both as true and as
consistent with one another as taking pains with his mind could make
them, distinguished Mr. Mill from the men who flit aimlessly from
doctrine to doctrine, as the flies of a summer day dart from point to
point in the vacuous air. It distinguished him also from those
sensitive spirits who fling themselves down from the heights of
rationalism suddenly into the pit of an infallible church; and from
those who, like La Mennais, move violently between faith and reason,
between tradition and inquiry, between the fulness of deference to
authority and the fulness of individual self-assertion.

All minds of the first quality move and grow; they have a susceptibility
to many sorts of new impressions, a mobility, a feeling outwards, which
makes it impossible for them to remain in the stern fixity of an early
implanted set of dogmas, whether philosophic or religious. In stoical
tenacity of character, as well as in intellectual originality and
concentrated force of understanding, some of those who knew both tell us
that Mr. Mill was inferior to his father. But who does not feel in the
son the serious charm of a power of adaptation and pliableness which we
can never associate with the hardy and more rigorous nature of the
other? And it was just because he had this sensibility of the intellect,
that the history of what it did for him is so edifying a performance for
a people like ourselves, among whom that quality is so extremely
uncommon. For it was the sensibility of strength and not of weakness,
nor of mere over-refinement and subtlety. We may estimate the
significance of such a difference, when we think how little, after all,
the singular gifts of a Newman or a Maurice have done for their
contemporaries, simply because these two eminent men allowed
consciousness of their own weakness to 'sickly over' the spontaneous
impulses of their strength.

The wonder is that the reaction against such an education as that
through which James Mill brought his son,--an education so intense, so
purely analytical, doing so much for the reason and so little for the
satisfaction of the affections,--was not of the most violent kind. The
wonder is that the crisis through which nearly every youth of good
quality has to pass, and from which Mr. Mill, as he has told us, by no
means escaped, did not land him in some of the extreme forms of
transcendentalism. If it had done so the record of the journey would no
doubt have been more abundant in melodramatic incidents. It would have
done more to tickle the fancy of 'the present age of loud disputes but
weak convictions.' And it might have been found more touching by the
large numbers of talkers and writers who seem to think that a history of
a careful man's opinions on grave and difficult subjects ought to have
all the rapid movements and unexpected turns of a romance, and that a
book without rapture and effusion and a great many capital letters must
be joyless and disappointing. Those of us who dislike literary hysteria
as much as we dislike the coarseness that mistakes itself for force, may
well be glad to follow the mental history of a man who knew how to move
and grow without any of these reactions and leaps on the one hand, or
any of that overdone realism on the other, which may all make a more
striking picture, but which do assuredly more often than not mark the
ruin of a mind and the nullification of a career.

If we are now and then conscious in the book of a certain want of
spacing, of changing perspectives and long vistas; if we have perhaps a
sense of being too narrowly enclosed; if we miss the relish of humour or
the occasional relief of irony; we ought to remember that we are busy
not with a work of imagination or art, but with the practical record of
the formation of an eminent thinker's mental habits and the succession
of his mental attitudes. The formation of such mental habits is not a
romance, but the most arduous of real concerns. If we are led up to none
of the enkindled summits of the soul, and plunged into none of its
abysses, that is no reason why we should fail to be struck by the pale
flame of strenuous self-possession, or touched by the ingenuousness and
simplicity of the speaker's accents. A generation continually excited by
narratives, as sterile as vehement, of storm and stress and spiritual
shipwreck, might do well, if it knew the things that pertained to its
peace, to ponder this unvarnished history--the history of a man who,
though he was not one of the picturesque victims of the wasteful
torments of an uneasy spiritual self-consciousness, yet laboured so
patiently after the gifts of intellectual strength, and did so much
permanently to widen the judgments of the world.

If Mr. Mill's Autobiography has no literary grandeur, nor artistic
variety, it has the rarer merit of presenting for our contemplation a
character that was infested by none of the smaller passions, and warped
by none of the more unintelligent attitudes of the human mind. We have
to remember that it is exactly these, the smaller passions on the one
hand, and slovenliness of intelligence on the other, which are even
worse agencies in spoiling the worth of life and the advance of society
than the more imposing vices either of thought or sentiment. Many have
told the tale of a life of much external eventfulness. There is a rarer
instructiveness in the quiet career of one whose life was an incessant
education, a persistent strengthening of the mental habit of 'never
accepting half-solutions of difficulties as complete; never abandoning a
puzzle, but again and again returning to it until it was cleared up;
never allowing obscure corners of a subject to remain unexplored,
because they did not appear important; never thinking that I perfectly
understood any part of a subject until I understood the whole' (p. 123).
It is true that this mental habit is not so singular in itself, for it
is the common and indispensable merit of every truly scientific thinker.
Mr. Mill's distinction lay in the deliberate intention and the
systematic patience with which he brought it to the consideration of
moral and religious and social subjects. In this region hitherto, for
reasons that are not difficult to seek, the empire of prejudice and
passion has been so much stronger, so much harder to resist, than in the
field of physical science.

Sect is so ready to succeed sect, and school comes after school, with
constant replacement of one sort of orthodoxy by another sort, until
even the principle of relativity becomes the base of a set of absolute
and final dogmas, and the very doctrine of uncertainty itself becomes
fixed in a kind of authoritative nihilism. It is, therefore, a signal
gain that we now have a new type, with the old wise device, [Greek:
memnêso apistein]--_be sure that you distrust_. Distrust your own bias;
distrust your supposed knowledge; constantly try, prove, fortify your
firmest convictions. And all this, throughout the whole domain where the
intelligence rules. It was characteristic of a man of this type that he
should have been seized by that memorable passage in Condorcet's Life of
Turgot to which Mr. Mill refers (p. 114), and which every man with an
active interest in serious affairs should bind about his neck and write
on the tablets of his heart.

'Turgot,' says his wise biographer, 'always looked upon anything like a
sect as mischievous.... From the moment that a sect comes into
existence, all the individuals composing it become answerable for the
faults and errors of each one of them. The obligation to remain united
leads them to suppress or dissemble all truths that might wound anybody
whose adhesion is useful to the sect. They are forced to establish in
some form a body of doctrine, and the opinions which make a part of it,
being adopted without inquiry, become in due time pure prejudices.
Friendship stops with the individuals; but the hatred and envy that any
of them may arouse extends to the whole sect. If this sect be formed by
the most enlightened men of the nation, if the defence of truths of the
greatest importance to the common happiness be the object of its zeal,
the mischief is still worse. Everything true or useful which they
propose is rejected without examination. Abuses and errors of every kind
always have for their defenders that herd of presumptuous and mediocre
mortals, who are the bitterest enemies of all celebrity and renown.
Scarcely is a truth made clear, before those to whom it would be
prejudicial crush it under the name of a sect that is sure to have
already become odious, and are certain to keep it from obtaining so much
as a hearing. Turgot, then, was persuaded that perhaps the greatest ill
you can do to truth is to drive those who love it to form themselves
into a sect, and that these in turn can commit no more fatal mistake
than to have the vanity or the weakness to fall into the trap.'

Yet we know that with Mr. Mill as with Turgot this deep distrust of sect
was no hindrance to the most careful systematisation of opinion and
conduct. He did not interpret many-sidedness in the flaccid watery sense
which flatters the indolence of so many of our contemporaries, who like
to have their ears amused with a new doctrine each morning, to be held
for a day, and dropped in the evening, and who have little more
seriousness in their intellectual life than the busy insects of a summer
noon. He says that he looked forward 'to a future which shall unite the
best qualities of the critical with the best qualities of the organic
periods; unchecked liberty of thought, unbounded freedom of individual
action in all modes not hurtful to others; but also convictions as to
what is right and wrong, useful and pernicious, deeply engraven on the
feelings by early education and general unanimity of sentiment, and so
firmly grounded in reason and the true exigencies of life, that they
shall not, like all former and present creeds, religious, ethical, and
political, require to be periodically thrown off and replaced by others'
(p. 166). This was in some sort the type at which he aimed in the
formation of his own character--a type that should combine organic with
critical quality, the strength of an ordered set of convictions, with
that pliability and that receptiveness in face of new truth, which are
indispensable to these very convictions being held intelligently and in
their best attainable form. We can understand the force of the eulogy on
John Austin (p. 154), that he manifested 'an equal devotion to the two
cardinal points of Liberty and Duty.' These are the correlatives in the
sphere of action to the two cardinal points of Criticism and Belief in
the sphere of thought.

We can in the light of this double way of viewing the right balance of
the mind, the better understand the combination of earnestness with
tolerance which inconsiderate persons are apt to find so awkward a
stumbling-block in the scheme of philosophic liberalism. Many people in
our time have so ill understood the doctrine of liberty, that in some of
the most active circles in society they now count you a bigot if you
hold any proposition to be decidedly and unmistakably more true than any
other. They pronounce you intemperate if you show anger and stern
disappointment because men follow the wrong course instead of the right
one. Mr. Mill's explanation of the vehemence and decision of his
father's disapproval, when he did disapprove, and his refusal to allow
honesty of purpose in the doer to soften his disapprobation of the deed,
gives the reader a worthy and masculine notion of true tolerance. James
Mill's 'aversion to many intellectual errors, or what he regarded as
such, partook in a certain sense of the character of a moral feeling....
None but those who do not care about opinions will confound this with
intolerance. Those, who having opinions which they hold to be immensely
important, and their contraries to be prodigiously hurtful, have any
deep regard for the general good, will necessarily dislike, as a class
and in the abstract, those who think wrong what they think right, and
right what they think wrong: though they need not be, nor was my father,
insensible to good qualities in an opponent, nor governed in their
estimation of individuals by one general presumption, instead of by the
whole of their character. I grant that an earnest person, being no more
infallible than other men, is liable to dislike people on account of
opinions which do not merit dislike; but if he neither himself does
them any ill office, nor connives at its being done by others, he is not
intolerant: and the forbearance which flows from a conscientious sense
of the importance to mankind of the equal freedom of all opinions is the
only tolerance which is commendable, or to the highest moral order of
minds, possible' (p. 51). This is another side of the co-ordination of
Criticism and Belief, of Liberty and Duty, which attained in Mr. Mill
himself a completeness that other men, less favoured in education and
with less active power of self-control, are not likely to reach, but to
reach it ought to be one of the prime objects of their mental
discipline. The inculcation of this peculiar morality of the
intelligence is one of the most urgently needed processes of our time.
For the circumstance of our being in the very depths of a period of
transition from one spiritual basis of thought to another, leads men not
only to be content with holding a quantity of vague, confused, and
contradictory opinions, but also to invest with the honourable name of
candour a weak reluctance to hold any one of them earnestly.

Mr. Mill experienced in the four or five last years of his life the
disadvantage of trying to unite fairness towards the opinions from which
he differed, with loyalty to the positive opinions which he accepted.
'As I had showed in my political writings,' he says, 'that I was aware
of the weak points in democratic opinions, some Conservatives, it seems,
had not been without hopes of finding me an opponent of democracy: as I
was able to see the Conservative side of the question, they presumed
that like them I could not see any other side. Yet if they had really
read my writings, they would have known that after giving full weight to
all that appeared to me well grounded in the arguments against
democracy, I unhesitatingly decided in its favour, while recommending
that it should be accompanied by such institutions as were consistent
with its principle and calculated to ward off its inconveniences' (p.
309). This was only one illustration of what constantly happened, until
at length, it is hardly too much to say, a man who had hitherto enjoyed
a singular measure of general reverence because he was supposed to see
truth in every doctrine, became downright unpopular among many classes
in the community, because he saw more truth in one doctrine than
another, and brought the propositions for whose acceptance he was most
in earnest eagerly before the public.

In a similar way the Autobiography shows us the picture of a man uniting
profound self-respect with a singular neutrality where his own claims
are concerned, a singular self-mastery and justice of mind, in matters
where with most men the sense of their own personality is wont to be so
exacting and so easily irritated. The history of intellectual eminence
is too often a history of immoderate egoism. It has perhaps hardly ever
been given to any one who exerted such influence as Mr. Mill did over
his contemporaries, to view his own share in it with such discrimination
and equity as marks every page of his book, and as used to mark every
word of his conversation. Knowing as we all do the last infirmity of
even noble minds, and how deep the desire to erect himself Pope and Sir
Oracle lies in the spirit of a man with strong convictions, we may value
the more highly, as well for its rarity as for its intrinsic worth, Mr.
Mill's quality of self-effacement, and his steadfast care to look
anywhere rather than in his own personal merits, for the source of any
of those excellences which he was never led by false modesty to

Many people seem to find the most interesting figure in the book that
stoical father, whose austere, energetic, imperious, and relentless
character showed the temperament of the Scotch Covenanter of the
seventeenth century, inspired by the principles and philosophy of France
in the eighteenth. No doubt, for those in search of strong dramatic
effects, the lines of this strenuous indomitable nature are full of
impressiveness.[3] But one ought to be able to appreciate the
distinction and strength of the father, and yet also be able to see that
the distinction of the son's strength was in truth more really
impressive still. We encounter a modesty that almost speaks the language
of fatalism. Pieces of good fortune that most people would assuredly
have either explained as due to their own penetration, or to the
recognition of their worth by others, or else would have refrained from
dwelling upon, as being no more than events of secondary importance, are
by Mr. Mill invariably recognised at their full worth or even above it,
and invariably spoken of as fortunate accidents, happy turns in the
lottery of life, or in some other quiet fatalistic phrase, expressive of
his deep feeling how much we owe to influences over which we have no
control and for which we have no right to take any credit. His saying
that 'it would be a blessing if the doctrine of necessity could be
believed by all _quoad_ the characters of others, and disbelieved in
regard to their own' (p. 169), went even further than that, for he
teaches us to accept the doctrine of necessity _quoad_ the most marked
felicities of life and character, and to lean lightly or not at all
upon it in regard to our demerits. Humility is a rationalistic, no less
than a Christian grace--not humility in face of error or arrogant
pretensions or selfishness, nor a humility that paralyses energetic
effort, but a steadfast consciousness of all the good gifts which our
forerunners have made ready for us, and of the weight of our
responsibility for transmitting these helpful forces to a new
generation, not diminished but augmented.

[Footnote 3: In an interesting volume (_The Minor Works of George
Grote_, edited by Alexander Bain. London: Murray), we find Grote
confirming Mr. Mill's estimate of his father's psychagogic quality. 'His
unpremeditated oral exposition,' says Grote of James Mill, 'was hardly
less effective than his prepared work with the pen; his colloquial
fertility in philosophical subjects, his power of discussing himself,
and stimulating others to discuss, his ready responsive inspirations
through all the shifts and windings of a sort of Platonic dialogue,--all
these accomplishments were to those who knew him, even more impressive
than what he composed for the press. Conversation with him was not
merely instructive, but provocative to the observant intelligence. Of
all persons whom we have known, Mr. James Mill was the one who stood
least remote from the lofty Platonic ideal of Dialectic--[Greek: tou
didonai kai dechesthai logon] (the giving and receiving of
reasons)--competent alike to examine others or to be examined by them in
philosophy. When to this we add a strenuous character, earnest
convictions, and single-minded devotion to truth, with an utter disdain
of mere paradox, it may be conceived that such a man exercised powerful
intellectual ascendancy over youthful minds,' etc.--_Minor Works of
George Grote_, p. 284.]

       *       *       *       *       *

In more than one remarkable place the Autobiography shows us distinctly
what all careful students of Mr. Mill's books supposed, that with him
the social aim, the repayment of the services of the past by devotion to
the services of present and future, was predominant over any merely
speculative curiosity or abstract interest. His preference for deeply
reserved ways of expressing even his strongest feelings prevented him
from making any expansive show of this governing sentiment. Though no
man was ever more free from any taint of that bad habit of us English,
of denying or palliating an abuse or a wrong, unless we are prepared
with an instant remedy for it, yet he had a strong aversion to mere
socialistic declamation. Perhaps, if one may say so without presumption,
he was not indulgent enough in this respect. I remember once pressing
him with some enthusiasm for Victor Hugo,--an enthusiasm, one is glad to
think, which time does nothing to weaken. Mr. Mill, admitting, though
not too lavishly, the superb imaginative power of this poetic master of
our time, still counted it a fatal drawback to Hugo's worth and claim to
recognition that 'he has not brought forward one single practical
proposal for the improvement of the society against which he is
incessantly thundering.' I ventured to urge that it is unreasonable to
ask a poet to draft acts of parliament; and that by bringing all the
strength of his imagination and all the majestic fulness of his sympathy
to bear on the social horrors and injustices which still lie so thick
about us, he kindled an inextinguishable fire in the hearts of men of
weaker initiative and less imperial gifts alike of imagination and
sympathy, and so prepared the forces out of which practical proposals
and specific improvements may be expected to issue. That so obvious a
kind of reflection should not have previously interested Mr. Mill's
judgment in favour of the writer of the _Outcasts_, the _Legend of the
Ages_, the _Contemplations_, only shows how strong was his dislike to
all that savoured of the grandiose, and how afraid he always was of
everything that seemed to dissociate emotion from rationally directed
effort. That he was himself inspired by this emotion of pity for the
common people, of divine rage against the injustice of the strong to the
weak, in a degree not inferior to Victor Hugo himself, his whole career
most effectually demonstrates.

It is this devotion to the substantial good of the many, though
practised without the noisy or ostentatious professions of more egoistic
thinkers, which binds together all the parts of his work, from the
_System of Logic_ down to his last speech on the Land Question. One of
the most striking pages in the Autobiography is that in which he gives
his reasons for composing the refutation of Hamilton, and as some of
these especially valuable passages in the book seem to be running the
risk of neglect in favour of those which happen to furnish material for
the idle, pitiful gossip of London society, it may be well to reproduce

'The difference,' he says, 'between these two schools of philosophy,
that of Intuition and that of Experience and Association, is not a mere
matter of abstract speculation; it is full of practical consequences,
and lies at the foundation of all the greatest differences of practical
opinion in an age of progress. The practical reformer has continually to
demand that changes be made in things which are supported by powerful
and widely spread feelings, or to question the apparent necessity and
indefeasibleness of established facts; and it is often an indispensable
part of his argument to show how those powerful feelings had their
origin, and how those facts came to seem necessary and indefeasible.
There is therefore a natural hostility between him and a philosophy
which discourages the explanation of feelings and moral facts by
circumstances and association, and prefers to treat them as ultimate
elements of human nature; a philosophy which is addicted to holding up
favourite doctrines as intuitive truths, and deems intuition to be the
voice of Nature and of God, speaking with an authority higher than that
of our reason. In particular, I have long felt that the prevailing
tendency to regard all the marked distinctions of human character as
innate, and in the main indelible, and to ignore the irresistible proofs
that by far the greater part of those differences, whether between
individuals, races, or sexes, are such as not only might but naturally
would be produced by differences in circumstances, is one of the chief
hindrances to the rational treatment of great social questions, and one
of the greatest stumbling-blocks to human improvement. This tendency has
its source in the intuitional metaphysics which characterised the
reaction of the nineteenth century against the eighteenth, and it is a
tendency so agreeable to human indolence, as well as to conservative
interests generally, that unless attacked at the very root, it is sure
to be carried to even a greater length than is really justified by the
more moderate forms of the intuitional philosophy.... Considering then
the writings and fame of Sir W. Hamilton as the great fortress of the
intuitional philosophy in this country, a fortress the more formidable
from the imposing character, and the, in many respects, great personal
merits and mental endowments of the man, I thought it might be a real
service to philosophy to attempt a thorough examination of all his most
important doctrines, and an estimate of his general claims to eminence
as a philosopher; and I was confirmed in this resolution by observing
that in the writings of at least one, and him one of the ablest, of Sir
W. Hamilton's followers, his peculiar doctrines were made the
justification of a view of religion which I hold to be profoundly
immoral--that it is our duty to bow down and worship before a Being
whose moral attributes are affirmed to be unknowable by us, and to be
perhaps extremely different from those which, when speaking of our
fellow-creatures, we call by the same name' (pp. 273-275).

Thus we see that even where the distance between the object of his
inquiry and the practical wellbeing of mankind seemed farthest, still
the latter was his starting point, and the doing 'a real service to
philosophy' only occurred to him in connection with a still greater and
more real service to those social causes for which, and which only,
philosophy is worth cultivating. In the _System of Logic_ the
inspiration had been the same.

'The notion that truths external to the mind,' he writes, 'may be known
by intuition or consciousness, independently of observation and
experience, is, I am persuaded, in these times, the great intellectual
support of false doctrines and bad institutions. By the aid of this
theory every inveterate belief and every intense feeling of which the
origin is not remembered, is enabled to dispense with the obligation of
justifying itself by reason, and is erected into its own all-sufficient
voucher and justification. There never was an instrument better devised
for consecrating all deep-seated prejudices. And the chief strength of
this false philosophy in morals, politics, and religion, lies in the
appeal which it is accustomed to make to the evidence of mathematics
and of the cognate branches of physical science. To expel it from these
is to drive it from its stronghold.... In attempting to clear up the
real nature of the evidence of mathematical and physical truth, the
_System of Logic_ met the intuitive philosophers on ground on which they
had previously been deemed unassailable; and gave its own explanation
from experience and association of that peculiar character of what are
called necessary truths, which is adduced as proof that their evidence
must come from a deeper source than experience. Whether this has been
done effectually is still _sub judice_; and even then, to deprive a mode
of thought so strongly rooted in human prejudices and partialities of
its mere speculative support, goes but a very little way towards
overcoming it; but though only a step, it is a quite indispensable one;
for since, after all, prejudice can only be successfully combated by
philosophy, no way can really be made against it permanently, until it
has been shown not to have philosophy on its side' (pp. 225-227).

This was to lay the basis of a true positivism by the only means through
which it can be laid firmly. It was to establish at the bottom of men's
minds the habit of seeking explanations of all phenomena in experience,
and building up from the beginning the great positive principle that we
can only know phenomena, and can only know them experientially. We see,
from such passages as the two that have been quoted, that with Mr. Mill,
no less than with Comte, the ultimate object was to bring people to
extend positive modes of thinking to the master subjects of morals,
politics, and religion. Mr. Mill, however, with a wisdom which Comte
unfortunately did not share, refrained from any rash and premature
attempt to decide what would be the results of this much-needed
extension. He knew that we were as yet only just coming in sight of the
stage where these most complex of all phenomena can be fruitfully
studied on positive methods, and he was content with doing as much as he
could to expel other methods from men's minds, and to engender the
positive spirit and temper. Comte, on the other hand, presumed at once
to draw up a minute plan of social reconstruction, which contains some
ideas of great beauty and power, some of extreme absurdity, and some
which would be very mischievous if there were the smallest chance of
their ever being realised. 'His book stands,' Mr. Mill truly says of the
_System of Positive Polity_, 'a monumental warning to thinkers on
society and politics of what happens when once men lose sight in their
speculations of the value of Liberty and Individuality' (p. 213).

       *       *       *       *       *

It was his own sense of the value of Liberty which led to the production
of the little tractate which Mr. Mill himself thought likely to survive
longer than anything else that he had written, 'with the possible
exception of the _Logic_,' as being 'a kind of philosophic text-book of
a single truth, which the changes progressively taking place in modern
society tend to bring out into ever stronger relief; the importance to
man and society, of a large variety in types of character, and of giving
full freedom to human nature to expand itself in innumerable and
conflicting directions' (p. 253). It seems to us, however, that Mr.
Mill's plea for Liberty in the abstract, invaluable as it is, still is
less important than the memorable application of this plea, and of all
the arguments supporting it, to that half of the human race whose
individuality has hitherto been blindly and most wastefully repressed.
The little book on the _Subjection of Women_, though not a capital
performance like the _Logic_, was the capital illustration of the modes
of reasoning about human character set forth in his _Logic_ applied to
the case in which the old metaphysical notion of innate and indelible
differences is still nearly as strong as ever it was, and in which its
moral and social consequences are so inexpressibly disastrous, so
superlatively powerful in keeping the ordinary level of the aims and
achievements of life low and meagre. The accurate and unanswerable
reasoning no less than the noble elevation of this great argument; the
sagacity of a hundred of its maxims on individual conduct and character,
no less than the combined rationality and beauty of its aspirations for
the improvement of collective social life, make this piece probably the
best illustration of all the best and richest qualities of its author's
mind, and it is fortunate that a subject of such incomparable importance
should have been first effectively presented for discussion in so
worthy and pregnant a form.

It is interesting to know definitely from the Autobiography, what is
implied in the opening of the book itself, that a zealous belief in the
advantages of abolishing the legal and social inequalities of women was
not due to the accident of personal intimacy with one or two more women
of exceptional distinction of character. What has been ignorantly
supposed in our own day to be a crotchet of Mr. Mill's was the common
doctrine of the younger proselytes of the Benthamite school, and Bentham
himself was wholly with them (_Autobiography_, p. 105, and also 244);
as, of course, were other thinkers of an earlier date, Condorcet for
instance.[4] In this as in other subjects Mr. Mill did not go beyond his
modest definition of his own originality--the application of old ideas
in new forms and connections (p. 119), or the originality 'which every
thoughtful mind gives to its own mode of conceiving and expressing
truths which are common property' (p. 254). Or shall we say that he had
an originality of a more genuine kind, which made him first diligently
acquire what in an excellent phrase he calls _plenary possession_ of
truths, and then transfuse them with a sympathetic and contagious

[Footnote 4: Condorcet's arguments the reader will find in vol. i. of
the present series of these _Critical Miscellanies_, p. 249.]

It is often complained that the book on Women has the radical
imperfection of not speaking plainly on the question of the limitations
proper to divorce. The present writer once ventured to ask Mr. Mill why
he had left this important point undiscussed. Mr. Mill replied that it
seemed to him impossible to settle the expediency of more liberal
conditions of divorce, 'first, without hearing much more fully than we
could possibly do at present the ideas held by women in the matter;
second, until the experiment of marriage with entire equality between
man and wife had been properly tried.' People who are in a hurry to get
rid of their partners may find this very halting kind of work, and a man
who wants to take a new wife before sunset, may well be irritated by a
philosopher who tells him that the question may possibly be capable of
useful discussion towards the middle of the next century. But Mr. Mill's
argument is full of force and praiseworthy patience.

       *       *       *       *       *

The union of boundless patience with unshaken hope was one of Mr. Mill's
most conspicuous distinctions. There are two crises in the history of
grave and sensitive natures. One on the threshold of manhood, when the
youth defines his purpose, his creed, his aspirations; the other towards
the later part of middle life, when circumstance has strained his
purpose, and tested his creed, and given to his aspirations a cold and
practical measure. The second crisis, though less stirring, less vivid,
less coloured to the imagination, is the weightier probation of the two,
for it is final and decisive; it marks not the mere unresisted force of
youthful impulse and implanted predispositions, as the earlier crisis
does, but rather the resisting quality, the strength, the purity, the
depth, of the native character, after the many princes of the power of
the air have had time and chance of fighting their hardest against it.
It is the turn which a man takes about the age of forty or
five-and-forty that parts him off among the sheep on the right hand or
the poor goats on the left. This is the time of the grand moral
climacteric; when genial unvarnished selfishness, or coarse and ungenial
cynicism, or querulous despondency, finally chokes out the generous
resolve of a fancied strength which had not yet been tried in the
burning fiery furnace of circumstance.

Mr. Mill did not escape the second crisis, any more than he had escaped
the first, though he dismisses it in a far more summary manner. The
education, he tells us, which his father had given him with such fine
solicitude, had taught him to look for the greatest and surest source of
happiness in sympathy with the good of mankind on a large scale, and had
fitted him to work for this good of mankind in various ways. By the time
he was twenty, his sympathies and passive susceptibilities had been so
little cultivated, his analytic quality had been developed with so
little balance in the shape of developed feelings, that he suddenly
found himself unable to take pleasure in those thoughts of virtue and
benevolence which had hitherto only been associated with logical
demonstration and not with sympathetic sentiment. This dejection was
dispelled mainly by the influence of Wordsworth--a poet austere yet
gracious, energetic yet sober, penetrated with feeling for nature, yet
penetrated with feeling for the homely lot of man. Here was the
emotional synthesis, binding together the energies of the speculative
and active mind by sympathetic interest in the common feelings and
common destiny of human beings.

For some ten years more (1826-1836) Mr. Mill hoped the greatest things
for the good of society from reformed institutions. That was the period
of parliamentary changes, and such hope was natural and universal. Then
a shadow came over this confidence, and Mr. Mill advanced to the
position that the choice of political institutions is subordinate to the
question, 'what great improvement in life and culture stands next in
order for the people concerned, as the condition of their further
progress?' (p. 170). In this period he composed the _Logic_ (published
1843) and the _Political Economy_ (1848). Then he saw what all ardent
lovers of improvement are condemned to see, that their hopes have
outstripped the rate of progress; that fulfilment of social aspiration
is tardy and very slow of foot; and that the leaders of human thought
are never permitted to enter into that Promised Land whither they are
conducting others. Changes for which he had worked and from which he
expected most, came to pass, but, after they had come to pass, they were
'attended with much less benefit to human wellbeing than I should
formerly have anticipated, because they had produced very little
improvement in that which all real amelioration in the lot of mankind
depends on, their intellectual and moral state.... I had learnt from
experience that many false opinions may be exchanged for true ones,
without in the least altering the habit of mind of which false opinions
are the result' (p. 239). This discovery appears to have brought on no
recurrence of the dejection which had clouded a portion of his youth. It
only set him to consider the root of so disappointing a conclusion, and
led to the conviction that a great change in the fundamental
constitution of men's modes of thought must precede any marked
improvement in their lot. He perceived that society is now passing
through a transitional period 'of weak convictions, paralysed
intellects, and growing laxity of principle,' the consequence of the
discredit in the more reflective minds of the old opinions on the
cardinal subjects of religion, morals, and politics, which have now lost
most of their efficacy for good, though still possessed of life enough
to present formidable obstacles to the growth of better opinion on those
subjects (p. 239).

Thus the crisis of disappointment which breaks up the hope and effort of
so many men who start well, or else throws them into poor and sterile
courses, proved in this grave, fervent, and most reasonable spirit only
the beginning of more serious endeavours in a new and more arduous vein.
Hitherto he had been, as he says, 'more willing to be content with
seconding the superficial improvements which had begun to take place in
the common opinions of society and the world.' Henceforth he kept less
and less in abeyance the more heretical part of his opinions, which he
began more and more clearly to discern as 'almost the only ones, the
assertion of which tends in any way to regenerate society' (p. 230). The
crisis of middle age developed a new fortitude, a more earnest
intrepidity, a greater boldness of expression about the deeper things,
an interest profounder than ever in the improvement of the human lot.
The book on the _Subjection of Women_, the _Liberty_, and probably some
pieces that have not yet been given to the world, are the notable result
of this ripest, loftiest, and most inspiring part of his life.

This judgment does not appear to be shared by the majority of those who
have hitherto published their opinions upon Mr. Mill's life and works.
Perhaps it would have been odd if such a judgment had been common.
People who think seriously of life and its conditions either are content
with those conditions as they exist, or else they find them empty and
deeply unsatisfying. Well, the former class, who naturally figure
prominently in the public press, because the press is the more or less
flattering mirror of the prevailing doctrines of the day, think that Mr.
Mill's views of a better social future are chimerical, utopian, and
sentimental. The latter class compensate themselves for the pinchedness
of the real world about them by certain rapturous ideals, centring in
God, a future life, and the long companionship of the blessed. The
consequence of this absorption either in the immediate interests and
aims of the hour, or in the interests and aims of an imaginary world
which is supposed to await us after death, has been a hasty inclination
to look on such a life and such purposes as are set forth in the
Autobiography as essentially jejune and dreary. It is not in the least
surprising that such a feeling should prevail. If it were otherwise, if
the majority of thoughtful men and women were already in a condition to
be penetrated by sympathy for the life of 'search with many sighs,' then
we should have already gone far on our way towards the goal which a
Turgot or a Mill set for human progress. If society had at once
recognised the full attractiveness of a life arduously passed in
consideration of the means by which the race may take its next step
forward in the improvement of character and the amelioration of the
common lot,--and this not from love of God nor hope of recompense in a
world to come, and still less from hope of recompense or even any very
firm assurance of fulfilled aspiration in this world,--then that
fundamental renovation of conviction for which Mr. Mill sighed, and that
evolution of a new faith to which he had looked forward in the far
distance, would already have come to pass.

Mr. Mill has been ungenerously ridiculed for the eagerness and
enthusiasm of his contemplation of a new and better state of human
society. Yet we have always been taught to consider it the mark of the
loftiest and most spiritual character, for one to be capable of
rapturous contemplation of a new and better state in a future life. Why,
then, do you not recognise the loftiness and spirituality of those who
make their heaven in the thought of the wider light and purer happiness
that, in the immensity of the ages, may be brought to new generations of
men, by long force of vision and endeavour? What great element is
wanting in a life guided by such a hope? Is it not disinterested, and
magnanimous, and purifying, and elevating? The countless beauties of
association which cluster round the older faith may make the new seem
bleak and chilly. But when what is now the old faith was itself new,
that too may well have struck, as we know that it did strike, the
adherent of the mellowed pagan philosophy as crude, meagre, jejune,

Then Mr. Mill's life as disclosed to us in these pages has been called
joyless, by that sect of religious partisans whose peculiarity is to
mistake boisterousness for unction. Was the life of Christ himself,
then, so particularly joyful? Can the life of any man be joyful who sees
and feels the tragic miseries and hardly less tragic follies of the
earth? The old Preacher, when he considered all the oppressions that are
done under the sun, and beheld the tears of such as were oppressed and
had no comforter, therefore praised the dead which are already dead more
than the living which are yet alive, and declared him better than both,
which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done
under the sun. Those who are willing to trick their understandings and
play fast and loose with words may, if they please, console themselves
with the fatuous commonplaces of a philosophic optimism. They may, with
eyes tight shut, cling to the notion that they live in the best of all
possible worlds, or discerning all the anguish that may be compressed
into threescore years and ten, still try to accept the Stoic's paradox
that pain is not an evil. Or, most wonderful and most common of all,
they may find this joy of which they talk, in meditating on the moral
perfections of the omnipotent Being for whose diversion the dismal
panorama of all the evil work done under the sun was bidden to unfold
itself, and who sees that it is very good. Those who are capable of a
continuity of joyous emotion on these terms may well complain of Mr.
Mill's story as dreary; and so may the school of Solomon, who commended
mirth because a man hath no better thing than to eat and to drink and to
be merry. People, however, who are prohibited by their intellectual
conditions from finding full satisfaction either in spiritual raptures
or in pleasures of sense, may think the standard of happiness which Mr.
Mill sought and reached, not unacceptable and not unworthy of being
diligently striven after.

Mr. Mill's conception of happiness in life is more intelligible if we
contrast it with his father's. The Cynic element in James Mill, as his
son now tells us (pg. 48), was that he had scarcely any belief in
pleasures; he thought few of them worth the price which has to be paid
for them; and he set down the greater number of the miscarriages in life
as due to an excessive estimate of them. 'He thought human life a poor
thing at best, after the freshness of youth and of unsatisfied curiosity
had gone by.... He would sometimes say that if life were made what it
might be, by good government and good education, it would be worth
having; but he never spoke with anything like enthusiasm even of that
possibility.' We should shrink from calling even this theory dreary,
associated as it is with the rigorous enforcement of the heroic virtues
of temperance and moderation, and the strenuous and careful bracing up
of every faculty to face the inevitable and make the best of it. At
bottom it is the theory of many of the bravest souls, who fare grimly
through life in the mood of leaders of forlorn hopes, denying pleasures,
yet very sensible of the stern delight of fortitude. We can have no
difficulty in understanding that, when the elder Mill lay dying, 'his
interest in all things and persons that had interested him through life
was undiminished, nor did the approach of death cause the smallest
wavering (as in so strong and firm a mind it was impossible that it
should), in his convictions on the subject of religion. His principal
satisfaction, after he knew that his end was near, seemed to be the
thought of what he had done to make the world better than he found it;
and his chief regret in not living longer, that he had not had time to
do more' (p. 203).[5]

[Footnote 5: For the mood in which death was faced by another person who
had renounced theology and the doctrine of a future state of
consciousness, see Miss Martineau's _Autobiography_, ii. 435, etc.]

Mr. Mill, however, went beyond this conception. He had a belief in
pleasures, and thought human life by no means a poor thing to those who
know how to make the best of it. It was essential both to the stability
of his utilitarian philosophy, and to the contentment of his own
temperament, that the reality of happiness should be vindicated, and he
did both vindicate and attain it. A highly pleasurable excitement that
should have no end, of course he did not think possible; but he regarded
the two constituents of a satisfied life, much tranquillity and some
excitement, as perfectly attainable by many men, and as ultimately
attainable by very many more. The ingredients of this satisfaction he
set forth as follows:--a willingness not to expect more from life than
life is capable of bestowing; an intelligent interest in the objects of
mental culture; genuine private affections; and a sincere interest in
the public good. What, on the other hand, are the hindrances which
prevent these elements from being in the possession of every one born in
a civilised country? Ignorance; bad laws or customs, debarring a man or
woman from the sources of happiness within reach; and 'the positive
evils of life, the great sources of physical and mental suffering--such
as indigence, disease, and the unkindness, worthlessness, or premature
loss of objects of affection.'[6] But every one of these calamitous
impediments is susceptible of the weightiest modification, and some of
them of final removal. Mr. Mill had learnt from Turgot and
Condorcet--two of the wisest and noblest of men, as he justly calls them
(113)--among many other lessons, this of the boundless improvableness of
the human lot, and we may believe that he read over many a time the
pages in which Condorcet delineated the Tenth Epoch in the history of
human perfectibility, and traced out in words of finely reserved
enthusiasm the operation of the forces which should consummate the
progress of the race. 'All the grand sources of human suffering,' Mr.
Mill thought, 'are in a great degree, many of them almost entirely,
conquerable by human care and effort; and though their removal is
grievously slow--though a long succession of generations will perish in
the breach before the conquest is completed, and this world becomes all
that, if will and knowledge were not wanting, it might easily be
made--yet every mind sufficiently intelligent and generous to bear a
part, however small and unconspicuous, in the endeavour, will draw a
noble enjoyment from the contest itself, which he would not for any
bribe in the form of selfish indulgence consent to be without'
(_Utilitarianism_, 22).

[Footnote 6: For this exposition see _Utilitarianism_, pp. 18-24.]

We thus see how far from dreary this wise and benign man actually found
his own life; how full it was of cheerfulness, of animation, of
persevering search, of a tranquillity lighted up at wholesome intervals
by flashes of intellectual and moral excitement. That it was not seldom
crossed by moods of despondency is likely enough, but we may at least be
sure that these moods had nothing in common with the vulgar despondency
of those whose hopes are centred in material prosperity in this world
and spiritual prosperity in some other. They were, at least, the
dejection of a magnanimous spirit, that could only be cast down by some
new hindrance to the spread of reason and enlightenment among men, or
some new weakening of their incentives to right doing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Much has been said against Mr. Mill's strictures on society, and his
withdrawal from it. If we realise the full force of all that he says of
his own purpose in life, it is hard to see how either his opinion or his
practice could have been different. He ceased to be content with
'seconding the superficial improvements' in common ways of thinking, and
saw the necessity of working at a fundamental reconstitution of accepted
modes of thought. This in itself implies a condemnation of a social
intercourse that rests on the base of conventional ways of looking at
things. The better kind of society, it is true, appears to contain two
classes; not only the class that will hear nothing said hostile to the
greater social conventions, including among these the popular theology,
but also another class who will tolerate or even encourage attack on
the greater social conventions, and a certain mild discussion of
improvements in them--provided only neither attack nor discussion be
conducted in too serious a vein. A new idea about God, or property, or
the family, is handed round among the company, as ladies of quality in
Queen Anne's time handed round a black page or a China monster. In
Bishop Butler's phrase, these people only want to know what is said, not
what is true. To be in earnest, to show that you mean what you say, to
think of drawing blood in the encounter, is thought, and perhaps very
naturally thought, to be a piece of bad manners. Social intercourse can
only exist either pleasantly or profitably among people who share a
great deal of common ground in opinion and feeling. Mr. Mill, no doubt,
was always anxious to find as much common ground as he honestly could,
for this was one of the most characteristic maxims of his propagandism.
But a man who had never been brought up in the popular religion, and who
had been brought up in habits of the most scrupulous fair dealing with
his own understanding; who had never closed his mind to new truths from
likely sources, but whose character was formed, and whose mind was made
up, on the central points of opinion, was not in a position to derive
much benefit from those who in all respects represent a less advanced
stage of mental development. On the other hand, all the benefit which
they were in a position to derive from him could be adequately secured
by reading what he wrote. Perhaps there is nothing wiser among the wise
things written in the Autobiography than the remarks on the fact that
persons of any mental superiority, who greatly frequent society, are
greatly deteriorated by it. 'Not to mention loss of time, the tone of
their feelings is lowered: they become less in earnest about those of
their opinions respecting which they must remain silent in the society
they frequent: they come to look on their most elevated objects as
unpractical, or at least too remote from realisation to be more than a
vision or a theory: and if, more fortunate than most, they retain their
higher principles unimpaired, yet with respect to the persons and
affairs of their own day, they insensibly adopt the modes of feeling and
judgment in which they can hope for sympathy from the company they keep'
(p. 228). That a man loses something, nay, that he loses much, by being
deprived of animating intercourse with other men, Mr. Mill would
probably have been the first to admit. Where that intercourse can be
had, nothing is more fit to make the judgment robust, nothing more fit
to freshen and revive our interests, and to clothe them with reality.
Even second-rate companionship has some clear advantages. The question
is, whether these advantages outweigh the equally clear disadvantages.
Mr. Mill was persuaded that they do not.

Those whom disgust at the aimlessness and insignificance of most of our
social intercourse may dispose to withdrawal from it--and their number
will probably increase as the reaction against intellectual flippancy
goes on--will do well to remember that Mr. Mill's retirement and his
vindication of it sprang from no moral valetudinarianism. He did not
retire to gratify any self-indulgent whim, but only in order to work the
more uninterruptedly _and definitely_. The Autobiography tells us what
pains he took to keep himself informed of all that was going on in every
part of the world. 'In truth, the modern facilities of communication
have not only removed all the disadvantages, to a political writer in
tolerably easy circumstances, of distance from the scene of political
action, but have converted them into advantages. The immediate and
regular receipt of newspapers and periodicals keeps him _au courant_ of
even the most temporary politics, and gives him a much more correct view
of the state and progress of opinion than he could acquire by personal
contact with individuals; for every one's social intercourse is more or
less limited to particular sets or classes, whose impressions and no
others reach him through that channel; and experience has taught me that
those who give their time to the absorbing claims of what is called
society, not having leisure to keep up a large acquaintance with the
organs of opinion, remain much more ignorant of the general state either
of the public mind, or of the active and instructed part of it, than a
recluse who reads the newspapers need be. There are, no doubt,
disadvantages in too long a separation from one's country--in not
occasionally renewing one's impressions of the light in which men and
things appear when seen from a position in the midst of them; but the
deliberate judgment formed at a distance, and undisturbed by
inequalities of perspective, is the most to be depended on, even for
application in practice. Alternating between the two positions, I
combined the advantages of both.' Those who knew him will perhaps agree
that he was more widely and precisely informed of the transactions of
the day, in every department of activity all over the world, than any
other person of their acquaintance. People should remember, further,
that though Mr. Mill saw comparatively little of men after a certain
time, yet he was for many years of his life in constant and active
relations with men. It was to his experience in the Indian Office that
he attributed some of his most serviceable qualities, especially this:
'I learnt how to obtain the best I could, when I could not obtain
everything; instead of being indignant or dispirited because I could not
have entirely my own way, to be pleased and encouraged when I could have
the smallest part of it; and when even that could not be, to bear with
complete equanimity the being overruled altogether' (pp. 85, 86). In
these words we seem almost to hear the modest and simple tones of the
writer's own voice.

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