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jf LI BR AR Y

OF 1HE

UNIVERSITY OF'CALIFORNIA.

GIKT OK



Received 5^fejfc ,

Accessions No.^A'.')^ Shelf No.




THE



HISTORY OF A GREAT MIND



A SURVEY OF THE



EDUCATION AND OPINIONS OF JOHN STUART MILL.



B. A. HlNSDALE. A. M



PRESIDENT OF HIRAM COLLEGE



CINCINNATI:

B O S W O R T H ' , CHASE & H A L, L , P ,
180 ELM STREET,



ERRATA.

THE author regrets his inability to read the proofs of the following
pages before they pass through the press. The grosser errors are
'Corrected below :

Page 4, line 5. for " Theoctelus," read * Theoctetus."

Page 4, line 10, for "performing," read ''preparing." .

Page 5. line 19, for " computatia." read "computation 1

Page 12, line 14, for "elements, read " Elements."

Page 16, line 3, for "Mr. Mill," read "Mr. Mill

'Page 25, line 11, for "dreary," read "drear.' ?

Page 29, line 26. for "a." read "the."



T ZEE IE



;
HISTORY OF A GREAT MIND



from Christian ^uarterljr, g^ril, 1874.



HENRY THOMAS BUCKLE, the historian of Civilization, in
one of his writings expressed the opinion, that "if a jury of the
greatest European thinkers were to be impaneled, and were directed
to declare, by their verdict, who among our living writers had
done most for the advance of knowledge, they could hardly hesitate
in pronouncing the name of John Stuart Mill." "Nor can we doubt,"
the distinguished historian went on to say, "that posterity would
ratify their decision.'' f Mr. Buckl'e was not a cautious man in his
general propositions ; but a great deal could be said in favor of both
those here quoted. Certainly, Mr. Mill was second to no man in his
generation in the depth and breadth of his influence on the culti-
vated mind of England and America. Shortly after his death, the
London correspondent of one of our abler American journals said,
"The whole of the present generation of cultivated Englishmen under
five and forty may be said to have been brought up at Mr. Mill's feet ;
though, of course, they have not all accepted their master's teach-
ing." And the correspondent further declared, " In losing him, we
have . . . lost the most thoroughly trained intellect amongst
English philosophers and politicians." $ The first of these statements
can not be literally accepted, but the second is no more than the

* Autobiography. By John Stuart Mill. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1873.
\ Essays. New York : D. Appleton & Co. 1863. pp. 39.
JThe Nation, No. 414.



2 The History of a Great Mind.

simple truth. Mr. Mill's influence may wane ; there is good reason
to think it will; nay, some good judges say it has waned already:
but, without canvassing these opinions, we do not hestitate to declare
that he was the foremost English philosopher and logician of his age.

No man of culture, least of all a cultivated educator, can fail to be
interested in Mr. Mill's intellectual history. How was this great
mind trained ? Until recently, this question could not be specifically
answered. It was generally known that Mr. Mill was not a university
man, but that he had been educated by his father, Mr. James Mill,
the historian of British India, and the author of the "Analysis of the
Human Mind." But little more than this was known, at least in
this country. All agreed that Mill's intellectual training had been
exceedingly thorough ; but what the master's methods and tools were,
had not been told. Indeed, some could hardly think of the author of
the " Logic " and the " Examination " of Hamilton's Philosophy as
having had a history or training at all. Until he emerged from his
retirement toward the close of his life, he was little more than a
name : vox, et prczterea nihil. The correspondent quoted above,
thus describes his own early conceptions of the great philosopher :
"We did not suppose he had any actual flesh-and-blood exist-
ence. He was a mere impersonation of logic and political economy,
who was supposed to be incessantly secreting syllogisms in some
philosophical laboratory." The "Memorial" volume added to our
knowledge of Mr. Mill's later life, but threw no new light on his early
training. Mr. Bourne, author of the principal sketch, told over again
what we knew before. He said, "James Mill was living in a house
at Pentonville when his son was born ; and, partly because of the
peculiar abilities that the boy displayed from the first, partly because
he could not afford to procure for him elsewhere such teaching as
he was himself able to give him, he took his education entirely into
his own hands." * And here the matter rested, leaving us in as much
darkness as ever.

Accordingly, when it was announced that Mr. Mill had left, ready
for the press, an "Autobiography," men of culture looked to its appear-
ance with interest, expecting that it would contain not only a general
history of his mind, but that it would reveal to the world the secret

John Stuart Mill. His Life and Works. By Herbert Spencer, Henry Fawcett,
Harrison, and other distinguished authors.



The History of a Great Mind. 3

of his early education. Late the last Autumn this work appeared, and
it proved to be a singularly full and fascinating transcript of Mill's
mental history. Much more than this it could hardly be, so uneventful
was its author's life. In the first paragraph, Mr. Mill gives his reasons
for writing the "Autobiography;" the principal one of which was
" the thought that, in an age in which education and its improvement
are the subject of more, if not of profounder, study than at any former
period of English history, it may be useful that there should be some
record of an education which was unusual and remarkable, and which,
whatever else it may have done, has proved how much more than is
commonly supposed, may be taught, and well taught, in those early
years which, in the common modes of what is called instruction, are
little better than wasted." Certainly, John Mill's education, as de-
scribed in his "Autobiography," was both " unusual and remarkable."
Whether or not it is so significant as he thought, we shall be in a
better position to determine by and by. It is proposed, in this paper,
to give some account of this education, especially to show how " the
much more" was taught, and then to offer some general thoughts
upon the body of doctrine which Mr. Mill left behind him.

James Mill was a man of unusual force of mind and character.
He studied in the University of Glasgow for the Scottish Church,
was licensed to preach, but never followed the calling for which he
had prepared himself, having become so skeptical that he was satisfied
" he could not believe the doctrines of that or of any other Church."
After acting as a tutor in one of the noble families of Scotland, he
found his way to London, where he devoted his leisure to philosophy
and literature. London was his home when he took in hand the
education of John Stuart, his eldest son. How early this was com-
menced, we are not told; but Mr. Mill says he never could re-
member, in later years, when he began to study Greek, though he
was told it was when he was three years old. His earliest recollec-
tion on this point was of committing to memory lists of common
Greek words, with their signification in English writ.ten out on
cards by his father. "Of Grammar," he says, " until some years later,
I learned no more than the inflections of the nouns and verbs ; but,
after a course of vocables, proceeded at once to translation ; and I
faintly remember going through ^Esop's Fables, the first Greek book
which I read." Before he was eight years old he had read, in addition



4 The History of a Great Mind.

to the Fables, the "Anabasis," the whole of Herodotus, of Xenophon's
" Cyropsedia," and "Memorabilia" of Socrates, some of the Lives of the
philosophers by Diogenes Laertius, part of Lucian, and two of the
orations of Isocrates. In his eighth year he also read six of the
" Dialogues of Plato," though one of these, the "Theoctelus," he says, it
was totally impossible that he should understand. How painstaking
the elder Mill was, is very well told in one sentence from the "Auto-
biography." " What he was himself willing to undergo for the sake
of my instruction, may be judged from the fact that I went through
the whole process of performing my Greek lessons in the same room
and at the same table at which he was writing ; and as in those days
Greek and English lexicons were not, and I could make no more
use of a Greek and Latin lexicon than could be made without hav-
ing yet begun to learn Latin, I was forced to have recourse to him
for the meaning of every word which I did not know." In these early
years, young Mill learned nothing besides Greek as a lesson, except
Arithmetic, also taught him by his father. But he completed what
was, for one of his age, a very remarkable course of reading in English
Literature, chiefly history. It may not be amiss to remark, by way of
contrast, that even bright youths, at this early age, are rarely lifted
by the common processes of education to a higher level of intellectual
life than that determined by YoutJis Companions and Chatterboxes!
In his eighth year, Mill commenced to learn Latin, in conjunction
with a younger sister, to whom, under his father's superintendence,
he acted as a teacher. In his maturity he bore a decided testimony
against one child's being set to teach another, both because the teach-
ing is inefficient, and because "the relation between teacher and
taught is not a good moral discipline to either." His own Latin
studies went far beyond the lessons taught his sister. From his
eighth to his twelfth year, he read the " Bucolics " of Virgil, six books
of the "^Eneid," all of Horace except the " Epodes," the "Fables" of
Phasdrus, five books of Livy, Sallust, many of the " Metamorphoses "
of Ovid, part of Terence, two or three books of Lucretius, several of
Cicero's orations, his writings on "Oratory," and his "Letters to
Atticus." During the same years he read, in Greek, the "Iliad" and
"Odyssey" through, one or two plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and
Aristophanes, all of Thucyaides, the " Hellenics " of Xenophon, a great
part of Demosthenes, ^Eschines, and Lysias, Theocritus, Anacreon,



The History of a Great Mind. 5

part of the "Anthology," a little of Dionysius, and Aristotle's " Rhet-
oric ;" which latter, he says, " as the first expressly scientific treatise on
any moral or psychological subject which I had read, and containing
many of the best observations of the ancients on human nature and
life, my father made me study with peculiar care, and throw the mat-
ter of it into synoptic tables." During these years he learned Ele-
mentary Geometry and Algebra thoroughly, the differential calculus
and other portions of the higher mathematics quite imperfectly, ow-
ing to his father's inability to furnish the requisite instruction. He
also kept up his English readings, sweeping a large circle of history
and poetry. Besides, he paid some attention to books of experi-
mental science, though more as amusement than as a serious study.
At the age of twelve, Mr. Mill entered a second and more ad-
vanced stage in his course of instruction ; one in which " the main
object was no longer the aids and appliances of thought, but the
thoughts themselves." This commenced with Logic, Aristotle's
" Organon " being the text-book. His father also required him to read
the whole or parts of several Latin treatises on the Scholastic Logic.
He then went through the great work of Hobbes, " Computatia
Sive Logica." In concluding the account of his early studies in
Logic, the great logician puts on record this emphatic testimony
to the value of that science as a discipline of the mind :

" My own consciousness and experience ultimately led me to appreciate quite
as highly as he did an early practical familiarity with the School Logic. I know
of nothing in my education to which I think myself more indebted for whatever
capacity of thinking I have attained. The first intellectual operation in which I
arrived at any proficiency, was dissecting a bad argument, and finding in what
part the fallacy lay ; and though whatever capacity of this sort I attained was due
to the fact that it was an intellectual exercise in which I was most perseveringly
drilled by my father, yet it is also true that the School Logic, and the mental
habits acquired in studying it, were among the principal instruments, in this drill-
ing. I am persuaded that nothing in modern education tends so much, when
properly used, to form exact thinkers, who attach a precise meaning to words and
propositions, and are not imposed on by vague, loose, or ambiguous terms. The
boasted influence of mathematical studies is nothing to it ; for in mathematical pro-
cesses, none of the real difficulties of correct ratiocination occur. It is also a study
peculiarly adapted to an early stage in the education of philosophical students,
since it does not presuppose the slow process of acquiring, by experience and re-
flection, valuable thoughts of their own. They may become capable of disentan-
gling the intricacies of confused and self-contradictory thought, before their own
thinking faculties are much advanced ; a power which, for want of some such dis-
cipline, many otherwise able men altogether lack, and, when they have to answer
opponents, only endeavor, by such arguments as they can command, to support



6 The History of a Great Mind.

the opposite conclusion, scarcely even attempting to confute the reasonings of
their antagonists ; and therefore, at the utmost, leaving the question, as far as it
depends on argument, a balanced one." *

All this time the "study of the great classical writers was zeal-
ously pursued, not for the " construction " of the language, but for
the writers' thoughts. He could now read them, as far as the lan-
guage was concerned, with perfect ease. In his maturity, Mr. Mill
was as remarkable for his mastery of analysis as for any other
quality of his mind. In his essay on Bentham, he describes this
method, as exemplified in that thinker, in these words : " He begins
by placing before himself the whole of the field of inquiry to which
the particular questions belong, and divides down till he arrives at
the thing he is in search of; and then, by successively rejecting all
which is not the thing, he gradually works out a definition of what
it is." f Young Mill was early introduced to this method in the " Dia-
logues " of Plato. He says there is no author to whom he was more
indebted for his mental culture. " The Socratic method, of which
the Platonic 'Dialogues' are the chief example, is unsurpassed as a
discipline for correcting the errors and clearing up the confusion
incident to the intellectus sibi permissus, the understanding which
has made up all its bundles of associations under the guidance of
popular phraseology." He declares farther : " I have felt ever since
that the title Platonist belongs by far better right to those who have
been nourished in, and have endeavored to practice, Plato's mode of
investigation, than to those who are distinguished only by the adop-
tion of certain dogmatical conclusions, drawn mostly from the least
intelligible of his works, and which the character of his mind and
writings makes it uncertain whether he himself regarded as any thing
more than poetic fancies, or philosophic conjectures."

In 1819, Mill began a course of lessons in Political Economy.
At first, his father instructed him by conversational lectures deliv-
ered during their long walks ; afterward he read the masters of the
science, paying especial attention to Ricardo. " I do not believe," he
says, " that any scientific training ever was more thorough, or better
fitted for training the faculties, than the mode in which Logic and
Political Economy were taught me bv my father."

Here closed what Mill calls his lessons. He now spent a year

* " Autobiography," pp. 19, 20.

t " Dissertations and Discussions;" Boston, 1865. Vol. I, page 373.



The History of a Great Mind. 7

on the Continent ; and though, on his return, he prosecuted his stud-
ies under his father's general direction, his father was no longer his
schoolmaster. Let us take advantage of this change, as he does
himself, to offer some remarks on the story.

1. The reader of the "Autobiography" is impressed "by the
great effort to give," to quote the author's own words, "during the
years of childhood, an amount of knowledge in what are considered
the higher branches of education, which is seldom acquired (if ac-
quired at all) until the age of manhood." We have noticed a dispo-
sition to question whether Mill really read during his early years the
writers whom he names. With us, his own testimony is final. He
must have known whether he read them or not, and we can not think
of questioning his veracity. Had this history concluded with 1820,
remarkable as it is, men would have said, " precocity," " hot-house
forcing," and would have paid no further attention. But when we see
this boy becoming the most frequent contributor to the old Westminster
Review before he reaches his majority ; when we see him chosen by
Jeremy Bentham, at the same early age, to edit and annotate one of
that philosopher's great works ; when we find him, in his manhood,
contributing to mental and social science some of the profoundest
discussions produced in the recent history of speculation, we are pre-
cluded from putting in that plea. James Mill's discipline did train a
great mind.

2. We must note the constant care taken to go to the bottom of
things. Mr. Mill declares his was not an education of cram ; says
his father never permitted any thing which he learned to degen-
erate into a mere exercise of memory. As he read the Greek orators,
he wrote out full analyses of their orations. When on their walks,
the boy gave his father the best account he could of what he had
read the day before, using for that purpose notes which he had written
on slips of paper ; the father adding ideas and explanations of his
own respecting civilization, government, morality, and mental cultiva-
tion, which the boy was required to restate in his own words. The
senior Mill compelled his son to grapple with things, and not to be
satisfied with names. Says the latter : " Striving, even in an exag-
gerated degree, to call forth the activity of my faculties, by making me
find out every thing for myself, he gave his explanations not before,
but after, I had felt the full force of the difficulties." On one occasion,



8 The History of a Great Mind.

the son intimated that what was true in theory might require correc-
tion in practice ; the father repelled the common solecism with indig-
nation, and pointed out how it springs from a wrong conception of
a theory. On another occasion the father demanded to know what
an idea is, and not obtaining a satisfactory answer, he expressed
displeasure at John Stuart's inability to define the word.

3. Self-conceit was constantly repressed. Young Mill's associ-
ates were his father and his father's friends. " He kept me," says
the son, " with extreme vigilance, out of the way of hearing myself
praised, or of being led to make self-flattering comparisons between
myself and others." " From his own intercourse with me," he con-
tinues, " I could derive none but a very humble opinion of myself ;
and the standard of comparison he always held up to me was not
what other people did, but what a man could and ought to do." James
Mill must have been gratified with the success of his effort to pre-
serve his son from the noxious influence of flattery and self-conceit.
John Stuart says he was not aware until his fourteenth year that his
attainments were unusual for a boy of his age. At that time, when
on the eve of leaving home, his father made the revelation to him ; but
this was done to forefend the son against the influences of flattery,
now that he was about to pass for a time into new associations.

4. James Mill always demanded more of John Stuart than the
latter was able to perform. His demands were both excessive and
rigorous. "I was constantly incurring his displeasure," says the
son, "by my inability to solve problems for which he did not see
that I had not the necessary knowledge." This severity, bating the
bad temper by which it was attended, the younger Mill is disposed
to justify. He very truly says, "A pupil from whom nothing is ever
demanded which he can not do, never does all he can." He touches
the question again, as follows :

" I do not believe that boys can be induced to apply themselves with vigor, and
what is so much more difficult, perseverance, to dry and irksome studies, by the
sole force of persuasion and soft words. Much must be done, and much must be
learned, by children, for which rigid discipline and known liability to punish-
ment are indispensable as means. It is, no doubt, a very laudable effort in mod-
ern teaching to render as much as possible of what the young are required to
learn, easy and interesting to them. But v.hen this principle is pushed to the
length of not requiring them to learn any thing but what has been made easy and
interesting, one of the chief objects of education is sacrificed. I rejoice in the
decline of the old, brutal, and tyrannical system of teaching, which, however, did



The History of a Great Mind. 9

succeed in enforcing habits of application ; but the new, as it seems to me, is
training up a race of men who will be incapable of doing any thing which is dis-
agreeable to them." *

These words are well worthy of being pondered without regard
to their author ; coming from John Stuart Mill, they are doubly
worthy of attention. We believe they contain a lesson that the
present generation needs to heed. It is very generally thought cruel
to ask boys and girls to do, at least to insist on their doing, any
thing that is disagreeable. Lessons must be simplified, the pupil be
relieved of drudgery, education must be made easy ; and with what
results to intellectual and moral character, the wise will be sure to
see, and soon enough. The prevailing ideas of human training, unless
counteracted, will inevitably lead to the formation of a molluscous
type of character. Every real educator will thank Mr. Mill for his
note of warning.

5. Before passing to the next period in this remarkable history,
two questions remain to be suggested. Could James Mill's system
of education be generally introduced ? and, if so, would its introduc-
tion be desirable ? Deferring the second for the present, the first
demands brief consideration.

Most persons will say, "The attempt to introduce this system
would end in failure ; we have few James Mills to work it, and still
fewer John Mills to subject to it." Both these propositions are true;
though Mr. Mill insists that what he did, others could do. " If I had
been by nature extremely quick of apprehension,'' he says, " or had
possessed a very accurate or retentive memory, or were of remarka-
bly active or energetic character, the trial would not be conclusive;
but in all the natural gifts I am rather below than above par. What
I could do, could assuredly be done by any boy or girl of average
capacity and healthy physical constitution ; and if I have accom-
plished any thing, I owe it, among other fortunate circumstances, to
the fact that, through the early training bestowed upon me by my
father, I started, I may fairly say, with an advantage of a quarter of
a century over my contemporaries."! All we know of Mr. Mill pre-
cludes our calling this affectation. We are therefore driven to the
conclusion that he either greatly underrated his own powers, or that
he greatly overrated the powers of the average pupil. The first was,

*" Autobiography," pp. 52, 53. tlb., pp. 20, 21.



!O The History of a Great Mind.

no doubt, his mistake. It is folly to suppose that a common youth
can be put through such a training as this, even if James Mill stood
ceaselessly behind him. Perhaps the strongest proof of the great-
ness of Mr. Mill's powers is the fact that he did not utterly break
down under the burdens imposed upon him. We share with the
London correspondent his surprise " that a child who learned Greek
in his fourth year, read Plato in his eighth, and mastered Political
Economy in his twelfth, could escape idiocy before twenty." We
also share with him the opinion that " Mill's brain must have been
an instrument of marvelous strength and delicacy combined, as well-
knit and compact as it was finely strung." 91 There can be no doubt,
therefore, that Mr. Mill, so little did he know of the comparative


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Online LibraryB. A. (Burke Aaron) HinsdaleThe history of a great mind : a survey of the education and opinions of John Stuart Mill → online text (page 1 of 4)