Herbert Spencer.

John Stuart Mill: his life and works. Twelve sketches online

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Herbert Spejtcer, Henry Fawceti, Frederic Harrison,


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(Late Ticknor & Fields, and Fields, Osgood, & Co.)





Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873,


At the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington,

Boston :
Stereotyped and Printed by Rand, A very, &' Co.



L A Sketch of his Life, H. R. Fox Bourne . . 5

- ir. TIrs Career in the India House. W: T. Thoiniton 30

•"^^^ ^ -f-i-n. His Moral Character, Herbert Spencer .
c C. IV. His Botanical Studies. Henry Trimen. .

•^ V. •llis Place as a Critic. W: Minto \ .
t - Vr. His Work in Philosophy. J. H. Levy ,

VII. His Studies ^ in Morals and Jurisprudence
IV: A: Hunter. . . 1 v. H ^^. -'. \:^.:, -. . . ,




L niis

62 jj-

Work in Political Economy. J. E. Cairiies 65 ^

IX. His Influence at the Universities, Henry

Fa-wcett . . V^; "> "^^ ." ^ ' . 74

X. His Influence as a Practical Politician, 3fi7-

licent Gari'ett Fawcett 81^

XI. His Relation to Positivism. Frederic Harrison , 88

XH. His Position as a Philosopher, W. A. Hunter 91


John Stuart Mill,


John Stuart Mill was born on the 20th of May,
1806, "I am glad," wrote George Grote to him in
1865, with reference to a forthcoming article on his
" Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy,"
" to get an opportunity of saying what I think about
your ' System of Logic ' and ' Essay on Liberty ; ' but I
am still more glad to get (or perhaps to make) an
opportunity of saying something about your father.
It has always rankled in my thoughts that so grand
and powerful a mind as his left behind it such insuffi-
cient traces in the estimation of successors." That
regret was natural. The grand and powerful mind of
James Mill left very notable traces, however, in the
philosophical literature of his country, and in the
training of the son who was to carry on his work, and
to be the most influential teacher in a new school of
thought and action, by which society is likely to be
revolutionized far more than it has been by any other
I* 5


agency since the period of Erasmus and Martin
Luther. James Mill was something more than the
disciple of Bentham and Ricardo. He was a profound
and original philosopher, whose depth and breadth of
study were all the more remarkable because his
thoughts were developed and his knowledge was
acquired mainly by his own exertions. He had been
helped out of the humble life into which he had been
born by Sir John Stuart, who assisted him to attend
the lectures of Dugald Stewart and others at Edin-
burgh with a view to his becoming a minister in the
Church of Scotland. Soon finding that calling dis-
tasteful to him, he had, in or near the year 1800, settled
in London as a journalist, resolved by ephemeral work
to earn enough money to maintain him and his family
in humble ways while he spent his best energies in
the more serious pursuits to which he was devoted.
His talents soon made him friends ; and the greatest
of these was Jeremy Bentham.

As erroneous opinions have been current as to the
relations between Bentham and James Mill, and have
lately been repeated in more than one newspaper, it
may be well here to call attention to the contradiction
of them that was published by the son of the latter in
" The Edinburgh Review " for 1844. " Mr. Mill and
his family," we there read, " lived with Mr. Bentham
for half of four years at Ford Abbey," — that is, be-
tween 1814 and 1817, — "and they passed small por-
tions of previous summers with him at Barrow Green.
His last visit to Barrow Green was of not more than a
month's duration ; and the previous ones all together
did not extend to more than six months, or seven at


most. The pecuniary benefit which Mr. Mill derived
from his intimacy with Bentham consisted in this, —
that he and his family lived with him as his guests,
while he was in the country, periods amounting in all
to about two years and a half. I have no reason to
think that his hospitality was either given or accepted
as pecuniary assistance ; and I will add that the obliga-
tion was not exclusively on one side. Bentham was
not then, as he was afterwards, surrounded by persons
who courted his society, and were ever ready to volun-
teer their services ; and, to a man of his secluded
habits, it was no little advantage to have near him such
a man as Mr. Mill, to whose advice and aid he habitu-
ally had recourse in all business transactions with the
outward world of a troublesome or irksome nature.
Such as the connection was, it was not of Mr. Mill's
seeking." On the same unquestionable authority we
learn, that " Mr. Mill never in his life was in debt ; and
his income, whatever it might be, always covered his
expenses." It is clear, that, from near the commence-
ment of the present century, James Mill and Bentham
lived for many years on terms of great intimacy, in
which the poorer man was thoroughly independent,
although it suited the other to make a fair return for
the services rendered to him. A very characteristic
letter is extant, dated 1814, in which James Mill pro-
poses that the relations between him and his " dear
friend and master " shall be to some extent altered, but
only in order that their common objects may be the
more fully served. " In reflecting," he says, " upon
the duty which we owe to our principles, — to that sys-
tem of important truths of which you have the immor-


tal honor to be the author, but of which I am a most
faithful and fervent disciple, and hitherto, I have
fancied, my master's favorite disciple, — I have con-
sidered that there was nobody at all so likely to be
your real successor as myself. Of talents it would be
easy to find many superior. But, in the first place, I
hardly know of anybody who has so completely taken
up the principles, and is so thoroughly of the same
way of thinking with yourself. In the next place,
there are very few who have so much of the neces-
sary previous discipline ; my antecedent years having
been wholly occupied in acquiring it. And, in the last
place, I am pretty sure you cannot think of any other
person whose whole life will be devoted to the propa-
gation of the system." "There was during the last
few years of Bentham's life;" said James Mill's son,
" less frequency and cordiality of intercourse than in
former years, chiefly because Bentham had acquired
newer, and to him more agreeable intimacies ; but Mr.
Mill's feeling never altered towards him, nor did he
ever fail, publicly or privately, in giving due honor to
Bentham's name and acknowledgment of the intellec-
tual debt he owed to him."

Those extracts are made, not only in justice to the
memory of James Mill, but as a help towards under-
standing the influences by which his son was sur-
rounded from his earliest years. James Mill was
living in a house at Pentonville when this 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 able himself to give him, he took


his education entirely into his own hands. With what
interest — even jealous interest, it would seem —
Bentham watched that education, appears from a
pleasant little letter addressed to him by the elder
Mill in 1812. "I am not going to die," he wrote,
" notwithstanding your zeal to come in for a legacy.
However, if I were to die any time before this poor
boy is a man, one of the things that would pinch me
most sorely would be the being obliged to leave his
mind unmade to the degree of excellence of v/hich I
hope to make it. But another thing is, that the only
prospect which would lessen that pain would be the
leaving him in your hands. I therefore take your offer
quite seriously, and stipulate merely that it shall be
made as soon as possible ; and then we may perhaps
leave him a successor worthy of both of us." It was
a bold hope, but one destined to be fully realized. At
the time of its utterance, the " poor boy " was barely
more than six years old. The intellectual powers of
which he gave such early proof were carefully, but
apparently not excessively, cultivated. Mrs. Grote, in
her lately-published " Personal Life of George Grote,"
has described him as he appeared in 1817, the year
in which her husband made the acquaintance of his
father : "John Stuart Mill, then a boy of about twelve
years old," — he was really only eleven, — "was study-
ing, with his father as sole preceptor, under the pater-
nal roof. Unquestionably forward for his years, and
already possessed of a competent knowledge of Greek
and Latin, as well as of some subordinate though solid
attainments, John was, as a boy, somewhat repressed
by the elder Mill, and seldom took any share in the


conversation carried on by the society frequenting the
house." It is perhaps not strange that a boy of
eleven, at any rate a boy who was to become so mod-
est a man, should not take much part in general con-
versation ; and Mr. Mill himself never, in referring to
his father, led his hearers to suppose that he had, as a
child, been in any way unduly repressed by him. The
tender affection with which he always cherished his
father's memory in no way sanctions the belief that he
was at any time subjected to unreasonable discipline.
By him his father was only revered as the best and
kindest of teachers.

There was a break in the home-teaching in 1820.
James Mill, after bearing bravely with his early diffi-
culties, had acquired so much renown by his famous
" History of India," that, in spite of its adverse criti-
cisms of the East-India Company, the directors of the
Company in 1817 honorably bestowed upon him a post
in the India House, where he steadily and rapidly rose
to a position which enabled him to pass the later years
of his life in more comfort than had hitherto been
within his reach. The new employment, however,
interfered with his other occupation as instructor to
his boy ; and for this reason, as well probably as for
others tending to his advancement, the lad was, in the
summer of 1820, sent to France for a year and a half.
For several months he lived in Paris, in the house of
Nl Jean Baptiste Say, the political economist. The rest
of his time was passed in the company of Sir Samuel
Bentham, Jeremy Bentham's brother. Early in 1822,
before he was eighteen, he returned to London, soon
to enter the India Office as a clerk in the department


of which his father was chief. In that office he re-
mained for five and thirty years, acquitting himself
with great ability, and gradually rising to the most
responsible position that could be there held by a

But, though he was thus early started in life as a city
clerk, his self-training and his education by his father
were by no means abandoned. The ancient and mod-
ern languages, as well as the various branches of
philosophy and philosophical thought in which he was
afterwards to attain such eminence, were studied by
him in the early mornings, under the guidance of his
father, before going down to pass his days in the India
Office. During the summer evenings, and on such
holidays as he could get, he began those pedestrian
exploits for which he afterwards became famous, and
in which his main pleasure appears to have consisted
in collecting plants and flowers in aid of the botanical
studies that were his favorite pastime, and something
more than a pastime, all through his life. His first
printed writings are said to have been on botany, in
the shape of some articles contributed to a scientific
^ /journal while he was still in his teens ; and it is
^ probable, that, could they now be detected, we should
find in other periodicals traces of his work, at nearly
if not quite as early a period, in other lines of study.
That he worked early and with wonderful ability in at
least one very deep line, appears from the fact, that,
while he was still only a lad, Jeremy Bentham intrusted
to him the preparation for the press, and the supple-
mentary annotation, of his " Rationale of Judicial
Evidence." That work, for which he was highly com-


mended by its author, published in 1827, contains the
first publicly-acknowledged literary work of John
Stuart Mill.

While he was producing that result of laborious
study in a special and intricate subject, his education
in all sorts of other ways was continued. In evidence
of the versatility of his pursuits, the veteran author of
a short and ungenerous memoir that was published in
"The Times " of May the loth contributes one inter-
esting note. " It is within our personal knowledge,"
he says, " that he was an extraordinary youth when, in
1824, he took the lead at the London Debating Club
in one of the most remarkable collections of ' spirits
of the age ' that ever congregated for intellectual
gladiatorship, he being by two or three 3^ears the jun-
ior of the clique. The rivalry was rather in knowledge
and reasoning than in eloquence ; mere declamation
was discouraged ; and subjects of paramount impor-
tance were conscientiously thought out." In evidence
of his more general studies, we may here repeat a few
sentences from an account, by an intimate friend of
both these great men, of the life of Mr. Grote, which
was published in our columns two years ago. " About
this time a small society was formed for readings in
philosophical subjects. The meetings took place at
Mr. Grote's house in Threadneedle Street, on certain
days from half-past eight till ten in the morning, at
\yhich hour the members (all in official employment)
had to repair to their respective avocations. The
members were Grote, John Mill, Roebuck, William
Ellice, William Henry Prescott, two brothers Whit-
more, and George Johi; Grahan>, Tl^e mentor of


their studies was the elder Mr. Mill. The meetings
were continued for two or three years. The readings
embraced a small manual of logic, by Du Trieu, recom-
mended by Mr. Mill, and reprinted for the purpose,
Whately's Logic, Hobbes's Logic, and Hartley on Man,
in Priestley's edition. The manner of proceeding was
thorough. Each paragraph, on being read, was com-
mented on by every one in turn, discussed and redis-
cussed, to the point of total exhaustion. In 1828 the
meetings ceased ; but they were resumed in 1830, upon
Mill's ' Analysis of the Mind,' which was gone over
in the same manner." These philosophical studies-
were not only of extreme advantage in strengthening
and developing the merits of Mr. Mill and his friends,
nearly all of whom were considerably older than he
was : they also served to unite the friends in close and
lasting intimacy of the most refined and elevating sort.
Mr. Grote, his senior by twelve years, was perhaps the
most intimate, as he was certainly the ablest, of all the
friends whom Mr. Mill thus acquired.

Many of these friends were contributors to the
original " Westminster Review," which was started by
Bentham in 1824. Bentham himself and the elder
Mill were its chief writers at first; and in 1828, if not
sooner, the younger Mill joined the number. In
that year he reviewed Whately's Logic ; and it is
probable that in the ensuing year he contributed
numerous other articles. His first literary exploit,
however, which he cared to reproduce in his " Disser-
tations and Discussions " was an article that appeared
in " The Jurist," in 1833, entitled "Corporation and
Church Property." That essay, in- some respects,


curiously anticipated the Irish Church legislation of
nearly forty years later. In the same year he pub-
lished, in " The Monthly Repository," a remarkably
able and quite a different production, — " Poetry and
its Varieties ; " showing that in the department of belles-
lettres he could write with nearly as much vigor and
originality as in the philosophical and political depart-
ments of thought to which, ostensibly, he was espe-
cially devoted. Shortly after that he embarked in a
bolder literary venture. Differences having arisen
concerning "The Westminster Review," a new quarter-
ly journal — " The London Review " — was begun by
Sir William Molesworth, with Mr. Mill for editor, in
1835. "The London" was next year amalgamated
with " The Westminster ; " and then the nominal if not
the actual editorship passed into the hands of Mr.
John Robertson. Mr. Mill continued, however, to be
one of its most constant and able contributors until
the Review passed into other hands in 1840. He
aided much to make and maintain its reputation as the
leading organ of bold thought on religious and social
as well as political matters. Besides such remarkable
essays as those on Civilization, on Armand Carrel,
on Alfred de Vigny, on Bentham, and on Coleridge,
which, with others, have been republished in his
collection of minor writings, he contributed many of
great importance. One on Mr. Tennyson, which was
published in 1835, is especially noteworthy. Others
referred more especially to the politics of the day.
From one, which appeared in 1837, reviewing Albany
Fonblanque's " England under Seven Administra-
tions," and speaking generally in high terms of the


politics of " The Examiner," we may extract a few
sentences which define very clearly the political
ground taken by j\Ir. Mill, Mr. Fonblanque, and those
who had then come to be called Philosophical Radi-
cals. " There are divers schools of Radicals," said
Mr. Mill. "There are the historical Radicals, who
demand popular institutions as the inheritance of
Englishmen, transmitted to us from the Saxons or the
barons of Runnymede. There are the metaphysical
Radicals, who hold the principles of democracy, not
as means to good government, but as corollaries from
some unreal abstraction, — from ' natural liberty ' or
'natural rights.' There are the radicals of occasion
and circumstance, who are radicals because they dis-
approve the measures of the government for the time
being. There are, lastly, the Radicals of position,
who are Radicals, as somebody said, because they are
not lords. Those whom, in contradistinction to all
these, we call Philosophical Radicals, are those who in
politics observe the common manner of philosophers ;
that is, who, when they are discussing means, begin
by considering the end, and, when they desire to pro-
duce effects, think of causes. These persons became
Radicals because they saw immense practical evils
existing in the government and social condition of
this country, and because the same examination which
showed them the evils showed also that the cause of
those evils was the aristocratic principle in our gov-
ernment, — the subjection of the many to the control
of a comparatively few, who had an interest, or fancied
they had an interest, in perpetuating those evils.
These inquirers looked still farther, and saw, that, in


the present imperfect condition of human nature,
nothing better than this self-preference was to be ex-
pected from a dominant few ; that the interests of the
many were sure to be in their eyes a secondary con-
sideration to their own ease or emohament Perceiv-
ing, therefore, that we are ill-governed, and perceiving
that, so long as the aristocratic principle continued
predominant in our government, we could not expect
to be otherwise, these persons became Radicals ; and
the motto of their Radicalism was, Enmity to the aris-
tocratical principle."

The period of Mr. Mill's most intimate connection
with " The London and Westminster Review " forms a
brilliant episode in the history of journalism ; and his
relations, then and afterwards, with other men of
letters and political writers, — some of them as famous
as Mr. Carlyle and Coleridge, Charles Buller and Sir
Henry Taylor, Sir William Molesworth, Sir John Bow-
ring, and Mr. Roebuck, — yield tempting materials for
even the most superficial biography ; but we must pass
them by for the present. And here we shall content
ourselves with enumerating, in the order of their publi-
cation, those lengthier writings with which he chiefly
occupied his leisure during the next quarter of a cen-
tury ; though that work was frequently diversified by
important contributions to "The Edinburgh" and
" The Westminster Review," " Eraser's Magazine,"
and other periodicals. His first great v/ork was "A
System of Logic," the result of many years' previous
study, which appeared in 1843. That completed, he
seems immediately to have paid chief attention to
politico-economical questions. In 1844 appeared


" Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political
Economy," which were followed, in 1848, by the "Prin-
ciples of Political Economy." After that there was a
pause of ten years ; though the works that were issued
during the next six years show that he had not been
idle during the interval. In 1857 were published two
volumes of the " Dissertations and Discussions," con-
sisting solely of printed articles, the famous essay " On
Liberty," and the "Thoughts on Parliamentary Re-
form." " Considerations on Representative Govern-
ment " appeared in 1861 ; "Utilitarianism," in 1863;
" Auguste Comte and Positivism " and the " Examina-
tion of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy," in 1865.
After that, besides the very welcome "Inaugural
Address " at St. Andrew's in 1867, his only work of
importance was " The Subjection of Women," pub-
lished in 1869. A fitting conclusion to his more
serious literary labors appeared also in 1869 in his
annotated edition of his father's "Analysis of the
Phenomena of the Human Mind."

When we remember how much and what varied
knowledge is in those learned books, it is almost diffi-
cult to believe, that, during most of the years in which
he was preparing them, Mr. Mill was also a hard
worker in the India House, passing rapidly, and as the
reward only of his assiduity and talent, from the
drudgery of a junior clerk to a position involving all
the responsibility, if not quite all the dignity, of a
secretary of state. One of his most intimate friends,
and the one who knew far more of him in this respect
than any other, has in another column penned some
reminiscences of his official life j but if all the state


papers that he wrote, and all the correspondence that
he carried on with Indian officials and the native
potentates of the East, could be explored, more than
one volume would have to be written in supplement to
his father's great " History of British India."

Having retired from the India House in 1858, Mr.
Mill went to spend the winter in Avignon, in the hope
of improving the broken health of the wife to whom
he was devotedly attached. He had not been married
many years ; but Mrs. Mill, who was the widow of Mr.
John Taylor, a London merchant, had been his friend
since 1835, ^^ even earlier. During more than twenty
years he had been aided by her talents, and encouraged
by her symiDathy, in all the work he had undertaken ;
and to her rare merits he afterwards paid more than
one tribute in terms that have no equal for the intensity
of their language, and the depth of affection contained
in them. Mrs. Mill's weak state of health seems to
have hardly repressed her powers of intellect. By her
was written the celebrated essay on " The Enfranchise-
ment of Women " contributed to " The Westminster
Review," and afterwards reprinted in the " Disserta-
tions and Discussions," with a preface avowing, that by
her Mr. Mill had been greatly assisted in all that he
had written for some time previous. But the assistance
was to end now. Mrs. Mill died at Avignon on the
3d of November, 1858 ; and over her grave was placed
one of the most pathetic and eloquent epitaphs that
have been ever penned. " Her great and loving heart,
her noble soul, her clear, powerful, original, and com-
prehensive intellect," it was there written, " made her

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Online LibraryHerbert SpencerJohn Stuart Mill: his life and works. Twelve sketches → online text (page 1 of 7)