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bastic art, and after a time comedy interested him no
more than tragedy. For the opera he had a genuine
passion, which he gratified as often as he could, until
his means became too narrow to afTord even that
single relaxation.

Of his manner and personal appearance we have
the following account from one who was his pupil : —
' Daily as the clock struck eight on the horologe of
the Luxembourg, while the ringing hammer on the
bell was yet audible, the door of my room opened,
and there entered a man, short, rather stout, almost
what one might call sleek, freshly shaven, without
vestige of whisker or moustache. He was invariably
dressed in a suit of the most spotless black, as if
going to a dinner party ; his white neckcloth was
fresh from the laundress's hands, and his hat shining
like a racer's coat. He advanced to the arm-chair
prepared for him in the centre of the writing-table,
laid his hat on the left-hand corner; his snuff-box
was deposited on the same side beside the quire of
paper placed in readiness for his use, and dipping
the pen twice into the ink-bottle, then bringing it to
within an inch of his nose, to make sure it was pro-
perly filled, he broke silence: "We have said that
the chord AB," etc. For three quarters of an hour
he continued his demonstration, making short notes
as he went on, to guide the listener in repeating the
problem alone ; then, taking up another cahier which



COMTE. 349

lay beside him, he went over the written repetition
of the former lesson. He explained, corrected, or
commented till the clock struck nine ; then, with the
little finger of the right hand brushing from his coat
and waistcoat the shower of superfluous snuff which
had fallen on them, he pocketed his snuff-box, and
resuming his hat, he as silently as when he came in
made his exit by the door which I rushed to open for
him.'

In 1842, as we have said, the last volume of the
Positive Philosophy was given to the public. Instead
of that contentment which we like to picture as the
reward of twelve years of meritorious toil devoted to
the erection of a high philosophic edifice, the author
of this great contribution found himself in the midst
of a very sea of small troubles. And they were
troubles of that uncompensated kind that harass
without elevating, and waste a man's spirit without
softening or enlarging it. First, the jar of tempera-
ment between Comte and his wife had become so
unbearable that they separated (1842). It is not
expedient for strangers to attempt to allot blame in
such cases, for it is impossible for strangers to know
all the deciding circumstances. We need only say
that in spite of one or two disadvantageous facts in
her career which do not concern the public, Madame
Comte seems to have uniformly comported herself
towards her husband with an honourable solicitude
for his wellbeing. Comte made her an annual allow-
ance, and for some years after the separation they



350 COMTJ].

corresponded on friendly terms. Next in the list of
the vexations that greeted Comte on emerging from
the long tunnel of philosophising was a lawsuit with
his publisher. The publisher had impertinently in-
serted in the sixth volume a protest against a certain
foot-note, in which Comte had used some hard words
about M. Arago. Comte threw himself into the suit
Avith an energy worthy of Voltaire, and he won it.
Third, and worst of all, he had prefixed a preface to
the sixth volume, in which he deliberately went out
of his Avay to rouse the active enmity of the very men
on whom depended his annual re-election to the post
of examiner for the Polytechnic School. The result
of this perversity was that by and by he lost the
appointment, and with it one half of his very modest
income. This was the occasion of an episode, which
is of more than merely personal interest.

Before 1842 Comte had been in correspondence
with our distinguished countryman, J. S. Mill. Mr.
Mill had been greatly impressed by Comte's philosophic
ideas ; he admits that his own System of Logic owes
many valuable thoughts to Comte, and that, in the
portion of that work which treats of the logic of the
moral sciences, a radical improvement in the concep-
tions of logical method was derived from the Positive
Philosophy. Their correspondence, which was ex-
tremely full and copious, and which we may hope
will one day be made accessible to the public, turned
principally upon the two great questions of the equality
between men and women, and of the expediency and



COMTE. 351

constitution of a sacerdotal or spiritual order. When
Comte found himself straitened, he confided the entire
circumstances to his English friend. As might be
supposed by those who know the affectionate anxiety
with which Mr. Mill regarded the welfare of any one
whom he beheved to be doing good work in the world,
he at once took pains to have Comte's loss of income
made up to him, until Comte should have had time
to repair that loss by his own endeavour. Mr. Mill
persuaded Grote, Molesworth, and Eaikes Currie to
advance the sum of £240. At the end of the year
(that is in 1845) Comte had taken no steps to enable
himself to dispense with the aid of the three English-
men. Mr. Mill applied to them again, but with the
exception of Grote, who sent a small sum, they gave
Comte to understand that they expected him to earn
his own living. Mr. Mill had suggested to Comte
that he should write articles for the English periodicals,
and expressed his o^vn -ndllingness to translate any
such articles from the French. Comte at first fell in
with the plan, but he speedily surprised and discon-
certed IVIr. Mill by boldly taking up the position of
' high moral magistrate,' and accusing the three de-
faulting contributors of a scandalous falling away from
righteousness and a high mind. Mr. Mill was chilled
by these pretensions ; they struck him as savouring
of a totally unexpected charlatanry ; and the corre-
spondence came to an end. For Comte's position in
the argument one feels that there is much to be said.
If you have good reason for believing that a given



352 COMTE.

thinker is doing work that will destroy the official
system of science or philosophy, and if you desire its
destruction, then you may fairly be asked to help to
provide for him the same kind of material freedom
that is secured to the professors and propagators of
the official system by the state or by the universities.
And if it is a fine thing for a man to leave money
behind him in the shape of an endowment for the
support of a scientific teacher of whom he has never
heard, why should it not be just as natural and as
laudable to give money, while he is yet alive, to a
teacher whom he both knows and approves of 'i On
the other hand, Grote and Molesworth might say that,
for anything they could tell, they would find them-
selves to be helping the construction of a system of
which they utterly disapproved. And, as things
turned out, they would have been perfectly justified
in this serious apprehension. To have done anything
to make the production of the Positive Polity easier
would have been no ground for anything but remorse
to any of the three. It is just to Comte to remark
that he always assumed that the contributors to the
support of a thinker should be in all essentials of
method and doctrine that thinker's disciples ; aid from
indifferent persons he counted irrational and humilia-
ting. But is an endowment ever a blessing to the
man who receives it? The question is difficult to
answer generally ; in Comte's case there is reason in
the doubts felt by Madame Comte as to the expediency
of relieving the philosopher from the necessity of being



COMTE. 353

in plain and business-like relations with indifferent
persons for a certain number of hours in the week.
Such relations do as much as a doctrine to keep egoism
within decent bounds, and they must be not only a
relief, but a wholesome corrective to the tendencies
of concentrated thinking on abstract subjects.

What finally happened was this. From 1845 to
1848 Comte lived as best he could, as well as made
his wife her allowance, on an income of £200 a year.
We need scarcely say that he was rigorously thrifty.
His little account books of income and outlay, with
every item entered down to a few hours before his
death, are accurate and neat enough to have satisfied
an ancient Eoman householder. In 1848, through no
fault of his own, his salary was reduced to £80. M.
Littr(§ and others, with Comte's approval, published
an appeal for subscriptions, and on the money thus
contributed Comte subsisted for the remaining nine
years of his life. By 1852 the subsidy produced as
much as £200 a year. It is worth noticing, after the
story we have told, that Mr. Mill was one of the
subscribers, and that M. Littr6 continued his assistance
after he had been driven from Comte's society by his
high pontifical airs. We are sorry not to be able to
record any similar trait of magnanimity on Comte's
part. His character, admirable as it is for firmness,
for intensity, for inexorable will, for iron devotion to
what he thought the service of mankind, yet offers
few of those softening qualities that make us love
good men and pity bad ones. He is of the type of

VOL. III. 2 A



354 COMTE.

Brutus or of Cato — a model of austere fixity of pur-
pose, but ungracious, domineering, and not quite free
from petty bitterness.

If you seek to place yourself in sympathy with
Comto it is best to think of him only as the intel-
lectual worker, pursuing in uncomfortcd obscurity
the laborious and absorbing task to Avhich he had
given up his whole life. His singularly conscientious
fashion of elaborating his ideas made the mental strain
more intense than even so exhausting a work as the
abstract exposition of the principles of positive science
need have been, if he had followed a more self-indulgent
plan. He did not write down a word until he had
first composed the whole matter in his mind. When
he had thoroughly meditated every sentence, he sat
down to write, and then, such was the grip of his
memory, the exact order of his thoughts came back
to him as if without an effort, and he wrote down
precisely what he had intended to write, without the
aid of a note or a memorandum, and without check or
pause. For example, he began and completed in about
six weeks a chapter in the Positive Philosophj (vol. v.
ch. Iv.), which would fill forty of the large pages of
the Encydopcedia Britannica. Even if his subject had
been merely narrative or descriptive, this would be a
very satisfactory piece of continuous production. When
we reflect that the chapter in question is not narrative,
but an abstract exposition of the guiding principles
of the movements of several centuries, with many
threads of complex thought running along side b}'



COMTE, 355

side all through the speculation, then the circumstances
under which it was reduced to literary form are really
astonishing. It is hardly possible for a critic to share
the admiration expressed by some of Comte's disciples
for his style. We are not so unreasonable as to blame
him for failing to make his pages picturesque or thrill-
ing ; we do not want sunsets and stars and roses and
ecstasy ; but there is a certain standard for the most
serious and abstract subjects. When compared with
such philosophic writing as Hume's, Diderot's, Berke-
ley's, then Comte's manner is heavy, laboui'ed, mono-
tonous, without relief and without light. There is
now and then an energetic phrase, but as a whole the
vocabulary is jejune ; the sentences are overloaded ;
the pitch is flat. A scrupulous insistence on making
his meaning clear led to an iteration of certain adjec-
tives and adverbs, which at length deaden the efi'ect
beyond the endurance of all but the most resolute
students. Only the profound and stimulating interest
of much of the matter prevents one from thinking of
Eivarol's ill-natured remark upon Condorcet, that he
wrote with opium on a page of lead. The general
efi'ect is impressive, not by any virtues of style, for
we do not discern one, but by reason of the magnitude
and importance of the undertaking, and the visible
conscientiousness and the grasp with which it is exe-
cuted. It is by sheer strength of thought, by the
vigorous perspicacity with which he strikes the lines
of cleavage of his subject, that he makes his way
into the mind of the reader ; in the presence of gifts



35G COMTE.

of this power we need not quarrel with an ungainly
style.

Comte pursued one practice which ought to be
mentioned in connection with his personal history,
the practice of what he styled hygitne cdrdbrale. After
he had acquired what he considered to be a sufficient
stock of material, and this happened before he had
completed the Positive Philosophy, he abstained deliber-
ately and scrupulously from reading newspapers,
reviews, scientific transactions, and everything else
whatever, except two or three poets (notably Dante)
and the Imiiatio Chrisii. It is true that his friends
kept him informed of what was going on in the scien-
tific world. Still this partial divorce of himself from
the record of the social and scientific activity of his
time, though it may save a thinker from the deplor-
able evils of dispersion, moral and intellectual, ac-
counts in no small measure for the exaggerated
egoism, and the absence of all feeling for reality, which
marked Comte's later days.

Only one important incident in Comte's life now
remains to be spoken of. In 1845 he made the
acquaintance of Madame Clotilde de Vaux, a lady
whose husband had been sent to the galleys for life,
and who was therefore, in all but the legal incidents
of her position, a widow. Very little is known about
her qualities. She wrote a little piece which Comte
rated so preposterously as to talk about George Sand
in the same sentence ; it is in truth a flimsy perform-
ance, though it contains one. or two gracious thoughts.



COMTE. 357

There is true beauty in the saying — ' It is unworthy
of a noble nature to diffuse its pain.' Madame de Vaux's
letters speak well for her good sense and good feeling,
and it Avould have been better for Comte's later work
if she had survived to exert a wholesome restraint on
his exaltation. Their friendship had only lasted a
year when she died (1846), but the period was long
enough to give her memory a supreme ascendency in
Comte's mind. Condillac, Joubert, Mill, and other
eminent men have shown what the intellectual ascend-
ency of a woman can be. Comte was as inconsolable
after Madame de Vaux's death as D'Alembert after the
death of Mademoiselle L'Espinasse. Every Wednesday
afternoon he made a reverential pilgrimage to her
tomb, and three times every day he invoked her
memory in words of passionate expansion. His
disciples believe that in time the world will reverence
Comte's sentiment about Clotilde de Vaux, as it
reveres Dante's adoration of Beatrice — a parallel that
Comte himself was the jfirst to hit upon. It is no
doubt the worst kind of cynicism to make a mock in
a realistic vein of any personality that has set in
motion the idealising thaumaturgy of the affections.
Yet we cannot help feeling that it is a grotesque and
unseemly anachronism to apply in grave prose, ad-
dressed to the whole world, those terms of saint and
angel which are touching and in their place amid the
trouble and passion of the great mystic poet. Only
an energetic and beautiful imagination, together with
a mastery of the rhythm and swell of impassioned



358 COMTE.

speech, can prevent an invitation to the public to
hearken to the raptures of intense personal attachment
from seeming ludicrous and almost indecent. What-
ever other gifts Comte may have had — and he had
many of the rarest kind, — poetic imagination was not
among them, any more than poetic or emotional
expression was among them. His was one of those
natures whose faculty of deep feeling is unhappily
doomed to be inarticulate, and to pass away without
the magic power of transmitting itself.

Comte lost no time, after the completion of his
Course of Positive Philosophy, in proceeding with the
System of Positive Polity, to which the earlier work was
designed to be a foundation. The first volume was
published in 1851, and the fourth and last in 1854.
In 1848, when the political air Avas charged with
stimulating elements, he founded the Positive Society,
with the expectation that it might grow into a reunion
as powerful over the new revolution as the Jacobin
Club had been in the revolution of 1789. The hope
was not fulfilled, but a certain number of philosophic
disciples gathered round Comte, and eventually formed
themselves, under the guidance of the new ideas of
the latter half of his life, into a kind of church. In
the years 1849, 1850, and 1851, Comte gave three
courses of lectures at the Palais Eoyal. They were
gratuitous and popular, and in them he boldly
advanced the whole of his doctrine, as well as the
direct and immediate pretensions of himself and his
system. The third course ended in the following



COMTE. 359

uncompromising terms — 'In the name of the Past
and of the Future, the servants of Humanity — both
its philosophical and its practical servants — come
forward to claim as their due the general direction of
this world. Their object is to constitute at length a
real Providence in all departments, — moral, intel-
lectual, and material. Consequently they exclude
once for all from political supremacy all the different
servants of God — Catholic, Protestant, or Deist — as
being at once behindhand and a cause of disturbance.'
A few weeks after this invitation a very different
person stepped forward to constitute himself a real
Providence.

In 1852 Comte published the Catechism of Positiv-
ism. In the preface to it he took occasion to express
his approval of Louis Napoleon's coup d'dtat of the
2d of December, — 'a fortunate crisis which has set
aside the parliamentary system, and instituted a dic-
tatorial republic' Whatever we may think of the
political sagacity of such a judgment, it is due to
Comte to say that he did not expect to see his dictat-
orial republic transformed into a dynastic empire, and,
next, that he did expect from the Man of December
freedom of the press and of public meeting. His
later hero was the Emperor Nicholas, ' the only states-
man in Christendom,' — as unlucky a judgment as that
which placed Dr. Francia in the Comtist Calendar.

In 1857 he was attacked by cancer, and died peace-
ably on the 5th of September of that year. The
anniversary is always celebrated by ceremonial gather-



360 COMTE.

ings of his French and English followers, who then
commemorate the name and the services of the
founder of their religion. Comto was under sixty
when he died. We cannot help reflecting that one
of the worst of all the evils connected with the short-
ness of human life is the impatience which it breeds
in some of the most ardent and enlightened minds to
hurry on the execution of projects, for which neither
the time nor the spirit of their author is fully ripe.

In proceeding to give an outline of Comte's system,
we shall consider the Positive Polity as the more or
less legitimate sequel of the Positive Philosophy, not-
withstanding the deep gulf Avhich so eminent a critic
as Mr. Mill insisted upon fixing between the earlier
and the later work.^ There may be, as we think

^ Tlie Englisli reader is specially well placed for satisfying
such curiosity as he may have about Comte's philosophy.
Miss Martineau condensed the six volumes of the PhilosopMe
Positive into two volumes of excellent English (1853) ; Comte
himself gave them a place in the Positivist Library. The
Catechism was translated by Dr. Congreve in 1858. The Poli-
tique Positive has been reproduced iu English (Longmans, 1875-
1877) by the conscientious labour of Comte's London followers.
This translation is accompanied by a careful running analysis
and explanatory summary of contents, which make the work
more readily intelligible than the original. For criticisms, the
reader may be referred to Mr. Mill's Augustc Comte and Posi-
tivism ; Dr. Bridges's reply to Mr. ]\Iill, The Unity of Comte's
Life and Doctrines (1866) ; Mr. Herbert Spencer's essay on the
Genesis of Science, and pamphlet on The Classification of the
Sciences; Professor Huxley's 'Scientific Aspects of Positivism,'
iu his Lay Sermons; Dr. Congi-eve's ^ssai/s Political, Social,
and Religious (1874) ; Mr. Fiske's Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy
(1874) ; Mr. Lewes's History of Philosophy, vol. ii.



COMTE. 361

there is, the greatest difference in their value, and
the temper is not the same, nor the method. But
the two are quite capable of being regarded, and
for the purposes of an account of Comte's career
ought to be regarded, as an integral whole. His
letters when he was a young man of one and twenty,
and before he had published a word, show how
strongly present the social motive was in his mind,
and in what little accoimt he should hold his scientific
Avorks, if he did not perpetually think of their utility
for the species. ' I feel,' he wrote, ' that such scien-
tific reputation as I might acquire would give more
value, more weight, more useful influence to my
political sermons.' In 1822 he published a Plan
of the Scientific Works necessary to Reorganise Society.
In this opuscule he points out that modern society is
passing through a great crisis, due to the conflict of
two opposing movements, — the first, a disorganising
movement owing to the break-up of old institutions
and beliefs ; the second, a movement towards a definite
social state, in which all means of human prosperity
will receive their most complete development and
most direct appHcation. How is this crisis to be
dealt with'? What are the undertakings necessary
in order to pass successfully through it towards an
organic state 1 The answer to this is that there are
two series of works. The first is theoretic or spirit-
ual, aiming at the development of a new principle of
co-ordinating social relations and the formation of
the system of general ideas which are destined to



.3G2 COMTE.

guide society. The second work is practical or
temporal ; it settles the distribution of power and
the institutions that are most conformable to the
spirit of the system which has previously been thought
out in the course of the theoretic work. As the
practical work depends on the conclusions of the
theoretical, the latter must obviously come first in
order of execution.

In 1826 this was pushed further in a most remark-
able piece called Considerations on the Spiritual Power —
the main object of which is to demonstrate the neces-
sity of instituting a spiritual power, distinct from the
temporal power and independent of it. In examining
the conditions of a spiritual power proper for modern
times, he indicates in so many terms the presence in
his mind of a direct analogy between his proposed
spiritual power and the functions of the Catholic
clergy at the time of its greatest vigour and most com-
plete independence, — that is to say, from about the
middle of the eleventh century until towards the end of
the thirteenth. He refers to De Maistre's memorable
book, Du Pape, as the most profound, accurate, and
methodical account of the old spiritual organisation,
and starts from that as the model to be adapted to
the changed intellectual and social conditions of the
modern time. In the Positive Philosophy, again (vol.
V. p. 344), he distinctly says that Catholicism, recon-
stituted as a system on new intellectual foundations,
would finally preside over the spiritual reorganisation
of modern society. Much else could easily be quoted



COMTE. 363

to the same effect. If unity of career, then, means
that Comte from the beginning designed the institu-
tion of a spiritual power and the systematic reorgan-
isation of life, it is difficult to deny him whatever
credit that unity may be worth, and the credit is
perhaps not particularly great. Even the re-adapta-
tion of the Catholic system to a scientific doctrine
was plainly in his mind thirty years before the final
execution of the Positive Polity, though it is difficult
to believe that he foresaw the religious mysticism in
which the task was to land him. A great analysis
was to precede a great synthesis, but it was the
synthesis on which Comte's vision was centred from
the first. Let us first sketch the nature of the
analysis. Society is to be reorganised on the base of


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