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knowledge : of the other to diffuse it, and to increase
men's interest in what is already known. If, there-
fore, I am for making certain kinds of instruction as
general as they can possibly be made in these local
centres, I shoukl give to the old seats of learning a
very special function indeed.

It would be absurd to attempt to discuss academic
organisation here, at this hour. I only want to ask
you as politicians whose representatives in parliament
will ultimately settle the matter — to reflect whether
the money now consumed in idle fellowships might
not be more profitably employed in endowing in-
quirers. The favourite argument of those who
support prize fellowships is that they are the only



ON POPULAR CULTUEE. 27

means by which a child of the working-class can raise
himself to the highest positions in the land. My
answer to this would be that, in the first place, it is
of questionable expediency to invite the cleverest
members of any class to leave it — instead of making
their abilities available in it, and so raising the whole
class along with, and by means of, their own rise.
Second, these prize fellowships will continue, and
must continue, to be carried off by those who can
afford time and money to educate their sons for the
comj)etition. Third, I doubt the expediency — and
the history of Oxford within the last twenty-five
years strikingly confirms this doubt — of giving to a
young man of any class what is practically a premium
on indolence, and the removal of a motive to self
reliant and energetic spirit of enterprise. The best
thing that I can think of as happening to a young
man is this : that he should have been educated at a
day-school in his own town ; that he should have
opportunities of following also the higher education
in his own town ; and that at the earliest convenient
time he should be taught to earn his own living.

The Universities might then be left to their proper
business of study. Knowledge for its own sake is
clearly an object which only a very small portion of
society can be spared to pursue ; only a very few
men in a generation have that devouring passion for
knowing, which is the true inspirer of fruitful study
and exploration. Even if the passion were more
common than it is, the world could not aff"ord on any



28 ON POPULAK CULTURE.

very large scale that men should indulge in it : the
great business of the world has to be carried on. One
of the greatest of all hindrances to making things
better is the habit of taking for granted that plans
or ideas, simply because they are different and
ap})roach tlie matter from different sides, are there-
fore the rivals and enemies, instead of being the
friends and complements of one another. But a great
and wealthy society like ours ought very well to be
able to nourish one or two great seats for the
augmentation of true learning, and at the same time
make sure that young men — and again I say, especially
young women — should have good education of the
higher kind within reach of their own hearths.

It is not necessary for me here, I believe, to dwell
upon any of the great commonplaces which the
follower of knowledge does well to keep always
before his eyes, and which represent the wisdom of
many generations of studious experience. You may
have often heard from others, or may have found out,
how good it is to have on your shelves, however
scantily furnished they may be, three or four of those
books to which it is well to give ten minutes every
morning, before going down into the battle and
choking dust of the day. Men will name these books
for themselves. One will choose the Bible, another
Goethe, one the Imitation of Christ, another Words-
worth. Perhaps it matters little what it be, so long
as your writer has cheerful seriousness, elevation,



ON POPULAE CULTURE. 29

calm, and, above all, a sense of size and strength,
which shall open out the day before you and bestow
gifts of fortitude and mastery.

Then, to turn to the intellectual side. You know
as well as I or any one can tell you, that knowledge
is worth little until you have made it so perfectly
your own, as to be capable of reproducing it in precise
and definite form. Goethe said that in the end we
only retain of our studies, after all, what we practically
employ of them. And it is at least well that in our
serious studies we should have the possibility of prac-
tically turning them to a definite destination clearly
before our eyes. Nobody can be sure that he has got
clear ideas on a subject, unless he has tried to put
them down on a piece of paper in independent words
of his own. It is an excellent plan, too, when you
have read a good book, to sit down and write a short
abstract of what you can remember of it. It is a still
better plan, if you can make up yoiu' minds to a slight
extra labour, to do what Lord Straff'ord, and Gibbon,
and Daniel Webster did. After glancing over the
title, subject, or design of a book, these eminent men
would take a pen and write roughly what questions
they expected to find answered in it, what difficulties
solved, what kind of information imparted. Such
practices keep us from reading with the eye only,
gliding vaguely over the page ; and they help us to
place our new acquisitions in relation with what we
knew before. It is almost always worth while to
read a thing twice over, to make sure that nothing



30 ON POPULAR CULTURE.

has been missed or dropped on the way, or wrongly
conceived or interpreted. And if the subject be
serious, it is often well to let an interval elapse.
Ideas, relations, statements of fact, are not to be taken
l)y storm. We have to steep them in the mind, in
the hope of thus extracting their inmost essence and
significance. If one lets an interval pass, and then
returns, it is surprising how clear and ripe that has
become, which, when we left it, seemed crude, obscure,
full of perplexity.

All this takes trouble, no doubt, but then it will
not do to deal with ideas that we find in books or
elsewhere as a certain bird does with its eggs — leave
them in the sand for the sun to hatch and chance to
rear. People who follow this plan possess nothing
better than ideas half-hatched, and convictions reared
by accident. They are like a man who should pace
up and down the world in the delusion that he is clad
in sumptuous robes of purple and velvet, when in
truth he is only half-covered by the rags and tatters
of other people's cast-ofF clothes.

Apart from such mechanical devices as these I
have mentioned, there are habits and customary
attitudes of mind which a conscientious reader will
practise, if he desires to get out of a book still greater
benefits than the writer of it may have designed or
thought of. For example, he should never be content
with mere aggressive and negatory criticism of the
page before him. The page may be open to such
criticism, and in that case it is natural to indulge in



ON POPULAIl CULTURE. 31

it ; but the reader will often find an unexpected profit
by asking himself — ^What does this error teach me 1
How comes that fallacy to be here 1 How came the
writer to fall into this defect of taste ? To ask such
questions gives a reader a far healthier tone of mind
in the long run, more seriousness, more depth, more
moderation of judgment, more insight into other men's
ways of thinking as well as into his own, than any
amount of impatient condemnation and hasty denial,
even when both condemnation and denial may be in
their place.

Again, let us not be too ready to detect an incon-
sistency in our author, but rather let us teach our-
selves to distinguish between inconsistency and having
two sides to an opinion. ' Before I admit that two
and two are four,' some one said, ' I must first know
to what use you are going to put the proposition.'
That is to say, even the plainest proposition needs to
be stated with a view to the drift of the discussion in
hand, or with a view to some special part of the
discussion. When the turn of some other part of the
matter comes, it will be convenient and often necessary
to bring out into full light another side of your opinion,
not contradictory, but complementary, and the great
distinction of a candid disputant or of a reader of
good faith, is his willingness to take pains to see the
points of reconciliation among different aspects and
different expressions of what is substantially the same
judgment.

Then, again, nobody here needs to be reminded



32 ON POPULAR CULTUllE.

that the great successes of the world have boon affairs
of a second, a third, nay, a fiftieth trial. The history
of literature, of science, of art, of industrial achieve-
ments, all testify to the truth that success is only the
last term of what looked like a series of failures.
What is true of the great achievements of history, is
true also of the little achievements of the observant
cultivator of his own understanding. If a man is
despondent about his work, the best remedy that I
can prescribe to him is to turn to a good biography ;
there he will find that other men before him have
known the dreary reaction that follows long-sustained
effort, and he will find that one of the differences
Ijetween the first-rate man and the fifth-rate lies in
the vigour with which the first-rate man recovers
from this reaction, and crushes it down, and again
flings himself once more upon the breach. I remember
the wisest and most virtuous man I have ever known,
or am ever likely to know — Mr. Mill — once saying to
me that whenever he had written anything, he always
felt profoundly dissatisfied with it, and it was only
hy reflecting that he had felt the same about other
pieces of which the world had thought well, that he
could bring himself to send the new production to
the printer. The heroism of the scholar and the
ti'uth-seeker is not less admirable than the heroism of
the man-at-arms.

Finally, you none of you need to be reminded of
the most central and important of all the common-
places of the student — that the stufl' of which life is



ON POPULAR CULTURE. 33

made is Time ; that it is better, as Goethe said, to do
the most trifling thing in the world than to think
half an hour a trifling thing. Nobody means by this
that we are to have no pleasures. Where time is
lost and wasted is where many people lose and waste
their money — in things that are neither pleasure nor
business — in those random and officious sociabilities,
which neither refresh nor instruct nor invigorate, but
only fret and benumb and wear all edge off" the mind.
All these things, however, you have all of you often
thought about ; yet, alas, we are so ready to forget,
both in these matters and in other and weightier, how
irrevocable are our mistakes.

The moving Finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on ; nor all yonr piety nor wit
Can lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wipe out a word of it.

And now I think I cannot ask you to listen any
longer. I will only add that these ceremonial anni-
versaries, when they are over, sometimes slightly tend
to depress us, unless Ave are on our guard. When
the prizes of the year are all distributed, and the
address is at an end, we perhaps ask ourselves. Well,
and what then 1 It is not to be denied that the
expectations of the first fervent promoters of popular
instruction by such Institutes as this — of men like
Lord Brougham and others, a generation ago — were
not fulfilled. The principal reason was that the
elementary instruction of the country was not then
sufficiently advanced to supply a population ready to

VOL. in. D



34 ON POPULAR CULTURE.

take advantage of education in the liigher sul)jects.
Well, we are in a fair way for removing that obstacle.
It is true that the old world moves tardily on its
arduous way, but even if the results of all our efTorts
in the cause of education were smaller than they are,
there are still two considerations that ought to weigh
with us and encourage up.

For one thing, you never know what child in rags
and pitiful squalor that meets you in the street, may
have in him the germ of gifts that might add new
treasures to the storehouse of beautiful things or
noble acts. In that great storm of terror which
swept over France in 1793, a certain man who was
every hour expecting to be led off to the guillotine,
uttered this memorable sentiment. ' Even at this in-
comprehensible moment ' — he said — ' when morality,
enlightenment, love of country, all of them only make
death at the prison-door or on the scaffold more
certain — yes, on the fatal tumbrel itself, with nothing
free but my voice, I could still cry Take care, to a
child that should come too near the wheel ; perhaps
I may save his life, perhaps he may one day save his
country.' This is a generous and inspiring thought
— one to which the roughest-handed man or woman
in Birmingham may respond as honestly and heartily
as the philosopher who wrote it. It ought to shame
the listlessness with which so many of us see the
great phantasmagoria of life pass before us.

There is another thought to encourage us, still
more direct, and still more positive. The boisterous



ON POPULAR CULTURE. 35

old notion of hero-worship, which has been preached
by so eloquent a voice in our age, is after all now
seen to be a half-truth, and to contain the less edify-
ing and the less profitable half of the truth. The
Avorld Avill never be able to spare its hero, and the
man with the rare and inexplicable gift of genius will
always be as commanding a figure as he has ever been.
What we see every day with increasing clearness is
that not only the wellbeing of the many, but the
chances of exceptional genius, moral or intellectual,
in the gifted few, are highest in a society where the
average interest, curiosity, capacity, are all highest.
The moral of this for you and for me is plain. We
cannot, like Beethoven or Handel, lift the soul by
the magic of divine melody into the seventh heaven
of ineiTable vision and hope incommensurable ; we
cannot, like Newton, weigh the far-off stars in a
balance, and measure the heavings of the eternal
flood ; we cannot, like Voltaire, scorch up what is
cruel and false by a word as a flame, nor, like Milton
or Burke, awaken men's hearts with the note of an
organ-trumpet; we cannot, like the great saints of
the churches and the great sages of the schools, add
to those acquisitions of spiritual beauty and intel-
lectual mastery which have, one by one, and little by
little, raised man from being no higher than the brute
to be only a little lower than the angels. But what
we can do — the humblest of us in this great hall — is by
diligently using our own minds and diligently seeking
to extend our own opportunities to others, to help to



36 ON POPULAR CULTURE.

swell that common tide, on the force and the set of
whose currents depends the prosperous voyaging of
humanity. When our names are blotted out, and
our place knows us no more, the energy of each social
service will remain, and so too, let us not forget, will
each social disservice remain, like the unending
stream of one of nature's forces. The thought that
this is so may well lighten the poor perplexities of
our daily life, and even soothe the pang of its calami-
ties ; it lifts us from our feet as on wings, opening a
larger meaning to our private toil and a higher purpose
to our public endeavour; it makes the morning as
we awake to it welcome, and the evening like a soft
garment as it Avraps us about; it nerves our arm
Avitli boldness against oppression and injustice, and
strengthens our voice with deeper accents against
falsehood, while we are yet in the full noon of our
days — yes, and perhaps it will shed some ray of con-
solation, when our eyes are growing dim to it all, and
we go down into the Valley of the Dark Shadow.



THE DEATH OF MR. MILL.

(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 bene-
ficent 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 contempor-
aries 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



38 THE DEATH OF MR. MILL.

glorionsncss. 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 friend-
ship, 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 Avith his reputa-



THE DEATH OF MR. MILL. 39

tion 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 dis-
ciples 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 under-
gone 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 journal-
ists educated themselves on his books, and even the
baser sort accjuired 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 ojiinion 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,



40 TITE DEATH OF MR. MILL.

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 Avhich 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 distinct-
ively English school of philosophy, in Avhich, 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 specula-
tion, 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



THE DEATH OF ME. MILL. 41

and practicable with bright and himinous 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 with-
out recovering possession of himself. To the same
friend, Avho 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 yoiL' 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 improve-
ment with a reasoned attention to the law of its con-
ditions, 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



42 THE DEATH HE MR. MILL.

mixture of intellectual gravity with a passionate love
of improvement in all the aims and instruments of
life, made many intelligences alive who would other-
wise 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 activity.

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



Online LibraryJohn MorleyCritical miscellanies (Volume 3) → online text (page 3 of 25)