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gressively taking place in modern society tend to
bring out into ever stronger relief ; the importance to
man and society, of a large variety in types of
character, and of giving full freedom to human natui'e
to expand itself in innumerable and conflicting
directions' (p. 253). It seems to us, however, that
Mr. Mill's plea for Liberty in the abstract, invaluable
as it is, still is less important than the memorable
application of this plea, and of all the arguments
supporting it, to that half of the human race whose
individuality has hitherto been blindly and most
wastefully repressed. The little book on the Subjection
of Women, though not a capital performance like the
Logic, was the capital illustration of the modes of
reasoning about human character set forth in his
Logic applied to the case in which the old metaphysical
notion of innate and indelible difterences is still nearly
as strong as ever it was, and in which its moral and
social consequences are so inexpressibly disastrous, so
superlatively powerful in keeping the ordinary level
of the aims and achievements of life low and meagre.
The accurate and unanswerable reasoning no less than
the noble elevation of this great argument; the
sagacity of a hundred of its maxims on individual
conduct and chai'acter, no less than the combined
rationality and beauty of its aspirations for the
improvement of collective social life, make this piece
probably the best illustration of all the best and
richest qualities of its author's mind, and it is fortunate
that a subject of such incomparable importance should



76 MR. mill's autobiography.

have been first effectively presented for discussion in
so worthy and pregnant a form.

It is interesting to know definitely from the Auto-
biography, what is implied in the opening of the
book itself, that a zealous belief in the advantages of
abolishing the legal and social inequalities of women
was not due to the accident of personal intimacy
with one or two more women of exceptional distinc-
tion of character. What has been ignorantly sup-
posed in our own day to be a crotchet of Mr. Mill's
was the common doctrine of the younger proselytes
of the Benthamite school, and Bentham himself was
wholly with them {Autohiogra2)hy, p. 105, and also
244) ; as, of course, were other thinkers of an earlier
date, Condorcet for instance.^ In this as in other
subjects Mr. Mill did not go beyond his modest defi-
nition of his own originality — the application of old
ideas in new forms and connections (p. 119), or the
originality ' which every thoughtful mind gives to its
own mode of conceiving and expressing truths which
are common property ' (p. 254). Or shall we say that
he had an originality of a more genuine kind, which
made him first diligently acquire what in an excel-
lent phrase he calls plenary possession of truths, and
then transfuse them with a sympathetic and conta-
gious enthusiasm 1

It is often complained that the book on Women
has the radical imperfection of not speaking plainly

^ Comiorcet's arguments the reader will find iu vol. i. of tlie
^iresent series of tliese Critical Miscellanies, p. 249.



ME. mill's autobiography. 77

on the question of the limitations proper to divorce.
The present writer once ventured to ask Mr. Mill
why he had left this important point undiscussed.
Mr. Mill replied that it seemed to him impossible
to settle the expediency of more liberal conditions of
divorce, ' first, Avithout hearing much more fully than
we could possibly do at present the ideas held by
women in the matter ; second, until the experiment
of marriage with entire equality between man and
wife had been properly tried.' People who are in a
hurry to get rid of their partners may find this very
halting kind of work, and a man who wants to take
a new wife before sunset, may well be irritated by a
philosopher who tells him that the question may pos-
sibly be capable of useful discussion towards the
middle of the next century. But Mr. Mill's argu-
ment is full of force and praiseworthy patience.

The union of boundless patience with unshaken
hope was one of Mr. Mill's most conspicuous distinc-
tions. There are two crises in the history of grave
and sensitive natures. One on the threshold of man-
hood, when the youth defines his purpose, his creed,
his aspirations ; the other towards the later part of
middle life, when circumstance has strained his pur-
pose, and tested his creed, and given to his aspira-
tions a cold and practical measure. The second crisis,
though less stirring, less vivid, less coloured to the
imagination, is the weightier probation of the two,
for it is final and decisive ; it marks not the mere



78 MR. mill's autobiography.

unresisted force of youthful impulse and implanted
predispositions, as the earlier crisis does, but rather
the resisting quality, the strength, the purity, the
depth, of the native character, after the many princes
of the power of the air have had time and chance of
fighting their hardest against it. It is the turn which
a man takes about the age of forty or five-and-forty
that parts him oil" among the sheep on the right hand
or the poor goats on the left. This is the time of the
grand moral climacteric; when genial unvarnished
selfishness, or coarse and ungenial cynicism, or queru-
lous despondency, finally chokes out the generous
resolve of a fancied strength which had not yet been
tried in the burning fiery furnace of circumstance.

Mr. Mill did not escape the second crisis, any
more than he had escaped the first, though he dis-
misses it in a far more summary manner. The educa-
tion, he tells us, which his father had given him with
such fine solicitude, had taught him to look for the
greatest and surest source of happiness in sympathy
with the good of mankind on a large scale, and had
fitted him to work for this good of mankind in various
ways. By the time he was twenty, his sympathies
and passive susceptibilities had been so little culti-
vated, his analytic quality had been developed with
so little balance in the shape of developed feelings,
that he suddenly found himself unable to take plea-
sure in those thoughts of virtue and benevolence which
had hitherto only been associated with logical demon-
stration and not with sympathetic sentiment. This



MR. mill's autobiography. 79

dejection was dispelled mainly by the influence of
Wordsworth — a poet austere yet gracious, energetic
yet sober, penetrated with feeling for nature, yet
penetrated with feeling for the homely lot of man.
Here was the emotional synthesis, binding together
the energies of the speciilative and active mind by
sympathetic interest in the common feelings and com-
mon destiny of human beings.

For some ten years more (1826-1836) Mr. Millhoped
the greatest things for the good of society from re-
formed institutions. That was the period of parlia-
mentary changes, and such hope was natural and
universal. Then a shadow came over this confidence,
and Mr. Mill advanced to the position that the choice
of political institutions is subordinate to the question,
' what great improvement in life and culture stands
next in order for the people concerned, as the condi-
tion of their further progress?' (p. 170). In this
period he composed the Logic (published 1843) and
the Political JEconomy (1848). Then he saw what all
ardent lovers of improvement are condemned to see,
that their hopes have outstripped the rate of progress ;
that fulfilment of social aspiration is tardy and very
slow of foot ; and that the leaders of human thought
are never permitted to enter into that Promised Land
whither they are conducting others. Changes for
which he had worked and from which he expected
most, came to pass, but, after they had come to pass,
they were ' attended with much less benefit to human
wellbeing than I should formerly have anticipated.



80 MR. mill's autobiography.

because they had produced very little improvement
in that which all real amelioration in the lot of man-
kind depends on, their intellectual and moral state.
... I had learnt from experience that many false
opinions maybe exchanged for true ones, without in the
least altering the habit of mind of which false opinions
are the result ' (p. 239). This discovery appears to
have brought on no recurrence of the dejection which
had clouded a portion of his youth. It only set him
to consider the root of so disappointing a conclusion,
and led to the conviction that a great change in the
fundamental constitution of men's modes of thoucht
must precede any marked improvement in their lot.
He perceived that society is now passing through a
transitional period ' of weak convictions, paralysed
intellects, and growing laxity of principle,' the conse-
quence of the discredit in the more reflective minds
of the old opinions on the cardinal subjects of reli-
gion, morals, and politics, which have now lost most
of their efficacy for good, though still possessed of
life enough to present formidable obstacles to the
growth of better opinion on those subjects (p. 239).

Thus the crisis of disappointment which breaks
up the hope and effort of so many men who start
well, or else throws them into poor and sterile courses,
proved in this grave, fervent, and most reasonable
spirit only the beginning of more serious endeavours
in a new and more arduous vein. Hitherto he had
been, as he says, 'more willing to be content with
seconding the superficial improvements which had



ME. mill's autobiography. 81

begun to take place in the common opinions of society
and the world.' Henceforth he kept less and less in
abeyance the more heretical part of his opinions,
which he began more and more clearly to discern as
' almost the only ones, the assertion of which tends
in any way to regenerate society ' (p. 230). The
crisis of middle age developed a new fortitude,
a more earnest intrepidity, a greater boldness of
expression about the deeper things, an interest pro-
founder than ever in the improvement of the
human lot. The book on the Subjection of Women,
the Lihcrtij, and probably some pieces that have
not yet been given to the world, are the notable
result of this ripest, loftiest, and most inspiring part
of his life.

This judgment does not appear to be shared by
the majority of those who have hitherto published
their opinions upon Mr. Mill's life and works. Per-
haps it would have been odd if such a judgment had
been common. People who think seriously of life
and its conditions either are content with those con-
ditions as they exist, or else they find them empty
and deeply unsatisfying. Well, the former class,
who naturally figure prominently in the public press,
because the press is the more or less flattering mirror
of the prevailing doctrines of the day, think that Mr.
Mill's views of a better social future are chimerical,
Utopian, and sentimental. The latter class compen-
sate themselves for the pinchedness of the real world
about them by certain rapturous ideals, centring in

VOL. III. G



82 MR. mill's AUTOniOORArilV.

God, a future life, and the long companionship of the
blessed. The consequence of this absorption either
in the immediate interests and aims of the hour, or
in the interests and aims of an imaginary world which
is supposed to await us after death, has been a hasty
inclination to look on such a life and such purposes as
are set forth in the Autobiography as essentially
jejune and dreary. It is not in the least surprising
that such a feeling should prevail. If it were other-
wise, if the majority of thoughtful men and women
were already in a condition to be penetrated by
sympathy for the life of 'search Avith many siglis,'
then we should have already gone far on our way
toAvards the goal which a Turgot or a Mill set for
human progress. If society had at once recognised
the full attractiveness of a life arduously passed in
consideration of the means by Avhich the race may take
its next step forward in the improvement of character
and the amelioration of the common lot, — and this not
from love of God nor hope of recompense in a Avorld
to come, and still less from hope of recompense or
even any very firm assurance of fulfilled aspiration in
this world, — then that fundamental renovation of
conviction for which Mr. Mill sighed, and that evolu-
tion of a new faith to which he had looked forward
in the far distance, would already have come to
pass.

Mr. Mill has been ungenerously ridiculed for the
eagerness and enthusiasm of his contemplation of a
new and better state of human society. Yet we have



MR. mill's autobiography. 83

always been taught to consider it the mark of the
loftiest and most spiritual character, for one to be
capable of rapturous contemplation of a new and
better state in a future life. Why, then, do you not
recognise the loftiness and spirituality of those who
make their heaven in the thought of the wider light
and purer happiness that, in the immensity of the
ages, may be brought to new generations of men, by
long force of vision and endeavour"? What great
element is wanting in a life guided by such a hope ?
Is it not disinterested, and magnanimous, and purify-
ing, and elevating 1 The countless beauties of associa-
tion which cluster round the older faith may make
the new seem bleak and chilly. But when what is
now the old faith was itself new, that too may well
have struck, as we know that it did strike, the
adherent of the mellowed pagan philosophy as crude,
meagre, jejune, dreary.

Then Mr. Mill's life as disclosed to us in these
pages has been called joyless, by that sect of religious
partisans whose peculiarity is to mistake boisterousness
for unction. Was the life of Christ himself, then, so
particularly joyful ? Can the life of any man be joyful
who sees and feels the tragic miseries and hardly less
tragic follies of the earth 1 The old Preacher, when
he considered all the oppressions that are done under
the sun, and behold the tears of such as were oppressed
and had no comforter, therefore praised the dead
which are already dead more than the living which
are yet alive, and declared him better than both,



84 MR. mill's autobiography.

which hath not yet been, who hath not seen tlie evil
work tliat is tlone under the sun. Those wlio are
willing to trick their understandings and play fast
and loose with words may, if they please, console
themselves with the fatuous commonplaces of a philo-
sophic optimism. They may, with eyes tight shut,
cling to the notion that they live in the best of all
possible worlds, or discerning all the anguish that may
be compressed into threescore years and ten, still try
to accept the Stoic's paradox that pain is not an evil.
Or, most wonderful and most common of all, they
may find this joy of Avhich they talk, in meditating
on the moral perfections of the omnipotent Being for
whose diversion the dismal panorama of all the evil
work done under the sun was bidden to unfold itself,
and who sees that it is very good. Those who are
capable of a continuity of joyous emotion on these
terms may well complain of Mr. Mill's story as
dreary ; and so may the school of Solomon, who com-
mended mirth because a man hath no better thing
than to eat and to drink and to be merry. People,
however, who are prohibited by their intellectual
conditions from finding full satisfaction either in
spiritual raptures or in pleasures of sense, may think
the standard of happiness which Mr. Mill sought and
reached, not unacceptable and not unworthy of being
diligently striven after.

Mr. Mill's conception of happiness in life is more
intelligible if we contrast it with his father's. The
Cynic element in James Mill, as his son noAv tells us



MR. mill's AUTOBIOGRArilY. 85

(p. 48), was that he had scarcely any belief in
pleasures ; he thought few of them worth the price
which has to be paid for them ; and he set down the
greater number of the miscarriages in life as due to
an excessive estimate of them. ' He thought human
life a poor thing at best, after the freshness of youth
and of unsatisfied curiosity had gone by. . . . He
would sometimes say that if life were made what it
might be, by good government and good education,
it would be worth having ; but he never spoke with
anything like enthusiasm even of that possibility.'
We should shrink from calling even this theory
dreary, associated as it is with the rigorous enforce-
ment of the heroic virtues of temperance and modera-
tion, and the strenuous and careful bracing up of
every faculty to face the inevitable and make the
best of it. At bottom it is the theory of many of
the bravest souls, who fare grimly through life in the
mood of leaders of forlorn hopes, denying pleasures,
yet very sensible of the stern delight of fortitude.
We can have no difficulty in understanding that, when
the elder Mill lay dying, 'his interest in all things
and persons that had interested him through life was
undiminished, nor did the approach of death cause
the smallest wavering (as in so strong and firm a
mind it was impossible that it should), in his convic-
tions on the subject of religion. His principal satis-
faction, after he knew that his end was near, seemed
to be the thought of what he had done to make the
world better than he found it ; and his chief regret



86 ME. mill's AUTOBIOGKAPIIY.

in not living longer, that he had not had time to do
more' (p. 203).^

Mr. Mill, however, went beyond this conception.
He had a belief in pleasures, and thought human life
by no means a poor thing to those who know how to
make the best of it. It was essential both to the
stability of his utilitarian philosophy, and to the con-
tentment of his own temperament, that the reality of
happiness should be vindicated, and he did both
vindicate and attain it. A highly pleasurable excite-
ment that should have no end, of course he did not
think possible ; but he regarded the two constit-
uents of a satisfied life, much tranquillity and some
excitement, as perfectly attainable by many men,
and as ultimately attainable by very many more.
The ingredients of this satisfaction he set forth as
follows : — a willingness not to expect more from life
than life is capable of bestowing; an intelligent
interest in the objects of mental culture ; genuine
private affections ; and a sincere interest in the public
good. What, on the other hand, are the hindrances
which prevent these elements from being in the
possession of every one born in a civilised country 1
Ignorance ; bad laws or customs, debarring a man or
woman from the sources of happiness within reach ;
and ' the positive evils of life, the great sources of
physical and mental suffering — such as indigence,

^ For tlie mood in wliieli death was faced by another person
who had renounced theology and the doctrine of a future state of
consciousness, see Miss Martineau s Autobiograjjhy, ii. 435, etc.



ME. mill's autobiography. 87

disease, and the unkindness, worthlessness, or prema-
ture loss of objects of affection.'^ But every one of
these calamitous impediments is susceptible of the
weightiest modification, and some of them of final
removal. Mr. Mill had learnt from Turgot and
Condorcet — two of the wisest and noblest of men, as
lie justly calls them (113) — among many other lessons,
this of the boundless improvableness of the human
lot, and we may believe that he read over many a
time the pages in which Condorcet delineated the
Tenth Epoch in the history of human perfectibility,
and traced out in words of finely reserved enthusiasm
the operation of the forces which should consummate
the progress of the race. ' All the grand sources of
liuman suffering,' Mr. Mill thought, ' are in a great
degree, many of them almost entirely, conquerable
by human care and effort ; and though their removal
is grievously slow — though a long succession of
generations will j^erish in the breach before the
conquest is comj^leted, and this world becomes all
that, if will and knowledge were not wanting, it
might easily be made — yet every mind sufficiently
intelligent and generous to bear a part, however small
and unconspicuous, in the endeavour, will draw a
noble enjoyment from the contest itself, which he
would not for any bribe in the form of selfish indul-
gence consent to be without' (Utilitarianism, 22).

We thus see how far from dreary this wise and
benign man actually foimd his own life ; how full it

' For this exposition see Utilitarianism, pp. 18-24.



88 MR. mill's AUTOBIOGKAniY.

was of cheerfulness, of animation, of persevering
search, of a tranquillity lighted up at wholesome
intervals hy flashes of intellectual and moral excite-
ment. That it was not seldom crossed by moods of
despondency is likely enough, but we may at least be
sure that these moods had nothing in common Avith
the vulgar despondency of those whose hopes are
centred in material prosperity in this world and
spiritual prosperity in some other. They were, at
least, the dejection of a magnanimous spirit, that
could only be cast down by some new hindrance to
the spread of reason and enlightenment among men,
or some new weakening of their incentives to right
doing.

Much has been said against Mr. Mill's strictures
on society, and his withdrawal from it. If we realise
the full force of all that he says of his own purpose
in life, it is hard to see how either his opinion or his
practice could have been different. He ceased to be
content with ' seconding the superficial improvements '
in common ways of thinking, and saw the necessity
of working at a fundamental reconstitution of accejited
modes of thought. This in itself implies a condemna-
tion of a social intercourse that rests on the base of
conventional ways of looking at things. The better
kind of society, it is true, appears to contain two
classes ; not only the class that will hear nothing said
hostile to the greater social conventions, including
among these the popular theology, but also another



ME. mill's autobiogeaphy. 89

class who will tolerate or even encourage attack on
the greater social conventions, and a certain mild
discussion of improvements in them — provided only
neither attack nor discussion be conducted in too
serious a vein. A new idea about God, or property,
or the family, is handed round among the company,
as ladies of quality in Queen Anne's time handed
round a black page or a China monster. In Bishop
Butler's phrase, these people only want to know what
is said, not what is true. To be in earnest, to show
that you mean what you say, to think of drawing
blood in the encounter, is thought, and perhaps very
naturally thought, to be a piece of bad manners.
Social intercourse can only exist either pleasantly or
profitably among people who share a great deal of
common ground in opinion and feeling. Mr. Mill,
no doubt, was always anxious to find as much common
ground as he honestly could, for this was one of the
most characteristic maxims of his propagandism.
But a man who had never been brought up in the
popular religion, and who had been brought up in
habits of the most scrupulous fair dealing with his
own understanding ; who had never closed his mind
to new truths from likely sources, but whose character
was formed, and whose mind was made up, on the
central points of opinion, was not in a position to
derive much benefit from those who in all respects
represent a less advanced stage of mental development.
On the other hand, all the benefit which' they were
in a position to derive from him could be adequately



90 MR. mill's AUTOBIOGRAniY.

secured by reading wliat he wrote. Perhaps there is
nothing -vviser among the wise things written in the
Autobiography than tlie remarks on the fact that
persons of any mental superiorit}'', who greatly frequent
society, are greatly deteriorated by it. ' Not to mention
loss of time, the tone of their feelings is lowered :
they become less in earnest about those of their
opinions respecting which they must remain silent in
the society they frequent : they come to look on their
most elevated objects as unpractical, or at least too
remote from reahsation to be more than a vision or a
theory : and if, more fortunate than most, they retain
their higher principles unimpaired, yet with respect
to the persons and affairs of their own day, they
insensibly adopt the modes of feeling and judgment
in which thej'' can hope for sympathy from the
company they keep' (p. 228). That a man loses
something, nay, that he loses much, by being deprived
of animating intercourse with other men, Mr. Mill



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