John Stuart Mill; His Life and Works Twelve Sketches by Herbert Spencer, Henry Fawcett, Frederic Harrison, and Other Distinguished Authors online

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Twelve Sketches by

Herbert Spencer, Henry Fawcett, Frederic Harrison,
and Other Distinguished Authors

Boston: James R Osgood and Company
(Late Ticknor & Field and Fields Osgood, & Co.)




H. R. Fox Bourne

W. T. Thornton

Herbert Spencer

Henry Trimen

W. Minto

J. H. Levy

W. A. Hunter

J. E. Cairnes

Henry Fawcett

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Frederic Harrison

W. A. Hunter



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 insufficient 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 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
Edinburgh with a view to his becoming a minister in the Church of
Scotland. Soon finding that calling distasteful 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,
between 1814 and 1817, - "and they passed small portions 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 obligation 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 volunteer 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
habitually 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 commencement 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
proposes 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 system of
important truths of which you have the immortal 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
considered 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 necessary 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 propagation 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 intellectual debt he owed
to him."

Those extracts are made, not only in justice to the memory of James
Mill, but as a help towards understanding the influences by which his
son was surrounded 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
which 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 studying, with his father as sole preceptor, under
the paternal 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 modest a man, should not take much part in general
conversation; 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 difficulties, had acquired so much
renown by his famous "History of India," that, in spite of its adverse
criticisms 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 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 remained 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 subordinate.

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 modern 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 supplementary annotation,
of his "Rationale of Judicial Evidence." That work, for which he was
highly commended 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 10th contributes one interesting 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
years the junior of the clique. The rivalry was rather in knowledge
and reasoning than in eloquence, mere declamation was discouraged; and
subjects of paramount importance 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 which 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 Whitmore, and George John Graham. The 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, recommended 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 commented on by every one in turn, discussed and
rediscussed, 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 "Dissertations 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 published, 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
departments of thought to which, ostensibly, he was especially
devoted. Shortly after that he embarked in a bolder literary venture.
Differences having arisen concerning "The Westminster Review," a new
quarterly 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
Administrations," 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 Mr. Mill, Mr.
Fonblanque, and those who had then come to be called Philosophical
Radicals. "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 disapprove 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 produce
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 government, - 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 expected from a dominant few; that the
interests of the many were sure to be in their eyes a secondary
consideration to their own ease or emolument. Perceiving, 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 aristocratical

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 Bowring, 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 publication, those lengthier
writings with which he chiefly occupied his leisure during the next
quarter of a century; though that work was frequently diversified by
important contributions to "The Edinburgh" and "The Westminster
Review," "Fraser's Magazine," and other periodicals. His first great
work 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 "Principles 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," consisting solely of printed
articles, the famous essay "On Liberty," and the "Thoughts on
Parliamentary Reform." "Considerations on Representative Government"
appeared in 1861, "Utilitarianism," in 1863, "Auguste Comte and
Positivism" and the "Examination 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," published 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 difficult 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;
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

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, or even earlier.
During more than twenty years he had been aided by her talents, and
encouraged by her sympathy, 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 Enfranchisement of Women" contributed to "The
Westminster Review," and afterwards reprinted in the "Dissertations
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 comprehensive intellect," it was there written, "made her the
guide and support, the instructor in wisdom, and the example in
goodness, as she was the sole earthly delight, of those who had the
happiness to belong to her. As earnest for all public good as she was
generous and devoted to all who surrounded her, her influence has been
felt in many of the greatest improvements of the age, and will be in
those still to come. Were there even a few hearts and intellects like
hers, this earth would already become the hoped-for heaven."
Henceforth, during the fourteen years and a half that were to elapse
before he should be laid in the same grave, Avignon was the chosen
haunt of Mr. Mill.

Passing much of his time in the modest house that he had bought, that
he might be within sight of his wife's tomb, Mr. Mill was also
frequently in London, whither he came especially to facilitate the new
course of philosophical and political writing on which he entered. He
found relief also in excursions, one of which was taken nearly every
year, in company with his step-daughter, Miss Helen Taylor, into
various parts of Europe. Italy, Switzerland, and many other districts,

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