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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were explored, partly on foot, with a keen eye both to the natural
features of the localities, especially in furtherance of those
botanical studies to which Mr. Mill now returned with the ardor of his
youth, and also to their social and political institutions. Perhaps
the longest and most eventful of these excursions was taken in 1862 to
Greece. On this occasion it had been proposed that his old friend, Mr.
Grote, should accompany him. "To go through those scenes, and
especially to go through them in your company," wrote Mr. Grote in
January, "would be to me pre-eminently delightful; but, alas! my
physical condition altogether forbids it. I could not possibly stay
away from London, without the greatest discomfort, for so long a
period as two months. Still less could I endure the fatigue of horse
and foot exercise which an excursion in Greece must inevitably
entail." The journey occupied more than two months; but in the autumn
Mr. Mill was at Avignon; and, returning to London in December, he
spent Christmas week with Mr. Grote at his residence, Barrow
Green, - Bentham's old house, and the one in which Mr. Mill had played
himself when he was a child. "He is in good health and spirits," wrote
Mr. Grote to Sir G.C. Lewis after that visit; "violent against the
South in this American struggle; embracing heartily the extreme
Abolitionist views, and thinking about little else in regard to the
general question."

It was only to be expected that Mr. Mill would take much interest in
the American civil war, and sympathize strongly with the Abolitionist
party. His interest in politics had been keen, and his judgment on
them had been remarkably sound all through life, as his early articles
in "The Morning Chronicle" and "The London and Westminster Review,"
and his later contributions to various periodicals, helped to testify;
but towards the close of his life the interest was perhaps keener, as
the judgment was certainly more mellowed. It was not strange,
therefore, that his admirers among the working classes, and the
advanced radicals of all grades, should have urged him, and that,
after some hesitation, he should have consented, to become a candidate
for Westminster at the general election of 1865. That candidature
will be long remembered as a notable example of the dignified way in
which an honest man, and one who was as much a philosopher in practice
as in theory, can do all that is needful, and avoid all that is
unworthy, in an excited electioneering contest, and submit without
injury to the insults of political opponents and of political
time-servers professing to be of his own way of thinking. The result
of the election was a far greater honor to the electors who chose him
than to the representative whom they chose; though that honor was
greatly tarnished by Mr. Mill's rejection when he offered himself for
re-election three years later.

This is hardly the place in which to review at much length Mr. Mill's
parliamentary career, though it may be briefly referred to in evidence
of the great and almost unlooked-for ability with which he adapted
himself to the requirements of a philosophical politician as distinct
from a political philosopher. His first speech in the House of
Commons, delivered very soon after its assembling, was on the occasion
of the second reading of the Cattle Diseases Bill, on the 14th of
February, 1866, when he supported Mr. Bright in his opposition to the
proposals of Mr. Lowe for compensation to their owners for the
slaughter of such animals as were diseased or likely to spread
infection. His complaint against the bill was succinctly stated in two
sentences, which fairly illustrated the method and basis of all his
arguments upon current politics. "It compensates," he said, "a class
for the results of a calamity which is borne by the whole community.
In justice, the farmers who have not suffered ought to compensate
those who have; but the bill does what it ought not to have done, and
leaves undone what it ought to have done, by not equalizing the
incidence of the burden upon that class, inasmuch as, from the
operation of the local principle adopted, that portion of an
agricultural community who have not suffered at all will not have to
pay at all, and those who have suffered little will have to pay
little; while those who have suffered most will have to pay a great
deal." "An aristocracy," he added, in words that as truly indicate the
way in which he subjected all matters of detail to the test of general
principles of truth and expediency, - "an aristocracy should have the
feelings of an aristocracy; and, inasmuch as they enjoy the highest
honors and advantages, they ought to be willing to bear the first
brunt of the inconveniences and evils which fall on the country
generally. This is the ideal character of an aristocracy: it is the
character with which all privileged classes are accustomed to credit
themselves; though I am not aware of any aristocracy in history that
has fulfilled those requirements."

That, and the later speeches that Mr. Mill delivered on the Cattle
Diseases Bill, at once announced to the House of Commons and the
public, if they needed any such announcement, the temper and spirit in
which he was resolved to execute his legislative functions. The same
spirit and temper appeared in the speech on the Habeas Corpus
Suspension (Ireland) Bill, which he delivered on the 17th of February;
but his full strength as a debater was first manifested during the
discussion on Mr. Gladstone's Reform Bill of 1866, which was brought
on for second reading on the 12th of April. His famous speech on that
occasion, containing the most powerful arguments offered by any
speaker in favor of the measure, and his shorter speech during its
discussion on the 31st of May, need not here be recapitulated. They
were only admirable developments in practical debate of those
principles of political science which he had already enforced in his
published works. The other leading topics handled by Mr. Mill during
the session of 1866 were the expediency of reducing the National Debt,
which he urged on the occasion of Mr. Neate's proposal on the 17th of
April; the Tenure and Improvement of Land (Ireland) Bill, on which he
spoke at length and with force on the 17th of May, then practically
initiating the movement in favor of land-reform, which he partly
helped to enforce in part with regard to Ireland, and for the more
complete adoption of which in England he labored to the last; the
Jamaica outbreak, and the conduct of Governor Eyre, on which he spoke
on the 31st of July; and the electoral disabilities of women, which he
first brought within the range of practical politics by moving, on the
20th of July, for a return of the numbers of householders, and others
who, "fulfilling the conditions of property or rental prescribed by
law as the qualification for the electoral franchise, are excluded
from the franchise by reason of their sex."

In the session of 1867 Mr. Mill took a prominent part in the
discussions on the Metropolitan Poor Bill; and he spoke on various
other topics, - his introduction of the Women's Electoral Disabilities
Removal Bill being in some respects the most notable: but his chief
action was with reference to Mr. Disraeli's Reform Bill, several
clauses of which he criticised and helped to alter in committee.
Though he was as zealous as ever, however, in his attendance to
public business, he made fewer great speeches, being content to set a
wise example to other and less able men in only speaking when he felt
it absolutely necessary to do so, and in generally performing merely
the functions of a "silent member."

In 1868 he was, if not more active, somewhat more prominent. On March
the 6th, on the occasion of Mr. Shaw-Lefevre's motion respecting the
"Alabama Claims," he forcibly expressed his opinions as to the wrong
done by England to the United States during the civil war, and the
need of making adequate reparation; and on the 12th of the same month
he spoke with equal boldness on Mr. Maguire's motion for a committee
to inquire into the state of Ireland, repeating anew and enforcing the
views he had lately put forward in his pamphlet on Ireland, and
considerably aiding by anticipation the passage of Mr. Gladstone's two
great measures of Irish Reform. He took an important part in the
discussion of the Election Petitions and Corrupt Practices Bill; and
among a great number of other measures on which he spoke was the
Married Women's Property Bill of Mr. Shaw-Lefevre.

Soon after that the House of Commons was dissolved, and Mr. Mill's too
brief parliamentary career came to an end. The episode, however, had
to some extent helped to quicken his always keen interest in political
affairs. This was proved, among other ways, by the publication of his
pamphlet on "England and Ireland" in 1868, and of his treatise "On the
Subjection of Women" in 1869, as well as by the especial interest
which he continued to exhibit in two of the most important political
movements of the day, - all the more important because they are yet
almost in their infancy, - the one for the political enfranchisement
of women, the other for a thorough reform of our system of land
tenure. The latest proof of his zeal on the second of these important
points appeared in the address which he delivered at Exeter Hall on
the 18th of last March, and in two articles which he contributed to
"The Examiner" at the commencement of the present year. We may be
permitted to add that it was his intention to use some of the greater
quiet that he expected to enjoy during his stay at Avignon in writing
frequent articles on political affairs for publication in these
columns. He died while his intellectual powers were as fresh as they
had ever been, and when his political wisdom was only ripened by

In this paper we purposely limit ourselves to a concise narrative of
the leading events of Mr. Mill's life, and abstain as far as possible
from any estimate of either the value or the extent of his work in
philosophy, in economics, in politics, or in any other of the
departments of thought and study to which, with such depth and breadth
of mind, he applied himself; but it is impossible for us to lay down
the pen without some slight reference, however inadequate it may be,
to the nobility of his character, and the peculiar grace with which he
exhibited it in all his dealings with his friends and with the whole
community among whom he lived, and for whom he worked with the
self-sacrificing zeal of an apostle. If to labor fearlessly and
ceaselessly for the good of society, and with the completest
self-abnegation that is consistent with healthy individuality, be the
true form of religion, Mr. Mill exhibited such genuine and profound
religion - so permeating his whole life, and so engrossing his every
action - as can hardly be looked for in any other man of this
generation. Great as were his intellectual qualities, they were
dwarfed by his moral excellences. He did not, it is true, aim at any
fanciful ideal, or adopt any fantastic shibboleths. He was only a
utilitarian. He believed in no inspiration but that of experience. He
had no other creed or dogma or gospel than Bentham's axiom, - "The
greatest happiness of the greatest number." But many will think that
herein was the chief of all his claims to the honor of all men, and
the best evidence of his worth. At any rate, he set a notable example
of the way in which a man, making the best use in his power of merely
his own reason and the accumulated reason of those who have gone
before him, wisely exercising the faculties of which he finds himself
possessed, and seeking no guidance or support from invisible beacons
and intangible props, may lead a blameless life, and be one of the
greatest benefactors of his race. No one who had any personal
knowledge of him could fail to discern the singular purity of his
character; and to those who knew him best that purity was most
apparent. He may have blundered and stumbled in his pursuit of truth;
but it was part of his belief that stumbling and blundering are
necessary means towards the finding of truth, and that honesty of
purpose is the only indispensable requisite for the nearest approach
towards truth of which each individual is capable. That belief
rendered him as charitable towards others as he was modest concerning
his own attainments. He never boasted; and he despised no one. The
only things really hateful to him were arrogance and injustice, and
for these he was, to say the least, as willing and eager to find
excuse as could be the most devout utterer of the prayer, "Father,
forgive them, for they know not what they do." We had noted many
instances, coming within our own very limited observation, of his
remarkable, almost unparalleled magnanimity and generosity; but such
details would here be almost out of place, and they who need such will
doubtless before long receive much more convincing proof of his moral

We shall not here dilate on those minor qualities of mind and heart
that made Mr. Mill's society so charming to all who were fortunate
enough to have any share in it; and these, especially in recent years,
were many. When the first burden of his grief at the loss of his wife
had passed, - perhaps partly as a relief from the solitude, save for
one devoted companion, that would otherwise have been now forced upon
him, - he mixed more freely than he had done before in the society of
all whose company could yield him any satisfaction or by whom his
friendship was really valued. His genial and graceful bearing towards
every one who came near him must be within the knowledge of very many
who will read this column; and they will remember, besides his
transparent nobility of character, and the genial ways in which it
exhibited itself, certain intellectual qualities for which he was
remarkable. We here refer, not to his higher abilities as a thinker,
but to such powers of mind as displayed themselves in conversation.
Without any pedantry, - without any sort of intentional notification to
those with whom he conversed that he was the greatest logician,
metaphysician, moralist, and economist of the day, - his speech was
always, even on the most trivial subjects, so clear and incisive, that
it at once betrayed the intellectual vigor of the speaker. Not less
remarkable also than his uniform refinement of thought, and the
deftness with which he at all times expressed it, were the grasp and
keenness of his observation, and the strength of memory with which he
stored up every thing he had ever seen, heard, or read. Nothing
escaped his notice at the time of its occurrence: nothing was
forgotten by him afterwards. His friends often found, to their
astonishment, that he knew far more about any passages in their lives
that he had been made aware of than they could themselves remember;
and, whenever that disclosure was made to them, they must have been
rejoiced to think, that this memory of his, instead of being, as it
might well have been, a dangerous garner of severe judgments and
fairly-grounded prejudices, was a magic mirror, in which their follies
and foibles were hardly at all reflected, and only kindly
reminiscences and generous sympathies found full expression.

But he is dead now. Although the great fruits of his life - a life in
which mind and heart, in which senses and emotions, were singularly
well balanced - are fruits that cannot die, all the tender ties of
friendship, all the strictly personal qualities that so much aided his
work as a teacher of the world, as the foremost leader of his
generation in the search after truth and righteousness, are now
snapped forever. Only four weeks ago he left London for a
three-months' stay in Avignon. Two weeks ago he was in his customary
health. On the 5th of May he was attacked by a virulent form of
erysipelas. On the 8th he died. On the 10th he was buried in the grave
to which he had, through fourteen years, looked forward as a pleasant
resting-place, because during fourteen years there had been in it a
vacant place beside the remains of the wife whom he so fondly loved.




I have undertaken to prepare a sketch of Mr. Mill's official career,
but find, on inquiry, scarcely any thing to add to the few particulars
on the subject which have already found their way into print. Of his
early official associates, all have, with scarcely an exception,
already passed away; and there is no one within reach to whom I can
apply for assistance in verifying or correcting my own impressions.
These are in substance the following.

In the few last decades of its existence, the East-India Company's
establishment, in Leadenhall Street, consisted of three
divisions, - the secretary's, military secretary's, and examiners'
offices, - in the last of which most of the despatches and letters were
composed which were afterwards signed by the directors or the
secretary. Into this division, in the year 1821, the directors,
perceiving an infusion of new blood to be very urgently required,
introduced, as assistant examiners, four outsiders, - Mr. Strachey
(father of the present Sir John and Major-Gen. Richard Strachey),
Thomas Love Peacock (author of "Headlong Hall"), Mr. Harcourt, and
Mr. James Mill; the selection of the last-named being all the more
creditable to them, because, in his "History of British India," he had
animadverted with much severity on some parts of the Company's
administration. Two years afterwards, in 1823, the historian's son,
the illustrious subject of these brief memoirs, then a lad of
seventeen, obtained a clerkship under his father. According to the
ordinary course of things in those days, the newly-appointed junior
would have had nothing to do, except a little abstracting, indexing,
and searching, or pretending to search, into records; but young Mill
was almost immediately set to indite despatches to the governments of
the three Indian Presidencies, on what, in India-House phraseology,
were distinguished as "political" subjects, - subjects, that is, for
the most part growing out of the relations of the said governments
with "native" states or foreign potentates. This continued to be his
business almost to the last. In 1828 he was promoted to be assistant
examiner, and in 1856 he succeeded to the post of chief examiner;
after which his duty consisted rather in supervising what his
assistants had written than in writing himself: but for the three and
twenty years preceding he had had immediate charge of the political
department, and had written almost every "political" despatch of any
importance that conveyed the instructions of the merchant princes of
Leadenhall Street to their pro-consuls in Asia. Of the quality of
these documents, it is sufficient to say, that they were John Mill's;
but, in respect to their quantity, it may be worth mentioning that a
descriptive catalogue of them completely fills a small quarto volume
of between three hundred and four hundred pages, in their author's
handwriting, which now lies before me; also that the share of the
Court of Directors in the correspondence between themselves and the
Indian governments used to average annually about ten huge
vellum-bound volumes, foolscap size, and five or six inches thick, and
that of these volumes two a year, for more than twenty years running,
were exclusively of Mill's composition; this, too, at times, when he
was engaged upon such voluntary work in addition as his "Logic" and
"Political Economy."

In 1857 broke out the Sepoy war, and in the following year the
East-India Company was extinguished in all but the name, its
governmental functions being transferred to the Crown. That most
illustrious of corporations died hard; and with what affectionate
loyalty Mill struggled to avert its fate is evidenced by the famous
Petition to Parliament which he drew up for his old masters, and which
opens with the following effective antithesis: "Your petitioners, at
their own expense, and by the agency of their own civil and military
servants, originally acquired for this country its magnificent empire
in the East. The foundations of this empire were laid by your
petitioners, at that time neither aided nor controlled by Parliament,
at the same period at which a succession of administrations under the
control of Parliament were losing, by their incapacity and rashness,
another great empire on the opposite side of the Atlantic."

I am fortunate enough to be the possessor of the original MS. of this
admirable state paper, which I mention, because I once heard its real
authorship denied in that quarter of all others in which it might have
been supposed to be least likely to be questioned. On one of the last
occasions of the gathering together of the Proprietors of East-India
Stock, I could scarcely believe my ears, when one of the directors,
alluding to the petition, spoke of it as having been written by a
certain other official who was silting by his side, adding, after a
moment's pause, "with the assistance, as he understood, of Mr. Mill,"
likewise present. As soon as the Court broke up, I burst into Mill's
room, boiling over with indignation, and exclaiming, "What an infamous
shame!" and no doubt adding a good deal more that followed in natural
sequence on such an exordium. "What's the matter?" replied Mill as
soon as he could get a word in. "M - - [the director] was quite right.
The petition was the joint work of - - and myself." - "How can you be
so perverse?" I retorted. "You know that I know you wrote every word of
it." - "No," rejoined Mill, "you are mistaken: one whole line on the
second page was put in by - - ."

In August, 1858, the East-India Company's doom was pronounced by
Parliament. The East-India House was completely re-organized, its very
name being changed into that of the India Office, and a Secretary of
State in Council taking the place of the Court of Directors. But a
change of scarcely secondary importance to many of those immediately
concerned was Mill's retirement on a pension. A few months after he
had left us an attempt was made to bring him back. At that time only
one-half of the Council were nominated by the Crown, the other half
having been elected, and the law prescribing that any vacancy among
these latter should be filled by election on the part of the remaining
elected members. On the first occasion of the kind that occurred,
Mill was immediately proposed; and I had the honor of being
commissioned to sound him on the subject of the intended offer, and to
endeavor to overcome the objections to acceptance which it was feared
he might entertain. I went accordingly to his house at Blackheath, but
had no sooner broached the subject than I saw that my mission was
hopeless. The anguish of his recent bereavement was as yet too fresh.
He sought eagerly for some slight alleviation of despair in hard
literary labor; but to face the outside world was for the present

Here my scanty record must end, unless I may be permitted to
supplement its meagreness by one or two personal - not to say
egotistical - reminiscences. The death of Mr. Mill senior, in 1836, had
occasioned a vacancy at the bottom of the examiner's office, to which
I was appointed through the kindness of Sir James Carnac, then
chairman of the Company, in whose gift it was. Within a few months,
however, I was transferred to a newly-created branch of the
secretary's office; owing to which cause, and perhaps also to a little
(or not a little) mutual shyness, I for some years came so seldom into
contact with Mr. Mill, that, though he of course knew me by sight, we
scarcely ever spoke, and generally passed each other without any mark
of recognition when we happened to meet in or out of doors. Early in
1846, however, I sent him a copy of a book I had just brought out, on
"Over-population." A day or two afterwards he came into my room to
thank me for it; and during the half-hour's conversation that
thereupon ensued, sprang up, full grown at its birth, an intimate
friendship, of which I feel that I am not unduly boasting in declaring
it to have been equally sincere and fervent on both sides. From that
time for the next ten or twelve years, a day seldom passed without, if
I did not go into his room, his coming into mine, often telling me as
he entered, that he had nothing particular to say; but that, having a
few minutes to spare, he thought we might as well have a little talk.
And what talks we have had on such occasions, and on what various
subjects! and not unfrequently, too, when the room was Mill's, Grote,

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