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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the historian, would join us, first announcing his advent by a
peculiar and ever-welcome rat-tat with his walking-stick on the door.
I must not dwell longer over these recollections; but there are two
special obligations of my own to Mill which I cannot permit myself to
pass over. When, in 1856, he became examiner, he had made it, as I
have been since assured by the then chairman of the East-India
Company, a condition of his acceptance of the post, that I, whose name
very likely the Chairman had never before heard, should be associated
with him as one of his assistant examiners; and I was placed, in
consequence, in charge of the Public-Works Department. Not long
afterwards, having lapsed into a state of nervous weakness, which for
nearly a year absolutely incapacitated me for mental labor, I should,
but for Mill, have been compelled to retire from the service. From
this, however, he saved me by quietly taking upon himself, and for the
space of twelve months discharging, the whole of my official duties,
in addition to his own. Is it wonderful that such a man, supposed by
those who did not know him to be cold, stern, and dry, should have
been enthusiastically beloved by those who did?

It is little to say, that my own friendship with him was, from first
to last, never once ruffled by difference or misunderstanding of any
kind. Differences of opinion we had in abundance; but my open avowal
of them was always recognized by him as one of the strongest proofs of
respect, and served to cement instead of weakening our attachment.[1]
The nearest approach made throughout our intercourse to any thing of
an unpleasant character was about the time of his retirement from the
India House. Talking over that one day with two or three of my
colleagues, I said it would not do to let Mill go without receiving
some permanently-visible token of our regard. The motion was no sooner
made than it was carried by acclamation. Every member of the
examiners' office - for we jealously insisted on confining the affair
to ourselves - came tendering his subscription, scarcely waiting to be
asked; in half an hour's time some fifty or sixty pounds - I forget the
exact sum - was collected, which in due course was invested in a superb
silver inkstand, designed by our friend, Digby Wyatt, and manufactured
by Messrs. Elkington. Before it was ready, however, an unexpected
trouble arose. In some way or other, Mill had got wind of our
proceeding, and, coming to me in consequence, began almost to upbraid
me as its originator. I had never before seen him so angry. He hated
all such demonstrations, he said, and was quite resolved not to be
made the subject of them. He was sure they were never altogether
genuine or spontaneous; there were always several persons who took
part in them merely because they did not like to refuse; and, in
short, whatever we might do, he would have none of it. In vain I
represented how eagerly everybody, without exception, had come
forward; that we had now gone too far to recede; that, if he would not
take the inkstand, we should be utterly at a loss what to do with it;
and that I myself should be in a specially embarrassing position. Mill
was not to be moved. This was a question of principle, and on
principle he could not give way. There was nothing left, therefore,
but resort to a species of force. I arranged with Messrs. Elkington
that our little testimonial should be taken down to Mr. Mill's house
at Blackheath by one of their men, who, after leaving it with the
servant, should hurry away without waiting for an answer. This plan
succeeded; but I have always suspected, though she never told me so,
that its success was mainly due to Miss Helen Taylor's good offices.
But for her, the inkstand would almost certainly have been returned,
instead of being promoted, as it eventually was, to a place of honor
in her own and her father's drawing-room.

Mine is scarcely just now the mood in which I should have been
naturally disposed to relate anecdotes like this; but, in the
execution of my present task, I have felt bound chiefly to consider
what would be likely to interest the reader.



[1] I may be permitted here, without Mr. Thornton's
knowledge, to recall a remark made by Mr. Mill only a few
weeks ago. We were speaking of Mr. Thornton's recently
published "Old-fashioned Ethics and Common-Sense
Metaphysics," when I remarked on Mr. Mill's wide divergence
from most of the views contained in it. "Yes," he replied,
"it is pleasant to find _something_ on which to differ from
Thornton." Mr. Mill's prompt recognition of the importance
of Mr. Thornton's refutation of the wage-fund theory is only
one out of numberless instances of his peculiar
magnanimity. - B.



To dilate upon Mr. Mill's achievements, and to insist upon the
wideness of his influence over the thought of his time and
consequently over the actions of his time, seems to me scarcely
needful. The facts are sufficiently obvious, and are recognized by all
who know any thing about the progress of opinion during the last half
century. My own estimate of him, intellectually considered, has been
emphatically though briefly given on an occasion of controversy
between us, by expressing my regret at 'having to contend against the
doctrine of one whose agreement I should value more than that of any
other thinker.'

While, however, it is almost superfluous to assert of him that
intellectual height so generally admitted there is more occasion for
drawing attention to a moral elevation that is less recognized partly
because his activities in many directions afforded no occasion for
exhibiting it, and partly because some of its most remarkable
manifestations in conduct are known only to those whose personal
relations with him have called them forth. I feel especially prompted
to say something on this point, because, where better things might
have been expected, there has been, not only a grudging recognition of
intellectual rank, but a marked blindness to those fine traits of
character, which, in the valuation of men, must go for more than
superiority of intelligence.

It might indeed have been supposed, that even those who never enjoyed
the pleasure of personal acquaintance with Mr. Mill would have been
impressed with the nobility of his nature as indicated in his opinions
and deeds. How entirely his public career has been determined by a
pure and strong sympathy for his fellow men, how entirely this
sympathy has subordinated all desires for personal advantage, how
little even the fear of being injured in reputation or position has
deterred him from taking the course which he thought equitable or
generous - ought to be manifest to every antagonist, however bitter. A
generosity that might almost be called romantic was obviously the
feeling prompting sundry of those courses of action which have been
commented upon as errors. And nothing like a true conception of him
can be formed, unless, along with dissent from them, there goes
recognition of the fact that they resulted from the eagerness of a
noble nature impatient to rectify injustice and to further human

It may perhaps be that my own perception of this pervading warmth of
feeling has been sharpened by seeing it exemplified, not in the form
of expressed opinions only, but in the form of private actions, for
Mr. Mill was not one of those, who, to sympathy with their fellow men
in the abstract, join indifference to them in the concrete. There came
from him generous acts that corresponded with his generous sentiments.
I say this, not from second-hand knowledge, but having in mind a
remarkable example known only to myself and a few friends. I have
hesitated whether to give this example, seeing that it has personal
implications. But it affords so clear an insight into Mr. Mill's
character, and shows so much more vividly than any description could
do how fine were the motives swaying his conduct, that I think the
occasion justifies disclosure of it.

Some seven years ago, after bearing as long as was possible the
continued losses entailed on me by the publication of the "System of
Philosophy," I notified to the subscribers that I should be obliged to
cease at the close of the volume then in progress. Shortly after the
issue of this announcement I received from Mr. Mill a letter, in
which, after expressions of regret, and after naming a plan which he
wished to prosecute for re-imbursing me, he went on to say, "In the
next place ... what I propose is, that you should write the next of
your treatises, and that I should guarantee the publisher against
loss; i.e., should engage, after such length of time as may be agreed
on, to make good any deficiency that may occur, not exceeding a given
sum, - that sum being such as the publisher may think sufficient to
secure him." Now, though these arrangements were of kinds that I could
not bring myself to yield to, they none the less profoundly impressed
me with Mr. Mill's nobility of feeling, and his anxiety to further
what he regarded as a beneficial end. Such proposals would have been
remarkable even had there been entire agreement of opinion, but they
were the more remarkable as being made by him under the consciousness
that there existed between us certain fundamental differences, openly
avowed. I had, both directly and by implication, combated that form
of the experiential theory of human knowledge which characterizes Mr.
Mill's philosophy: in upholding Realism, I had opposed in decided ways
those metaphysical systems to which his own Idealism was closely
allied; and we had long carried on a controversy respecting the test
of truth, in which I had similarly attacked Mr. Mill's positions in an
outspoken manner. That, under such circumstances, he should have
volunteered his aid, and urged it upon me, as he did, on the ground
that it would not imply any personal obligation, proved in him a very
exceptional generosity.

Quite recently I have seen afresh illustrated this fine trait, - this
ability to bear with unruffled temper, and without any diminution of
kindly feeling, the publicly-expressed antagonism of a friend. The
last evening I spent at his house was in the company of another
invited guest, who, originally agreeing with him entirely on certain
disputed questions, had some fortnight previously displayed his change
of view, - nay, had publicly criticised some of Mr. Mill's positions in
a very undisguised manner. Evidently, along with his own unswerving
allegiance to truth, there was in Mr. Mill an unusual power of
appreciating in others a like conscientiousness, and so of suppressing
any feeling of irritation produced by difference, - suppressing it, not
in appearance only, but in reality, and that, too, under the most
trying circumstances.

I should say indeed, that Mr. Mill's general characteristic,
emotionally considered, was an unusual predominance of the higher
sentiments, - a predominance which tended, perhaps, both in theory and
practice, to subordinate the lower nature unduly. That rapid advance
of age which has been conspicuous for some years past, and which
doubtless prepared the way for his somewhat premature death, may, I
think, be regarded as the outcome of a theory of life which made
learning and working the occupations too exclusively considered. But
when we ask to what ends he acted out this theory, and in so doing too
little regarded his bodily welfare, we see that even here the excess,
if such we call it, was a noble one. Extreme desire to further human
welfare was that to which he sacrificed himself.




If we would have a just idea of any man's character, we should view it
from as many points, and under as many aspects, as we can. The
side-lights thrown by the lesser occupations of a life are often very
strong, and bring out its less obvious parts into startling
prominence. Much especially is to be learned of character by taking
into consideration the employment of times of leisure or relaxation;
the occupation of such hours being due almost solely to the natural
bent of the individual, without the interfering action of necessity or
expediency. Most men, perhaps especially eminent men, have a
"hobby", - some absorbing object, the pursuit of which forms the most
natural avocation of their mind, and to which they turn with the
certainty of at least satisfaction, if not of exquisite pleasure. The
man who follows any branch of natural science in this way is almost
always especially happy in its prosecution; and his mental powers are
refreshed and invigorated for the more serious and engrossing if less
congenial occupation of his life. Mr. Mill's hobby was practical field
botany; surely in all ways one very well suited to him.

Of the tens of thousands who are acquainted with the philosophical
writings of Mr. Mill, there are probably few beyond the circle of his
personal friends who are aware that he was also an author in a modest
way on botanical subjects, and a keen searcher after wild plants. His
short communications on botany were chiefly if not entirely published
in a monthly magazine called "The Phytologist," edited, from its
commencement in 1841, by the late George Luxford, till his death, in
1854, and afterwards conducted by Mr. A. Irvine of Chelsea, an
intimate friend of Mr. Mill's, till its discontinuance in 1863. In the
early numbers of this periodical especially will be found frequent
notes and short papers on the facts of plant distribution brought to
light by Mr. Mill during his botanical rambles. His excursions were
chiefly in the county of Surrey, and especially in the neighborhood of
Guildford and the beautiful vale of the Sittingbourne, where he had
the satisfaction of being the first to notice several plants of
interest, as _Polygonum dumetorum_, _Isatis tinctoria_, and _Impatiens
fulva_, an American species of balsam, affording a very remarkable
example of complete naturalization in the Wey and other streams
connected with the lower course of the Thames. Mr. Mill says he first
observed this interloper in 1822 at Albury, a date which probably
marks about the commencement of his botanical investigations, if not
that of the first notice of the plant in this country. Mr. Mill's
copious MS lists of observations in Surrey were subsequently forwarded
to the late Mr. Salmon of Godalming, and have been since published
with the large collection of facts made by that botanist in the "Flora
of Surrey," printed under the auspices of the Holmesdale (Reigate)
Natural History Club. Mr. Mill also contributed to the same
scientific magazine some short notes on Hampshire botany, and is
believed to have helped in the compilation of Mr. G.G. Mill's
"Catalogue of the Plants of Great Marlow, Bucks."

The mere recording of isolated facts of this kind of course affords no
scope for any style in composition. It may, however, be thought worth
while to reproduce here the concluding paragraph of a short article on
"Spring Flowers in the South of Europe," as a sample of Mr. Mill's
popular manner, as well as for its own sake as a fine description of a
matchless scene. He is describing the little mountain range of Albano,
beloved of painters, and, after comparing its vernal flora with that
in England, goes on: -

'If we would ascend the highest member of the mountain group,
the Monte Cavo, we must make the circuit of the north flank
of the mountains of Marino, on the edge of the Albano Lake,
and Rocca di Tassa, a picturesque village in the hollow
mountain side, from which we climb through woods, abounding
in _Galanthus nivalis_ and _Corydalis cava_, to that summit
which was the _arx_ of Jupiter Latialis, and to which the
thirty Latian cities ascended in solemn procession to offer
their annual sacrifice. The place is now occupied by a
convent, under the wall of which I gathered _Orinthogalum
nutans_; and from its neighborhood I enjoyed a panoramic
view, surely the most glorious, in its combination of
natural beauty and grandeur of historical recollections, to
be found anywhere on earth. The eye ranged from Terracina on
one side to Veii on the other, and beyond Veii to the hills
of Sutrium and Nepete, once covered by the Cimmian forests,
then deemed an impenetrable barrier between the interior of
Etruria and Rome. Below my feet the Alban mountain, with all
its forest-covered folds, and in one of them the dark-blue
Lake of Nemi; that of Albano, I think, was invisible. To the
north, in the dim distance, the Eternal City, to the west
the eternal sea, for eastern boundary, the long line of
Sabine mountains from Soracte past Tibur and away towards
Proeneste. The range then passed behind the Alban group, but
re-appeared to the south-east as the mountain crescent of
Cora and Pometia, enclosing between its horns the Pontine
marshes, which lay spread out below as far as the sea line,
extending east and west from Terracina in the bay of Fondi,
the Volscian Anxur, to the angle of the coast where rises
suddenly, between the marshes and the sea, the mountain
promontory of Circeii, celebrated alike in history and in
fable. Within the space visible from this one point, the
destinies of the human race were decided. It took the Romans
nearly five hundred years to vanquish and incorporate the
warlike tribes who inhabited that narrow tract, but, this
being accomplished, two hundred more sufficed them to
complete the conquest of the world.

During the frequent and latterly prolonged residence at Avignon, Mr.
Mill, carrying on his botanical propensities, had become very well
acquainted with the vegetation of the district, and at the time of his
death had collected a mass of notes and observations on the subject.
It is believed to have been his intention to have printed these as the
foundation of a flora of Avignon.

In the slight contributions to the literature of botany made by Mr.
Mill, there is nothing which gives any inkling of the great
intellectual powers of their writer. Though always clear and accurate,
they are merely such notes as any working botanical collector is able
to supply in abundance. Mainly content with the pursuit as an outdoor
occupation, with such an amount of home work as was necessary to
determine the names and affinities of the species, Mr. Mill never
penetrated deeply into the philosophy of botany, so as to take rank
among those who have, like Herbert Spencer, advanced that science by
original work either of experiment or generalization, or have entered
into the battle-field where the great biological questions of the day
are being fought over. The writer of this notice well remembers
meeting, a few years since, the (at that time) parliamentary logician,
with his trousers turned up out of the mud, and armed with the tin
insignia of his craft, busily occupied in the search after a
marsh-loving rarity in a typical spongy wood on the clay to the north
of London.

But however followed, the investigation of nature cannot fail to
influence the mind in the direction of a more just appreciation of the
necessity of system in arrangement, and of the principles which must
regulate all attempts to express notions of system in a
classification. Traces of this are not difficult to find in Mr. Mill's
writings. It may be safely stated, that the chapters on classification
in the "Logic" would not have taken the form they have, had not the
writer been a naturalist as well as a logician. The views expressed so
clearly in these chapters are chiefly founded on the actual needs
experienced by the systematic botanist; and the argument is largely
sustained by references to botanical systems and arrangements. Most
botanists agree with Mr. Mill in his objections to Dr. Whewell's views
of a natural classification by resemblance to "types," instead of in
accordance with well-selected characters; and indeed the whole of
these chapters are well deserving the careful study of naturalists,
notwithstanding that the wonderfully rapid progress in recent years of
new ideas, lying at the very root of all the natural sciences, may be
thought by some to give the whole argument, in spite of its logical
excellence, a somewhat antiquated flavor. How fully Mr. Mill
recognized the great importance of the study of biological
classifications, and the influence such a study must have had on
himself, may be judged from the following quotation: -

"Although the scientific arrangements of organic nature
afford as yet the only complete example of the true
principles of rational classification, whether as to the
formation of groups or of series, those principles are
applicable to all cases in which mankind are called upon to
bring the various parts of any extensive subject into mental
co-ordination. They are as much to the point when objects
are to be classed for purposes of art or business as for
those of science. The proper arrangement, for example, of a
code of laws, depends on the same scientific conditions as
the classifications in natural history; nor could there be a
better preparatory discipline for that important function
than the study of the principles of a natural arrangement,
not only in the abstract, but in their actual application to
the class of phenomena for which they were first elaborated,
and which are still the best school for learning their use.
Of this, the great authority on codification, Bentham, was
perfectly aware; and his early 'Fragment on Government,' the
admirable introduction to a series of writings unequalled in
their department, contains clear and just views (as far as
they go) on the meaning of a natural arrangement, such as
could scarcely have occurred to any one who lived anterior
to the age of Linnaeus and Bernard de Jussieu" (_System of
Logic_, ed. 6, ii., p. 288).




Mr. Mill's achievements as an economist, logician, psychologist, and
politician are known more or less vaguely to all educated men; but his
capacity and his actual work as a critic are comparatively little
regarded. In the three volumes of his collected miscellaneous
writings, very few of the papers are general reviews either of books
or of men; and even these volumes derive their character from the
essays they contain on the severer subjects with which Mr. Mill's name
has been more peculiarly associated. Nobody buys his "Dissertations
and Discussions" for the sake of his theory of poetry, or his essays
on Armand Carrel and Alfred de Vigny, noble though these are in many
ways. His essay on Coleridge is very celebrated; but it deals, not
with Coleridge's place as a poet, but with his place as a
thinker - with Coleridge as the antagonistic power to Bentham in
forming the opinions of the generation now passing away. Still at such
a time as this it is interesting to make some endeavor to estimate the
value of what Mr. Mill has done in the way of criticism. It is at
least worth while to examine whether one who has shown himself
capable of grappling effectively with the driest and most abstruse
problems that vex the human intellect was versatile enough to study
poetry with an understanding heart, and to be alive to the distinctive
powers of individual poets.

It was in his earlier life, when his enthusiasm for knowledge was fresh,
and his active mind, "all as hungry as the sea," was reaching out
eagerly and strenuously to all sorts of food for thought, - literary,
philosophical, and political, - that Mr. Mill set himself, among other
things, to study and theorize upon poetry and the arts generally. He
could hardly have failed to know the most recent efflorescence of
English poetry, living as he did in circles where the varied merits of
the new poets were largely and keenly discussed. He had lived also for
some time in France, and was widely read in French poetry. He had
never passed through the ordinary course of Greek and Latin at school
and college, but he had been taught by his father to read these
languages, and had been accustomed from the first to regard their
literature as literature, and to read their poetry as poetry. These
were probably the main elements of his knowledge of poetry. But it
was not his way to dream or otherwise luxuriate over his favorite

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Online LibraryUnknownJohn Stuart Mill; His Life and Works Twelve Sketches by Herbert Spencer, Henry Fawcett, Frederic Harrison, and Other Distinguished Authors → online text (page 3 of 6)