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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poets for pure enjoyment. Mr. Mill was not a cultivator of art for
art's sake. His was too fervid and militant a soul to lose itself in
serene love and culture of the calmly beautiful. He read poetry for
the most part with earnest, critical eye, striving to account for it,
to connect it with the tendencies of the age, or he read to find
sympathy with his own aspirations after heroic energy. He read De
Vigny and other French poets of his generation, with an eye to their
relations to the convulsed and struggling state of France, and because
they were compelled by their surroundings to take life _au sérieux_,
and to pursue, with all the resources of their art, something
different from beauty in the abstract. Luxurious passive enjoyment or
torpid half-enjoyment must have been a comparatively rare condition of
his finely-strung, excitable, and fervid system. I believe that his
moral earnestness was too imperious to permit much of this. He was
capable indeed of the most passionate admiration of beauty, but even
that feeling seems to have been interpenetrated by a certain militant
apostolic fervor; his love was as the love of a religious soldier for
a patron saint who extends her aid and countenance to him in his wars.
I do not mean to say that his mind was in a perpetual glow: I mean
only that this surrender to impassioned transports was more
characteristic of the man than serene openness to influx of enjoyment.
His "Thoughts on Poetry and its Varieties," while clear and strenuous
as most of his thoughts were, are neither scientifically precise, nor
do they contain any notable new idea not previously expressed by
Coleridge, except perhaps the idea, that emotions are the main links
of association in the poetic mind: still his working out of the
definition of poetry, his distinction between novels and poems, and
between poetry and eloquence, is interesting as throwing light upon
his own poetic susceptibilities. He holds that poetry is the
delineation of the deeper and more secret workings of human emotion.
It is curious to find one who is sometimes assailed as the advocate of
a grovelling philosophy complaining that the chivalrous spirit has
almost disappeared from books of education, that the youth of both
sexes of the educated classes are growing up unromantic. "Catechisms,"
he says, "will be found a poor substitute for the old romances,
whether of chivalry or faery, which, if they did not give a true
picture of actual life, did not give a false one, since they did not
profess to give any, but (what was much better) filled the youthful
imagination with pictures of heroic men, and of what are at least as
much wanted, - heroic women."

If Mr. Mill did not love poetry with a purely disinterested love, but
with an eye to its moral causes and effects, neither did he study
character from mere delight in observing the varieties of mankind.
Armand Carrel the Republican journalist, Alfred de Vigny the Royalist
poet, Coleridge the Conservative, and Bentham the Reformer, are taken
up and expounded, not as striking individuals, but as types of
influences and tendencies. This habit of keeping in view mind in the
abstract, or men in the aggregate, may have been in a large measure a
result of his education by his father; but I am inclined to think that
he was of too ardent and pre-occupied a disposition, perhaps too much
disposed to take favorable views of individuals, to be very sensitive
to differences of character. It should not, however, be forgotten that
in one memorable case he showed remarkable discrimination. Soon after
Mr. Tennyson published his second issue of poems, Mr. Mill reviewed
them in "The Westminster Review" for July, 1835, and, with his usual
earnestness and generosity, applied all his powers to making a just
estimate of the new aspirant. To have reprinted this among his
miscellaneous writings might have seemed rather boastful, as claiming
credit for the first full recognition of a great poet: still it is a
very remarkable review; and one would hope it will not be omitted if
there is to be any further collection of his casual productions. I
shall quote two passages which seem obvious enough now, but which
required true insight, as well as courageous generosity, to write them
in 1835 -

"Of all the capacities of a poet, that which seems to have
arisen earliest in Mr. Tennyson, and in which he most
excels, is that of scene-painting in the higher sense of the
term; not the mere power of producing that rather vapid
species of composition usually termed descriptive
poetry, - for there is not in these volumes one passage of
pure description, - but the power of creating scenery in
keeping with some state of human feeling, so fitted to it as
to be the embodied symbol of it, and to summon up the state
of feeling itself with a force not to be surpassed by any
thing but reality."

* * * * *

"The poems which we have quoted from Mr. Tennyson prove
incontestably that he possesses in an eminent degree the
natural endowment of a poet, - the poetic temperament. And it
appears clearly, not only from a comparison of the two
volumes, but of different poems in the same volume, that
with him the other element of poetic excellence,
intellectual culture, is advancing both steadily and
rapidly; that he is not destined, like so many others, to be
remembered for what he might have done rather than for what
he did; that he will not remain a poet of mere temperament,
but is ripening into a true artist.... We predict, that, as
Mr. Tennyson advances in general spiritual culture, these
higher aims will become more and more predominant in his
writings; that he will strive more and more diligently, and,
even without striving, will be more and more impelled by the
natural tendencies of an expanding character, towards what
has been described as the highest object of poetry, - 'to
incorporate the everlasting reason of man in forms visible
to his sense, and suitable to it.'"

This last sentence might easily be construed into a prediction of "In
Memoriam" and "The Idyls of the King."

If it is asked why Mr. Mill, with all his width of knowledge and
sympathy, has achieved so little of a reputation as a miscellaneous
writer, part of the reason no doubt is, that he sternly repressed his
desultory tendencies, and devoted his powers to special branches of
knowledge, attaining in them a distinction that obscured his other
writings. Another reason is, that, although his style is extremely
clear, he was for popular purposes dangerously familiar with terms
belonging more or less to the schools. He employed these in literary
generalizations, without remembering that they were not equally
familiar to his readers; and thus general readers, like Tom Moore, or
the author of the recent notice in "The Times," who read more for
amusement than instruction, were disposed to consider Mr. Mill's style
"vastly unreadable."




To a savage contemplating a railway train in motion, the engine would
present itself as the master of the situation, - the determining cause
of the motion and direction of the train. It visibly takes the lead,
it looks big and important, and it makes a great noise. Even people a
long way up in the scale of civilization are in the habit of taking
these attributes, perhaps not as the essential ones of leadership, but
at all events as those by which a leader may be recognized. Still that
blustering machine, which puffs and snorts, and drags a vast multitude
in its wake, is moving along a track determined by a man hidden away
from the public gaze. A line of rail lies separated from an adjacent
one, the pointsman moves a handle, and the foaming giant, that would,
it may be, have sped on to his destruction and that of the passive
crew who follow in his rear, is shunted to another line running in a
different direction and to a more desirable goal.

The great intellectual pointsman of our age - the man who has done more
than any other of this generation to give direction to the thought of
his contemporaries - has passed away; and we are left to measure the
loss to humanity by the result of his labors. Mr. Mill's achievements
in both branches of philosophy are such as to give him the foremost
place in either. Whether we regard him as an expounder of the
philosophy of mind or the philosophy of society, he is _facile
princeps_. Still it is his work in mental science which will, in our
opinion, be in future looked upon as his great contribution to the
progress of thought. His work on political economy not only put into
thorough repair the structure raised by Adam Smith, Malthus, and
Ricardo, but raised it at least one story higher. His inestimable
"System of Logic" was a revolution. It hardly needs, of course, to be
said that he owed much to his predecessors, - that he borrowed from
Whewell much of his classification, from Brown the chief lines of his
theory of causation, from Sir John Herschel the main principles of the
inductive methods. Those who think this a disparagement of his work
must have very little conception of the mass of original thought that
still remains to Mr. Mill's credit, the great critical power that
could gather valuable truths from so many discordant sources, and the
wonderful synthetic ability required to weld these and his own
contributions into one organic whole.

When Mr. Mill commenced his labors, the only logic recognized was the
syllogistic. Reasoning consisted solely, according to the then
dominant school, in deducing from general propositions other
propositions less general. It was even asserted confidently, that
nothing more was to be expected, - that an inductive logic was
impossible. This conception of logical science necessitated some
general propositions to start with; and these general propositions
being _ex hypothesi_ incapable of being proved from other
propositions, it followed, that, if they were known to us at all, they
must be original data of consciousness. Here was a perfect paradise of
question begging. The ultimate major premise in every argument being
assumed, it could of course be fashioned according to the particular
conclusion it was called in to prove. Thus an 'artificial ignorance,'
as Locke calls it, was produced, which had the effect of sanctifying
prejudice by recognizing so-called necessities of thought as the only
bases of reasoning. It is true, that outside of the logic of the
schools great advances had been made in the rules of scientific
investigation; but these rules were not only imperfect in themselves,
but their connection with the law of causation was but imperfectly
realized, and their true relation to syllogism hardly dreamt of.

Mr. Mill altered all this. He demonstrated that the general type of
reasoning is neither from generals to particulars, nor from
particulars to generals, but from particulars to particulars. "If from
our experience of John, Thomas, &c., who once were living, but are now
dead, we are entitled to conclude that all human beings are mortal, we
might surely, without any logical inconsequence, have concluded at
once from those instances, that the Duke of Wellington is mortal. The
mortality of John, Thomas, and others is, after all, the whole
evidence we have for the mortality of the Duke of Wellington. Not one
iota is added to the proof by interpolating a general proposition." We
not only may, according to Mr. Mill, reason from some particular
instances to others, but we frequently do so. As, however, the
instances which are sufficient to prove one fresh instance must be
sufficient to prove a general proposition, it is most convenient to
at once infer that general proposition, which then becomes a formula
according to which (but not from which) any number of particular
inferences may be made. The work of deduction is the interpretation of
these formulas, and therefore, strictly speaking, is not inferential
at all. The real inference was accomplished when the universal
proposition was arrived at.

It will easily be seen that this explanation of the deductive process
completely turns the tables on the transcendental school. All
reasoning is shown to be at bottom inductive. Inductions and their
interpretation make up the whole of logic; and to induction
accordingly Mr. Mill devoted his chief attention. For the first time
induction was treated as the _opus magnum_ of logic, and the
fundamental principles of science traced to their inductive origin. It
was this, taken with his theory of the syllogism, which worked the
great change. Both his "System of Logic" and his "Examination of Sir
William Hamilton's Philosophy" are for the most part devoted to
fortifying this position, and demolishing beliefs inconsistent with
it. As a systematic psychologist Mr. Mill has not done so much as
either Professor Bain or Mr. Herbert Spencer. The perfection of his
method, its application, and the uprooting of prejudices which stood
in its way, - this was the task to which Mr. Mill applied himself with
an ability and success rarely matched and never surpassed.

The biggest lion in the path was the doctrine of so-called "necessary
truth." This doctrine was especially obnoxious to him, as it set up a
purely subjective standard of truth, and a standard - as he was easily
able to show - varying according to the psychological history of the
individual. Such thinkers as Dr. Whewell and Mr. Herbert Spencer had
to be met in intellectual combat. Dr. Whewell held, not that the
inconceivability of the contradictory of a proposition is a proof of
its truth co-equal with experience, but that its value transcends
experience. Experience may tell us what _is_; but it is by the
impossibility of conceiving it otherwise that we know it _must be_.
Mr. Herbert Spencer, too, holds that propositions whose negation is
inconceivable have "a higher warrant than any other whatever." It is
through this door that ontological belief was supposed to enter.
"Things in themselves" were to be believed in because we could not
help it. Modern Noumenalists agree that we can know nothing more of
"things in themselves" than their existence, but this they continue to
assert with a vehemence only equalled by its want of meaning.

In his "Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy," Mr. Mill
gives battle to this mode of thought. After reviewing, in an opening
chapter, the various views which have been held respecting the
relativity of human knowledge, and stating his own doctrine, he
proceeds to judge by this standard the philosophy of the absolute and
Sir William Hamilton's relation to it. The argument is really on the
question whether we have or have not an intuition of God, though, as
Mr. Mill says, "the name of God is veiled under two extremely abstract
phrases, - 'The Infinite' and 'The Absolute.'" So profound and friendly
a thinker as the late Mr. Grote held this raising of the veil
inexpedient, but he proved, by a mistake he fell into, the necessity
of looking at the matter in the concrete. He acknowledged the force of
Mr. Mill's argument, that "The Infinite" must include "a farrago of
contradictions;" but so also, he said, does the Finite. Now
undoubtedly finite things, taken distributively, have contradictory
attributes, but not as a class. Still less is there any one individual
thing, "The Finite," in which these contradictory attributes inhere.
But it was against a corresponding being, "The Infinite," that Mr.
Mill was arguing. It is this that he calls a "fasciculus of
contradictions," and regarded as the _reductio ad absurdissimum_ of
the transcendental philosophy.

Mr. Mill's religious tendencies may very well be gathered from a
passage in his review of Auguste Comte, a philosopher with whom he
agreed on all points save those which are specially M. Comte's.
"Candid persons of all creeds may be willing to admit, that if a
person has an ideal object, his attachment and sense of duty towards
which are able to control and discipline all his other sentiments and
propensities, and prescribe to him a rule of life, that person has a
religion; and though every one naturally prefers his own religion to
any other, all must admit, that if the object of his attachment, and
of this feeling of duty, is the aggregate of our fellow-creatures,
this religion of the infidel cannot in honesty and conscience be
called an intrinsically bad one. Many indeed may be unable to believe
that this object is capable of gathering round it feelings
sufficiently strong; but this is exactly the point on which a doubt
can hardly remain in an intelligent reader of M. Comte: and we join
with him in contemning, as equally irrational and mean, the conception
of human nature as incapable of giving its love, and devoting its
existence, to any object which cannot afford in exchange an eternity
of personal enjoyment." Never has the libel of humanity involved in
the current theology been more forcibly pointed out, with its constant
appeal to low motives of personal gain, or still lower motives of
personal fear. Never has the religious sentiment which must take the
place of the present awe of the unknown been more clearly indicated.
It is this noble sentiment which shines out from every page of Mr.
Mill's writings and all his relations to his fellow-creatures: the
very birds about his dwelling seemed to recognize it. It is this noble
sentiment which infuses a soul of life into his teachings, and the
enunciation and acting-out of which constitute him, not only the great
philosopher, but also the great prophet of our time.




The two chief characteristics of Mr. Mill's mind are conspicuous in
the field of morals and jurisprudence. He united in an extraordinary
degree an intense delight in thinking for its own sake, with an almost
passionate desire to make his intellectual excursions contribute to
the amelioration of the lot of mankind, especially of the poorer and
suffering part of mankind. And yet he never allowed those high aims to
clash with one another: he did not degrade his intellect to the
sophistical office of finding reasons for a policy arising from mere
emotion, nor did he permit it to run waste in barren speculations,
which might have excited admiration, but never could have done any
good. This is the reason why so many persons have been unable to
understand him as the prophet of utilitarianism. A man of such
exquisite feeling, of such pure conscientiousness, of such
self-denying life, must surely be an advocate of what is called
absolute morality. Utilitarianism is the proper creed of hard
unemotional natures, who do not respond to the more subtle moral
influences. Such is the view natural to those who cannot dissociate
the word "utilitarianism" from the narrow meaning of utility, as
contrasted with the pleasures of art. The infirmity of human
language excuses such errors; for the language in which controversy
is conducted is so colored by sentiment that it may well happen
that two shall agree on the thing, and fight to the death about
the word. We need the support of such reflections when we recall
the history of such a word as "pleasure." To pursue pleasure, say the
anti-utilitarians, is a swinish doctrine. "Yes," replied Mr. Mill, "if
men were swine, and capable only of the pleasures appropriate to that
species of animals." Those who could not answer this argument, and at
the same time cannot divest themselves of the association of pleasure
with the ignoble, took refuge in the charge of inconsistency, and,
finding there was not less but more nobility in Mr. Mill's writing
than their own theory, accused him of abandoning the tradition of his
school. Mahomet would not go to the mountain, and they pleased
themselves with the thought that the mountain had gone to Mahomet.
Such a charge is really tantamount to a confession that popular
antipathy was more easily excited by the word than by the real
doctrine. Nevertheless Mr. Mill did an incalculable service in showing
not less by his whole life, than by his writings, that utilitarianism
takes account of all that is good in man's nature, and includes the
highest emotions, as well as those that are more commonplace. He took
away a certain reproach of narrowness, which was never in the
doctrine, and which was loudly, though perhaps with little reason,
urged against some of its most conspicuous supporters. An important
addition to the theory of morals is also contained in the book on
"Utilitarianism." His analysis of "justice" is one of the happiest
efforts of inductive definition to be found in any book on ethics.
From any point of view, it must be regarded as a valuable addition to
the literature of ethical philosophy.

The somewhat technical subject of jurisprudence was not too much for
Mr. Mill's immense power of assimilation. One of his earliest efforts
was as editor of Bentham's "Rationale of Judicial Evidence." He must,
therefore, at an early period, have been master of the most original
and enlightened theory of judicial evidence that the world has seen.
He lived to see nearly all the important innovations proposed by
Bentham become part and parcel of the law of the land; one of the last
relics of bigotry - the exclusion of honest atheists (and only of such)
from the witness-box - having been removed two or three years ago. Mr.
Mill, in after years, attended Austin's famous lectures on
jurisprudence, taking extensive notes; so that he was able to supply
the matter wanting to complete two important lectures, as they were
printed in the first edition of Austin's works. Among the
"Dissertations and Discussions," is a criticism of Austin's work,
which shows that he was far more than a scholar, - a most competent
judge of his master. He pointed out in Austin's definition of "right"
a real defect. One of the points that Austin elaborated most was a
classification such as might serve for a scientific code of law. Mr.
Mill fully acknowledged the merits of the scheme, but laid his finger
unerringly on its weakest part. His remarks show, that, if he had
followed up the subject with an adequate knowledge of any good system
of law, he would have rivalled or surpassed his achievements in other
departments of knowledge.




The task of fairly estimating the value of Mr. Mill's achievements in
political economy - and indeed the same remark applies to what he has
done in every department of philosophy - is rendered particularly
difficult by a circumstance which constitutes their principal merit.
The character of his intellectual, no less than of his moral nature,
led him to strive to connect his thoughts, whatever was the branch of
knowledge at which he labored, with the previously-existing body of
speculation, to fit them into the same framework, and exhibit them as
parts of the same scheme; so that it might be truly said of him, that
he was at more pains to conceal the originality and independent value
of his contributions to the stock of knowledge than most writers are
to set forth those qualities in their compositions. As a consequence
of this, hasty readers of his works, while recognizing the
comprehensiveness of his mind, have sometimes denied its originality;
and in political economy in particular he has been frequently
represented as little more than an expositor and popularizer of
Ricardo. It cannot be denied that there is a show of truth in this
representation; about as much as there would be in asserting that
Laplace and Herschel were the expositors and popularizers of Newton,
or that Faraday performed a like office for Sir Humphry Davy. In
truth, this is an incident of all progressive science. The cultivators
in each age may, in a sense, be said to be the interpreters and
popularizers of those who have preceded them; and it is in this sense,
and in this sense only, that this part can be attributed to Mill. In
this respect he is to be strongly contrasted with the great majority
of writers on political economy, who, on the strength perhaps of a
verbal correction or an unimportant qualification of a received
doctrine, if not on the score of a pure fallacy, would fain persuade
us that they have achieved a revolution in economic doctrine, and that
the entire science must be rebuilt from its foundation in conformity
with their scheme. This sort of thing has done infinite mischief to
the progress of economic science; and one of Mill's great merits is,

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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 4 of 6)