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

. (page 6 of 6)
Online LibraryUnknownJohn Stuart Mill; His Life and Works Twelve Sketches by Herbert Spencer, Henry Fawcett, Frederic Harrison, and Other Distinguished Authors → online text (page 6 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of failure coming from such persons does not mean that Mr. Mill failed
to promote the practical success of those objects the advocacy of
which forms the chief feature of his political writings. It is rather
a measure of his success in promoting these objects, and of the
disgust with which his success is regarded by those who are opposed to
his political ideas. It was known, or ought to have been known, by
every one who supported Mr. Mill's candidature in 1865, that he was a
powerful advocate of proportional representation, and that he
attributed the very greatest importance to the political, industrial,
and social emancipation of women; he advocated years ago, in his
"Political Economy," the scheme of land tenure reform with which his
name is now practically associated; his essay "On Liberty" left no
doubt as to his opinions upon the value of maintaining freedom of
thought and speech, his article entitled "A Few Words on
Non-intervention" might have warned the partisans of the Manchester
school that he had no sympathy with their views on foreign policy.
There is little doubt that the majority of Mr. Mill's supporters in
1865 did not know what his political opinions were, and that they
voted for him simply on his reputation as a great thinker. A large
number, however, probably supported him, knowing in a general way the
views advocated in his writings, but thinking that he would probably
be like many other politicians, and not allow his practice to be in
the least degree influenced by his theories. Just as radical heirs
apparent are said to lay aside all inconvenient revolutionary opinions
when they come to the throne, it was believed that Mr. Mill in
Parliament would be an entirely different person from Mr. Mill in his
study. It was one thing to write an essay in favor of proportional
representation it was another thing to assist in the insertion of the
principle of proportional representation in the Reform Bill, and to
form a school of practical politicians who took care to insure the
adoption of this principle in the school board elections. It was one
thing to advocate theoretically the claims of women to representation
it was another to introduce the subject into the House of Commons, to
promote an active political organization in its favor, and thus to
convert it, from a philosophical dream, into a question of pressing
and practical importance. It was one thing to advocate freedom of
thought and discussion in all political and religious questions it was
another to speak respectfully of Mr. Odger, and to send Mr. Bradlaugh
a contribution toward the expenses of his candidature for Northampton.
The discovery that Mr. Mill's chief objects in Parliament were the
same as his chief objects out of Parliament branded him at once as an
unpractical man: and his success in promoting these objects
constituted his "failure" as a politician. His fearless disregard of
unpopularity, as manifested in his prosecution, in conjunction with
Mr. P.A. Taylor, of Ex-Governor Eyre, was another proof that he was
entirely unlike the people who call themselves "practical
politicians." His persistency in conducting this prosecution was one
of the main causes of his defeat at the election of 1868.

If to be unpopular because he promoted the practical success of the
opinions his life had been spent in advocating is to have failed, then
Mr. Mill failed. If, however, the success of a politician is to be
measured by the degree in which he is able personally to influence the
course of politics, and attach to himself a school of political
thought, then Mr. Mill, in the best meaning of the words, has
succeeded. If Mr. Mill had died ten years ago, is it probable that his
views on representative reform would have received so much practical
recognition as they have obtained during the last five years? If he
had never entered the House of Commons, would the women's-suffrage
question be where it now is? Before he introduced the subject into the
House of Commons in 1867, it may be said to have had no political
existence in this country. The whole question was held in such
contempt by "practical politicians," that the House would probably
have refused to listen to any member, except Mr. Mill, who advocated
the removal of the political disabilities of women. Mr. Mill was the
one member of Parliament whose high intellectual position enabled him
to raise the question without being laughed down as a fool. To every
one's astonishment, seventy-four members followed Mr. Mill into the
lobby: the most sanguine estimate, previous to the division, of the
number of his supporters had been thirty. Since that time, the
movement in favor of women's suffrage has made rapid and steady
progress. Like all genuine political movements, it has borne fruit in
many measures which are intended to remove the grievances of which
those who advocate the movement complain: among these collateral
results of the agitation for women's suffrage, may be enumerated the
Married Women's Property Act, the Custody of Infants Bill, and the
admission of women to the municipal and educational franchises and to
seats upon school-boards. A large part of the present anxiety to
improve the education of girls and women is also due to the conviction
that the political disabilities of women will not be maintained. In
this question of the general improvement of the position of women, Mr.
Mill's influence can scarcely be over-estimated. All through his life
he regarded it as a question of first-rate importance; and the extent
to which he was able practically to promote it is sufficient in itself
to make his career as a politician a success. A strong proof of the
vitality of the movement, of which he was the principal originator, is
that his death cannot injuriously affect its activity or its prospects
of ultimate success. What he has done for women is final: he gave to
their service the best powers of his mind and the best years of his
life. His death consecrates the gift: it can never lessen its value.

What is true of Mr. Mill's influence on the women's-suffrage question
is true also of the other political movements in which he took an
active interest. He was able in all of these powerfully to influence
the political history of his day in the direction in which he desired
to influence it. If this is failure, failure is worth much more than

Of the influence of Mr. Mill's personal character on those who were
his political associates, it is difficult to speak too warmly. No one
could be with him or work with him without being conscious of
breathing a purer moral atmosphere: he made mean personal ambitions
and rivalries seem despicable and ridiculous, not so much by any thing
that he said directly on the subject, as by contrast with his own
noble, strong, and generous nature. It is almost impossible to imagine
that any one could be so insensible to the high morality of Mr. Mill's
character as to suggest to him any course of conduct that was not
entirely upright and consistent. A year or two ago, however, a story
was told of a gentleman who asked Mr. Mill to stand for an Irish
constituency, and stated that the only opinion it would be necessary
for him to change was the one he had so often expressed against
denominational education. A smile at the man's stupidity, and the
remark, "I should like to have seen Mill's face when he heard this
suggestion," is the almost invariable comment on this story. It is a
very suggestive indication of the impression Mr. Mill's moral
influence made on those who knew him.

An apology is due to the readers of these pages that the task of
speaking of Mr. Mill as a practical politician has not fallen into
more competent hands. No one can be more deeply sensible of my
inability to deal adequately with the subject than I am myself. This
sketch ought to have been written by one who is in every way more
qualified to speak of Mr. Mill's political career than I am.
Unavoidable circumstances, however, prevented his undertaking the
work; and as the time was too short to allow of any being spent in a
search that might have proved fruitless, the honor of writing these
lines has devolved upon me.




The present course of lectures on a special subject has made no
pretension to present the religious aspect of Positivism, and I shall
not venture to intrude on one of its gravest functions the due
commemoration of the dead. But nothing that is spoken here should have
a merely scientific form, nor can I be satisfied until I have tried to
give expression to the feeling which must be foremost in the minds of
all present. It is impossible to forget that it was by Mr. Mill that
Comte was first made known in this country, and that by him first in
this country the great doctrines of positive thought, the supreme
reign of law in the moral and social world, no less than in the
intellectual world, were reduced to system and life. This conception
as a whole has been gradually forming in the minds of all modern
thinkers; but its full scope and force were presented to Englishmen
for the first time by Mr. Mill. The growth of my own mind, and of that
of all those with whom I have been associated, has been simply the
recognition of this truth in all its bearings and force; and it was
in minds saturated with this principle by the teaching of Mr. Mill
that the great phases of English thought have germinated in our day.
In this place it is impossible to forget, that, in introducing to the
English world the principles of Comte, Mr. Mill so clearly and
ardently professed the positive philosophy at that time restricted to
its earlier phase alone. In this place it is impossible, too, to
forget the generous assistance which he extended to Comte, whereby he
was enabled to continue his labors in philosophy, impossible also to
forget the active communion of mind between them, and the large space
which their intercourse occupied in the thoughts and labors of both.
Nor can I, and many present here, forget the many occasions on which
we have been guided by his counsel and supported by his help in many a
practical work in which we have depended on his example and
experience. It is needless to repeat, for it must be present to all
minds, how many and deep are the differences which separate him from
the later doctrines of Comte, and how completely he repudiated
connection with the religious reconstruction of Positivism. We here,
at any rate, shall claim Mr. Mill for Positivism in no other sense
than that in which he claimed it for himself in his own latest
writings. These differences we shall neither exaggerate nor veil. They
stand all written most clearly for all men to weigh and to use. But
naturally we shall point, as one of us has already publicly pointed,
to the cardinal features of agreement, and the vast importance of the
features for which we may claim the whole weight of his authority. Yet
I would not pretend that it is only on this side of his connection
with the founder and principles of Positivism, that we dwell on the
memory of Mr. Mill with admiration and sympathy. We reverence that
unfaltering fearlessness of spirit, that warmth of generous emotion,
that guileless simplicity of nature, which made his life heroic.
Neither insult, failure, nor abandonment could shake his sense of
duty, or touch his gentle and serene fortitude. For us his high
example, his noble philosophic calm, continue to live and to teach.
He, being dead, yet speaketh. And, if his great heart and brain are no
longer amongst us as visible and conscious agencies, his spirit lives
yet in all that he has given to the generation of to-day: the work of
his spirit is not ended, nor the task of his life accomplished; but we
feel that his nature is entering on a new and greater life amongst
us, - one that is entirely spiritual, intellectual, and moral.



[2] Part of a lecture on "Political Institutions," delivered
at the Positivist School, May 11.



It is always hazardous to forecast the estimation in which any man
will be held by posterity. In one sense truly we have no right to
anticipate the judgment of the future, sufficient for us to form
opinions satisfactory within the limits of our own generation.
Sometimes, by evil chance, a great name is covered with undeserved
reproach; and it is reserved for a distant future to do it justice.
But such a work as Mr. Carlyle did for Cromwell we may confidently
anticipate will never be required for the name of John Stuart Mill. He
is already enrolled among the first of contemporary thinkers, and from
that list his name will never be erased. The nature of Mr. Mill's work
is such as to make it easy to predict the character of his future
reputation. His is the kind of philosophy that is destined to become
the commonplace of the future. We may anticipate that many of his most
remarkable views will become obsolete in the best sense: they will
become worked up into practice, and embodied in institutions. Indeed,
the place that he will hold will probably be closely resembling that
of the great father of English philosophy, - John Locke. There is
indeed, amid distinguishing differences, a remarkable similarity
between the two men, and the character of their influence on the
world. What Locke was to the liberal movements of the seventeenth
century, Mr. Mill has more than been to the liberal movement of the
nineteenth century. The intellectual powers of the two men had much in
common, and they were exercised upon precisely similar subjects. The
"Essay on the Human Understanding" covered doubtless a field more
purely psychological than the "Logic;" but we must remember that the
"Analysis of the Mind" by the elder Mill had recently carried the
inductive study of mind to an advanced point. If, however, we regard
less the topics on which these two illustrious men wrote, than the
special service rendered by each of them to intellectual progress, we
may not unfittingly compare the work of Locke - the descent from
metaphysics to psychology - to the noble purpose of redeeming logic
from the superstition of the Aristotelians, and exalting it to
something higher than a mere verbal exercise for school-boys. The
attack that Locke opened with such tremendous effect on the _a priori_
school of philosophy was never more ably supported than by the "Logic"
and controversial writings of Mr. Mill.

The remarkable fact in regard to both these great thinkers - these
conquerors in the realms of abstract speculation - is their relation to
politics. Locke was the political philosopher of the Revolution of
1688; Mr. Mill has been the political philosopher of the democracy of
the nineteenth century. The vast space that lies between their
treatises represents a difference, not in the men, but in the times.
Locke found opposed to the common weal an odious theory of arbitrary
and absolute power. It is interesting to remember what were the giants
necessary to be slain in those days. The titles of his first chapters
on "Government" significantly attest the rudimentary condition of
political philosophy in Locke's day. Adam was generally considered to
have had a divine power of government, which was transmitted to a
favored few of his descendants. Accordingly Locke disposes of Adam's
title to sovereignty to whatever origin it may have been ascribed, - to
"creation," "donation," "the subjection of Eve," or "fatherhood."
There is something almost ludicrous in discussing fundamental
questions of government with reference to such scriptural topics; and
it is a striking evidence of the change that has passed over England
since the Revolution, that, whereas Locke's argument looks like a
commentary on the Bible, even the bishops now do not in Parliament
quote the Bible on the question of marriage with a deceased wife's
sister. Nevertheless Locke clearly propounded the great principle,
which, in spite of many errors and much selfishness, has been the
fruitful heritage of the Whig party. "Political power, then, I take to
be a right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently
all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and
of employing the force of the community in the execution of such laws,
and in the defence of the commonwealth from foreign injury, _and all
this only for the public good_." Locke also enounced the maxim, that
the state of nature is one of equality. Mr. Mill's special views on
the land question are not without parallel in Locke; for that acute
thinker distinctively laid down that "labor" was the true ground even
of property in land. Still it must be confessed that Locke's political
philosophy is much cruder than Mr. Mill's. His "Essay on Government"
is as the rough work of a boy of genius, the "Representative
Government" a finished work of art of the experienced master. And this
difference corresponds with the rate of political progress. The
English constitution, as we now understand it, was unknown at the
Revolution: it had to be slowly created. Now the great task of the
future is to raise the mass of the people to a higher standard of
political intelligence and material comfort. To that great end no man
has contributed so much as Mr. Mill.

Perhaps the one writing for which above all others Mr. Mill's
disciples will love his memory is his essay "On Liberty." In this
undertaking Mr. Mill followed the noble precedent of Locke, with
greater largeness of view and perfection of work. Locke's four letters
"Concerning Toleration" constitute a splendid manifesto of the
Liberals of the seventeenth century. The principle, that the ends of
political society are life, health, liberty, and immunity from harm,
and not the salvation of souls, has taken nearly two centuries to root
itself in English law, but has long been recognized by all but the
shallowest bigots. And yet Locke spoke of "atheism being a crime,
which, for its madness as well as guilt, ought to shut a man out of
all sober and civil society." Here again, what a stride does the
_Liberty_ make? It is, once more, the difference of the times, rather
than of the men. The same noble and prescient insight into the springs
of national greatness and social progress characterizes the work of
both men, but in what different measures? Again, we must say, the
disciple is greater than the master. Closely bearing on this topic is
the relation of the two men to Christianity. Locke not only wrote to
show the "Reasonableness of Christianity," but paraphrased several of
the books of the New Testament. Mr. Mill has never written one
sentence to give the least encouragement to Christianity. But,
although a contrast appears to exist, there is really none. Locke was
what may be called a Bible Christian. He rejected all theological
systems, and constructed his religious belief in the truly Protestant
way, - with the Bible and his inner consciousness. His creed was the
Bible as conformed to reason; but he never doubted which, in the event
of a conflict, ought to give way. To him the destructive criticism of
biblical scholars and the discoveries of geology had given no
disquietude; and he died with the happy conviction, that, without
abandoning his religious teaching, he could remain faithful to reason.
Mr. Mill inherited a vast controversy, and he had to make a choice
like Locke, he remained faithful only to reason.

Perhaps, it might be urged, this comparison leaves out of account the
very greatest work of Mr. Mill, - his 'Political Economy.' Locke lived
too soon to be an Adam Smith; but, curiously enough, the parallel is
not broken even at this point. In 1691 and again in 1695 he wrote,
"Some considerations of the consequences of the lowering of interest,
and raising the value of money," in which he propounded among other
views, that, "taxes, however contrived, and out of whose hands soever
immediately taken, do, in a country where the great fund is in land
for the most part terminate upon land." There is of course no
comparison between the two men on this head: nevertheless it is
interesting to note in prototype the germs of the great work of Mr.
Mill. It shows the remarkable and by no means accidental similarity
between the men.

The parallel is already too much drawn out, otherwise it would be
worth observing on the characters and lives of these two men. Enough,
however, has been said to show that we may not unreasonably anticipate
for Mr. Mill a future such as has fallen to Locke. His wisdom will be
the commonplace of other times: his theories will be realized in
political institutions; and we may hope and believe the working-class
will rise to such a standard of wealth and culture and political power
as to realize the generous aspirations of one of England's greatest



1 2 3 4 6

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