Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/38

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
28
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

tion of him. Mill was of course extremely gratified on his own account, but considered that Comte was very unfairly handled. Herschel brought up the nebular hypothesis, as advocated by Comte, but treated Comte's mathematics with contempt, and spoke of his book as "a philosophical work of much mathematical pretension, which has lately come into a good deal of notice in this country." To dismiss Comte in this summary fashion, even supposing he had laid himself open by his supposed mathematical proofs of the hypothesis, was a little too strong. Mill naturally thought it an evidence of some weakness in Herschel's mind that he should be so blind to the abundant manifestations of intellectual force in the "Philosophic Positive."[1] He wrote to Herschel, thanking him for the mention of himself, and remonstrating on his treatment of Comte; but went a little out of his depth in attempting to uphold Comte's calculation. Herschel, in replying, reiterated his approval of the "Logic," stating that it was his intention to have reviewed it in the "Quarterly," as he had done Whewell; but as regarded Comte, he was obdurate, and demolished at a stroke the proof that Mill had relied upon. I think Mill wrote a rejoinder. It is to be hoped that these letters are preserved. Mill copied them and sent them to Comte. It was not the first time that Herschel's name had come up between them; he must have previously written to Mill in acknowledgment of the "Logic." In Comte's letter of date 21st October, 1844 (p. 276), he refers to the information given him by Mill, that Herschel meant to read "mon grand ouvrage," but does not count upon its making a favorable impression, "du moins intense." He then gives the reasons: one being Herschel's prepossessions in favor of sidereal astronomy; the other his analogy to Arago, although "without the charlatanism and immorality of that disastrous personage." Such was the previous reference. The result of his seeing the present correspondence appears on page 362. Comte is very much touched with the zeal displayed by Mill on his behalf; but declines Mill's suggestion that he should himself take up the cudgels in his own defense. Mill, he says, had sufficiently proved, although in a polished way, the malevolent spirit and even the bad faith of Herschel. He is, however, quite satisfied with his former explanation of Herschel's motives, namely, the soreness caused by his discarding sidereal astronomy, on which Herschel's father and himself rested their chief fame.

In the summer of 1845 1 became personally acquainted with Grote. For several years previously. Mill appears to have seen little of him,

  1. The following sentence in Mill's review of "Comte and Positivism" does not apply to the scientific magnates of England, at the date of Herschel's address: "He" (Comte) "has displayed a quantity and quality of mental power, and achieved an amount of success, which have not only won but retained the high admiration of thinkers as radically and strenuously opposed as it is possible to be to nearly the whole of his later tendencies, and to many of his earlier opinions."