Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/April 1879/John Stuart Mill I
I PROPOSE to review the life and character of John Stuart Mill. In addition to what all the world may know, I am aided by personal recollections extending over the second half of his life, and by documents in the possession of his family for some of the earlier portions.
My plan requires me to recall the account given in the "Autobiography" of the successive stages of his early education. There is a sort of pause or break at his eighth year, when he began Latin. His years from three to eight are occupied with Greek, English and arithmetic; the Greek, strange to say, taking precedence. His earliest recollection of all, we are led to suppose, although not explicitly affirmed, is his committing to memory lists of Greek words written by his father on cards. He had been told that he was then three years old. Of course reading English, both printed and written, was supposed: and we have to infer that he had no recollection of that first start of all, which must have been taken before he completed his third year. And, judging from the work gone through by his eighth year, he can not be far wrong in putting down the date of the Greek commencement.
A letter from his father to Bentham, dated July 25, 1809, affords us a momentary glimpse of him at the age of three years and two months. It was the occasion of the first visit to Bentham at Barrow Green. The letter is an apology for not being able to come on the day previously arranged, and is full of rather heavy joking about the domestic obstructions. The passage to our present purpose is this: "When I received your letter on Monday, John, who is so desirous to be your inmate, was in the room, and observed me smiling [at Bentham's fun] as I read it. This excited his curiosity to know what it was about. I said it was Mr. Bentham asking us to go to Barrow Green. He desired to read that. I gave it to him to see what he would say, when he began, as if reading—Why have you not come to Barrow Green, and brought John with you?" The letter closes—"John asks if Monday (the day fixed) is not to-morrow." Not much is to be made of this, except that the child's precocious intellect is equal to a bit of waggery. The remark may seem natural, that if he were then learning his Greek cards he might actually have read the letter; but no one that ever saw Bentham's handwriting would make that remark. As I take it, the interest of the scene lies in disclosing a sunny moment in the habitually stern relationship of the father and son.
As an introduction to the next contemporary landmark of his progress, I need to quote from himself the account of his earliest reading. He says nothing of English books till he has first given a long string of Greek authors—Æsop's Fables, the Anabasis, Cyropædia, and Memorabilia of Xenophon, Herodotus, some of Diogenes Laertius, part of Lucian, two speeches of Isocrates; all these seem to have been gone through before his eighth year. His English reading he does not connect with his Greek, but brings up at another stage of his narrative. From 1810 to 1813 (age, four to seven) the family had their residence in Newington Green, and his father took him out in morning walks in the lanes toward Hornsey, and in those walks he gave his father an account of his reading; the books cited being now histories in English—Robertson, Hume, Gibbon, Watson's Philip the Second and Third (his greatest favorite), Hooke's History of Rome (his favorite after Watson), Rollin in English, Langhorne's Plutarch, Burnet's Own Time, the history in the Annual Register; he goes on, after a remark or two, to add Millar on the English Government, Mosheim, McCrie's Knox, a quantity of voyages and travels—Anson, Cook, etc.; Robinson Crusoe, Arabian Nights, Don Quixote, Miss Edgeworth's Tales, and Brooke's Fool of Quality. I repeat that all this was within the same four years as the Greek list above enumerated. At a later stage, he speaks of his fondness for writing histories; he successively composed a Roman History from Hooke, an abridgment of the Universal History, a History of Holland, and (in his eleventh and twelfth years) a History of the Roman Government. All these, he says, he destroyed. It happens, however, that a lady friend of the family copied and preserved the first of these essays, the Roman History; upon the copy is marked his age, six and a half years, which would be near the termination of the two formidable courses of reading now summarized. The sketch is very short, equal to between two and three of the present printed pages, and gives but a few scraps of the earlier traditions. If it is wonderful for the writer's age, it also shows that his enormous reading had as yet done little for him. He can make short sentences neatly enough; he gives the heads of the history, in the shape of the succession of kings and consuls; and, in imitation of his author, he supplies erudite and critical notes.
It was about the age when he wrote this history that he was invited to an interview with Lady Spencer (wife of Lord Spencer, then at the head of the Admiralty), her curiosity being roused by the accounts of him. His conversation on the occasion turned chiefly on the personages of Roman history, whose characters he fluently hit off".
My next document is a letter, in his own hand, dated September 13, 1814. He was now eight years and four months. He was in the second stage of his studies, when he had begun Latin, and had extended his reading in Greek to the poets, commencing with the Iliad. He was also teaching his sister, two years younger than himself. The event that gave rise to the letter was the migration of the whole family to Bentham's newly acquired residence. Ford Abbey, in Somersetshire. I will give a part and abridge the rest. His correspondent was some intimate friend of the family unknown.
It is time to give you a description of the abbey. There is a little hall and a long cloister, which are reckoned very fine architecture, from the door, and likewise two beautiful rooms, a dining-parlor and a breakfast-parlor adorned with fine drawings within one door; on another side is a large hall, adorned with a gilt ceiling; and beyond it two other rooms, a dining and drawing room, of which the former contains various kinds of musical instruments, and the other is hung with beautiful tapestry.
To this house there are many staircases. The first of them has little remarkable up it, but that three rooms are hung with tapestry, of which one contains a velvet bed, and is therefore called the velvet room. The looking-glass belonging to this room is decorated with nun's lace.
Up another staircase is a large saloon, hung with admirable tapestry, as also a small library. From this saloon issues a long range of rooms, of which one is fitted up in the Chinese style, and another is hung with silk. There is a little further on a room, which, it is said, was once a nursery; though the old farmer Glyde, who lives hard by, called out his sons to hear the novelty of a child crying in the abbey! which had not happened for the whole time he had lived here, being near thirty years. Down a staircase from here is a long range of bedrooms, generally called the Monks' Walk. From it is a staircase leading into the cloisters. The rest of the house is not worth mentioning. If I was to mention the whole it would tire you exceedingly, as this house is in reality so large that the eight rooms on one floor of the wing which we inhabit, which make not one quarter of even that floor of the whole house, are as many as all the rooms in your house, and considerably larger.I have been to the parish church which is at Thornecomb. Mr. Hume has been here a great while. Mr. Koe came the other day, and Admiral Chietekoff is expected. Willie and I have had rides in Mr. Hume's curricle.
He goes on to say—"What has been omitted here will be found in a journal which I am writing of this and last year's journeys." He then incontinently plunges again into descriptive particulars about the fish-ponds, the river Axe, the deer-parks, the walks, and Bentham's improvements. The performance is not a favorable specimen of his composition; the handwriting is very scratchy, and barely shows what it became a few years later. The reference to Joseph Hume's visit has to be connected with the passage at arms between the elder Mill and Benthara, which I had formerly occasion to notice ("Mind," viii., pp. 525, 526).
By far the most important record of Mill's early years is his diary during part of his visit to France, in his fifteenth year; and from this I hope to illustrate with some precision the real character of his acquisitions and his intellectual power at that age. A very valuable introduction to this diary was lately brought to light by Mr. Roebuck, who had fortunately preserved a letter of Mill's that he had received from Jeremy Bentham's amanuensis in 1827. It was addressed to Bentham's brother, Sir Samuel Bentham, and it is dated July 30, 1819, his age being thirteen years and two months. The letter begins thus:
He then goes on to detail his reading for the successive years from 1814. I do not print the details, but will compare them with the "Autobiography," and indicate agreements and differences. In the year 1814 (by the letter), he read, in Greek, Thucydides and Anacreon (an odd coupling), and, he believed, the Electra of Sophocles, the Phœnissæ of Euripides, the Plutus and the Clouds of Aristophanes, and the Philippies of Demosthenes; in Latin, only the Oration of Cicero for Archias, and part of the pleading against Verres. In Mathematics, he was reading Euclid; he began Euler's Algebra, and worked at Bonnycastle; also some of West's Geometry. In 1815, his reading was Homer's Odyssey, Theocritus, some of Pindar, the Orations of Æschines and Demosthenes on the Crown. In Latin: first six books of Ovid's Metamorphoses, first five books of Livy, the Bucolics and the first six books of the Æneid of Virgil, and part of Cicero de Oratione. In Mathematics: finished the six books of Euclid together with the Eleventh and Twelfth, and the Geometry of West; studied Simpson's Conic Sections, and West's Conic Sections, Numeration and Spherics; and, in Algebra, Hessy's Algebra and Newton's Universal Arithmetic, in which last he performed all the problems without the book, and most of them without any help from the book.
1816. Greek: part of Polybius, Xenophon's Hellenics, the Ajax and Philoctetes of Sophocles, the Medea of Euripides, the Frogs of Aristophanes, and great part of the Anthologia Græca. Latin: all Horace, except the Epodes. Mathematics: Stewart's Propositiones Geometricæ, Playfair's Trigonometry at the end of his Euclid, "Geometry" in the Edinburgh Encyclopædia, and Simpson's Algebra.
1817. Greek: Thucydides (the second time), many Orations of Demosthenes, all Aristotle's Rhetoric, of which he made a synoptical table. Latin: Lucretius, all but the last book, Cicero, Ad Atticum, Topica, and De Partitione Oratoria. Mathematics: "Conic Sections" in Encyclopædia Britannica; Simpson's Fluxions, Keill's Astronomy, and Robinson's Mechanical Philosophy.
1818. Greek: more of Demosthenes; four first books of Aristotle's Organon, tabulated in the manner of the Rhetoric. Latin: all Tacitus (except the Dialogue on Oratory), great part of Juvenal, beginning of Quintilian. Mathematics: Emerson's Optics, Trigonometry by Professor Wallace, solution of problems, beginning of article on Fluxions in the Edinburgh Encyclopædia. Began to learn Logic, read several Latin treatises—Smith, Brerewood, Du Trieu, part of Burgersdicius, Hobbes.
1819 (the year when the letter was written). Greek: Plato's Gorgias, Protagoras, and Republic. Latin: Quintilian, in course of reading. Mathematics: Fluxions, problems in Simpson's Select Exercises. Also, he is now learning Political Economy.
While this enumeration is much fuller than that in the "Autobiography," it omits mention of several works there given: as Sallust, Terence, Dionysius, and Polybius. The private English reading is in both: chiefly Mitford's Greece, Hooke and Ferguson's Rome, and the Ancient Universal History. His composing Roman History, as well as Poetry and a Tragedy, is given in both. The Higher Mathematics of this period is but slightly given in the "Autobiography."
This letter was doubtless intended not merely to satisfy Sir Samuel's curiosity as to his precocity of acquirement, but also to pave the way for the invitation to accompany him to France the following year (1820).
A carefully written diary, extending over the first five months of his stay in France, is by far the most satisfactory record that is now to be had of his youthful studies.
We have his reading and all his other occupations recorded day by day, together with occasional reflections and discussions that attest his thinking power at that age. The diary was regularly transmitted to his father. At first he writes in English; but, as one of the purposes of his visiting France was to learn the language, he soon changes to French. Printed in full it would be nearly as long as this article. I shall endeavor to select some of the more illustrative details.
He left London on May 15, 1820, five days before completing his fourteenth year. He traveled in company with Mr. Ensor, an Irish gentleman, a friend of his father's. The diary recounts all the incidents of the journey—the coach to Dover, the passage across, the thirty-three hours in the diligence to Paris. He goes first to a hotel, but, on presenting an introduction by his father to M. Say, he is invited to the house of that distinguished political economist. The family of the Says—an eldest son, Horace Say, a daughter at home, the youngest son, Alfred, at school en pension, but coming home on Saturday and Sunday, and their mother—devote themselves to taking him about Paris. He gives his father an account of all the sights, but without much criticism. His moral indignation bursts forth in his account of the Palais Royal, an "immense building belonging to the profligate Due d'Orleans, who, having ruined himself with debauchery, resolved to let the arcades of his palace to various tradesmen." The Sunday after his arrival (May 21) is so hot that he did not go out, but played at battledore and shuttlecock with Alfred Say. He delivers various messages from his father and Bentham, and contracts new acquaintances, from whom he receives further attentions. The most notable was the Count Berthollet, to whom he took a paper from Bentham. Madame Berthollet showed him her very beautiful garden, and desired him to call on his return; he learned afterward that he was to meet Laplace. On the 27th, after nine days' stay in Paris, he bids good-by to Mr. Ensor and the Says, and proceeds on his way to join the Bentham family, then at a chateau belonging to the Marquis de Pompignan, a few miles from Toulouse. The journey occupies four days, and is not without incident. He makes a blunder in choosing the cabriolet of the diligence, and finds himself in low company. At Orleans, a butcher, with the largest belly he had ever seen, came in and kept incessantly smoking. On the third day he is at Limoges, and breakfasts in company with a good-natured gentleman from the interior; but his own company does not much impr-ove; the butcher leaves, but a very dirty fille, with an eruption in her face, keeps up his annoyance. The following day a vacancy occurs in the interior, and he claims it as the passenger of longest standing; a lady contests it with him, and it has to be referred to the maire; the retiring passenger, a young avocat, pleading his case. He is now in good company, and his account of the successive localities is minute and cheerful.
He arrives at his destination at 2 a. m., the 2d of June, is received by Mr. George Bentham, and meets the family at breakfast. They take him out for a walk, and he does no work that day, but begins a letter to his father. Next day he makes an excursion to Toulouse, spends the night there, and gives up a second day to sight-seeing; there was a great religious procession that day. He makes the acquaintance of a Dr. Russell, resident at Toulouse, with whose family he afterward associates. The following day, the 5th, he sees the Marquis and Madame de Pompignan, the proprietors of the château. On the 6th, he commences work; and now begins our information as to his mode of allocating his time to study. The entry for this day merely sets forth that he got up early; went into the library; read some of Lucian (who is his chief Greek reading for the weeks to follow); also some of Millot, by Mr. George's advice; "learned a French fable by rote"—the beginning of his practice in French. 7th. "Learned a very long fable; wrote over again, with many improvements, my Dialogue, part I." This dialogue frequently comes up, but without further explanation. We must take it as one of his exercises in original composition, perhaps in imitation of the Platonic Dialogues. 8th. Engaged with Mr. G. in arranging the books of the library, which seems to have been set as a task to the boys. "Wrote some of dialogue; learned a very long fable by heart; resolved some problems of West (Algebra); did French exercises (translating and so forth)." 9th. "Breakfasted early and went with Sir S. and Lady Bentham in the carriage to Montauban; took a volume of Racine in my pocket, and read two plays;" remark his reading pace. On returning home he reads a comedy of Voltaire. 10th. "Before breakfast, learned another fable, and read some of Virgil. After breakfast, wrote some of my Dialogue, and some French exercises. Wrought some of the Differential Calculus. Read a tragedy of Corneille." 11th. "Learned another fable; finished my Dialogue. If good for nothing beside, it is good as an exercise to my reasoning powers, as well as to my invention, both which it has tried extremely." We may be sure that it aimed at something very high. "Wrote some French exercises; began to learn an extremely long fable. Read a comedy of Molière, and after dinner a tragedy of Voltaire. Took a short walk by myself out of the pleasure grounds." 12th. "Rose very early. Sir S. B. and Mr. G. went in the carriage to Toulouse. Before breakfast, I wrote some French exercises, read some of Lucian's Hermotimus. Revised part of my Dialogue. After breakfast went with the 'domestique' Piertot to see his Metairie and his little piece of land and help him to gather cherries. After returning I finished the long fable." Then follows an apology for not working at his mathematics; Sir Samuel's books are not unpacked, and in the library of the house he finds chiefly French literature, and hence his readings in Racine, etc. Another tragedy read to-day. 13th. Before breakfast assists Mr. G. in packing. Wrote French exercises, read Voltaire and Molière. It is by the advice of the family that he reads plays, for the sake of dialogue. After dinner, he takes a long walk on the hills behind Pompignan; on his return falls in with the Garde Champêtre, who communicates all about himself and his district. Weather now hot. 14th. Could not get into the library. Walked about the grounds with Mr. G. and one of his sisters; came in and wrote French exercises. Begins a new study—to master the Departments of France. Reads Lucian. 15th. Got up early; began his Livre Statistique of the Departments—chief towns, rivers, populations, etc. Learns by heart the names of the departments and their capital towns. Acting on a suggestion of Lady B., he reads and takes notes of some parts of the Code Napoleon. Meets the Russell family at dinner, and walks with them. 16th. Up early, walked out, reads a tragedy of Voltaire. A mad dog has bitten several persons. More of Code Napoleon; Virgil; French exercises. Here he concludes what is to make his first letter to his father, and appends to the diary a dissertation on the state of French politics; the then exciting topic being the Law of Elections. We are surprised at the quantity of information he has already got together, partly we may suppose from conversations, and partly from newspapers; but he never once mentions reading a newspaper; and his opportunities of conversation are very much restricted by incessant studies. Besides passing politics, illustrated by anecdotes, he has inquired into education, the statistics of population, and the details of the provincial government.
I continue the extracts from the Diary. June 17th. Late in bed, not knowing the time. One of Sir Samuel's daughters has given him Legendre's Geometry, to which he applies himself, at first, for the sake of French mathematical terms. Performs an investigation in the Differential Calculus. A short walk. After dinner, a tragedy of Corneille. 18th. Rose early. Wrote French exercises, and read Voltaire. It is a fête day (Sunday), and the peasants danced in the pleasure grounds before the house. After breakfast, finished exercises, then walked with the family in the grounds. Received from Mr. G. a lecture on Botany (probably the beginning of what became his favorite recreation). Wrote out the account of his expenditure since leaving Paris, gives the items, amounting to one hundred and forty-eight francs. Describes the peasants' dance. 19th. Rose early. Finished the Hermotimus of Lucian, and yesterday's tragedy; wrote French exercises. After breakfast, assisted in packing up, as the family are leaving the chateau for a residence in Toulouse. Finds time before dinner for another tragedy of Voltaire. In the evening, took to an article in the Annales de Chimie (his interest in Chemistry being now of four years' standing). 20th. Occupied principally with preparations for leaving. 21st. The house in confusion. Still he does a good stroke of French reading. 22d. In bed till after nine; could not account for it. The confusion is worse confounded; doesn't know what to do about his books; is now debarred from the library. Has taken out his exercise book from his trunk, and written a considerable portion of exercises. Has added to his Livre Statistique; the Departments are now fully in his head: next topic the course of the Rivers—an occupation when he has nothing else to do. 23d. Rose at three o'clock, to finish packing for departure. As there could be no reading, at five he takes a long country walk to Fronton; gives two pages of the diary to a description of the country and the agriculture. Books being all locked up, he expects to feel ennui for a little time. Writes some of his Livre, converses with two intelligent workmen, gives particulars. After dinner, walks to the village of —— on the Garonne, describes the river itself in the neighborhood. In the evening, being the "Veille de St. Jean," saw the fires lighted up in the district. 24th. Lay in bed purposely late, having nothing to do. M. Le Comte (son of the proprietor) comes in, and politely offers him the key of the library, shows him a book of prints; he also scores a tragedy of Voltaire. As this is the last day before moving to Toulouse, he makes a pause, and dispatches his seven days' diary to his father, accompanied with a short letter in French to R, Doane, Bentham's amanuensis, chiefly personal and gossipy; none of his letters to Mr. Doane take up matters of thought. 25th. Rose at half past two for the journey. He walks out on foot, to be overtaken by a char-à-banc, with part of the family. One of the girls drove part of the way, and gave him the reins for the remainder, as a lesson in driving. They take up their quarters in one of the streets, where they have a very good "Apartment" (I suppose a flat); still, after the chateau, they feel considerably cramped; his room a little hole, which he proceeds at once to arrange, having got shelves for his books. Same night finishes Lucian's Βίων Πρᾶσις, and reads some of Thomson's Chemistry, which is part of his own library.
The family remains in Toulouse for some time. We have his diary for nearly six weeks. It is the intention of the Benthams to find him, not merely a French master, but instruction in various accomplishments—music, dancing, fencing, horsemanship. It is some time before the arrangements are made, so that his first days are purely devoted to book studies; and the diary is an exact record of the nature, amount, and duration of his reading, very nearly as at home. It also gives occasional glimpses of his thinking power at the age he has now reached. It is further interesting as exhibiting his tone toward his father. I will merely quote enough to complete the illustration of these various particulars.
26th. Besides a mass of French reading, reports two eclogues of Virgil and the Alectryon of Lucian. Remarks that having so much French to do, he cannot read Latin and Greek and study Mathematics every day, and means to give one day to Mathematics and one to Latin and Greek. 27th. Rose early. Begins the practice of going every morning to bathe in the Garonne, a little above the town: he is accompanied regularly by Mr. George, and on this occasion by Dr. Russell's boys. To-day reads Legendre's Geometry. Gives a subtile criticism of the author's method, which he thinks excellent; praises the derivation of the Axioms from the Definitions, as conforming to Hobbes's doctrine that the science is founded on Definitions. Approves also of the way the more elementary theorems are deduced. Learned a very long French fable. Solved a problem in West's Algebra that had baffled him for several years. Mr. George has already engaged for him the best dancing-master in the place. 28th. (Classical day.) Bathing as usual. Two eclogues of Virgil, and a French grammatical treatise on Pronouns. Read some more of Legendre (resolution broken through already): thinks his line of deduction better than Euclid, or even than West. Studies Bentham's Chrestomathic Tables (a vast and minute scheme of the divisions of knowledge). Began the Vocalium Judicium of Lucian, Goes for a second dancing-lesson. 29th. Rather late in returning from the river. An eclogue of Virgil; finishes the Vocalium Judicium; wrote French exercises, read some of Boileau's little pieces; is to have Voltaire's works soon; asks Mr. George about a Praxis in the higher Mathematics, having performed over and over again all the problems in Lacroix's Differential Calculus. Resolves more problems of West, including the second of two that had long puzzled him. After dinner began Lucian's Cataplus. 30th. Two eclogues of Virgil; finished Cataplus; more of Legendre, discovered a flaw in one of his demonstrations; wrote French exercises; read some of Sanderson's Logic; also some of Thomson's Chemistry. July 1. Treatise on Pronouns finished; Sanderson; began Lucian's Necyomantia; French exercises; finished first book of Legendre; Thomson's Chemistry. Dancing lesson. A singing-master engaged. 2d. Georgics of Virgil, ninety-nine lines; more of the Necyomantia before breakfast. After breakfast, Thomson's Chemistry. Wrote Livre Geographique. In the evening the whole family go to Franconi's Circus; describes the exploits. Has to be measured for a new suit, French fashion; his English suit being inadmissible, trousers too short, waistcoat too long. The Russells call in the evening, and there is an earnest talk on politics, English and French, which he details. 3d. A breakdown in the char-à-banc that takes them to the river. Has now got a singing-master, and takes first lesson in Solféges et Principes de Musique. Again at Franconi's, and full of the performance; for a wonder, no studies recorded. 4th. Rose at five; home from bathing, etc., at half past seven. Has obtained Voltaire's Essai sur les Mœurs, which he includes among his stated reading: breakfast at quarter to nine: at half past nine, begins Voltaire where he left off in England, read six chapters in two hours; Virgil's Georgics, forty-seven lines; at quarter past twelve began a treatise on French Adverbs; at half past one began the second book of Legendre, read the definitions and five propositions; miscellaneous employments till three, then took second Music-lesson. Dined; family again to Franconi's, but he could not give up his dancing-lesson; this got, he writes French exercises and practices music. 5th. Rose at five; too rainy for bathing. Five chapters of Voltaire; from half past seven till half past eight Mr. G. corrects his French exercises which had got into arrears as regards correction; Music-master came; at half past nine began new exercises (French); puts his room in order; at quarter past eleven took out Lucian and finished Necyomantia; five propositions of Legendre, renewed expressions of his superiority to all other geometers; practiced Music-lessons; Thomson's Chemistry, made out various Chemical tables, the drift not explained; at quarter past three, tried several propositions in West, and made out two that he had formerly failed in; began a table of fifty-eight rivers in France, to show what departments each passes through, and the chief towns on their banks; four, dined; finishes Chemical table; dancing-lesson; supped. Reports that a distinguished music-mistress is engaged at whose house he is to have instrumental practice. 6th. Rose at six; no bathing; five chapters of Voltaire; a quarter of an hour to West's Problems; lesson in Music (Principes); problems resumed; breakfasted, and tried problem again till quarter past ten; French exercises till eleven; began to correct his Dialogue, formerly mentioned, till quarter past twelve; summoned to dress for going out to call; has found a French master; at quarter past one returned and corrected Dialogue till quarter past three; Thomson till four (dinner), resumed till six; Mr. G. corrects his French exercises; went out for his French lesson, but the master did not teach on Sundays and Thursdays; back to Thomson till eight; repeated fables to Mr. G., miscellaneous affairs; supped; journal always written just before going to bed. 7th. Rose forty-five minutes past five; five chapters Voltaire till seven; till quarter past seven, forty-six lines of Virgil; till eight, Lucian's Jupiter Confutatus; goes on a family errand; Music-lesson till nine (Principes); Lucian continued till half past nine, and finished after breakfast at quarter past ten; a call required him to dress; read Thomson and made tables till quarter past twelve; seven propositions of Legendre; has him over the coals, for his confusion in regard to ratio "takes away a good deal of my opinion of the merit of the work as an elementary work": till half past one, wrote exercises and various miscellanies; till half past two the treatise on Adverbs; till forty-five minutes past three, Thomson; Livre Geographique and miscellanies till five; eats a little dinner, being uncertain, owing to a family event; goes for first lesson to music-mistress, a lady reduced by the Revolution, and living by her musical talents; henceforth to practice at her house daily from eleven to twelve, and take a lesson in the evening; dined on return, then dancing-lesson. 9th. Rose at five; five chapters Voltaire; forty-five minutes past six, Adverbs; forty-five minutes past seven, the Prometheus of Lucian; half past eight till nine, first lesson of Solféges together with Principes; continued Prometheus till breakfast; miscellaneous occupation till the hour of music-lesson at Madame Boulet's; home at half past twelve, ten propositions of Legendre; "if anything could palliate the fault I have noticed of introducing the ratio and the measures of angles before the right place, it is the facility which this method gives to the demonstration of the subsequent propositions; this, however, can not excuse such a palpable logical error, etc." Mr, G. is to procure Cagnioli's Trigonometry, but a Praxis in the higher Mathematics is not yet forthcoming. 10th. Starts at four with Mr. G. arid the Russells on a day's excursion to the forest of Bouconne, three leagues from Toulouse, the object being to collect plants and insects. Makes his coup d’essai at catching butterflies, got only about ten worth keeping; the adventures of the day fully given. 11th. Yesterday's fatigue keeps him in bed late; one chapter of Voltaire; at half past seven, with Mr. G,, to begin with his French master, who hears his pronunciation, and sets him plenty of work. Taken with a party to the house of an astronomer, M. Daubuisson, and shown his instruments; then to the house of his brother, a great mineralogist. Returns at two to commence the formidable course of lessons set by the French master. Goes successively to his music-master and music-mistress. Introduces a remark as to the great kindness of the family in constantly, without ill-humor, explaining to him the defects in his way of conducting himself in society: "I ought to be very thankful." 12th. Hears from his father that Lady B. has written a good account of him. Replies in full to the matters in his father's letter; is glad to hear of his article on Government and promises on his return to read it with great attention. Indicates that in future his French lessons will very much engross his time. He is to take the first opportunity of sending the Dialogue, on which he has taken great pains both with expression and with reasoning. Apologises for giving more time to Mathematics than to Latin and Greek.
A fencing-master is now provided for him, and in two days more a riding-master, so that we may have seen him at his best as regards book studies. He keeps these up a few hours every day, but the largest part of the day is taken up with his other exercises. The only thing deserving mention now is the occasional notice of new subjects. Thus, he begins a treatise on Value, and Sir S. B. is to get Say's book for him. His French master seems to prescribe, among other things, translating from Latin into French, and he takes up the speech of Catiline in Sallust, and afterward some Odes of Horace, There is another day's excursion to the forest of Ramelle, with many incidents. He soon reports having read the last of Lucian, and gives a short review of him, accompanied with high admiration; Hermotimus he considers a masterpiece of ingenious reasoning. In a letter to his mother he adverts to his progress in music and dancing; he advises his two elder sisters to remit their music till he returns, as he discovers now that they were on a wrong plan. Writes a letter in Latin to those two sisters, correct enough but not very high composition. Begins a Dialogue at the suggestion of Lady B., on the question—whether great landed estates and great establishments in commerce or manufactures, or small ones, are most conducive to the general happiness; in the circumstances, rather venturesome. The following day began, also by Lady B.'s advice, to write on the Definition of Political Economy. Very much elated by "excellent news of the revolution in Italy." Attends three lectures on modern Greek, and gives his father an account of the departures from the ancient Greek, In the beginning of August the lessons are at an end, the family going for a tour in the Pyrenees. What remains of the diary is occupied with this tour, its incidents and descriptions, and is written in French.
I must, however, advert to an interesting letter from Lady Bentham to his father, dated September 14th. It refers to a previous letter of hers giving particulars of John's progress in French and other branches of acquirement. The family is to reside in Montpellier, and the purpose of the present letter is to recommend to his father to allow him to spend the winter there, and to attend the public lectures of the college. Mr. Bernard, a distinguished chemist, who had visited the Benthams at Toulouse, had taken an interest in him, and sounded his depths and deficiencies, and gives the same opinion. As the party has now been boxed up together for some weeks, his habits and peculiarities had been more closely attended to than ever, and (I quote the words) "we have been considerably successful in getting the better of his inactivity of mind and body when left to himself." This probably refers to his ennui when deprived of books; it being apparent that, much as was his interest in scenery, he could not as yet subsist upon that alone. The letter goes on—"Upon all occasions his gentleness under reproof and thankfulness for correction are remarkable; and, as it is by reason supported by examples we point out to him that we endeavor to convince him, not by command that we induce him to do so and so, we trust that you will have satisfaction from that part of his education we are giving him to fit him for commerce with the world at large." Lady Bentham does not omit to add that he must also dress well.
The remainder of the diary serves mainly to show his growing taste for scenery and his powers of description. He depicts climate, productions, villages, the habits of the people, as well as the views that were encountered. The party make the ascent of Le Pic du Midi de Bigorre, and he is in raptures with the prospect. "Mais jamais je n'oublierai la vue du côte méridionale." In short, to describe its magnificence would need a volume!
We may now conceive with some degree of precision the intellectual caliber of this marvelous boy. In the first place we learn the number of hours that he could devote to study each day. From two to three hours before breakfast, about five hours between breakfast and dinner, and two or three in the evening, make up a working day of nine hours clear; and while at Toulouse scarcely any portion of his reading could be called recreative. His lightest literature was in French, and was intended as practice in the language. Probably at home his reading-day may have often been longer; it would scarcely ever be shorter. For a scholar in mature years eight or nine hours' reading would not be extraordinary; but then there is no longer the same tasking of the memory. Mill's power of application all through his early years was without doubt amazing; and, although he suffered from it in premature ill-health, it was a foretaste of what he could do throughout his whole life. It attested a combination of cerebral activity and constitutional vigor that is as rare as genius; his younger brothers succumbed under a far less severe discipline.
That the application was excessive, I for one will affirm without any hesitation. That his health suffered we have ample evidence, which I shall afterward produce. That his mental progress might have been as great with a smaller strain on his powers, I am strongly inclined to believe, although the proof is not so easy. We must look a little closer at the facts.
I can not help thinking that the rapid and unbroken transitions from one study to another must have been unfavorable to a due impression on the memory. He lost not a moment in passing from subject to subject in his reading: he hurried home from his music-lesson or fencing-lesson to his books. Now, we know well enough that the nervous currents, when strongly aroused in any direction, tend to persist for some time: in the case of learning anything, this persistence will count in stamping the impression; and part of the effect of a lesson must be lost in hurrying without a moment's break to something new, even although the change of subject was of the nature of relief. By his own account, his lessons at Toulouse, with the exception of French and music, took no effect upon him. Nor is this the worst feature of Mill's programme. According to our present notions of physical and mental training, he ought to have had a decided break in the afternoon. Considering that he was at work from about six in the morning, with only half an hour for breakfast, he should clearly have had, between one and two, a cessation of several hours, extending over dinner; especially as he gave up the evening to his hardest subjects. Of course this interval should have been devoted to out-of-doors recreation. It is quite true that both father and son were alive to the necessity of walking, and practiced it even to excess; in fact, counted too much upon it as a means of renewing the forces of the brain: their walks were merely a part of their working-day—a hearing and giving of lessons.
What with his own recital in the "Autobiography" and the minuter details in the letter to Sir S. Bentham, and the diary, we have a complete account of his reading and study in every form. The amount is, of course, stupendous for a child. The choice and the sequence of books and subjects suggest various reflections. His beginning Greek at so early an age was no doubt due to his father's strong predilection for the language. What we wonder at most is the order of his reading. Before his eighth year, he had read not merely the easier writers, but six dialogues of Plato (the Theætetus he admits he did not understand). He was only eight when he first read Thucydides, as well as a number of plays. At nine he read parts of Demosthenes; at eleven he read Thucydides the second time. What his reading of Thacydides could be at eight, we may dimly imagine: it could be nothing but an exercise in the Greek language; and the same remark must be applicable to the great mass of his early reading both in Greek and Latin. At Toulouse we find him still reading Virgil, of although five years before he had read the Bucolics and six books the Æneid. Moreover, at Toulouse, his Greek reading was Lucian, a very easy writer whom he had begun before he was eight; the noticeable fact being that he is now taking an interest in the writer's thoughts and able to criticise him. It is apparent enough that his vast early reading was too rapid, and as a consequence superficial. It is noticeable how rare is his avowal of interest in the subjects of the classical books; Lucian is an exception; Quintilian is another. He was set by his father to make an analysis of Aristotle's Rhetoric and Organon, and doubtless his mind was cast for Logic from the first. His inaptitude for the matter of the Greek and Latin poets is unambiguously shown; he read Homer in Greek, but his interest was awakened only by Pope's translation. His readings in the English poets for the most part made no impression upon him whatever. He had a boyish delight in action, battles, heroism, and energy; and, seeing that whatever he felt, he felt intensely, his devotion to that kind of literature was very ardent. But whether from early habits, or from native peculiarity, he had all his life an extraordinary power of rereading books. His first reading merely skimmed the subject; if a book pleased him, and he wished to study it, he read it two or three times, not after an interval, but immediately. I can not but think that in this practice there is a waste of power.
It was impossible for his father to test the adequacy of his study of Greek and Latin works, except in select cases; and hence it must have been very slovenly. In Mathematics, he had little or no assistance, but in it there are self-acting tests. His readings in Physical Science were also untutored: unless at Montpellier, he never had any masters, and his knowledge never came to maturity.
If I were to compare him in his fifteenth year with the most intellectual youth that I have ever known, or heard or read about, I would say that his attainments on the whole are not unparalleled, although, I admit, very rare. His classical knowledge, such as it was, could easily be forced upon a clever youth at that age. The Mathematics could not be so easily commanded. The best mathematicians have seldom been capable of beginning Euclid at eight or nine, and even granting that in this, as in other subjects, he made small way at first, yet the Toulouse diary shows us what he could do at fourteen; and I should be curious to know whether Herschel, De Morgan, or Airy could have done as much. I have little doubt that, with forcing, these men would all have equaled him in his Classics and Mathematics combined. The one thing, in my judgment, where Mill was most markedly in advance of his years, was Logic. It was not merely that he had read treatises on the Formal Logic, as well as Hobbes's "Computatio sive Logica," but that he was able to chop Logic with his father in regard to the foundations and demonstrations of Geometry. I have never known a similar case of precocity. We must remember, however, that while his father pretended to teach him everything, yet, in point of fact, there were a few things that he could and did teach effectually: one of these was Logic; the others were Political Economy, Historical Philosophy and Politics, all which were eminently his own subjects. On these John was a truly precocious youth; his innate aptitudes, which must have been great, received the utmost stimulation that it was possible to apply. His father put enormous stress upon Logic, even in the scholastic garb; but he was himself far more of a logician than the writers of any of the manuals. In that war against vague, ambiguous, flimsy, unanalyzed words and phrases, carried on alike by Bentham and by himself, in the wide domains of Politics and Ethics, he put forth a faculty not imparted by the scholastic Logic; and in this higher training the son was early and persistently indoctrinated. To this were added other parts of logical discipline which may also be called unwritten: as for example, the weighing and balancing of arguments pro and con in every question; the looking out for snares and fallacies of a much wider compass than those set down in the common manuals. (See the beginning of the "Bentham" article for Mill's delineation of Bentham's "Logic")
He returned to England in July, 1821, after a stay of fourteen months. He sufficiently describes the fruits of his stay in France, which included a familiar knowledge of the French language, and acquaintance with ordinary French literature. If we may judge from what he says afterward, his acquaintance with the literature was strictly ordinary; he knew nothing of the French Revolution, and it was at a much later period that he studied French authors for the improvement of his style.
He had still nearly two years before entering on official life; and he tells us how these were occupied. His father had become acquainted with John Austin, who assisted him in Roman Law, his destination being the bar. He also got deep into Bentham for the first time, and began Psychology. He now read the history of the French Revolution. An undated letter to his father probably belongs to this period. He was on a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Austin at Norwich. The letter begins with a short account of his studies. He read Blackstone (with Mr. Austin) three or four hours daily and a portion of Bentham's "Introduction" (I suppose the Morals and Legislation) in the evening. Among other things, "I have found time to write the defense of Pericles in answer to the accusation which you have with you. I have also found some time to practice the delivery of the accusation, according to your directions." Then follows an account of a visit of ten days with the Austins to the town of Yarmouth, with a description of the place itself. The larger part of the letter is on the politics of Norwich, where "the Cause" (Liberal) prospers ill, being still worse at Yarmouth. He has seen of Radicals many; of clear-headed men not one. The best is Sir Thomas Beever, whom he wishes to be induced to come to London and see his father and Mr. Grote. At Falmouth he had dined with Radical Palmer, who had opened the borough to the Whigs; not much better than a mere Radical. "I have been much entertained by a sermon of Mr. Madge, admirable as against Calvinists and Catholics, but the weakness of which as against anybody else I think he himself must have felt." The concluding paragraph of the letter should have been a postscript:
On his return from France, he resumed energetically the task of home teaching; making a great improvement in the lot of his pupils, who were exclusively under their father's care in the interval; for while he scolded them freely for their stupidity and backwardness, he took pains to explain their lessons, which their father never did. He was kept at this work ever after. I remember on one occasion hearing from Mrs. Grote that she had turned up an old letter from James Mill, in answer to an invitation to John to accompany Mr. Grote and her on a vacation tour; the reply was that he could not be spared from the work of teaching the younger children.
The "Autobiography" gives a full account of his acquaintances among the young men resident at Cambridge, who afterward came to London, including, besides Charles Austin, who was the means of introducing him, Macaulay, Hyde and Charles Villiers, Strutt (Lord Belper), Romilly, etc. There is no mention of his having gone to Cambridge in 1822, on a visit to Charles Austin. The contrast of his boyish figure, and thin voice, with his immense conversational power, left a deep impression on the undergraduates of the time, notwithstanding their being familiar with Macaulay and Austin.
I alluded, in my last article on James Mill, to the persistent attempts of Professor Townshend, of Cambridge, to get John entered there. Here are two sentences from a letter dated March 29, 1823, two months before he entered the India House: "I again entreat you to permit me to write to the tutor at Trinity to enter your son's name at that noble college. Whatever you may wish his eventual destiny to be, his prosperity in life can not be retarded, but must on the contrary be increased by making an acquaintance at an English University with his Patrician contemporaries." Whether it would have been possible to induce his father to send him to Cambridge, I very much doubt. I suspect that, of the two, the son would have been the more intractable on the matter of subscription to the Articles. Ten years later, it was an open question in the house whether his brother Henry should be sent to Cambridge.
- The beginning runs thus (heading "First Alban Government: Roman Conquest in Italy): "We know not any part," says Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "of the history of Rome till the Sicilian invasions. Before that time the country had not been entered by any foreign invader. After the expulsion of Sicilians, Iberian (?) kings reigned for several years; but in the time of Latinus, Æneas, son of Venus and Anchises, came to Italy, and established a kingdom there called Albania. He then succeeded Latinus in the government, and engaged in the wars of Italy. The Rutuli, a people living near the sea, and extending along the Numieius up to Lavinium, opposed him. However, Turnus their king was defeated and killed by Æneas. Æneas was killed soon after this. The war continued to be carried on chiefly against the Rutuli, to the time of Romulus, the first king of Rome. By him it was that Rome was built."
- Sir Samuel Bentham, the brother of Jeremy Bentham, was himself a remarkable man. His first service was in the Russian Army, where his soldiering was intermingled with suggestions for improvements of all sorts, and especially mechanical inventions, for which he had a pronounced genius. One of his proposals to the Russian government was the Panopticon prison, of which he was the originator. He came over to England in 1795, and received from our Government the appointment of Superintendent of the Dockyard at Portsmouth, where his talent for invention had scope in the improvement of the navy. He married the daughter of an early friend of his brother. Dr. John Fordyce, a physician in London, called by Bentham "one of the coldest of the cold Scotch"; this lady had the domestic supervision of Mill for more than a year. On retiring from the Dockyard, Sir Samuel bought an estate in the South of France for the sake of a residence there; and this led to his inviting Mill to reside with him, first at Toulouse, and afterward at Montpellier. The family consisted of one son, Mr. George Bentham, the well-known botanist, and three daughters—all older than Mill.
- Locke knew a young gentleman who could demonstrate several propositions in Euclid before he was thirteen.