Popular Science Monthly/Volume 15/October 1879/John Stuart Mill III
|←Protoplasm and Life|| Popular Science Monthly Volume 15 October 1879 (1879)
John Stuart Mill III
By Alexander Bain
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MY acquaintance with Mill dates from 1839, when I was a student at Marischal College, Aberdeen. In the winter of 1838-'39, John Robertson, who was then assisting in the Review, paid a short visit to his native city. I had known him when I was a child, but had not seen him for years. He asked me to meet him, and entered into free conversation about his doings in London, and about my pursuits and prospects. He gave me both advice and encouragement, and spoke a good deal about Mill, whom I had never heard of, although I may have known something of his father. On returning to London, Robertson mentioned my name to Mill. In the summer of 1839 I wrote a criticism of some points in Herschel's "Discourse on Natural Philosophy," a book that had long fascinated me, as it had done so many others. I thought Herschel occasionally weak in his metaphysics, and directed my criticism to some of those weaknesses. Robertson showed Mill this paper. He spoke favorably of the effort, but remarked to me afterward that the criticism was too severe, and that the book "always seemed to him to have the characters of a first crude attempt of a clever and instructed man in a province new to him."
In 1840 I took my M. A. degree, and began to write for periodicals. Mill had just parted with the "London and Westminster": but through Robertson, I got my first published article admitted into the "Westminster" for September; an exposition of the two scientific novelties the electrotype and daguerreotype. In July, 1841, was published a second article entitled "The Properties of Matter," to which I owed the first notice taken of me by Mr. Grote. Both these articles did me good with Mill. In the same autumn (1841) Robertson, who was now very much at sea himself, came down to Aberdeen, and made a long stay; during which I had abundant talk with him, my early friend David Masson being also of the party. Robertson occasionally wrote to Mill, and at last incited me to write to him. I scarcely remember anything of the terms of the letter, but I have preserved his reply, dated 21st September, 1841. After my first meeting with Robertson, nearly three years previous, I assiduously perused the back numbers of the "London" and "London and Westminster" Reviews, as well as each new number as it appeared, whereby I became thoroughly familiarized with Mill's ideas, and was thus able to exchange ideas with him on his own subjects. I was engaged for the succeeding winter to teach the class of moral philosophy in Marischal College, as substitute for the Professor; and his letter is chiefly a comment upon this fact. Notwithstanding that he was then intently occupied in finishing his "Logic" for the press, he wrote me several other letters in the course of the winter. In the one immediately following (October 15th), he made mention of Comte, in these terms: "Have you ever looked into Comte's 'Cours de Philosophic Positive'? He makes some mistakes, but on the whole I think it very nearly the grandest work of this age." From the remaining letters, I can gather that I had written him a good deal upon Whewell's writings, as well as on Herschel, and on his own coming book. Among other things, he sketched out for me a course of reading on political and historical philosophy. He also criticised in detail the strong and weak points of an article published by me in the "Westminster" in January, 1842, with the somewhat misleading title—"Toys."
As soon as the Aberdeen winter session was over, in the middle of April, 1812, I went to London, and remained there five months. The day after arriving I walked down to the India House with Robertson, and realized my dream of meeting Mill in person. I am not likely to forget the impression he made upon me as he stood by his desk, with his face turned to the door as we entered. His tall, slim figure, his youthful face and bald head, fair hair and ruddy complexion, and the twitching of his eyebrow when he spoke, first arrested the attention: then the vivacity of his manner, his thin voice approaching to sharpness, but with nothing shrill or painful about it, his comely features and sweet expression—would have all remained in my memory, though I had never seen him again. To complete the picture, I should add his dress, which was constant—a black dress-suit, with silk necktie. Many years after that he changed his dress-coat for a surtout; but black cloth was his choice to the end.
My opportunities of conversation with him for these five months consisted in going down to the India House twice a week at four o'clock, and walking with him a good part of his way to Kensington Square, where his mother and family lived. I also spent occasional evenings at the house, where I met other friends of his—G. H. Lewes being a frequent visitor. I may be said to have traveled over a good part of his mind that summer: although he did not then give me his full confidence in many things that I came to know afterward. I had a very full acquaintance with his views on philosophy and politics, as well as a complete appreciation of his whole manner of thinking.
His "Logic" was finished and ready for press; he had intended that it should be out in April of that year (1812). He had submitted it the previous winter to Mr. John Murray, who kept it for some time, and then declined it, so that it could not be brought out that season. He then submitted it to J. W. Parker, by whom it was eagerly accepted. I do not remember the date of Parker's acceptance, but the book had not begun to go to press in the summer months; the printing actually took place in the following winter. One of the first results of our conversations was that he gave me the manuscript to peruse. During my stay I read and discussed with him the whole of it.
The impression made upon me by the work was, as may be supposed, very profound. I knew pretty well the works that could be ranked as its precursors in inductive logic, but the difference between it and them was obviously vast. The general impression at first overpowered my critical faculties; and it was some time before I could begin to pick holes. I remember, among the first of my criticisms, remarking on the chapter on "Things denoted by Names" as not being very intelligible; I had at the same time a difficulty in seeing its place in the scheme, although I did not press this objection. The effect was that he revised the chapter, and introduced the subordinate headings, which very much lightened the burden of its natural abstruseness.
The main defect of the work, however, was in the experimental examples. I soon saw, and he felt, as much as I did, that these were too few and not unfrequently incorrect. It was on this point that I was able to render the greatest service. Circumstances had made me tolerably familiar with the experimental physics, chemistry, and physiology of that day, and I set to work to gather examples from all available sources. Liebig's books on the application of chemistry had then just appeared, and contained many new and striking facts and reasonings, which we endeavored to turn to account: although at the present day some of those inductions of his have lost their repute. An Aberdeen lecturer on chemistry, the late Dr. John Shier (chemist to the colony of Demerara) went carefully over with me all the chemical examples, and struck out various erroneous statements. I had recently made a study of Faraday's very stiff papers on electricity, and from these I extracted one generalization, somewhat modified by myself, and this Mill prized very highly; nevertheless, it was afterward carped at by Whewell, as going beyond what Faraday would have allowed. One way or other, I gave him a large stock of examples to choose from, as he revised the third book for the press. The difficulty that was most felt was to get good examples of the purely experimental methods. He had availed himself of the famous research on dew adduced by Herschel. There was hardly to be got any other example so good. For one of his later editions I gave him the example from Brown-Séquard, on the causes of cadaveric rigidity, and also used it in my own book. For the deductive method, and the allied subjects of explanation and empirical and derivative law, the examples that we found were abundant. When, however, I suggested his adopting some from psychology, he steadily, and I believe wisely, resisted; and, if he took any of these, it was in the deductive department.
I was so much struck with the view of induction that regarded it as reasoning from particulars to particulars, that I suggested a further exemplification of it in detail, and he inserted two pages of instances that I gave him. On the last three books I had little to offer. I remember his saying, at a later period, that the fourth book (which I have always regarded as the crue materials of a logic of definition and classification) was made up of a number of subjects that he did not know where to place.
The "Logic" has been about the best attacked book of the time; and the author has in successive editions replied to objections and made extensive amendments. I have had myself full opportunities for expressing both agreements and dissents in regard to all the main points. Yet I could not pretend to say that criticism has been exhausted, or that imperfections and even inconsistencies may not even yet be pointed out. It is long since I was struck with the seeming incompatibility between the definition of logic in the introduction—viz., the science of proof, or evidence—and the double designation in the title—Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation. Previous writers laid little stress on proof, and Mill took the other extreme and made proof everything. Bacon, Herschel, and Whewell seemed to think that, if we could only make discoveries, the proof would be readily forthcoming—a very natural supposition with men educated mainly in mathematics and physics. Mill, from his familiarity with the moral and political sciences, saw that proof was more important than discovery. But the title, although larger than the definition, is not larger than the work; he did discuss the methods of investigation, as aids to discovery, as well as means of proof; only, he never explained the mutual bearings of the two. Any one that tries will find this not an easy matter.
The sixth book was the outcome of his long study of politics, both practical and theoretical, to which the finishing stroke was given by the help of Auguste Comte. I will return to this presently.
In five months he carried the work through the press, and brought it out in March, 1843. We may form some estimate of the united labor of correcting proof-sheets, often one a day, of reconsidering the new examples that have been suggested, of reading Liebig's two books, and Comte's sixth volume (nearly a thousand pages), and of recasting the concluding chapters. From the moment of publication, the omens were auspicious. Parker's trade-sale was beyond his anticipations, and the book was asked for by unexpected persons, and appeared in shop-windows where he never thought to see it. Whately spoke handsomely of it, and desired his bookseller to get an additional copy for him, and expose it in the window.
While the work was printing, I prepared from the sheets a review of it, which came out in the "Westminster" in the April number, and was even more laudatory than Mill liked. The first adverse criticism of importance was an article in the autumn number of the "British Critic," of nearly a hundred pages, known to have been written by Mr. W. G. Ward, the ally of Newman and Pusey. It was a most remarkable production, and gave Mill very great satisfaction, all things considered. It was not so much a review of the "Logic" as of Mill altogether. Mr. Ward had followed him through his various articles in the "London and Westminster," and had mastered his modes of thinking in all the great questions; and the present article takes these up along with the "Logic." He expresses a warm interest in Mill himself, remarking, "An inquirer, who bears every mark of a single-minded and earnest pursuit of truth, cheers and relieves the spirits"; a pretty strong innuendo as to the prevailing dispositions of so-called inquirers. He deplores Mill's "miserable moral and religious deficiencies," and says if his "principles be adopted as a full statement of the truth, the whole fabric of Christian theology must totter and fall." Accordingly, the article is devoted to counterworking these erroneous tendencies; and the parts chosen for attack are the experience-foundations of the mathematical axioms, the derived view of conscience, and necessity as against free-will. Mr. Ward has continued to uphold his peculiar tenets against the experience-school. He had afterward, as he informs me, a good deal of correspondence with Mill, and once met him. At his instigation, Mill expunged from his second edition an objectionable anecdote.
Without pursuing further at present the fortunes of the "Logic," I will allude to the connection between Mill and Comte, and to the share that Comte had in shaping Mill's political philosophy. Wheatstone always claimed to be the means of introducing Comte in England. He brought over from Paris the first two volumes of the " Philosophic Positive," after the publication of the second, which was in 1837. It would appear that the first volume, by itself, published in 1830, had fallen dead; notwithstanding that the first two chapters really contained in very clear language, although without expansion, the two great foundations that Comte built upon—the Three Stages and the Hierarchy of the Sciences. Wheatstone mentioned the work to his scientific friends in London, and among others to Brewster, who was then a contributor of scientific articles to the "Edinburgh Review." Comte's volumes struck him at once as a good topic; and he wrote an article on them in the August number for 1838. Any one knowing him would have predicted as the strain of his review an indignant or else contemptuous exposure of the atheism, a fastening on the weak points in his own special subjects, as optics, and a cold recognition of his systematic comprehensiveness. This, however, was to leave out of the account one element—his antipathy to Whewell; sufficiently marked in a review of the "History of the Inductive Sciences" in the previous year. He found with joy a number of observations on hypothesis and other points, that he could turn against Whewell, and the effect was, I have no doubt, to soften the adverse criticisms, and to produce an article on the whole favorable to the book, and one that even Comte himself regarded with some complacency. Mill got wind of the two volumes in the end of 1837, after he had completed the draft of his book on Induction. The "Autobiography" gives (pp. 210-214) the general effect produced upon him by the whole work, which he perused with avidity as the successive volumes appeared; but does not adequately express the influence in detail, nor the warmth of esteem and affection displayed in the five years of their correspondence from 1841 to 1846. In our many conversations during the summer of 1842, Mill occasionally mentioned Comte, but not in a way to give me any clear conception of what his merits consisted in. Among his associates at that time was William Smith, lately dead, and known as the author of "Thorndale" and various other works. He was a pupil of the Mills in philosophy, and occupied himself in contributing to magazines. In the winter of that year, he wrote a review of Comte in "Blackwood" (March, 1843), giving very well-selected extracts; and from these I derived my first impression of the peculiar force of the book. I remember particularly being struck with the observations on the metaphysical and critical stage, as a vein of remark quite original.
It was in the summer of that year (1843) that I read the work for myself. I was in London as before, and had the same opportunities of conversing with Mill. We discussed the work chapter by chapter, up to the last volume, which I had not begun when I left town. We were very much at one, both as to the merits and as to the defects of the work. The errors were mostly of a kind that could be remedied by ordinary men better informed on special points than Comte; while the systematic array was untouched. The improvement effected in the classification of the sciences was apparent at a glance; while the carrying out of the hierarchy, involving the dependence of each science upon the preceding, first as to doctrine, and next as to method, raised the scheme above the usual barrenness of science-classifications. Mill had already seized with alacrity, and embodied in the "Logic," Comte's great distinction between social statics and social dynamics; and I was even more strongly impressed than he respecting the value of that distinction as an instrument of social analysis. Comte, according to his plan of pushing forward the ideas of each of the fundamental sciences into the succeeding, had taken up the distinction in abstract mechanics, and carried it first into biology, where it made his contrast between anatomy and physiology—structure and function. The next step was to sociology, and led to the distinction of order and progress. I confess that I never thought the three cases exactly parallel; still, however the distinction came, it was invaluable in sociology; and Comte's separation of the two interests—social order and social progress—was a grand simplification of the subject, and a mighty advance upon the historical and political philosophy of his predecessors and contemporaries. The social statics he discussed briefly, as compared with the magnitude of the topics, but indicated well enough what these topics were; the social dynamics enabled him to give free scope to his doctrine of the Three Stages, and carry this out in a grand survey of the historical development of mankind. Here, of course, he exposed a wide front to criticism; but, while numerous exceptions might be taken to his interpretations of history, it was truly wonderful to see how many facts seemed to fall in happily under his formulas. Mill, it will be seen from the "Logic" (book vi., chapter x.), accepted the Three Stages as an essential part of Comte's historical method, which method he also adopts and expounds as the completion of the logic of sociology. In our very first conversations, I remember how much he regretted Comte's misappreciation of Protestantism; and he strove in the early part of their correspondence to make him see this. He also endeavored to put him right on the specialty of England in the political evolution.
It is curious to observe that his altered estimate of Comte never extended to the views appropriated from him on the method of social science. The modifications in the later editions consisted mainly in leaving out the high-pitched compliments to Comte in the first; none of the quotations are interfered with. I give a few examples of these omissions. Referring to the latest edition, the eighth, on page 490, he writes: "The only thinker who, with a competent knowledge of scientific methods in general"; in the first edition—"The greatest living authority on scientific methods in general." On page 506, line five from bottom, before "To prove (in short)," the first edition has—"It is therefore well said of M. Comte." In page 512, line thirteen from top, the words "but deem them" are followed in the first edition by "with the single exception of M. Comte." In page 513, line nine from top, after "up to the present time," a long sentence of reference to Comte is left out. In page 530, line fourteen from top, after "attempting to characterize," there is omitted the clause—"but which hitherto are to my knowledge exemplified nowhere but in the writings of M. Comte."
The distinction of statics and dynamics was carried by Mill into the plan of his "Political Economy." It also entered into his "Representative Government"; and, if he had written a complete work on sociology, he would have made it the basis of his arrangement as Comte did.
Mill's correspondence with Comte began in 1841. I heard from himself a good deal of the substance of it as it went on. Comte's part being now published, we can judge of the character of the whole, and infer much of Mill's part in the work. In 1842 and 1843 the letters on both sides were overflowing with mutual regard. It was Comte's nature to be very frank, and he was circumstantial and minute in his accounts of himself and his ways. Mill was unusually open; and revealed, what he seldom told to anybody, all the fluctuations in his bodily and mental condition. In one of the early letters, he coined the word "pedantocracy," which Comte caught up, and threw about him right and left, ever after. Already in 1842 troubles were brewing for him in Paris, partly in consequence of his peculiar tenets, and still more from his unsparing abuse of the notables of Paris, the foremost object of his hate being the all-powerful Arago. His personal situation, always detailed with the utmost fullness, makes a considerable fraction of the correspondence on his side. When in 1843 the "Polytechnic pedantocracy," that is to say, the Council of the Polytechnic School, for which he was examiner, first assumed a hostile attitude, and when his post was in danger, Mill came forward with an offer of pecuniary assistance, in case of the worst; the generosity of this offer will be appreciated when I come to state what his own circumstances were at that moment. Comte, however, declined the proposal; he would accept assistance from men of wealth among his followers; indeed, he broadly announced that it was their duty to minister to his wants; but he did not think that philosophers should have to devote their own small means to helping one another. Mill sent the "Logic" to him as soon as published; he is overjoyed at the compliments to himself, and warmly appreciates Mill's moral courage in owning his admiration. They discuss sociological questions at large, at first with considerable cordiality and unanimity; but the harmony is short-lived. In the summer of 1843 begins the debate on women, which occupied the remainder of that year; the letters being very long on both sides. By November, Comte declares the prolongation of the discussion needless; but protests strongly against Mill's calling women "slaves." Mill copied out the letters on both sides, and I remember reading them. Some years later, when I asked him to show them to a friend of mine, he consented, but said that, having reread them himself, he was dissatisfied with the concessions he had made to Comte, and would never show them to any one again. What I remember thinking at the time I read them was, that Mill needlessly prolonged the debate, hoping against hope to produce an impression upon Comte. The correspondence was not arrested by this divergence, nor was Mill's sympathy for Comte's misfortunes in any way abated; but the chance of their ever pulling together on social questions was reduced to a very small amount. They still agreed as to the separation of the spiritual and the temporal power, but only as a vague generality. In July, 1844, came the crash at the Polytechnic; by a dexterous manoeuvre, Comte was ousted without being formally dismissed; he lost six thousand francs a year, and was in dire distress. He appealed to Mill, but with the same reservation as before; Mill exerted himself with Grote and Molesworth, who with Raikes Currie agreed to make up the deficiency for the year. Another election came round, and he was not reinstated, and was again dependent on the assistance of his English friends. They made up a portion of his second year's deficiency, but declined to continue the grant. He is vexed and chagrined beyond measure, and administers to Mill a long lecture upon the relations of rich men to philosophers; but his complaint is most dignified in its tone. This puts Mill into a very trying position; he has to justify the conduct of Grote and Molesworth, who might with so little inconvenience to themselves have tided him over another year. The delicate part of the situation was that Grote, who began admiring Comte, as Mill did, although never to the same degree, was yet strongly adverse to his sociological theories, especially as regarded their tendency to introduce a new despotism over the individual. Indeed, his admiration of Comte scarcely extended at all to the sociological volumes. He saw in them frequent mistakes and perversions of historical facts, and did not put the same stress as Mill did upon the social analysis—the distinction of statics and dynamics, and historical method; in fact, he had considerable misgivings throughout as to all the grand theories of the French school in the philosophy of history. But the repression of liberty by a new machinery touched his acutest susceptibility; he often recurred in conversation to this part of Comte's system, and would not take any comfort from the suggestion I often made to him that there was little danger of any such system ever being in force. It was the explanation of this divergence that Mill had to convey to Comte; who, on the other hand, attempted in vain to reargue the point by calling to mind how much he and Mill were agreed upon, which, however, did not meet Grote's case. He returned to the theme in successive letters, and urged upon Mill that there was an exaggeration of secondary differences, and so on. What may be said in his favor is that Grote turned round upon him rather too soon. This was in 1846. The same year his Clotilde died. He still unfolded his griefs to Mill, and, as may be supposed, received a tender and sympathizing response. The correspondence here ends.
I must still come back to the year 1842. In the October number of the "Westminster Review" for that year was published his article on Bailey's "Theory of Vision," in which he upheld the Berkeleian doctrine against Bailey's attacks. I remember his saying that he went to the country, on one occasion, from Friday till Tuesday, and in the three days wrote this article. With all his respect for Bailey, he used a number of expressions very derogatory to his understanding; attributing to him such things as a "triumphing over a shadow," "misconceiving the argument he was replying to," etc. Bailey was much hurt at the time by these expressions; and Mill's reply on this point is very characteristic ("Dissertations," ii., 119): "To dispute the soundness of a man's doctrines and the conclusiveness of his arguments, may always be interpreted as an assumption of superiority over him; true courtesy, however, between thinkers, is not shown by refraining from this sort of assumption, but by tolerating it in one another; and we claim from Mr. Bailey this tolerance, as we, on our part, sincerely and cheerfully concede to him the like." This was his principle of composition throughout his polemical career, and he never departed from it. Of Bailey's reply on this occasion, he remarked: "The tone of it is peevish. But Bailey is, I know, of that temper—or rather I infer it from sundry indications."
- So great a work can sustain even a little anecdote. Parker, in intimating bis willingness to publish the book, sent the opinion of his referee, in the writer's own hand, withholding the name. "He forgot," said Mill, "that I had been an editor, and knew the handwriting of nearly every literary man of the day." The referee was Dr. W. Cooke Taylor, who afterward was one of the reviewers of the book.
- In regard to the "British Critic," he wrote, "I always hailed Puseyism, and predicted that thought would sympathize with thought—though I did not expect to find my own case so striking an example." I was told that he had written several letters in the "Morning Chronicle" in this strain of subtile remark.
- Although Mill was the first and principal medium of making Comte and his doctrines familiar to the public, he was soon followed by George Henry Lewes, who was beginning his literary career, as a writer in reviews, about the year 1841. I met Lewes frequently when I was first in London in 1842. He sat at the feet of Mill, read the