Popular Science Monthly/Volume 16/November 1879/John Stuart Mill IV

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THE year 1842 was memorable for the American repudiation, in which Mill was heavily involved. He had invested, I am told, a thousand pounds of his own money, and several thousands of his father's money which he had in trust for the family, and which he would have to make good. The blow completely shook him for the time. From whatever cause, or union of causes, his bodily strength was prostrated to such degree that, before I left London that autumn, he was unequal to his usual walk from the India House home, and took the omnibus before he went far. The disaster must have preyed upon him for a year or more. He alluded to his state in the Comte letters, in which he described his depression as both physical and moral. It appears that in a letter to Comte of the 15th of November, he gave assurances of his being much better. So in writing to me on the 3d of October, he says, "I am quite well and strong, and now walk the whole way to and from Kensington without the self-indulgence of omnibi" But on the 5th of December he says, "I have not been very well, but am a little better." He was now in the middle of the very heavy winter's work of getting the "Logic" through the press. There is no more heard of his health till the following June, in which he wrote to Comte in a very depressed tone. I remember, either in that or in the previous summer, his confessing to me that he was in a low state. I naturally urged that he had a long continuance of very heavy work. He replied hastily, "I do not believe any man was ever the worse for work," or something to that effect. I listened in mute astonishment, being quite ignorant that other circumstances besides his intellectual strain were at work. In writing to Comte, who, unlike him, believed in the bad consequences of prolonged study, he said his doctors advised him to rest his brain, but, as they knew so very little, he preferred to abide by his own feelings, which taught him that work was the only thing to counteract melancholy. Comte, however, urged that a "true positive therapeutics" involved rest and diversion; and Mill believed in regular holiday tours. It was during this dreadful depression of June and July, 1843, and after the American repudiation had beggared him, that he made his offer of pecuniary assistance to Comte. He had had no holiday for two years, and, except for his customary Sunday walks, he did not leave town that autumn: I suspect that his money affairs had something to do with his still postponing his holiday. In October his letters announce an improved state of health.

His work in 1843, after the publication of the "Logic," was his "Michelet" article, written in autumn. In September he writes: "I am now vigorously at work reviewing Michelet's 'History of France' for the 'Edinburgh.' I hope to do Napier, and get him to insert it before he finds out what a fatal thing he is doing." On November 3d he says: "My review of Michelet is in Napier's hands. If he prints it, he will make some of his readers stare." The article appeared in January, and had none of the serious consequences predicted. We have a difficulty, reading it now, to see anything very dreadful in its views. But a philosophic vindication of the Papacy and the celibacy of the clergy, as essential preservatives against barbarism, was not then familiar to the English mind. Mill had worked himself into sympathy with everything French, and echoed the importance of France from the French historians. He always dealt gently with her faults and liberally with her virtues.

While writing this article, he was projecting in his mind his next book, which was to be on the new science, first sketched in the "Logic," to be called "Ethology." With parental fondness, he cherished this subject for a considerable time; regarding it as the foundation and corner-stone of Sociology. "There is no chance," he says, "for social statics, at least until the laws of human character are better treated." A few months later he wrote: "I do not know when I shall be ripe for beginning 'Ethology.' The scheme has not assumed any definite shape with me yet." In fact, it never came to anything; and he seems shortly to have dropped thinking of it. I do not believe there was anything to be got in the direction that he was looking. He was all his life possessed of the idea that differences of character, individual and national, were due to accidents and circumstances that might possibly be, in part, controlled; on this doctrine rested his chief hope in the future. He would not allow that human beings at birth are so very different as they afterward turn out.

His failure with "Ethology" fatally interfered with the larger project, which I have no doubt he entertained, of executing a work on Sociology as a whole. The opinion was long afloat in London that he had such a work in view; but I do not think he ever said so; it was not his way to give out what he was engaged upon, at least before making himself sure of going through with it. That he despaired, for the present at least, of making anything out of "Ethology," at the time I refer to, is proved by his betaking himself soon after to the composition of his "Political Economy."

I have now disposed of all my memoranda relating to 1842 and 1843. The beginning of 1844 saw the publication of the article on Michelet to which I have adverted. In a letter dated 8th of January, I find this upon Beneke: "I am reading a German professor's book on Logic—Beneke is his name—which he has sent to me after reading mine, and which had previously been recommended to me by Austin and by Herschel as in accordance with the spirit of my doctrines. It is so in some degree, though far more psychological than entered into my plans. Though I think much of his psychology unsound for want of his having properly grasped the principle of association (he comes very close to it now and then), there is much of it of a suggestive kind."

From the Comte letters it appears that he had another relapse of his indisposition at this time. Comte earnestly urges him to try a change of climate—Naples or Lisbon—to fortify him for the next few years against "le séjour spleenique de Londres," "What is the opinion, I do not say of your doctors, whom you have little faith in, but of those of your friends who are biologists?"

I passed three months in London in the summer of 1844, and saw him frequently as before. I have no special recollections of his work this summer. In the autumn he took his long-deferred holiday, and was absent from London two months. He came back quite recruited, and in the course of the winter wrote his admirable article on "The Claims of Labor," which appeared in the "Edinburgh" in the following spring.

I had several letters from him in the winter of 1844-'45, but they say little about himself. He remarks of the review of his "Logic" in the "Eclectic Review," that the reviewer differs from him on the Syllogism which he understands, and agrees with him on the rest of the book without seeming to understand it. He announces with satisfaction, as a most important conquest for Comte, the appearance of Littré's papers in the "National" newspaper. This, however, was immediately followed by his renewed and final exclusion from the Polytechnic examinership; for which one resource was suggested—to start a Positive Review; a scheme that bulks largely in the correspondence for some months, and receives from Mill a qualified support. In March, 1845, he writes to me: "Have you seen Ward's book, 'The Ideal,' etc.? It is a remarkable book in every way, and not the least so because it quotes and puffs me in every chapter, and Comte occasionally, though with deep lamentations over our irreligion." The Comte correspondence shows that he had written to Comte informing him of Mr. Ward's allusions. Comte is very much flattered, and thinks the compliments deserved, because of the justice he had rendered to Catholicism (p. 323).

The summer of 1845 was marked by an interesting incident. In June the British Association met at Cambridge, Sir John Herschel in the chair. I was at the meeting, and listened to Herschel's address. One notable feature in it was the allusion to the recent works on the "Logic of Science," by Whewell and Mill especially, on both of whom Sir John bestowed high encomiums. He also mentioned Comte, but in a very different strain. There was, I remember, a good deal of buzz among Mill's friends that were present, at this unexpected mention 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, but they had now resumed their footing of intimacy. Grote was living chiefly in the country, but when he came into town he made a point of arranging walks and talks with Mill. From the time of my introduction to Grote, I was usually asked to join them. I remember well our first meeting at the London Library, and subsequent walk in Hyde Park. Their conversation took an exceptional turn; how it came I can not exactly remember, but they went over all the leaders of the Reformation, discussing their several characteristics. The subject was not one that either was specially informed upon. As Grote was then on the eve of bringing out the first two volumes of his "History," this was a natural topic; but much more so, after the volumes were out. But Grote was never satisfied if we parted without coming across some question in metaphysics or philosophy. Although his time was mainly given to the "History," he always refreshed his mind at intervals with some philosophic reading or meditation, and had generally a nut to crack when we came together. Plato and Aristotle were never long out of his hands; he was also an assiduous reader of all works on science, especially if they involved the method of science; but the book that was now oftenest in his hands, in the intervals of work, was Mill's "Logic." I doubt if any living man conned and thumbed the book as he did. "John Mill's 'Logic,'" I remember his saying, "is the best book in my library." He had not the same high opinion of any of Mill's other books. He was himself one of nature's logicians; he was a thoroughgoing upholder of the Experience-philosophy, and Mill's "Logic" completely satisfied him on this head. Often and often did he recur to the arguments in favor of a priori truth, and he was usually full of fresh and ingenious turns of reply. It was only in Mill that he could find a talker to his mind in this region, as in philosophy generally. Equally intense was his devotion to utility as the basis of morals, and still more varied was his elucidation and defense of the principle; on that topic also he had few that he could declare his whole mind to, and this was another bond of attraction to Mill. Toward himself, on the other side, Mill had an almost filial affection, and generally gave him the earliest intimation of his own plans; but, much as he loved Grote's company, his movements were under the control of a still greater power. Notwithstanding their wide agreement, and numerous bonds of sympathy from this cause, as well as from long intimacy, Grote had always a certain misgiving as to his persistence in the true faith. He would say to me, "Much as I admire John Mill, my admiration is always mixed with fear," meaning that he never knew what unexpected turn Mill might take. This I regarded as an exaggeration due to Grote's gloomy temperament, as well as to the shock of the "Bentham" and "Coleridge" articles; and to Mill's consequent making himself at home with Maurice, Sterling, and Carlyle, with whom Grote never could have the smallest sympathy.

The first opinion held by both that I found occasion to controvert, in those early conversations, was the Helvetius doctrine of the natural equality of human beings in regard of capacity. I believe I induced Grote at last to relax very considerably on the point; but Mill never accommodated his views, as I thought, to the facts. With all his wide knowledge of the human constitution and of human beings, this region of observation must have been to him an utter blank.

This summer (1845) produced the article on Guizot, the last of his series on the French historians (apart from Comte). It seems to have been a great success, even in the point of view of the old "Edinburgh Review" connection, to which it was often an effort to accommodate himself. Jeffrey ("Napier Correspondence," p. 492) is unusually elated with it: "a very remarkable paper," "passages worthy of Macaulay," "the traces of a vigorous and discursive intellect." He did not then know the author; when made aware of the fact, he adds, "Though I have long thought highly of his powers as a reasoner, I scarcely gave him credit for such large and sound views of realities and practical results," The reader will remember that the most prominent topic is the Feudal System.

We are now at the commencement of the "Political Economy," which dates from the autumn of this year. The failure of the "Ethology" as a portal to a complete sociology left the way clear for this other project, at a time when his energy was still up to great things. Indoctrinated as he was from babyhood in the subject, and having written on it in articles and discussed it, both in private and in the Political Economy Club, with all the experts of the time, it seemed to offer a fine field for his expository powers. Add to which, he found he could attach to it his views as to the great social questions; although, it must be allowed, the bond of connection was somewhat loose, and the larger sociology would have been a more fitting occasion for such wide-reaching topics.

In a letter dated February, 1846, he announces that the third part of the "Political Economy" is written. He says, in the "Autobiography," that it was the most rapidly written of any of his books; which showed that the subject had been well matured. He turned aside to write an article for the "Edinburgh" on French politics, the text being a series of political papers by Charles Duveyrier. Louis Philippe was now at the height of his prosperity; but the political system was very unsatisfactory: and Mill returned for a little to his old interest in France, and discussed in his usual style the workings of the constitutional system, its weakness and its remedies. His author —a calm, clear-sighted reasoner—put much stress upon a second Chamber made up of old officials, and Mill sympathizes with his object in desiring a counterpoise to democracy; but remarks, with his usual acuteness, "It is not the uncontrolled ascendancy of popular power, but of any power, which is formidable." The article came out in April, 1846. It appears that the editor thought fit to omit a passage controverting the prevailing notion of the warlike propensity of the French. Mill wished the passage had been retained: "The opinion is a very old and firm one with me, founded on a good deal of personal observation." He adds, "The 'Edinburgh' has lately been sometimes very unjust to the French." He further interrupted the "Political Economy" to write his review of Grote's first two volumes, which appeared in the "Edinburgh" in October. This was, in every sense, a labor of love—love of the subject, love of the author, and admiration of the work. Writing in September, he says: "I have just corrected the proof of my review of Grote, in which I have introduced no little of the Comtean philosophy of religion. Altogether I like the thing, though I wrote it in exactly four days, and rewrote it in three more, but I had to read and think a good deal for it first." His reading, I remember, included the whole of the Iliad and Odyssey, for the sake of the Homeric discussion in which he perilously ventured to differ somewhat from Grote. There was no man whose opinion Grote was more sensitive to, but the objections raised did not alter his views. In deference to Mill, he made some slight changes in the next edition. One, I remember, was to leave out of the preface the words "feminine" and "masculine," as a figurative expression of the contrast of the artistic and scientific sides of the Greek mind. Mill could never endure the differences of character between men and women to be treated as a matter of course.

In the letter above quoted, he announces that he has "got on well with the 'Pol. Ec' I am on the point of finishing the third book (Exchange)." He was now beginning his hardest winter, after 1842-'43. It was the winter of the Irish famine, and he thought he saw an opportunity for a grand regenerating operation in Ireland. He began in the "Morning Chronicle" a series of leading articles, urging the reclamation of the waste land to be converted into peasant properties, and iterated all the facts showing the potency of the proprietary feeling in strengthening the disposition to industry. In the months of October, November, December, and January, he wrote two or three leaders a week on this topic; we used to call these, in the language of the medical schools, his "Clinical Lectures." He was pushing on the "Political Economy" at the same time. Moreover, a letter to his brother James (2d November) shows that he was laboring under illness— "had been ill, now better, but still a bad cold." In the middle of November he wrote that the articles "have excited a good deal of notice, and have quite snatched the initiative out of the 'Times.' He adds: "It is a capital thing to have the power of writing leaders in the 'Chronicle' whenever I like, which I can always do. The paper has tried for years to get me to write to it, but it has not suited me to do it before, except once in six months or so." On the 28th of December, he says: "I continue to carry on the 'Pol. Econ.' as well as I can with the articles in the 'Chronicle.' These last I may a little slacken now, having in a great measure, as far as may be judged by appearances, carried my point, viz., to have the waste lands reclaimed and parceled out in small properties among the best part of the peasantry." In another month he changes his tune. On the 27th January (1847) he writes: "You will have seen by this time how far the Ministry are from having adopted any of my conclusions about Ireland, though Lord J. Russell subscribes openly to almost all the premises. I have little hope left. The tendency of their measures seems to me such that they can only bring about good to Ireland by excess of evil. I have so indoctrinated the 'Chronicle' writers with my ideas on Ireland that they are now going on very well and spiritedly without me, which enables me to work much at the 'Political Economy,' to my own satisfaction. The last thing I did for the 'Chronicle' was a thorough refutation, in three long articles, of Crocker's article on the Division of Property in France." Two months later, he announced that the first draft of the "Political Economy" was finished. As to public affairs: "The people are all mad, and nothing will bring them to their senses but the terrible consequences they are certain to bring on themselves, as shown in Whately's speech yesterday in the House of Lords—the only sensible speech yet made in either House on the question. Fontenelle said that mankind must pass through all forms of error before arriving at truth. The form of error we are now possessed by is that of making all take care of each, instead of stimulating and helping each to take care of himself; and now this is going to be put to a terrible trial, which will bring it to a crisis and a termination sooner than could otherwise have been hoped for."

Before passing from this memorable winter, I may mention that Liebig, in a reprint of his "Animal Chemistry," handsomely repaid the notice taken of his researches in the "Logic," saying of his amended views that "he feels that he can claim no other merit than that of having applied to some special cases, and carried out further than had previously been done those principles of research in natural science which have been laid down" in Mill's book. Mill exultingly remarked: "The tree may be known by its fruits. Schelling and Hegel have done nothing of the kind."

Before arriving in London this year, I had another letter (5th of May). He delays to commence rewriting till he sees the upshot of the Irish business. "The conduct of the Ministers is wretched beyond measure upon all subjects; nothing but the meanest truckling at a time when a man with a decided opinion could carry almost anything triumphantly." I saw him as usual during the summer, but do not remember any incidents of importance. Grote was in town for several weeks on the publication of his third and fourth volumes, which was a new excitement. I went down to Scotland in the autumn, but having no longer any teaching-appointment there, I returned to London in November, and entered the Government service, and was therefore in constant residence until I saw fit to resign in 1850. For this interval, I have not the advantage of possessing any letters from Mill, and can only give a few scattered recollections of the more impressive occurrences.

The "Political Economy" was published in the beginning of 1848. I am not about to criticise the work, as I mean to do the subsequent writings, but I have a few remarks to make upon it. One modification in the laying out of the subject he owes, as I have already said, to Comte's sociological distinction into Statics and Dynamics. This is shown in the commencement of the fifth book, entitled "The Influence of the Progress of Society in Production and Distribution." I can believe, although I am not a political economist, that this distinction may have been as useful in political economy as in politics. He spoke of it to me at the time as a great improvement.

But what I remember most vividly of his talk pending the publication of the work, was his expectation of a tremendous outcry about his doctrines on property. He frequently spoke of his proposals as to inheritance and bequest, which, if carried out, would pull down all large fortunes in two generations. To his surprise, however, this part of the book made no sensation at all. I can not now undertake to assign the reason. Probably people thought it the dream of a future too distant to affect the living; or else that the views were too wild and revolutionary to be entertained. One thing strikes me in the chapter on property. In section 3, he appears to intimate that the children even of the wealthy should be thrown upon their own exertions for the difference between a bare individual maintenance and what would be requisite to support a family; while in the next section he contemplates "a great multiplication of families in easy circumstances, with the advantage of leisure, and all the real enjoyments which wealth can give, except those of vanity." The first case would be met by from two to five hundred pounds a year; the second supposes from one to two thousand. The whole speculation seems to me inadequately worked out. The question of the existence of large fortunes is necessarily a very complex one; and I should like that he had examined it fully, which I do not think he ever did.

His views of the elevation of the working-classes on Malthusian principles have been much more widely canvassed. But there is still a veil of ambiguity over his meaning. Mai thus himself, and some of his followers, such as Thomas Chalmers, regarded late marriages as the proper means of restricting numbers; an extension to the lower classes of the same prudence that maintains the position of the upper and middle classes. Mill prescribes a further pitch of self-denial, the continence of married couples. At least, such is the more obvious interpretation to be put upon his language. It was the opinion of many, that while his estimate of pure sentimental affection was more than enough, his estimate of the sexual passion fell a good deal below the truth.

The strong leanings toward some form of socialism, indicated in the "Autobiography," would have led us to believe that his opinions nearly coincided with those of the Socialists commonly so called. The recent publication of his first draft of a projected essay on the subject shows the wide gulf that still separated him and them. The obstacles to the realizing of socialistic schemes could not be more forcibly expressed. Above all, the great stress that he always put upon individuality would be almost impossible to reconcile with the constructions of Fourier, Owen, Louis Blanc, and the American communities. His socialism is thus to be the outcome of a remote future, when human beings shall have made a great stride in moral education, or, as Mr, Spencer would express it, have evolved a new and advanced phase of altruism.

The publication of the "Political Economy" was followed by another very serious break-down in his health. In the summer of 1848, an affection of the thigh (I am not sure whether it began in a hurt) was treated by his doctor with iodine; the consequence of which was a speedy impairment of his eyesight. I remember him in a state of despair from the double misery of lameness and blindness. His elasticity of constitution brought him through once more; but in the following year (1849) he was still in an invalid condition. I introduced to him that year Dr. Thomas Clark, of Marischal College, himself a permanent invalid from overwork, who spoke a good deal to him about regimen, and endeavored to induce him to try the water-treatment, then just started. He was, however, not to be moved from his accustomed routine. His view of the medical art (at the time I speak of) was, that it should restore a shattered frame by something like magic. In other respects, his intercourse with Clark gratified him much, and led to a permanent friendship.


His work, as a great originator, in my opinion, was now done. The two books now before the world were the great constructions that his accumulated stores had prepared him for; and I do not think that there lay in him the materials of a third at all approaching to these. It is very unlikely indeed that he was even physically capable of renewing the strain of the two winters—1842-'43 and 1846-'47. His subsequent years were marked by diminished labors on the whole; while the direction of these labors was toward application, exposition, and polemic rather than origination; and he was more and more absorbed in the outlook for social improvements. Not that his later writings are deficient in stamina or in value; as sources of public instruction and practical guidance in the greatest interests of society, they will long hold their place. But it was not within the compass of his energies to repeat the impression made by him in 1843 and again in 1848. We must remember that all through his severest struggles, he had a public official duty, and spent six hours every day in the air of Leadenhall Street; and although he always affected to make light of this, or even to treat the office-work as a refreshing change from study, yet when his constitution was once broken, it would tell upon him more than his peculiar theories of health and work would let him confess.

In another article, I propose to review the writings subsequent to the date now reached.

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  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."