Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/July 1873/John Stuart Mill

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 3 July 1873  (1873) 
John Stuart Mill
PSM V03 D380 John Stuart Mill.jpg
john stuart mill


JOHN STUART MILL, the great English philosopher, is no more. He was born in London, May 20, 1806, and was consequently near sixty-seven years old at the time of his death. His father was James Mill, a man of philosophical intellect and wide attainments, and author of two celebrated works, "The History of British India," and "The Phenomena of the Human Mind." Instead of being sent to school, the son was carefully educated at home under his father's supervision, and in accordance with his ideas. His early education was thoroughly classical, and he was led into the paths of philosophical inquiry in which his father was distinguished. The elder Mill had long been employed in the service of the East India House, and, in 1823, when the son was seventeen years old, his father secured for him a position in the same establishment, which he continued to hold for 35 years. He thus early came in possession of more than a competence, and with abundant leisure to cultivate the rare resources of his mind, and to take his place as a leader of modern thought. While yet a very young man, he contributed various essays of a bold and thoughtful character to the Edinburgh and Westminster Reviews, and, some years later, he became editor and proprietor of the latter periodical. In 1843, when he was thirty-eight years old, he published the great work which established his world-wide reputation, "The System of Logic;" and, in 1848, appeared his elaborate treatise, "The Principles of Political Economy." In 1851, at the age of forty-five, he married Harriet, daughter of Thomas Hardy, Esq., and widow of John Taylor, a London merchant. His wife died at Avignon, in the south of France, in 1858. She was buried there, and her husband raised a monument to her memory, and has since resided there much of his time. He also died at Avignon, and rests in the tomb beside his beloved wife. In 1859 appeared his "Essay on Liberty," and his "Discussions and Dissertations" in 1860. In 1865, when in his sixtieth year, Mr. Mill was elected to Parliament from the district of Westminster, in London, and he was again a candidate, in 1868, in the constituency of Westminster, but was beaten by a rich Tory news-dealer. His work entitled "Considerations on Representative Government" appeared in 1861, and that on "Utilitarianism" in 1863. The work upon which his reputation as a metaphysician will chiefly rest is "The Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy," published in 1865. In 1869 appeared his little book on the "Subjection of Woman," and his last production, a review of Grote's unfinished "Aristotle," appeared in the Fortnightly Review for January of the present year.

In personal appearance Mr. Mill was slight in form, of medium height, somewhat stooping, with a bald head and a conspicuous wen on the left side of the forehead. His small gray eyes were penetrating and restless, and the nose aquiline and prominent. He had thin, compressed lips, with a very decided but agreeable expression of mouth. His face was clean-shaven and bloodless, and he had a perpetual nervous movement—a sort of twitching of the lips and eyes. His manners were unassuming and agreeable, but somewhat diffident and constrained. There was a nervous uncertainty in his movements which at first suggested lameness. He had a thin, weak voice, and spoke at times with a partial stammer. Although no orator, he was a clear, self-possessed, and forcible public speaker, who relied upon argument rather than rhetoric to impress his hearers. In temperament he was far from being the cold, intellectual machine which the readers of his "Logic" might suppose him to be. His nature was sympathetic, and capable of strong attachments, and he could hate his enemies as well as love his friends.

The following sketches and estimates of Mr. Mill's career and character are from the London Examiner, which issued a memorial number. Some of the minor contributions have been omitted, and others slightly condensed; but those herewith published form a very valuable summary of Mr. Mill's traits and labors.


James Mill was living in a house at Pentonville when his son was born; and, partly because of the peculiar abilities that the boy displayed from the first, partly because he could not afford to procure for him elsewhere such teaching as he was able himself to give him, he took his education entirely into his own hands. With what interest—even jealous interest, it would seem—Bentham watched that education, appears from a pleasant little letter addressed to him by the elder Mill in 1812. "I am not going to die," he wrote, "notwithstanding your zeal to come in for a legacy. However, if I were to die any time before this poor boy is a man, one of the things that would pinch me most sorely would be the being obliged to leave his mind unmade to the degree of excellence of which I hope to make it. But another thing is, that the only prospect which would lessen that pain would be the leaving him in your hands. I, therefore, take your offer quite seriously, and stipulate merely that it shall be made as soon as possible, and then we may perhaps leave him a successor worthy of both of us." It was a bold hope, but one destined to be fully realized. At the time of its utterance, the "poor boy" was barely more than six years old. The intellectual powers of which he gave such early proof were carefully, but apparently not excessively, cultivated. Mrs. Grote, in her lately-published "Personal Life of George Grote," has described him as he appeared in 1817, the year in which her husband made the acquaintance of his father: "John Stuart Mill, then a boy of about twelve years old"—he was really only eleven—"was studying, with his father as his sole preceptor, under the paternal roof. Unquestionably forward for his years, and already possessed of a competent knowledge of Greek and Latin, as well as of some subordinate though solid attainments, John was, as a boy, somewhat repressed by the elder Mill, and seldom took any share in the conversation carried on by the society frequenting the house." It is, perhaps, not strange that a boy of eleven, at any rate a boy who was to become so modest a man, should not take much part in general conversation, and Mr. Mill himself never, in referring to his father, led his hearers to suppose that he had, as a child, been in any way unduly repressed by him. The tender affection with which he always cherished his father's memory in no way sanctions the belief that he was at any time subjected to unreasonable discipline. By him his father was only revered as the best and kindest of teachers.

The lad was, in the summer of 1820, sent to France for a year and a half. For several months he lived in Paris, in the house of Jean Baptiste Say, the political economist. The rest of his time was passed in the company of Sir Samuel Bentham, Jeremy Bentham's brother. Early in 1822, before he was eighteen, he returned to London, soon to enter the India Office as a clerk in the department of which his father was chief. In that office he remained for five-and-thirty years, acquitting himself with great ability, and gradually rising to the most responsible position that could be held there by a subordinate.

But, though he was thus early started in life as a city-clerk, his self-training and his education by his father were by no means abandoned. The ancient and modern languages, as well as the various branches of philosophy and philosophical thought in which he was afterward to attain such eminence, were studied by him in the early mornings, under the guidance of his father, before going down to pass his days in the India Office. During the summer evenings, and on such holidays as he could get, he began those pedestrian exploits for which he afterward became famous, and in which his main pleasure appears to have consisted in collecting plants and flowers in aid of the botanical studies that were his favorite pastime, and something more, all through his life. That he worked early and with wonderful ability in at least one very deep line appears from the fact that, while he was still only a lad, Jeremy Bentham intrusted to him the preparation for the press, and the supplementary annotation, of his "Rationale of Judicial Evidence." That work, for which he was highly commended by its author, published in 1827, contains the first publicly-acknowledged literary work of John Stuart Mill. While he was producing that result of laborious study in a special and intricate subject, his education in all sorts of other ways was continued.

A writer in the Times remarks: "He was, by all accounts, an extraordinary child; and it is within our personal knowledge that he was an extraordinary youth when, in 1824, he took the lead at the London Debating Club in one of the most remarkable collections of 'spirits of the age' that ever congregated for intellectual gladiatorship, he being by two or three years the junior of the clique. The rivalry was rather in knowledge and reasoning than in eloquence; mere declamation was discouraged; and subjects of paramount importance were conscientiously thought out."

Having retired from the India House in 1858, Mr. Mill went to spend the winter in Avignon, in the hope of improving the broken health of the wife to whom he was devotedly attached. He had not been married many years, but Mrs. Mill had been his friend since 1835. During more than twenty years he had been aided by her talents and encouraged by her sympathy in all the work he had undertaken, and to her rare merits he afterward paid more than one tribute in terms that have no equal for the intensity of their language and the depth of affection contained in them. Mrs. Mill's weak state of health seems to have hardly repressed her powers of intellect. By her was written the celebrated essay on "The Enfranchisement of Women" contributed to the Westminster Review, and afterward reprinted in the "Dissertations and Discussions," with a preface avowing that by her Mr. Mill had been greatly assisted in all that he had written for some time previous. But the assistance was to end now. Mrs. Mill died at Avignon, November 3, 1858, and over her grave was placed one of the most pathetic and eloquent epitaphs that have been ever penned. "Her great and loving heart, her noble soul, her clear, powerful, original, and comprehensive intellect," it was there written, "made her the guide and support, the instructor in wisdom, and the example in goodness, as she was the sole earthly delight, of those who had the happiness to belong to her. As earnest for all public good as she was generous and devoted to all who surrounded her, her influence has been felt in many of the greatest improvements of the age, and will be in those still to come. Were there even a few hearts and intellects like hers, this earth would already become the hoped-for heaven." Henceforth, during the fourteen years and a half that were to elapse before he should be laid in the same grave, Avignon was the chosen haunt of Mr. Mill.

Passing much of his time in the modest house that he had bought, that he might be within sight of his wife's tomb, Mr. Mill was also frequently in London, whither he came especially to facilitate the new course of philosophical and political writing on which he entered. He found relief also in excursions, one of which was taken nearly every year, in company with his step-daughter, Miss Helen Taylor, into various parts of Europe. Italy, Switzerland, and many other districts were explored, partly on foot with a keen eye both to the natural features of the localities, especially in furtherance of those botanical studies to which Mr. Mill now returned with the ardor of his youth, and also to their social and political institutions.


In 1823 the illustrious subject of these brief memoirs, then a lad of seventeen, obtained a clerkship under his father. According to the ordinary course of things in those days, the newly-appointed junior would have had nothing to do, except a little abstracting, indexing, and searching or pretending to search into records; but young Mill was almost immediately set to indite dispatches to the governments of the three Indian Presidencies, on what, in India House phraseology, were distinguished as "political" subjects—subjects, that is, for the most part growing out of the relations of the said governments with "native" states or foreign potentates. This continued to be his business almost to the last. In 1828 he was promoted to be Assistant Examiner, and in 1856 he succeeded to the post of Chief Examiner, after which his duty consisted rather in supervising what his Assistants had written than in writing himself; but, for the three-and-twenty years preceding, he had had immediate charge of the Political Department, and had written almost every "political" dispatch of any importance that conveyed the instructions of the merchant princes of Leadenhall Street to their proconsuls in Asia. Of the quality of these documents it is sufficient to say that they were John Mill's; but, in respect to their quantity, it may be worth mentioning that a descriptive catalogue of them completely fills a small quarto volume of between 300 and 400 pages, in their author's handwriting, which now lies before me; also that the share of the Court of Directors in the correspondence between themselves and the Indian governments used to average annually about ten huge vellum-bound volumes, foolscap size, and five or six inches thick, and that of these volumes two a year, for more than than twenty years running, were exclusively of Mill's composition; this, too, at times when he was engaged upon such voluntary work in addition as his "Logic" and "Political Economy."

In 1857 broke out the Sepoy war, and in the following year the East India Company was extinguished in all but the name, its governmental functions being transferred to the crown. That most illustrious of corporations died hard, and with what affectionate loyalty Mill struggled to avert its fate is evidenced by the famous petition to Parliament which he drew up for his old masters, and which opens with the following effective antithesis: "Your petitioners, at their own expense, and by the agency of their own civil and military servants, originally acquired for this country its magnificent empire in the East. The foundations of this empire were laid by your petitioners at that time, neither aided nor controlled by Parliament, at the same period at which a succession of administrations under the control of Parliament, were losing by their incapacity and rashness, another great empire on the opposite side of the Atlantic."

I am fortunate enough to be the possessor of the original MS. of this admirable state paper, which I mention, because I once heard its real authorship denied in that quarter of all others in which it might have been supposed to be least likely to be questioned. On one of the last occasions of the gathering together of the proprietors of East India stock, I could scarcely believe my ears, when one of the directtors, alluding to the petition, spoke of it as having been written by a certain other official who was sitting by his side, adding after a moment's pause, "with the assistance as he understood, of Mr. Mill," likewise present. As soon as the court broke up, I burst into Mill's room, boiling over with indignation, and exclaiming, "What an infamous shame!" and no doubt adding a good deal more than followed in natural sequence on such an exordium. "What's the matter?" replied Mill, as soon as he could get a word in, "M——(the director) was quite right. The petition was the joint work of —— and myself." "How can you be so perverse?" I retorted. "You know that I know you wrote every word of it." "No," rejoined Mill, "you are mistaken; one whole line on the second page was put in by——."

The nearest approach made, throughout our intercourse, to any thing of an unpleasant character, was about the time of his retirement from the India House. Talking over that one day, with two or three of my colleagues, I said it would not do to let Mill go without receiving some permanently visible token of our regard. The motion was no sooner made than it was carried by acclamation. Every member of the Examiner's office — for we jealously insisted on confining the affair to ourselves — came tendering his subscription, scarcely waiting to be asked; in half an hour's time some £50 or £60 — I forget the exact sum — was collected, which, in due course, was invested in a superb silver inkstand, designed by our friend Digby Wyatt, and manufactured by Messrs. Elkington. Before it was ready, however, an unexpected trouble arose. In some way or other, Mill had got wind of our proceeding, and, coming to me in consequence, began almost to upbraid me as its originator. I had never before seen him so angry. He hated all such demonstrations, he said, and was quite resolved not to be made the subject of them. He was sure they were never altogether genuine or spontaneous. There were always several persons who took part in them, merely because they did not like to refuse, and in short, whatever we might do, he would have none of it. In vain I represented how eagerly everybody, without exception, had come forward; that we had now gone too far to recede; that if he would not take the inkstand, we should be utterly at a loss what to do with it, and that I myself should be in a specially embarrassing position. Mill was not to be moved. This was a question of principle, and on principle he could not give way. There was nothing left, therefore, but resort to a species of force. I arranged with Messrs. Elkington that our little testimonial should be taken down to Mr. Mill's house at Blackheath, by one of their men, who, after leaving it with the servant, should hurry away without waiting for an answer. This plan succeeded, but I have always suspected, though she never told me so, that its success was mainly due to Miss Helen Taylor's good offices. But for her, the inkstand would almost certainly have been returned, instead of being promoted, as it eventually was, to a place of honor in her own and her father's drawing-room.


To dilate upon Mr. Mill's achievements, and to insist upon the wideness of his influence over the thought of his time, and consequently over the actions of his time, seem to me scarcely needful. The facts are sufficiently obvious; and are recognized by all who know any thing about the progress of opinion during the last half-century. My own estimate of him, intellectually considered, has been emphatically, though briefly, given on an occasion of controversy between us, by expressing my regret at "having to contend against the doctrine of one whose agreement I should value more than that of any other thinker."

While, however, it is almost superfluous to assert of him that intellectual height so generally admitted, there is more occasion for drawing attention to a moral elevation that is less recognized, partly because his activities in many directions afforded no occasion for exhibiting it, and partly because some of its most remarkable manifestations in conduct are known only to those whose personal relations with him have called them forth. I feel especially prompted to say something on this point, because, where better things might have been expected, there has been, not only a grudging recognition of intellectual rank, but a marked blindness to those fine traits of character which, in the valuation of men, must go for more than superiority of intelligence.

It might, indeed, have been supposed that even those who never enjoyed the pleasure of personal acquaintance with Mr. Mill, would have been impressed with the nobility of his nature as indicated in his opinions and deeds. How entirely his public career has been determined by a pure and strong sympathy for his fellow-men––how entirely this sympathy has subordinated all desires for personal advantage––how little even the fear of being injured in reputation or position has deterred him from taking the course which he thought equitable or generous––ought to be manifest to every antagonist, however bitter. A generosity that might almost be called romantic was obviously the feeling prompting sundry of those courses of action which have been commented upon as errors. And nothing like a true conception of him can be formed unless, along with dissent from them, there goes recognition of the fact that they resulted from the eagerness of a noble nature, impatient to rectify injustice, and to further human welfare.

It may, therefore, perhaps, be that my own perception of this pervading warmth of feeling has been sharpened by seeing it exemplified, not in the form of expressed opinions only, but in the form of private actions. For Mr. Mill was not one of those who, to sympathy with their fellow-men in the abstract, join indifference to them in the concrete. There came from him generous acts that corresponded with his generous sentiments. I say this not from second-hand knowledge, but having in mind a remarkable example known only to myself and a few friends. I have hesitated whether to give this example; seeing that it has personal implications. But it affords so clear an insight into Mr. Mill's character, and shows so much more vividly than any description could do how fine were the motives swaying his conduct, that I think the occasion justifies disclosure of it.

Some seven years ago, after bearing as long as was possible the continued losses entailed on me by the publication of the "System of Philosophy," I notified to the subscribers that I should be obliged to cease at the close of the volume then in progress. Shortly after the issue of this announcement, I received from Mr. Mill a letter, in which, after expressions of regret, and after naming a plan which he wished to prosecute for reimbursing me, he went on to say: "In the next place .... what I propose is, that you should write the next of your treatises, and that I should guarantee the publisher against loss, i. e., should engage, after such length of time as may be agreed on, to make good any deficiency that may occur, not exceeding a given sum, that sum being such as the publisher may think sufficient to secure him." Now, though these arrangements were of kinds that I could not bring myself to yield to, they none the less profoundly impressed me with Mr. Mill's nobility of feeling, and his anxiety to further what he regarded as a beneficial end. Such proposals would have been remarkable even had there been entire agreement of opinion. But they were the more remarkable as being made by him under the consciousness that there existed between us certain fundamental differences, openly avowed. I had, both directly and by implication, combated that form of the experiential theory of human knowledge which characterizes Mr. Mill's philosophy; in upholding Realism, I had opposed, in decided ways, those metaphysical systems to which his own Idealism was closely allied; and we had long carried on a controversy respecting the test of truth, in which I had similarly attacked Mr. Mill's positions in an outspoken manner. That under such circumstances he should have volunteered his aid, and urged it upon me, as he did, on the ground that it would not imply any personal obligation, proved in him a very exceptional generosity.

Quite recently I have seen afresh illustrated this fine trait this ability to bear with unruffled temper and without any diminution of kindly feeling the publicly-expressed antagonism of a friend. The last evening I spent at his house was in the company of another invited guest, who, originally agreeing with him entirely on certain disputed questions, had some fortnight previously displayed his change of view––nay, had publicly criticised some of Mr. Mill's positions in a very undisguised manner. Evidently, along with his own unswerving allegiance to truth, there was in Mr. Mill an unusual power of appreciating in others a like conscientiousness; and so of suppressing any feeling of irritation produced by difference––suppressing it not in appearance only, but in reality; and that, too, under the most trying circumstances.

I should say, indeed, that Mr. Mill's general characteristic, emotionally considered, was an unusual predominance of the higher sentiments––a predominance which tended, perhaps, both in theory and practice, to subordinate the lower nature unduly. That rapid advance of age which has been conspicuous for some years past, and which doubtless prepared the way for his somewhat premature death, may, I think, be regarded as the outcome of a theory of life which made learning and working the occupations too exclusively considered. But, when we ask to what ends he acted out this theory, and in so doing too little regarded his bodily welfare, we see that even here the excess, if such we call it, was a noble one. Extreme desire to further human welfare was that to which he sacrificed himself.


If we would have a just idea of any man's character, we should view it from as many points and under as many aspects as we can. The side-lights thrown by the lesser occupations of a life are often very strong, and bring out its less obvious parts into startling prominence. Much especially is to be learned of character by taking into consideration the employment of times of leisure or relaxation, the occupation of such hours being due almost solely to the natural bent of the individual, without the interfering action of necessity or expediency. Most men, perhaps especially eminent men, have a "hobby," some absorbing object, the pursuit of which forms the most natural avocation of their mind, and to which they turn with the certainty of at least satisfaction, if not of exquisite pleasure. The man who follows any branch of natural science in this way is almost always especially happy in its prosecution, and his mental powers are refreshed and invigorated for the more serious and engrossing, if less congenial, occupation of his life. Mr. Mill's hobby was practical field botany; surely in all ways one very well suited to him.

Of the tens of thousands who are acquainted with the philosophical writings of Mr. Mill, there are probably few beyond the circle of his personal friends who are aware that he was also an author in a modest way on botanical subjects, and a keen searcher after wild plants. His short communications on botany were chiefly, if not entirely, published in a monthly magazine called the Phytologist, edited from its commencement in 1841 by the late George Luxford till his death in 1854, and afterward conducted by Mr. A. Irvine, of Chelsea, an intimate friend of Mr. Mill's, till its discontinuance in 1863. In the early numbers of this periodical especially will be found frequent notes and short papers on the facts of plant distribution brought to light by Mr. Mill during his botanical rambles. His excursions were chiefly in the county of Surrey, and especially in the neighborhood of Guildford and the beautiful vale of the Sittingbourne, where he had the satisfaction of being the first to notice several plants of interest, as Polygonum dumetorum, Isatis tinctoria, and Impatiens fulva, an American species of balsam, affording a very remarkable example of complete naturalization in the Wey and other streams connected with the lower course of the Thames. Mr. Mill says he first observed this interloper in 1822, at Albury, a date which probably marks about the commencement of his botanical investigations, if not that of the first notice of the plant in this country. Mr. Mill's copious MS. lists of observations in Surrey were subsequently forwarded to the late Mr. Salmon of Godalming, and have been since published with the large collection of facts made by that botanist in the "Flora of Surrey," printed under the auspices of the Holmesdale (Reigate) Natural History Club. Mr. Mill also contributed to the same scientific magazine some short notes on Hampshire botany, and is believed to have helped in the compilation of Mr. G. G. Mill's "Catalogue of the Plants of Great Marlow, Bucks."

During his frequent and latterly prolonged residence at Avignon, Mr. Mill, carrying on his botanical observations, had become very well acquainted with the vegetation of the district, and, at the time of his death, had collected a mass of notes and observations on the subject. It is believed to have been his intention to have printed these as the foundation of a flora of Avignon.

In the slight contributions to the literature of botany made by Mr. Mill, there is nothing which gives any inkling of the great intellectual powers of their writer. Though always clear and accurate, they are merely such notes as any working botanical collector is able to supply in abundance. Mainly content with the pursuit as an out-door occupation, with such an amount of home-work as was necessary to determine the names and affinities of the species, Mr. Mill never penetrated deeply into the philosophy of botany, so as to take rank among those who have, like Herbert Spencer, advanced that science by original work either of experience or generalization, or have entered into the battlefield where the great biological questions of the day are being fought over. The writer of this notice well remembers meeting, a few years since, the (at that time) parliamentary logician, with his trousers turned up out of the mud, and armed with the tin insignia of his craft, busily occupied in the search after a marsh-loving rarity in a typical spongy wood on the clay to the north of London.

But, however followed, the investigation of Nature cannot fail to influence the mind in the direction of a more just appreciation of the necessity of system in arrangement, and of the principles which must regulate all attempts to express notions of system in a classification. Traces of this are not difficult to find in Mr. Mill's writings. It may be safely stated that the chapters on classification in the "Logic" would not have taken the form they have had not the writer been a naturalist as well as a logician. The views expressed so clearly in these chapters are chiefly founded on the actual needs experienced by the systematic botanist, and the argument is largely sustained by references to botanical systems and arrangements. Most botanists agree with Mr. Mill in his objections to Dr. Whewell's views of a natural classification by resemblance to "types" instead of in accordance with well-selected characters; and, indeed, the whole of these chapters are well deserving the careful study of naturalists, notwithstanding that the wonderfully rapid progress in recent years of new ideas, lying at the very root of all the natural sciences, may be thought by some to give the whole argument, in spite of its logical excellence, a somewhat antiquated flavor.


It was in his earlier life, when his enthusiasm for knowledge was fresh, and his active mind, "all as hungry as the sea," was reaching out eagerly and strenuously to all sorts of food for thought, literary, philosophical, and political, that Mr. Mill set himself, among other things, to study and theorize upon poetry and the arts generally. He could hardly have failed to know the most recent efflorescence of English poetry, living as he did in circles where the varied merits of the new poets were largely and keenly discussed. He had lived also for some time in France, and was widely read in French poetry. He had never passed through the ordinary course of Greek and Latin at school and college, but he had been taught by his father to read these languages, and had been accustomed from the first to regard their literature as literature, and to read their poetry as poetry. These were probably the main elements of his knowledge of poetry. But it was not his way to dream or otherwise luxuriate over his favorite poets for pure enjoyment. Mr. Mill was not a cultivator of art for art's sake. His was too fervid and militant a soul to lose itself in serene love and culture of the calmly beautiful. He read poetry for the most part with earnest, critical eye, striving to account for it, to connect it with the tendencies of the age; or he read to find sympathy with his own aspirations after heroic energy. He read De Vigny and other French poets of his generation with an eye to their relations to the convulsed and struggling state of France, and because they were compelled by their surroundings to take life au sérieux, and to pursue with all the resources of their art something different from beauty in the abstract. Luxurious passive enjoyment or torpid half-enjoyment must have been a comparatively rare condition of his finely-strung, excitable, and fervid system. I believe that his moral earnestness was too imperious to permit much of this. He was capable, indeed, of the most passionate admiration of beauty, but even that feeling seems to have been interpenetrated by a certain militant apostolic fervor; his love was as the love of a religious soldier for a patron saint, who extends her aid and countenance to him in his wars. I do not mean to say that his mind was in a perpetual glow; I mean only that this surrender to his impassioned transports was more characteristic of the man than serene openness to influx of enjoyment. His "Thoughts on Poetry and its Varieties," while clear and strenuous as most of his thoughts were, are neither scientifically precise, nor do they contain any notable new idea not previously expressed by Coleridge—except, perhaps, the idea that emotions are the main links of association in the poetic mind; still, his working out of the definition of poetry, his distinction between novels and poems, and between poetry and eloquence, is interesting as throwing light upon his own poetic susceptibilities. He holds that poetry is the "delineation of the deeper and more secret workings of human emotion." It is curious to find one, who is sometimes assailed as the advocate of a grovelling philosophy, complaining that the chivalrous spirit has almost disappeared from books of education, that the youth of both sexes of the educated classes are growing up unromantic. "Catechisms," he says, "will be found a poor substitute for the old romances, whether of chivalry or faëry, which, if they did not give a true picture of actual life, did not give a false one, since they did not profess to give any, but (what was much better) filled the youthful imagination with pictures of heroic men, and of what are at least as much wanted––heroic women."

If it is asked why Mr. Mill, with all his width of knowledge and sympathy, has achieved so little of a reputation as a miscellaneous writer, part of the reason no doubt is, that he sternly repressed his desultory tendencies and devoted his powers to special branches of knowledge, attaining in them a distinction that obscured his other writings. Another reason is, that, although his style is extremely clear, he was for popular purposes dangerously familiar with terms belonging more or less to the schools. He employed these in literary generalizations, without remembering that they were not equally familiar to his readers; and thus general readers, like Tom Moore, or the author of the recent notice in the Times, who read more for amusement than instruction, were disposed to consider Mr. Mill's style "vastly unreadable."


To a savage contemplating a railway-train in motion, the engine would present itself as the master of the situation—the determining cause of the motion and direction of the train. It visibly takes the lead, it looks big and important, and it makes a great noise. Even people a long way up in the scale of civilization are in the habit of taking these attributes, perhaps not as the essential ones of leadership, but at all events as those by which a leader may be recognized. Still, that blustering machine, which puffs and snorts, and drags a vast multitude in its wake, is moving along a track determined by a man hidden away from the public gaze. A line of rail lies separated from an adjacent one, the pointsman moves a handle, and the foaming giant, that would, it may be, have sped on to his destruction and that of the passive crew who follow in his rear, is shunted to another line, running in a different direction and to a more desirable goal.

The great intellectual pointsman of our age—the man who has done more than any other of this generation to give direction to the thought of his contemporaries—has passed away, and we are left to measure the loss to humanity by the result of his labors. Mr. Mill's achievements in both branches of philosophy are such as to give him the foremost place in either. Whether we regard him as an expounder of the philosophy of mind, or the philosophy of society, he is facile princeps. Still it is his work in mental science which will, in our opinion, be in future looked upon as his great contribution to the progress of thought. His work on political economy not only put into thorough repair the structure raised by Adam Smith, Malthus, and Ricardo, but raised it at least one story higher. His inestimable "System of Logic " was a revolution. It hardly needs, of course, to be said that he owed much to his predecessors; that he borrowed from Whewell much of his classification, from Brown the chief lines of his theory of causation, from Sir John Herschel the main principles of the inductive methods. Those who think this a disparagement of his work must have very little conception of the mass of original thought that still remains to Mr. Mill's credit, the great critical power that could gather valuable truths from so many discordant sources, and the wonderful synthetic ability required to weld these and his own contributions into one organic whole.

When Mr. Mill commenced his labors, the only logic recognized was the syllogistic. Reasoning consisted solely, according to the then dominant school, in deducing from general propositions other propositions less general. It was even asserted confidently that nothing more was to be expected—that an inductive logic was impossible. This conception of logical science necessitated some general propositions to start with; and these general propositions being ex hypothesi incapable of being proved from other propositions, it followed that, if they were known to us at all, they must be original data of consciousness. Here was a perfect paradise of question-begging. The ultimate major premiss in every argument being assumed, it could, of course, be fashioned according to the particular conclusion it was called in to prove. Thus an "artificial ignorance," as Locke calls it, was produced, which had the effect of sanctifying prejudice by recognizing so-called necessities of thought as the only bases of reasoning. It is true that outside of the logic of the schools great advances had been made in the rules of scientific investigation; but these rules were not only imperfect in themselves, but their connection with the law of causation was but imperfectly realized, and their true relation to syllogism hardly dreamed of.

Mr. Mill altered all this. He demonstrated that the general type of reasoning is neither from generals to particulars, nor from particulars to generals, but from particulars to particulars. "If from our experience of John, Thomas, etc., who once were living but are now dead, we are entitled to conclude that all human beings are mortal, we might surely, without any logical inconsequence, have concluded at once, from those instances, that the Duke of Wellington is mortal. The mortality of John, Thomas, and others is, after all, the whole evidence we have for the mortality of the Duke of Wellington. Not one iota is added to the proof by interpolating a general proposition." We not only may, according to Mr. Mill, reason from some particular instances to others, but we frequently do so. As, however, the instances which are sufficient to prove one fresh instance must be sufficient to prove a general proposition, it is most convenient to at once infer that general proposition which then becomes a formula according to which (but not from which) any number of particular inferences may be made. The work of deduction is the interpretation of these formula?, and therefore, strictly speaking, is not inferential at all. The real inference was accomplished when the universal proposition was arrived at.

It will easily be seen that this explanation of the deductive process completely turns the tables on the transcendental school. All reasoning is shown to be at bottom inductive. Inductions and their interpretation make up the whole of logic, and to induction accordingly Mr. Mill devoted his chief attention. For the first time induction was treated as the opus magnum of logic, and the fundamental principles of science traced to their inductive origin. It was this, taken with his theory of syllogism, which worked the great change. Both his "System of Logic," and his "Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy," are for the most part devoted to fortifying this position, and demolishing beliefs inconsistent with it. As a systematic psychologist Mr. Mill has not done so much as either Prof. Bain or Mr. Herbert Spencer. The perfection of his method, its application, and the uprooting of prejudices which stood in its way—this was the task to which Mr. Mill applied himself with an ability and success rarely matched and never surpassed.


The task of fairly estimating the value of Mr. Mill's achievements in political economy—and indeed the same remark applies to what he has done in every department of philosophy—is rendered particularly difficult by a circumstance which constitutes their principal merit. The character of his intellectual, no less than of his moral nature, led him to strive to connect his thoughts, whatever was the branch of knowledge at which he labored, with the previously existing body of speculation, to fit them into the same framework, and exhibit them as parts of the same scheme; so that it might be truly said of him that he was at more pains to conceal the originality and independent value of his contributions to the stock of knowledge than most writers are to set forth those qualities in their compositions. As a consequence of this, hasty readers of his works, while recognizing the comprehensiveness of his mind, have sometimes denied its originality; and in political economy in particular he has been frequently represented as little more than an expositor and popularizer of Ricardo. It cannot be denied that there is a show of truth in this representation; about as much as there would be in asserting that Laplace and Herschel were the expositors and popularizers of Newton, or that Faraday performed a like office for Sir Humphrey Davy. In truth, this is an incident of all progressive science. The cultivators in each age may, in a sense, be said to be the interpreters and popularizers of those who have preceded them; and it is in this sense, and in this sense only, that this part can be attributed to Mill. In this respect he is to be strongly contrasted with the great majority of writers on political economy, who, on the strength, perhaps, of a verbal correction, or an unimportant qualification, of a received doctrine, if not on the score of a pure fallacy, would fain persuade us that they have achieved a revolution in economic doctrine, and that the entire science must be rebuilt from its foundation in conformity with their scheme. This sort of thing has done infinite mischief to the progress of economic science; and one of Mill's great merits is that both by example and by precept he steadily discountenanced it. His anxiety to affiliate his own speculations to those of his predecessors is a marked feature in all his philosophical works, and illustrates at once the modesty and comprehensiveness of his mind.

On some points, however, and these points of supreme importance, the contributions of Mill to economic science are very much more than developments—even though we understand that term in its largest sense—of any previous writer. No one can have studied political economy in the works of its earlier cultivators without being struck with the dreariness of the outlook which, in the main, it discloses for the human race. It seems to have been Ricardo's deliberate opinion that a substantial improvement in the condition of the mass of mankind was impossible. He considered it as the normal state of things that wages should be at the minimum requisite to support the laborer in physical health and strength, and to enable him to bring up a family large enough to supply the wants of the labor-market. A temporary improvement, indeed, as the consequence of expanding commerce and growing capital, he saw that there might be; but he held that the force of the principle of population was always powerful enough so to augment the supply of labor as to bring wages ever again down to the minimum point. So completely had this belief become a fixed idea in Ricardo's mind, that he confidently drew from it the consequence that in no case could taxation fall on the laborer, since—living, as a normal state of things, on the lowest possible stipend adequate to maintain him and his family—he would inevitably, he argued, transfer the burden to his employer, and a tax, nominally on wages, would, in the result, become invariably a tax upon profits. On this point Mill's doctrine leads to conclusions directly opposed to Ricardo's, and to those of most preceding economists. And it will illustrate his position, as a thinker, in relation to them, if we note how this result was obtained. Mill neither denied the premises nor disputed the logic of Ricardo's argument: he accepted both; and in particular he recognized fully the force of the principle of population; but he took account of a further premiss which Ricardo had overlooked, and which, duly weighed, led to a reversal of Ricardo's conclusion. The minimum of wages, even such as it exists in the case of the worst-paid laborer, is not the very least sum that human nature can subsist upon; it is something more than this: in the case of all above the worst-paid class it is decidedly more. The minimum is, in truth, not a physical, but a moral minimum, and, as such, is capable of being altered with the changes in the moral character of those whom it affects. In a word, each class has a certain standard of comfort below which it will not consent to live, or, at least to multiply — a standard, however, not fixed, but liable to modification with the changing circumstances of society, and which in the case of a progressive community is, in point of fact, constantly rising, as moral and intellectual influences are brought more and more effectually to bear on the masses of the people. This was the new premiss brought by Mill to the elucidation of the wages question, and it sufficed to change the entire aspect of human life regarded from the point of view of Political Economy. The practical deductions made from it were set forth in the celebrated chapter on "The Future of the Industrial Classes " — a chapter which, it is no exaggeration to say, places a gulf between Mill and all who preceded him, and opens an entirely new vista to economic speculation.

The doctrine of the science with which Mill's name has been most prominently associated, within the last few years, is that which relates to the economic nature of land, and the consequences to which this should lead in practical legislation. It is very commonly believed that on this point Mill has started aside from the beaten highway of economic thought, and propounded views wholly at variance with those generally entertained by orthodox economists. No economist need be told that this is an entire mistake. In truth there is no portion of the economic field in which Mill's originality is less conspicuous than in that which deals with the land. His assertion of the peculiar nature of landed property, and again his doctrine as to the "unearned increment" of value arising from land with the growth of society, are simply direct deductions from Ricardo's theory of rent, and cannot be consistently denied by any one who accepts that theory. All that Mill has done here has been to point the application of principles, all but universally accepted, to the practical affairs of life. This is not the place to consider how far the plan proposed by him for this purpose is susceptible of practical realization; but it may at least be confidently stated that the scientific basis on which his proposal rests is no strange novelty invented by him, but simply a principle as fundamental and widely recognized as any within the range of the science of which it forms a part.

There is one more point which ought not to be omitted from even the most meagre summary. Mill was not the first to treat political economy as a science, but he was the first, if not to perceive, at least to enforce the lesson, that, just because it is a science, its conclusions carried with them no obligatory force with reference to human conduct. As a science it tells us that certain modes of action lead to certain results; but it remains for each man to judge of the value of the results thus brought about, and to decide whether or not it is worth while to adopt the means necessary for their attainment. In the writings of the economists who preceded Mill it is very generally assumed that to prove that a certain course of conduct tends to the most rapid increase of wealth suffices to entail upon all who accept the argument the obligation of adopting the course which leads to this result. Mill absolutely repudiated this inference, and, while accepting the theoretic conclusion, held himself perfectly free to adopt in practice whatever course he preferred. It was not for political economy or for any science to say what are the ends most worthy of being pursued by human beings: the task of science is complete when it shows us the means by which the ends may be attained; but it is for each individual man to decide how far the end is desirable at the cost which its attainment involves. In a word, the sciences should be our servants, and not our masters. This was a lesson which Mill was the first to enforce, and by enforcing which he may be said to have emancipated economists from the thraldom of their own teaching. It is in no slight degree, through the constant recognition of its truth, that he has been enabled to divest of repulsiveness even the most abstract speculations, and to impart a glow of human interest to all that he has touched.


Some time ago, when there was no reason to suppose that we should so soon have to mourn the loss of the great thinker and of the kind friend who has just passed away, I had occasion to remark upon the influence which Mr. Mill had exercised at the universities. I will quote my words as they stand, because it is difficult to write with impartiality about one whose recent death we are deploring; and Mr. Mill would, I am sure, have been the first to say that it is certainly not honoring the memory of one who is dead to lavish upon him praise which would not be bestowed upon him if he were living. I will, therefore, repeat my words exactly as they were written two years since: "Any one who has resided during the last twenty years at either of our universities must have noticed that Mr. Mill is the author who has most powerfully influenced nearly all the young men of the greatest promise." In thus referring to the powerful influence exercised by Mr. Mill's works, I do not wish it to be supposed that this influence is to be measured by the extent to which his books form a part of the university curriculum. His "Logic" has no doubt become a standard examination-book at Oxford. At Cambridge, the Mathematical and Classical Triposes still retain their former prestige. The moral science tripos, though increasing in importance, still attracts a comparatively small number of students, and there is probably no other examination for which it is necessary to read Mr. Mill's "Logic" and "Political Economy." This fact affords the most satisfactory evidence that the influence he has exerted is spontaneous, and is therefore likely to be lasting in its effects. If students had been driven to read his books by the necessity which examinations impose, it is quite possible that, after the examination, the books might never be looked at again. A resident, however, at the university can scarely fail to be struck with the fact that many who perfectly well know that they will never in any examination be asked to answer a question in logic or political economy, are among the most diligent students of Mr. Mill's books. When I was an undergraduate I well remember that most of my friends who were likely to take high mathematical honors were already so intimately acquainted with Mr. Mill's writings, and were so much imbued with their spirit, that they might have been regarded as his disciples. Many looked up to him as their teacher; many have since felt that he then instilled into them principles which, to a great extent, have guided their conduct in after-life. Any one who is intimately acquainted with Mr. Mill's writings will readily understand how it is that they possess such peculiar attractiveness for the class of readers to whom I am now referring. There is nothing more characteristic in his writings than generosity and courage. He always states his opponent's case with the most judicial impartiality; he never shrinks from the expression of opinion because he thinks it unpopular, and there is nothing so abhorrent to him as that bigotry which prevents a man from appreciating what is just and true in the views of those who differ from him. This toleration, which is so predominant a feature of his writings, is probably one of the rarest of all qualities in a controversialist. Those who do not possess it always produce an impression that they are unfair; and this impression, once produced, exercises a repelling influence upon the young.

To those who believe that the influence Mr. Mill has exercised at the universities has been in the highest degree beneficial—to those who think that his books not only afford the most admirable intellectual training, but also are calculated to produce a most healthy moral influence–– it may be some consolation, now that we are deploring his death, to know that, although he has passed away, he may still continue to be a teacher and a guide. I believe he never visited the English universities; it was consequently entirely through his books that he was known. Not one of those who were his greatest admirers at Cambridge, when I was an undergraduate, ever saw him till many years after they had left the university. Nothing, perhaps, was so remarkable in his character as his tenderness to the feelings of others, and the deference with which he listened to those in every respect inferior to himself. There never was a man who was more entirely free from that intellectual conceit which breeds disdain. Nothing is so discouraging and heart-breaking to young people as the sneer of an intellectual cynic. A sarcasm about an act of youthful mental enthusiasm not only often casts a fatal chill over the character, but is resented as an injury never to be forgiven. The most humble youth would have found in Mr. Mill the warmest and most kindly sympathy.


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

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

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

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

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