Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bailey, Samuel

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BAILEY, SAMUEL (1791–1870), philosophical writer, was the second son and fifth child of Joseph Bailey, of Burngreave, by Mary, daughter of Mr. Eaden, master of the free writing school at Sheffield. Samuel was educated by his maternal grandfather and at the Moravian school of Fulneck. He was a reserved boy, and his only recreation was riding upon a schoolfellow's back. On leaving school, Samuel entered the office of his father, who had risen from the position of artisan to be a general merchant at Sheffield, and who was master-cutler in 1801. The son was one of the first Sheffield merchants who visited America in order to establish business connections with that country. Bailey's attention, however, was gradually diverted from business to literary and political pursuits. He became known as an able author by various essays published in 1821 and the following years. In 1828 he was elected one of the town trustees. He became a candidate for the representation of Sheffield on the election which followed the Reform Bill in 1832. Having retired from his business, he was prepared to devote himself to political life. His principles resembled those of the 'philosophical radical;' he advocated triennial parliaments, vote by ballot, and the abolition of tithes and taxes on knowledge. The anti-corn law rhymer called him the 'Hallamshire Bentham.' Messrs. Parker and Silk Buckingham, however, were elected, and at the close of the poll Bailey, with 812 votes, was the last of four candidates. The prejudice of practical men against 'theoretical' politicians told against him; but the defeat of a distinguished writer was felt to be discreditable to his native place, and enthusiastic supporters founded a 'Bailey Club,' intended to secure his election at the next opportunity. He was put forward as a candidate, without his own consent, in 1834, but the two sitting members were re-elected by 1,607 and 1,654 votes, Bailey receiving 1,434. After this he declined to allow any further use of his name in politics, and his life became one of quiet seclusion. He was several times president of the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society; and he became chairman of the Sheffield Banking Company, an institution which he had helped to found in 1831. He attended the board meetings with absolute punctuality up to the last. His life was one of 'clockwork regularity.' He had no intimates and few acquaintances. An annual visit to a sister-in-law at Cheltenham for change of air was his only relaxation. He died suddenly as he left his bath on 18 Jan. 1870, and left a sum of over 80,000l. to the town trust. The bequest was realised after a lawsuit, and more than doubled the income of the trust. Bailey's portrait by Sir W. Gordon is in the bank over which he presided.

Bailey's first publication was a volume of 'Essays on the Formation and Publication of Opinions and other subjects,' 1821. A second edition appeared in 1826, and a third in 1831. The chief essay is a vigorous defence of the thesis, that a man is not responsible for his opinions, because they are independent of his will; and that opinions should therefore not be the objects of disapproval or of punishment. In 1825 Bailey published a 'Critical Dissertation on the Nature, Measure, and Causes of Value.' It is chiefly directed against Ricardo, James Mill, and De Quincey's exposition of Ricardo in the 'Templar's Dialogues.' Bailey's main contention is, that these writers confound exchange value with real or intrinsic value; the former meaning of the word being, as he holds, the only one relevant in political economy. He was attacked with considerable asperity in the 'Westminster Review' for January 1826, where it is maintained that Ricardo intentionally and judiciously used the word 'value' in both senses. Bailey replied in November of the same year in a 'Letter to a Political Economist.' Bailey had the best of the argument in temper and style, though he points out rather ambiguities of language than substantial errors of logic. In the 'Westminster' for July 1826, there had already been a complimentaiy notice of his essays on the formation of opinion by James Mill (see Bain's Life of Mill, p. 304), who fully sympathised with his opinions. In 1829 Bailey published his 'Essays on the Pursuit of Truth and on the Progress of Knowledge,' and a criticism (by James Mill?) in the 'Westminster Review' for July 1829 begins by declaring that if a man were allowed to claim the paternity of any modern book, he would not hazard much by choosing, after the 'Wealth of Nations,' the essay on the formation of opinions, of which the later volume is virtually a continuation.

In 1835 Bailey published a treatise on the 'Rationale of Political Representation,' and in 1837 a pamphlet, intended to form part of the larger book, upon 'Money, its Vicissitudes in Value.' The politics are those of a moderate utilitarian radical, with a strong objection to state interference.

In 1842 Bailey published a 'Review of Berkeley's Theory of Vision,' which again brought him into collision with the 'Westminster Review.' It was answered by J. S Mill in the number for October 1842, in an article reprinted in Mill's 'Dissertations' (ii. 80). A reply was also made by Professor Ferrier in 'Blackwood's Magazine,' which is republished in Ferrier's 'Philosophical Remains.' Bailey's chief point is that Berkeley begged the question by assuming that space in a direct line from the eye was not directly visible. Mill seems to prove that he had not really understood Berkeley's argument. Bailey replied in a 'Letter to a Philosopher.' He maintains that we have a direct perception of external objects which cannot be analysed into a complex operation. This theory (which resembles Reid's perception theory, though he is opposed to Reid on the theory of vision) appears in his latest philosophical writings. After publishing, in 1861, a 'Theory of Reasoning' (2nd edition 1852), which is more logical than metaphysical, and hardly touches the ultimate questions, he published three series of 'Letters on the Philosophy of the Human Mind' (1855, 1858, and 1863). These are rather fragmentary and discursive, but contain his most interesting speculations. He maintains his old argument against Berkeley, but agrees with Berkeley s nominalism in a vigorous attack upon the theory of 'abstract ideas.' He criticises German metaphysicians, chiefly Kant, with much shrewdness, though with insufficient knowledge; and the third volume contains an interesting defence of utilitarianism. Bailey is also a thorough 'determinist,' a doctrine which he had advocated with marked power in an essay upon 'uniformity of causation,' in the volume containing the essay on the pursuit of truth.

Bailey had the faults and merits of a self-taught and recluse thinker. His knowledge of other schools of thought is limited, and he does not seem fully to appreciate the bearings of his speculations. But he is shrewd and independent, terse in his exposition, and frequently pointed in style. A short criticism may be found in Ribot's 'Psychologie Anglaise contemporaine.' Besides the above, Bailey published 'Questions on Political Economy,' &c., 1823, a collection of subjects for discussion in literary societies, with brief indications of appropriate arguments and references; discourses on various subjects (read before various societies), 1852; pamphlets on parliamentary reform and on the right of primogeniture, and a 'glance at some points in education' (privately printed).

In 1861 and 1862 he published two volumes upon 'the received text of Shakespeare's dramatic writings,' containing a number of hazardous conjectures; and he seems clearly to have been the author of 'Letters from an Egyptian Kafir on a visit to England in search of religion,' 1837, a defence of liberty of inquiry; and of a poem called 'Maro or Poetic Sensibility' (1846). He left many manuscripts, which have disappeared.

[Sheffield Independent, 19 Jan. 1870; Gatty's Sheffield Past and Present; Chambers's Encyclopædia (Supplement). x. 413; information kindly procured by Mr. P. A. Barnett, of Firth College, Sheffield.]

L. S.