1902 Encyclopedia > John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill
British philosopher and economist
(1806-73)




JOHN STUART MILL (1806-1873), son of JAMES MILL (q.v.). was born in London on the 20th May 1806. His education was from first to last undertaken by his father, and is likely long to remain a standing subject for wonder and discussion. Much of the wonder is no doubt due to his father’s monstrous inversion of custom, the boy being set almost as soon as he could speak to work at our time-honoured subjects of secondary and higher education. He was taught the Greek alphabet at the age of three, and one of his earliest recollections, as he recorded in his autobiography, was learning lists of common Greek words with their English meanings, written for him by his father on cards. By his eight year he had gone through in the original a great many Greek books. "Of grammar," he says, "until some year later, I learnt no more than the inflexions of the nouns and verbs, but after a course of vocables proceeded at once to translation; and I faintly remember going through Æsop’s Fables, the first Greek book which I read. The Anabasis, which I remember better, was the second. I learnt no Latin until my eight year. At that time I had under my father’s tuition a number of Greek prose author’s, among whom I remember the whole of Herodotus and of Xenophon’s Cyropædia and Memorials of Socrates, some of the lives of the philosophers by Diogenes Laertius, part of Lucian, and Isocrates Ad Demonican and Ad Nicoclem. I also read, in 1813, the first six dialogues (in the common arrangement) of Plato, from the Euthyphron to the Theætetus inclusive." Besides all these Greek books, he had read a great deal of history in EnglishæRobertson’s histories, Hume, Gibbon, Watson’s Philip II. And III., Hooke’s Roman History, Rollin’s Ancient History, Langhorne’s Plutarch, Burnet’s History of My Own Times, thirty volumes of the Annual Register, Millar’s Historical Government, Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, M’Crie’s Knox, and two histories of the Quakers.

That Mill "knew Greek" and "read Plato" before he was eight years old is often repeated, sometimes as an instance of amazing precocity, sometimes as an awful example of injudicious parental forcing. The astonishment that a child should have done so much at such an age is probably as little grounded in reason as was Mill’s own opinion that any child might have done the same. It is forgotten that many thousands of persons have known Greek before the age of eight without a knowledge of the technicians of Greek grammar. In presence of the fact that Mill was never distinguished for great memory of detail or richness of literary allusion, it is a fair conclusion that the matter of this reading at this age was of as little service to him in after life as if he had read the trashiest of boy’s own books. This is not to say that for educational purposes his early years were wasted as in his own and his father’s opinion they generally are. But undoubtedly the main factor in Mill’s education was not the literature put into his hands, but his constant intercourse with the active richly stored mind and strenuous character of his father. If any should be tempted to imitate the method, they should bear in mind that this was the cardinal element of it. The tutor was of more importance than the books. The reading of Plato’s dialogues would have been only an exercise in rough translation if the boy had not had a Socrates with him in living communion. The child was a constant inmate of his father’s study, and trotted by his side in his walks, giving from jottings on ships of paper as good an account as he could of what he had read. He thus learnt at an unusually early age by example, precept, and practice the habit of strenuous application to difficult work. The fact that Mill was taught thus early to take his chief pleasure in overcoming intellectual difficulties, and to realize the meaning of general terms, accounts for the singular and altogether unparalleled ease which acquired in the treatment of political and social generalization, not in barren abstract vagueness, but in close relation with facts. This on the intellectual side; and on the moral side the child was almost from the dawn of consciousness instructed to regard himself as consecrated to a life of labour for the public good; his ambition was kindled to follow in the footsteps of the great men of all ages, and at the same time the utmost care was taken to purity that ambition from unworthy motives.

A contemporary record of Mill’s studies from eight to thirteen is published in Dr. Bain’s sketch of his life. it shows that the Autobiography rather understates than overstates the amount of work done. At the age of eight he began Latin, Euclid, and algebra, and was appointed schoolmaster to the younger children of the familyæa post, he hints, more serviceable to his intellect than to his manners. His main reading was still history, but he went through all the Latin and Greek authors commonly read in the schools and universities, besides several and are not commonly read by undergraduates. He was not taught to compose either in Latin or in Greek, and he was never an exact scholar in the academic sense; it was for the subject-matter that he was required to read, and by the age of ten he could read Plato and Demosthenes with ease. His father’s History of India was published in 1818; immediately thereafter, about the age of twelve, John, under his energetic direction, began a thorough study of the scholastic logic, at the same time reading Aristotle’s logical treatises in the original. In the following year he was introduced to political economy. And there, when the pupil was nearly fourteen, this remarkable education terminated. From that time he worked less immediately under his father’s eye. It was an inevitable incident of such an education that Mill should acquire many of his father’s speculative opinions, and his father’s way of defending them. But his mind did not receive the impress passively and mechanically. "One of the grand objects of education," according to the elder Mill, "should be to generate a constant and anxious concern about evidence"; and he laboured with all the energy of his strong will against allowing his son to become a parrot of his won opinions and argument. The only duty of collecting and weighing evidence for himself was a every turn impressed upon the boy; he was taught to accept no opinion upon authority; he was soundly rated if he could not give a reason for his beliefs. John Stuarts Mill was deliberately education as an apostle, but it was as apostle of reasoned truth in human affairs, not as an apostle of any system of dogmatic tenets. It was purposely to prevent any falling off from this high moral standards till it should become part of his being that his father kept the boy so closely with himself. Much pity has been expressed over the dreary cheerless existence that the child must have led, cut off from all boyish amusements and companionship, working day after day of his father’s treadmill; but a childhood and boyhood spent in the daily enlargement of knowledge, with the continual satisfaction of difficulties conquered, buoyed up by day-dreams of emulating the greatest of human benefactors, need not have been an unhappy childhood, and Mill expressly says that his was not unhappy. It seems unhappy only we compare it with the desires of childhood left more to itself, and when we decline to image its peculiar enjoyments and aspirations. Mill complains that his father often required more than could reasonably be expected of him, but his tasks were not so severe as to prevent him from growing up a healthy, hardy and high-spirited boy, though he was not constitutionally robust, and his tastes and pursuits were so different from those o boys of the same age.

Most of Mill’s fifteenth year was spent in France in the family of Sir Samuel Bentham. Away from his father, he maintained his laborious habits; the disciples held. Copious extracts from a diary kept by him at this time are given by Dr Bain, and show how methodically and incessantly he read and wrote, studied botany, tackled advanced mathematical problems, made notes on the scenery and the people and customs of the country. On his return in 1821 he continued his old studies with the addition of some new ones. One of the new studies was Roman law, which he read with John Austin, his father having half decided on the bar as the best precession open of him. Another was psychology. In 1823, when he had just completed his seventeenth year, the notion of the bar as a livelihood was abandoned, and he entered as a clerk in the examiner’s office of the India House, "with the understanding that he should be employed from the beginning in preparing drafts of dispatches, and be thus trained up as a successor to those who the filled the highest departments of the office."

Mill’s work at the India House, which was henceforth his livelihood, did not come before the public, and those who scouted his political writing as the work of an abstract philosopher, entirely unacquainted with affairs, have ignored the nature of his duties. From the first he was more than a clerk, and after a short apprenticeship he was promoted, in 1828, to the responsible position of assistant-examiner. The duty of the so-called examiners was to examine the letters of the agents of the Company in India, and to draft instructions in reply. The character of the Company’s government was almost entirely dependent upon their abilities as statesmen. For twenty years, from 1836 to1856, Mill had charge of the Company’s relations with the native states. In the hundreds of dispatches that he wrote in this capacity, much, no doubt, was done in accordance with established routine, but few statesmen of his generation had a wider experience of the responsible application of principles of government to actual emergencies. That he said so little about this work in the Autobiography was probably because his main concern there was to expound the influences that affected his moral and mental development. A man of different temperature might have found abundance of dramatic interest in watching the personal and political changes in so many distinct states. But Mill makes no reminiscences of this kind, nor does he give any clue to the results of his own initiative.

To return to his extra-official activity, which received an immense impulse about the time of his entering the India House from what must strike a man of the world as a strange source. The reading of Dumont’s exposition of Bentham’s doctrines in the Traité de Législation was an epoch in Mill’s life. it awoke in him an ambition as enthusiastic and impassioned as a young man’s first love. The language that he uses about in his autobiography reveals a warmth of inner life that few people would suspect from the record of his dry studies. When he laid down the last volume, he says, he had become a different being. It gave unity to the detached and fragmentary component parts f his knowledge and beliefs. "I now had opinionsæa creed, a doctrine, a philosophyæin one among the best senses of the word, a religion, the inculcation of diffusion of which could be made the principal outwards purpose of a life. And I had a grand conception laid before me of changes to be effected in the condition of mankind through that doctrine." He had been carefully bred to contemplate work for human welfare as the ruling motive of his life; that motive had now received definite direction.

Many a youth has entered the world with ambition equally high, but few have felt as Mill felt the first shock of despair, and fewer still have rallied from that despair with such indomitable resolution. The main secret of the great "crisis" of his youthful life is probably to be found in the lofty ardour of the aspirations then conceived and shaped. For four years he worked with faith and hope in his missions, and these were years of incessant propagandist activity. The enthusiast of seventeen, burning to reorganize human affairs so as to secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number, set siege to the public mind through several approaches. He constituted a few of his youthful friends, imbued with the principles of his new creed, into a society which he called the "Utilitarian" Society, taking the word, as he tells us, from one of Galt’s novels. Two newspapers were open to himæthe Traveller, edited by a friend of Bentham’s, and the Chronicle, edited by his father’s friend Black. One of his first efforts was a solid argument for freedom of discussion, in a series of letters to the Chronicle apropos of the prosecution of Richard Carlile. But he watched all public incidents with a vigilant eye, and seized every passing opportunity of exposing departures from sound principle in parliament and courts of justice. Another outlet was opened up for him 1824 by the starting of the Westminster Review, and still another in the following year in the Parliamentary History and Review. This year also he found congenial occupation in editing Bentham’s Rationale of Judicial Evidence. Into this he threw himself with zeal. And all the time, his mind full of public questions, he discussed and argued eagerly with the many men of promise and distinction who came to his father’s house. He engaged in set discussions at a reading society formed at Grote’s house in 1825, and in set debates at a Speculative Society formed in the same year.

"A very disquisitive youth," was Peacock’s description of young Mill at his period, and this was probably how the enthusiast struck most of his outside acquaintances. But the glow of a great ambition as well as the energy of a piercing intellect might have been felt in his writings. His mission was none the less arduous that he proposed to convert the world by reason. Only the fullness of unbroken hope could have supported his powers, if he had had a frame of iron, under the strain of such incessant labour. All of a sudden, a misgiving which he compares to the Methodist’s "first conviction of sin" made a rift in the wholeness of his faith in his mission. "It was in the autumn of 1826. I was in a dull state of nerves, such as everybody is occasionally liable to; unsusceptible to enjoyment of pleasurable excitements; one of those moods when what is pleasure at other times becomes insipid or indifferent . . . . In this frame of mind it occurred to me to put the question directly to myself, ‘Suppose that all your objects in life were realized, that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are now looking forward to could be completely affected at his very instant, would this be a great joy and happiness to you?’ And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, ‘No!’ At this my heart sank within me; the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for."

The passage in his autobiography in which Mill gives an account of this prostrating disenchantment and his gradual release from its benumbing spell is one of the most interesting chapters in personal history. The first break in the gloom came, he tells us, from his reading in Marmontel’s the distressed position of the family, and the sudden inspiration by which he, then a mere boy, felt and made them feel that eh would be everything to themæwould supply the place of all that they had lost." Mill was moved to tears by the narrative, and his burden grew lighter at the thought that all feeling was not dead within him, that he was not a mere intellectual machine. This incident, and the delight that he now began to take in Wordsworth’s "Poems founded on the Affections," gives a clue to one of the secrets of Mill’s despondency. It was an unsatisfied longing for personal affection, for love and friendship, of which his life hitherto had been barren. His father seems to have been reserved, undemonstrative even to the pitch of chilling sternness in his intercourse with his family; and among young Mill’s comrades contempt of feeling was almost a watchword, because it is so often associated with mischievous prejudice and wrong conduct. Himself absorbed in abstract questions and projects of general philanthropy, he had been careless of winning or keeping personal attachment. But it was not till despair first seized him, as he looked back at the poverty of the results of his work as an apostle, that Mill began to feel the void in his affections and the need of human sympathy. W must remember how little when his ambition was formed he knew of the living world around him. He knew in terms that political and social change must be slow; he could whisper patience to himself, and say to himself that his life must be happy because the attainment of his great object must occupy the whole of it; but without experience he could not have been prepared for the actual slowness of the reformer’s work, or armed against its terribly oppressive influence. Inevitably he underrated the stolidity and strength of the forces arrayed against him. Four years seems a long time at that age. In 1826 Mill could look back to four years of eager toil. What where the results? He had become convinced that his comrades in the Utilitarian Society, who never numbered more than ten, had not the stuff in them for a world-shaking propaganda; the society itself was dissolved; the Parliamentary Review was a failure; the Westminster did not pay its expenses; Bentham’s Judicial Evidence produced little effect on the reviewers. His own reception at the Speculative Debating Society, where he first measured his strength in public conflict, was calculated to produce self-distrust. He found himself looked upon with curiosity as a precocious phenomenon, a "made man," an intellectual machine set to grind certain tunes. The most clear and cogent reasoning failed to sway his audience. Great things had been expected of this society as a means of bringing together for close discussion the leading young men then in public life or looking forward to it. Its first session proved a fiasco. The leaders that had been expected stayed away. With these repulses to his hopes along the whole line of his activity, Mill must also have suffered from the nervous exhaustion that only the hope and heat of the fight had kept him from feeling before. No wonder that he was disheartened began to feel defects in his father’s training, to question and analyse his won faith, to yearn for the solace of personal affection, and to reconstitute his scheme of life.





That in spite of this rude shock the foundations laid by his early training remained stable appears from the facts that all through the period of his gloom he continued working as before, and that he considered himself bound once convinced that his old plan of life was insufficient, to build up a thoroughly reasoned new plan wherewith to give new heart and hope to his work. The new system was much less different from the old than might be supposed from what he says of the struggle that it cost him to reach it. Regard for the public good was still his religion, the ruling motive that gave unity to his conduct. But he now recognized that this was too vague and insubstantial an object to e sufficient of itself for the satisfaction of a man’s affections. It is a proof of the dominating force of his father’s character that it cost the younger Mill such an effort to shake off his stern creed about poetry and personal emotion. Like Plato, the elder Mill would have put poets under ban as ministers of prejudice and enemies of truth. And he often insisted on the wisdom of restricting as much as possible the private affections, while expanding as much as possible the public affections. Landor’s maxim of "few acquaintances, fewer friends, no familiarities" had his cordial approval. These doctrines the younger Mill at first took up with boyish enthusiasm and pedantry, but it was against this part of his father’s creed that he now felt himself forced in reason to revolt. He stood too much in awe of his father to make him the confidant of his difficulties. He wrestled with them in the gloomy solitude of his won mind. He was victorious; he reached firm ground at last; but the struggle left him in several respects changed. He carried out of the struggle as the fruits of victory a more catholic view of the elements of human happiness, a delight in the poetry of nature and the affections as well as the poetry of heroic unselfish character and action, a disposition to study more sympathetically the point of view of opponents, a more courteous style of polemic, a hatred of sectarianism, an ambition no less noble and disinterested but moderated to practical possibilities.

In the course of the next few years Mill wrote comparatively little, but he "carried on," as he says, "a quantity of thinking respecting a host of subjects." It was a period of search, deliberation, germination, and striking root. Coincident if not causally connected with the relief from his spiritual crisis came his first consciousness of power as "an original and independent thinker." In the dialect conversations with a small band of students at Grote’s house, he regained the self-confidence that had been shaken in the larger and rougher arena of the Speculative Debating Society. The beginning of his works on logic and political economy may be traced back to those discussions, and he learnt from them, he tells us, the habit of "never accepting half solutions of difficulties as complete; never abandoning a puzzle, but again and again returning to it until it was cleared up; never allowing obscure corners of a subject to remain unexplored, because they did not appear important; never thinking that he perfectly understood any part of a subject until he understood the whole." He learnt also an important moral lesson from the Speculative Society, besides learning the strong points of other political and social creeds and the weak points of Benthamism from defending it point by point against all comers. With all his despondency, he did not abandon the meetings of the society after the fiasco of the first session. He stood by it firmly, and in a short time had the triumph of seeing its debates famous enough to attract men with whom it was profitable for him to interchange opinions, among others Maurice and Sterling. He ceased to attend the society in 1829, but he carried away from it the strengthening memory of failure overcome by persevering effort, and the important doctrinal conviction that a true system of political philosophy was "something much more complex and many-sided than he had previously had any idea of, and its office was to supply, not a set of model institutions, but principles from which the institutions suitable to any given circumstances might be deduced."

The first sketch of Mill’s political philosophy appeared in a series of contributions to the Examiner in the autumn of 1830 on "Prospects in France." He was in Paris soon after the July Revolution, made the acquaintance of the leading spirits among the younger men; and in his discussion of what they were doing and what they should do in making a new constitution we find the germs of many thoughts afterwards more fully developed in his Representative Government.

The division of man’s life into periods must always be a rough partition, but we may conveniently and with tolerable accuracy take these letters as marking the close of his period of meditative search, of radication, and his return to hopeful aspiring activity. It was characteristic of the nature of the man that he should be stirred to such delight by the Revolution in France, and should labour so earnestly to make his countrymen understand with what gravity and sobriety it had been effected. Their own Reform Bill came soon after, and it is again characteristic of Millæat once of his enthusiasm and of his steady determination to do for humanity the work that nobody else seemed able or willing to doæthat we find him in the heat of the struggle in 1831 writing to the Examiner a series of letters on "The Spirit of the Age" which drew from Carlyle the exclamation, "Here is a new mystic!" We can easily see now what it was in these remarkable essays that fascinated Carlyle; it was the pervading opinion that in ever natural state of society power must be in the hands of the wisest. This was the condition of stability; when power and wisdom ceased to coincide, there was a disturbance of the equilibrium till this coincidence was again effected. But whether Carlyle was right in the epithet "mystic" may be judged from the fact that Mill’s inductive logic was the direct result of his aspirations after political stability as determined by the dominion of the wisest. "Why is it," he asked, "that the multitude accept implicitly the decisions of the wisest, of the specially skilled, in the physical science?" Because in physical science there is all but complete agreement in opinion. "And why this agreement?" Because all accept the same methods of investigation, the same tests of truth. Is it possible then to obtain unanimity as to the methods of arriving at conclusions in social and political matters, so as to secure similar agreement of opinion among the specially skilled, and similar general respect for their authority? The same thought appears in a review of Herschel’s Natural Philosophy, written about the same time. Mill remarks that the uncertainty hanging over the very elements of moral and social philosophy proves that the means of arriving at the truth in those sciences are not yet properly understood. "And wither," he adds, "can mankind so advantageously turn, in order to learn the power means, and to form their minds to the proper habits, as to that branch of knowledge in which by universal acknowledgement the greatest number of truths have been ascertained, and the greatest possible degree of certainty arrived at?"

By 1831 Mill’s enthusiasm for humanity had been thoroughly reawakened, and had taken the definite shape of an aspiration to supply an unimpeachable method of search for conclusions in moral and social science. From the platform on which Carlyle and Mill met in 1831 they traveled roads,æthe one to preach the duty of obedience to the wisest, the other to search for a means by which wisdom might be acquired such as would command respect and win the assent of free conviction. No mystic ever worked with warmer zeal than Mill. But his zeal encountered a check which baffled him for several years, and which left its mark in various inconsistencies and incoherences in his completed system. He had been bred by his father in a great veneration for the syllogistic logic as an antidote against confused thinking. He attributed to his early discipline in this logic an impatience of vague language which in all likelihood was really fostered in him by his study of the Platonic dialogues and of Bentham, for he always had in himself more of Plato’s fertile ingenuity in canvassing the meaning of vague terms than the school-man’s rigid consistency in the use of them. Be this as it may, enthusiastic as he was for a new logic that might give certainty to moral and social conclusions, Mill was no less resolute that the new logic should stand in no antagonism to the old. In his Westminster review of Whately’s Logic 1828 (invaluable to all students of the genesis of Mill’s logic) he appears, curiously enough, as an ardent and brilliant champion of the syllogistic logic against highfliers such as the Scotch philosophers who talk of "superseding" it by "a supposed system of inductive logic." His inductive logic must "supplement and not supersede." It must be concatenated with the syllogistic logic, the two to be incorporated in one system. But for several years he searched in vain for the means of concatenation.

Meantime, while recurring again and again, as was his custom, to this cardinal difficulty, Mill worked indefatigably in other directions where he saw his way clear, expatiating over a wide range of political, social, economical, and philosophical questions. The working of the new order in France, and the personalities of the leading men, had a profound interest for him; he wrote on the subject in the Examiner. He had ceased to write for the Westminster 1828; but during the years 1832 and 1833 he contributed many essays to Tait’s Magazine, the Jurist, and the Monthly Repository. In 1835 the London Review was started, with Mill as editor; it was amalgamated with the Westminster in 1836, and Mill continued editor till 1840. Much of what he wrote then was subsequently incorporated in his systematic works; some of his essays were reprinted in his first two volumes of Dissertations and Discussions (1859). The essays on Bentham and Coleridge constituted the first manifesto of the new spirit which Mill sought to breathe into English Radicalism. But the reprinted papers give no just idea of the immense range of Mill’s energy at this time. His position in the India Office, where alone he did work enough for most men, cut him off from entering parliament; but he laboured hard though ineffectually to influence the legislature from without by combating the disposition to rest and be thankful. In his Autobiography he admits that the attempt to form a Radical party in parliament at that time was chimerical.

It was in 1837, on reading Whewell’s Inductive Sciences and re-reading Herschel that Mill at last saw his way clear both to formulating the methods of scientific investigation and joining on the new logic as a supplement to the old. Epoch-making as his logic undoubtedly was, from the multitude of new views opened up, from the addition of a new wing to the rambling old building, and from the inspiring force with which every dusty chamber was searched into and illuminated, Mill did not escape all the innumerable pitfalls of language that beset the pioneer in such a subject. It is evident from a study of his purposes and the books from which he started that his worst perplexities were due to his determination to exhibit scientific method as the complement of scholastic logic. In his defence of the syllogism he confounds the syllogistic forms with deductive reasoning. Every deductive reasoning may be known into the form of a syllogism, but not every syllogism is deductive. The reasoning in several of the syllogistic forms is not deductive at all in the sense of involving a movement from general to particular. Although he knew Aristotle in the original, Mill did not recognize the fact that the syllogistic machinery was primarily constructed for the reasoning together of terms. As regards the word induction, Mill uses it in different connexions to cover three or four distinguishable meaningsæinduction viewed as the establishment of predications about a general term, induction viewed as inference from the known to the unknown, induction viewed as verification by experiment, and induction viewed as the proof of propositions of causation. The form of his system was really governed by the scholastic notion of induction as a means of establishing general propositions; the inductive part of his system is introduced after the deductive under this character; while the greater portion of the substance of what he treats of under the name of induction, and especially the so-called experimental methods, have nothing whatever to do with the establishment of general propositions, in the technical sense of general propositions.

But the permanent value and influence of Mill’s inductive logic is not to be measure by technical inaccuracies and inconsistencies, to which an academic mind may easily attach undue importance. In the technical history of the sentence, Mill’s Logic may be viewed as an attempt to fuse the practical tests of truth se forth in Herschel’s Discourse on Natural Philosophy with the theoretic views views of induction propounded in Whately’s Logic. But in the history of thought the great importance of the work is due not so much to its endeavour to formulate the methods of science and lay bare the first principles on which they rest as to its systematic application of scientific method to what he called the moral sciences. Mill has often been criticized as if he had pretended to teach men how to conduct their investigations and how to make discoveries in the physical sciences. His work was rather to educe from the practice of men of science the principles on which they proceed in testing and proving their speculations concerning cause and effect in the physical world, and see whether the same principles could not be applied in testing and proving speculations concerning cause and effect in the moral world. What is the effect upon human character and human happiness of given social and physical conditionsæclimate, institutions, customs, law? How can conclusions upon such points be proved? These were the questions in which Mill was interested, and the striking novelty of his work was its endeavour to show that propositions of cause and effect in human affairs must be proved, if they admit of proof at all, absolute or approximate, on the same principles with propositions of cause and effect in the material world.





The Logic was published in 1843. In 1844 appeared hid Essays on Some Questions in Political Economy. These essays were worked out and written many years before, and show Mill in his first stage as a political economist. Four out of the five essays are elaborate and powerful solutions of perplexing technical problemsæthe distribution of the gains of international commerce, the influence of consumption on production, the definition of productive and unproductive labour, the precise relations between profits and wages. Though Mill appears here purely as the disciple of Ricardo, striving after more precisely statement, and reaching forward to further consequences, we can well understand in reading these essays, searching, luminous, large and bold in outline, firmly wrought in detail, how about the time when he first sketched them he began to be conscious of power as an original and independent thinker.

That originality and independence became more conspicuous when he reached his second stage as a political economist, struggling forward towards the standpoint from which his systematic work was written. It would seem that in his fits of despondency one of the thoughts that sat upon him like a nightmare and marred his dreams of human improvement was the apparently inexorable character of economic laws, condemning thousands of labourers to a cramped and miserable existence, and thousands more to semi-starvation. From this oppressive feeling he found relief in the thought se forth in the opening of the second book of his Political Economyæ that, while the conditions of production have the necessity of physical laws, the distribution of what is produced among the various classes of producers is a matter of human arrangement, dependent upon alterable customs and institutions. There can be little doubt that this thought, whether or not in the clear shape that it afterwards assumed, was the germ of all that is most distinctive in his system of political economy. It was as far as possible from the rigidity of his method of exposition to fall into the confusion of supposing that it was for political economy to discuss the equity of different modes of distribution, or the value of other objects of human endeavor conflicting with the production of wealth; but he put economic inquiries clearly in their place as leading to conclusion that were not always final and binding on the practical statesman, but had to be taken with other considerations as governing rational human action. Besides thus putting political economy in its just correlation with other parts of social science and conduct, Mill widened the scope of economic inquiries by discussing the economic consequences of various ideal social arrangements, and more especially different modes of distributing produce between landlord, capitalist, and labourer. Mill certainly redeemed political economy from the reproach of being a dry science. Nobody with any interest in human improvement can read his work with indifference. And he did this without in any way disturbing the original conception of political economy as the science of cause and effect in the production of wealth. One of his most eminent successors, the late Professor Cairnes, thus admirably summed up his work as a political economist:æ "As he himself used to put it, Ricardo supplied the backbone of the science; but it is not less certain that the limbs, the joints, the muscular developmentsæ all that renders political economy a complete and organized body of knowledgeæhave been the work of Mill."

While his great systematic works were in progress, Mill wrote very little on events or books of the day. He turned aside for a new months from his Political Economy during the winter of the Irish famine. (1846-67) to advocate the creation of peasant-proprietorships as a remedy for distress and disorder in Ireland. He found time also to write articles on French history and Greek history in the Edinburgh Review propos of Michelet, Guizot, and Grote, besides some less elaborate essays.

The Political Economy was published in 1848. Mill could now feel that the main he had proposed for himself was accomplished; but, though he wrote comparatively little for some years afterwards, he remained as much as ever on the alert for opportunities of useful influence, and pressed on with hardly diminished enthusiasms in his search for useful truth. Among other things, hw made a more thorough study of socialists writers, with the result that, though he was not converted to any of their schemes as being immediately practicable, he began to look upon some more equal distribution of the produce of labour as a practicability of the remote future, and to dwell upon the prospect of such changes in human character as might render a stale society possible without the institution of private property. This he has called his third stage as a political economist, had he says that he was helped towards it by the lady, Mrs Taylor, who became his wife in 1851, and with whom he had lived in intimate friendship for more than twenty years before. It is generally supposed that he writes with a lover’s extravagance about this lady’s powers when he compares her with Shelley and Carlyle. But a little reflexion will show that he wrote with his equal accuracy and sobriety when he described her influence on him. He expressly says that he owed none of his technical doctrine to her, that she influenced only his ideals of life for the individual and for society; and his language about her is really only a measure of the importance that he attached to such ideals above any systems of reasoned truth. There is very little propositional difference between Mill and his father; but it is obvious from what he says that his inner life became very different after he threw off his father’s authority. This new inner life was strengthened and enlarged by Mrs Taylor. We must remember also that Mill in his early years had been so strictly secluded from commonplace sentiment that what the general world would consider commonplace must have come to him with all the freshness of a special revelation.

During the seven years of his married life Mill published less than in any other period of his career, but four of his most closely reasoned and characteristic works, the Liberty, the Utilitarianisms, the Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, and the Subjection of Women, besides his posthumously published essays on Nature and on the Utility of Religion, were thought out and partly written in collaboration with his wife. In 1856 he became head of the examiner’s office in the India House, and for two years, till the dissolution of the Company in 1858, his official work, never a light task, kept him fully occupied. It fell to him as head of the office to write the defence of the Company’s government of India when the transfer of its power was proposed. Mill was earnestly opposed to the transfer, and the documents in which he substantiated the proud boast for the Company that "few governments even under far more favourable circumstances have attempted so much for the good of their subjects or carried so many of their attempts to a beneficial issue," and exposed the defects of the proposed new government, are models of trenchant and dignified pleading. His prediction that the Indian Secretary’s council would serve as a screen and not as a check was in the opinion of many amply verified a few years ago.

On the dissolution of the Company, Mill was offered a seat in the new council, but declined. His retirement from official work was followed almost immediately by his wife’s death, and from this calamity he sought relief in active literary occupation. Politics, sociology, and psychology divided as before the energies of his active mind. One of his first cares was to publish with a touching dedication to his wife the treatise on Liberty, which they had wrought out together, principle by principle and sentence by sentence. This pious discharged, he turned to current politics, and published, in view of the impending Reform Bill, a pamphlet on parliamentary reform. The chief feature in this was an idea concerning which he and Mrs Mill often deliberated, the necessity of providing checks against uneducated democracy. His fanciful suggestion of a plurality of votes, proportioned to the elector’s degree of education, was avowedly put forward only as an ideal; he admitted that no authentic test of education could for the present be found. An anonymous Conservative caught at the scheme in another pamphlet, proposing income as a test. Soon after, Mill supported in Fraser’s, still with the same object, Mr Hare’s scheme for the representation of minorities. In the autumn of the same year he turned to psychology, reviewing Mr Bain’s works in the Edinburgh Review.

In this way the indefatigable thinker worked on, throwing himself by turns into the various lines along which he saw projects of fulfilling his mission as an apostle of progress. In his Representation Government (1860) he systematized opinions already put forward in many casual articles and essays. His Utilitarianism (published in Fraser’s in 1861) was a closely reasoned systematic attempt to answer objects to his ethical theory and remove misconceptions of it. As the inventor of the term Utilitarianism, he was entitled to definite its meaning; and he was especially anxious to make it clear that he included in utility the pleasures of the imagination and the gratification of the higher emotions, and to show how powerfully the good of mankind as a motive appealed to the imagination. His treatise on the Subjection of Women, in its ruling intention a protest against the abuse of power, was Mill’s next work, thought it was not published till 1869. His Examination of Hamilton’s Philosophy, published in 1865, had engaged a large share of his time for three years before. When it first occurred to him that a criticism of the chief of our native intuitional psychologists would cause a wholesome stir and serve enlightenment, he thought only of an article such as he wrote about Austin’s Jurisprudence or Grote’s Plato. But he soon found that the subject required a book, and a book appeared which certainly answered the purpose of rousing the sleepy realms of philosophy and theology.

Where mainly occupied in those years with philosophical studies, Mill did not remit his interest in current politics. He made his voice heard no the contest in America in 1862, taking the side of the Northæthen very unpopular in Londonæand using all his strength to explain what has since been universally recognized as the issue really at stake in the struggle, the abolition of slavery. It was characteristic of the closeness with which he watched current events, and of his zeal in the cause of "lucidity," that, when the Reader, an organ of science and unpartisan opinion, fell into difficulties in 1865, Mill joined with some distinguished men of science and letters in an effort to keep in afloat. He supplied part of the money for carrying it on, contributed several articles, and assisted the editor, Mr Fraser Rae, with his advice. The effort was vain, though such men as Herbert Spencer, Huxley, Tyndall, Cairnes, Mark Pattison, F. Harrison, Sir Frederick Pollock, and Lockyer were among the contributors.

In 1865 a new channel was opened to this influence. He was requested to stand for Westminster, and agreed on conditions strictly in accordance with his principle of parliamentary election. He would not canvass, nor pay agents to canvass for him, nor would he engage to attend to the local business of the constituency. He was with difficulty persuaded with even to address a meeting of the electors. The story of this remarkable election has been told by Mr James Beal, one of the most active supporters of Mill’s candidature. In parliament he adhered to his lifelong principle of doing only work that needed to be done, and that nobody else seemed equally able or willing to do. It may have been a consciousness of this fact which prompted a remark made by the Speaker that Mill’s presence in parliament elevated the tone of debate. The impression made by him in parliament is in some danger of being forgotten, because he was not instrumental in carrying in great measure that might serve as an abiding memorial. But, although in one of his first speeches against the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland he was very unfavourably received, Mill thoroughly succeeded in what is called "gaining the ear of the House." The only speech made by him during his three years in parliament that was listened to with impatience was, parliament that was listened to with impatience was, curiously enough, his speech in favour of counteracting democracy by providing for the presentation of minorities. His attack on the conduct of General Eyre in Jamaica was listened to, but with repugnance by the majority, although his action in this matter in and out parliament was far from being ineffectual. He took an active part in the debate on Mr Disraeli’s Reform Bill, and helped to extort from the Government several useful modifications of the Bill for the Prevention of Corrupt Practices. The reform of land tenure in Ireland, the representation of women, the reduction of the national debt, the reform of London government, the abrogation of the declaration of Paris, were among the topics on which he spoke with marked effect. He took occasion more than once to enforce what he had often advocated in writing, England’s duty to intervene in Continental politics in support of the cause of freedom. As a speaker Mill was somewhat hesitating, pausing occasionally as if to recover the thread of his argument, but he showed great readiness in extemporaneous debate. Viewed as a candidate for ministerial office, he might be regarded as a failure in parliament, but there can be no doubt that his career there greatly extended his influence.

Mill’s subscription to the election expenses of Mr Bradlaugh, and his attitude towards Governor Eyre, are generally regarded as the main cause of his defeat in the general election of 1868. But, as he suggests himself, his studied advocacy of unfamiliar projects of reform had made him popular with "moderate Liberals." When he was first elected on a sudden impulse of enthusiasm, extremely little was known about him by the bulk of the electorate; and his writing about checks against democracy had prepared may for a more conservative attitude on questions of practical politics. He retired with a sense of relief to his cottage and his literary life at Avignon. His parliamentary duties and the quantity of corresponded brought upon him by increased publicity had absorbed nearly the whole of his time. The scanty leisure of his first recess had been devoted to writing his St Andrews rectorial address on higher education and to answering attacks on his criticism of Hamilton; of the second, to annotating, in conjunction with Mr Bain and Mr Findlater, his father’s Analysis of the Mind. But now he could look forward to a literally life pure and simple, and his letters show how much he enjoyed the change. His little cottage was filled with books and newspapers; the beautiful country round it furnished him with a variety of walks; he read, wrote, discussed, walked, botanized. His step-daughter, Miss Taylor, his constant companion after his wife’s death, "architect and master-mason all in one," carried out various improvements in their quiet home for the philosopher’s comfort. "Helen," he wrote to Mr Thornton, "has carried out her long-cherished scheme (about which she tells me she consulted you) of a ‘vibratory’ for me, and has made a pleasant covered walk, some 30 feet long, where I can vibrate in cold or rainy weather. The terrace, you must know, as it goes round two sides of the house, has got itself dubbed the ‘semi-circumgyratory.’ In addition to this Helen has built me a herbarium, a little room fitted up with closets for my plants, shelves for my botanical books, and a great table whereon to manipulate them all. Thus, you see, with my herbarium, my vibratory, and my semi-circumgyratory, I am in clover; and you may imagine with what scorn I think of the House of Commons, which, comfortable club as it is said to be, could offer me none of these comforts, or, more perfectly speaking, these necessaries of life." Mill was an enthusiastic botanist all his life long, and a frequent contributor of notes and short papers to the Phytologist. One of the things that he looked forward to during is last journey to Avignon was seeing the spring flowers and completing a flora of the locality. His delight in scenery frequently appears in letters written to his friends during his summer and autumn tours.

No recluse ever had a more soothing retreat than Mill’s Avignon cottage, but to the last he did not relax his laborious habits nor his ardent outlook on human affairs. The essays in the fourth volume of his Dissertations -- on endowments, on hand, on labour, on metaphysical and psychological questions -- were written for the Fortnightly Review at intervals after his short parliamentary career. One of his first tasks was to send his treatise on the Subjection of Women through the press. The essay on Theism was written soon after. The last public work in which he engaged was the starting of the Land Tenure Reform Association. The interception by the state of the unearned increment, and the promotion of co-operative agriculture, were the most striking features in his programme. He wrote in the Examiner and made a public speech in favour of the association of few months before his death. The secret of the ardour with which he took up this question probably was his conviction that a great struggle was impending in Europe between labour and capital. He regarded his project as a timely compromise.

Mill died at Avignon on the 8th of May 1873.

Within the limits of this article it is impossible to attempt a criticism of Mill’s conclusions in so many fields of research; one must be content with trying to indicate the purpose and the spirit of his work. Perhaps we still stand too near to judge without bias; some years hence men will be better able to say whether he made sciolsim less reckless or brought mankind appreciably nearer that dominion of the wisest which was the remote goal of his endeavor. It will be long before humanity finds a nobler example of the searcher after the best means of social improvement. He sought after clear ideas with the ardour of a mystic, the patience and laborious industry of a man of science; he encountered opponents with a generosity and a courtesy worthy of any preux chevalier of mediæval romance, while he was not inferior of that ideal in the vigour of his blows against injustice. As regards his influence, it has been well said that "no calculus can integrate the innumerable pulses of knowledge and of thought that he has made to vibrate in the minds of his generation." He quickened thought upon every problem that he touched. Any estimate of Mill’s service to political or philosophical thought at this moment is liable to be injuriously affected by the temporary discredit into which some of his doctrines have fallen. He was not infallible; he made no claim to dogmatic authority. But in criticism of detail, according to our present light, we may easily blind ourselves to the greatness of the work that Mill accomplished in the development of opinion. (W. M.)



The above article was written by: William Minto, M.A., Professor of Logic, University of Aberdeen.



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