mill to ricardo
[Reply to 229.—Answered by 234]
Ford Abbey 19th. Oct. 1817
My dear Sir
I have been more than usually occupied; otherwise you would not have been so long without hearing from me. What I was most anxious to write to you about, was the mode of directing your studies, that you might lose none of your time. But at the moment of receiving your letter I had two burthens laid upon me. One was, the appearance of Col. Wilks’s two volumes of the history of Mysore, which laid me under the necessity of a very careful confrontation of his narrative with my M.S., he having enjoyed, from being governor in the country, peculiar opportunities of knowledge; and what he added to my knowledge required a certain portion of my narrative to be written afresh, while I had the printers at my heels. The other burthen was, a promise which the Editor of the Supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica said I had made him, to write an article for him on Colonies. I had a great mind to send to you to write it for me. But at last I concluded that I had no right to lay any such restraint upon you; because I knew your disposition toward me to be such, that you would do it, even if it should put you out of your way. Had I known you to be less obliging, and that you would have said, No, if the thing had displeased, you would have most likely received an application. However, it is now all but finished. I have also not only finished all that Colonel Wilks has created for me to do; but got so far that I have gone to the middle of my last chapter in revising. I therefore reckon that I may now answer your letter.
First of all, as to that task you have laid upon me. “Tell me”, you say, “what to undertake, and I will put my powers to the test.” I am now very much in the mind to give you nothing to do, till you get my own book to read. No, no; I will not fill your head with other things, when I shall desire to have it presently all applied to one thing. To be serious, however, that book of mine, if it answers my expectation, or rather my wish, will make no bad introduction to the study of civil society in general. The subject afforded an opportunity of laying open the principles and laws of the social order in almost all its more remarkable states, from the most rude to the most perfect with which we are yet acquainted; and if I have been capable of explaining them, will be of some help to you, in exploring what I wish to see you thoroughly acquainted with, the course which human affairs, upon the great scale, have hitherto taken, the causes of their taking these different courses, the degree in which these courses have severally departed from the best course, and by what means they can best be made to approximate to that course. That is the field of application; and none of the pretexts you set up will avail you. There is nothing in this knowledge mysterious, or hard—there is nothing but what any body, who has common application, a common share of judgement, and is free from prejudice, and sinister interest, may arrive at. He will not do so all at once; time is required; but every step is delightful, and what is gained at every step has an immediate use. I am not at all mistaken, in regard to your capacity, nor in regard to your application. Education defective! If the principal part of what is given to people for education, is only prejudices, you are better without it. Which of our educated sparks has written such a book as yours? The best part of every mans education is not that which he gets from others, but that which he gives to himself. Did any man ever write such a book as that which you have written, who had not done more to educate himself than all the world could do for him? I am not sorry you have been reading some things in the Dictionaire de Bayle, if you have hit upon the right ones. He has uncommon skill in the statement of an argument, and in the exposure of prejudices. If you have not read the articles Manichée, and Pauliciens, with some others to which these will give you the reference, (Marcion, if I remember right, is one) read them now, and tell me what you think of them—what reflections they suggest to you. If you have not read, or not read lately, Locke’s Essay on the Human Understanding, I think you should do so; both because it is perpetually referred to in all books, and in all speculative conversation, and also because it really is an excellent introduction to intellectual matters in general. Lockes mode of proceeding, trains the mind into paths of right inquiry; it gives you the end of the clue, and tells you how you may explore by yourself the labyrinth. This will occupy you till my book comes, which I hope you will have it in your power to see in a month. If not Locke, Humes Essays might occupy you advantageously for some weeks—and you should go through with them de suite. Millers historical View of the English Constitution was very instructive to me; but I rather think you told me, you had not a copy of it. I mean to put you (however ungrateful it is in me) to the expence of buying a copy of my book—for I made no stipulation for a certain number of copies (in fact I forgot it) in selling the work, and shall be ashamed to ask many copies from the bookseller. I shall also have a greater number of persons who will think they have claims upon me, and who cannot afford to buy the book, than I can supply; and I have therefore resolved to lay down this rule to myself, to ask a copy for nobody whom I think rich enough to buy the book—so that unless you plead poverty, you must lug out your purse.
I cannot let you pass on the subject of refusing me a large fortune. How envious that is! You think a large fortune would not enable any man to effect parliamentary reform. Do you think, prepared for it, as this country is, that the thing would be difficult? It appears to me that the population in this country with regard to some important improvement in their government may be compared to a vessel of water exposed to a temperature at 32°. Leave it perfectly still, and the water will remain uncongealed; shake it a little, and it shoots into ice immediately. All great changes in society, are easily effected, when the time is come. Was it not an individual, without fortune, without name, and in fact without talents, who produced the reformation? Before I have done with you you will reason less timidly on this subject, because you will know more certainly. You would legislate, just now, if sent to legislate, as a man walks who is blind fold, fearing pitfalls and stumbling blocks, at every step. When a man sees his way before him, he walks confidently.
I fear, from what Romilly said when I talked to him here, that Leicester fields will not do. Place writes to me with some hopes, since he went to town. He is for the present proprietor trying the question. I heard from Romilly you had been at Bowood —and Lady Romilly gave me a long history of all the good you and Mrs. Ricardo are doing about Gatcomb. Well, I like to hear you praised. I also must find means to come and see what you are about at Gatcomb, that I may praise you too.—And now I must close—but not till I have begged my best compliments to Mrs. Ricardo, and all the friends I have that are near you. I am glad to hear that the young squire and lady are of a forgiving disposition. I long to kiss their hands—and am always,
My Dear Sir, very faithfully Yours
P.S. In the character of pupil, you must not be long before you give your master an account of your progress.