Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX G.: Obituary Notice of J. S. Mill - An Autobiography, vol. 2
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APPENDIX G.: Obituary Notice of J. S. Mill - Herbert Spencer, An Autobiography, vol. 2 
An Autobiography by Herbert Spencer. Illustrated in Two Volumes. Vol. 2 (New York: D. Appleton and Company 1904).
Part of: An Autobiography
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Obituary Notice of J. S. Mill
[From the “Examiner” newspaper for May 17, 1873.]
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, seems to me scarcely needful. The facts are sufficiently obvious, and are recognized by all who know anything 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 which 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, 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 criticized 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.