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LITERARY ESSAYS - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I - Autobiography and Literary Essays 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I - Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981).
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this volume includes, in addition to the Autobiography, fourteen of Mill’s essays and reviews,56 and nine appendices. Only two of these articles were republished in Dissertations and Discussions (1859) in more or less complete form, “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties” (the two-part essay in the Monthly Repository) and “Writings of Alfred de Vigny” (from the London and Westminster), but two more, “Aphorisms: Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd” and “Ware’s Letters from Palmyra” (both from the London and Westminster), are represented by extracts in Dissertations and Discussions. It might be argued that Mill did not, at least in 1859 when Dissertations and Discussions first appeared, believe many of these essays to be of major importance, and indeed by any standards some of them are slight; however, a case can be made for each of those he chose to leave buried in periodicals, and a fortiori for the importance of his literary essays as a whole.
It would be perverse to argue, on the other hand, that Mill in middle life or later believed his literary articles to have the importance of those on economics, history, and politics (though a great many of the last were not reprinted by Mill); in this connection one should note that the essays in this volume span only the years 1824 to 1844, with all but four appearing in the 1830s, the period when he was most concerned to examine literary works and, as editor of the London and Westminster, was able to review them at will. They thus illustrate (without in themselves establishing) Mill’s movement from orthodox Philosophic Radicalism through a period of eclectic search to settled maturity.
“Periodical Literature: Edinburgh Review” represents the initial period, being in fact his first article in the newly-founded organ of the Philosophic Radicals, and indicating both in manner and content that the designated successor to Bentham and James Mill was coming out in the expected and proper fashion. The assurance, contempt, irony (particularly in the attacks on Brougham’s articles—anonymous, of course, but not to the initiate), and characteristic language (e.g., the demand for “securities”) all mark the author as a committed sectarian as surely as the argument that the governors must be accountable to the governed, and the insistence that the aristocracy and its organs are motivated by special (and therefore sinister) interests. That Mill later recognized these as signs of narrow sectarianism is indicated by his comment in the Autobiography: “The continuation of this article in the second number of the review was written by me under my father’s eye, and (except as practice in composition, in which respect it was, to me, more useful than anything else I ever wrote) was of little or no value” (p. 95n; see also p. 96k). It also, of course, was a continuation of his practised diligence (soon to be taxed in his editing of Bentham’s Rationale), especially when one notes that he had done the extensive research for his father’s impressive article as well as for his own. Though there are hints in the article of his individual views, it is not surprising that he chose not to republish it (in fact he republished none of his thirteen articles from the first dynasty of the Westminster, all of which have considerable interest and value). Alexander Bain’s comment is fair: most of the opinions in the article “were his father redivivus; yet, we may see the beginnings of his own independent start, more especially in the opinions with regard to women, and the morality of sex.”57
The next four essays, “On Genius,” “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” and the two reviews of Junius Redivivus, all date from 1832 and 1833. They show Mill in the midst of his period of search, examining and enjoying the new perspectives and insights afforded by W. J. Fox and his circle, including Harriet Taylor, and by Thomas Carlyle, who, though certainly not a member of that group, knew them and discussed their ways and works in his extensive correspondence with Mill. The first three of these essays appeared in Fox’s Monthly Repository, where Harriet Taylor was publishing poetry, and to which William Bridges Adams (“Junius Redivivus”) was contributing. Probably in response to a suggestion in conversation, Mill wrote to Fox on 3 April, 1832, to say that he would send along anything of his appropriate to the “design” of the Monthly Repository;58 “On Genius,” a response to an article in the Repository, was the first to appear, some six months later. Of it, and the three following pieces, Mill might equally well have noted that he was gaining practice in composition, though he had changed his model from James Mill to Carlyle. To the latter he commented on 17 September, 1832:
. . . I have written a rambling kind of article, in which many, I will not say great, but big things are said on a small occasion, namely in the form of strictures on a well-meaning but flimsy article which recently appeared in the Monthly Repository. . . . As for this article of mine, those who best know me will see more character in it than in anything I have ever published; other people will never guess it to be mine. You, I hope, will find all the three articles true, the only praise I covet, & certainly rarer than any other in our times. But in this last you will find many things which I never saw, or never saw clearly till they were shewn to me by you, nor even for some time after.59
The italicized words, “You” and “true,” match the article’s intensity, which clearly relates to his excitement over Carlyle’s rhetoric, as does the expression of emotional response, and also the Delphic evasiveness of such comments as that in the same letter: “You see I adhere to my system, which is to be as particular in the choice of my vehicles, as you are indiscriminate, & I think we are both right.” All of this mannerism he later repudiated (and he did not reprint “On Genius”), informing George Henry Lewes (probably late in 1840):
The “Genius” paper is no favorite with me, especially in its boyish stile. It was written in the height of my Carlylism, a vice of style which I have since carefully striven to correct & as I think you should do—there is too much of it in the Shelley. I think Carlyle’s costume should be left to Carlyle whom alone it becomes & in whom it would soon become unpleasant if it were made common—& I have seen as you must have done, grievous symptoms of its being taken up by the lowest of the low.60
The next item, “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” is the republished form of two essays in the Monthly Repository (January and October, 1833), which show less hectically the same characteristics. (The version in Dissertations and Discussions, it may be interjected, reveals Mill’s awareness of the over-enthusiasm in the originals by removing italics in sixty-four places.) The first, “What Is Poetry?” was evidently written without thought of a sequel, in a rather tentative spirit, as befitted a venture into strange new lands. He sought guidance and reassurance from Carlyle on 27 December, 1832, saying he had written an essay for “Fox’s January number” that
attempts something much higher, and intrinsically more valuable, than all these writings on politics, but with far less success: it is not nearly so good of its kind, because I am not so well versed in the subject. It embodies some loose thoughts, which had long been floating in my mind, about Poetry and Art, but the result is not satisfactory to me and will probably be far less so to you—but you will tell me to what extent you think me wrong, or shallow. I wrote the paper from conviction (else it had never been written) but not from that strong conviction which forces to write: rather because I wished to write something for Fox, and thought there was a clearer field open for him in that direction than in the political one.61
And his doubts continued, as is evident in a letter to Carlyle (11 and 12 Apr., 1833) after the article appeared:
That last [“What Is Poetry?”] you promised me a careful examination and criticism of: I need it much; for I have a growing feeling that I have not got quite into the heart of that mystery, and I want you to shew me how. If you do not teach me you will do what is better, put me in the way of finding out. But I begin to see a not very far distant boundary to all I am qualified to accomplish in this particular line of speculation.62
During the course of the year, and in large measure because of actual and anticipated responses from Carlyle, Mill pushed his investigations further into the relation between Art and Philosophy (a question that was to resolve itself for him a decade later in Book VI of his Logic), into the value of his intellectual inheritance, and into examinations of new poets. The products were, in part, the comments on his father included in Bulwer’s England and the English (App. D below), the ill-fated review of Robert Browning’s Pauline (the surviving note for which is given in App. E below), and the beginnings of a review of Alfred Tennyson’s poems which resulted in both “The Two Kinds of Poetry” (the second part of “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties”) and “Tennyson’s Poems.” The remarks on his father, which Mill repudiated as having been “cut and mangled and coxcombified” by Bulwer (see p. 589 below), should be seen in conjunction with the comments on Bentham that he also contributed to England and the English.63 In both he is respectful; the voice, however, is that of a broadening critic, not that of a narrow disciple. The independence is more obvious in the “review” of Pauline, which has received much comment from Browning scholars. One need only summarize briefly what is known: Pauline was published in March, and Mill, given a copy by W. J. Fox, wrote a review for the Examiner before the middle of May. It was judged too long for the Examiner, so Mill proposed to revise it for Tait’s. His summer months being busy, however, he had not made his revisions by August, when Tait’s published a dismissive review of the poem, and Mill withdrew his offer. The only surviving evidence of his views is found in the copy of Pauline which he returned to Fox. He, going against Mill’s suggestion, gave it to Browning, whose revisions of the poem reflect in part a reaction to Mill’s marginal comments. The fullest recording of these, with the note printed below as Appendix E, and Browning’s revisions, is in an article by William S. Peterson and Fred L. Standley.64 Some of the marginalia give evidence of Mill’s subjective reading of this highly subjective poem; for example, against
he wrote, “deeply true.”
When these other articles of 1833 are read with “The Two Kinds of Poetry,” one can see the “weaving anew” process mentioned in the Autobiography (p. 163), as Mill intertwines the warp of his learned associationism with the woof of new ideas about the use and value of emotion. The new insight he owed, in this case, to James Martineau’s “On the Life, Character, and Works of Dr. Priestley,”65 as he acknowledges on 26 May, 1835:
The last two pages of the concluding paper made an impression upon me which will never be effaced. In a subsequent paper of my own in the “Repository” headed “The Two Kinds of Poetry” (October, 1833) I attempted to carry out your speculation into some of those ulterior consequences which you had rather indicated than stated.66
And he goes on to assert his continued acceptance of at least part of his intellectual inheritance, in a way that was to become increasingly sure as he gained confidence in his new proceedings; he had, he told Carlyle, two articles in the Monthly Repository for October, 1833, one on Blakey, and the other
the little paper I told you I was writing in further prosecution of, or rather improvement on, the thoughts I published before on Poetry and Art. You will not find much in the first to please you; perhaps rather more in the second, but I fear you will think both of them too much infected by mechanical theories of the mind: yet you will probably in this as in many other cases be glad to see that out of my mechanical premisses I elicit dynamical conclusions. . . .67
It is not known what Mill thought of these speculations later—he merely refers to them as “the most considerable” of his contributions to the Monthly Repository (p. 205)—but it is unquestionably significant that he included a carefully revised version in Dissertations and Discussions, the only such inclusions from his Repository articles (apart from a section of his review of Alison’s History).
Using the latest version from Mill’s lifetime as copy-text (the normal practice in this edition), we indicate the variants in earlier versions in footnotes. A study of these shows that the revisions can be seen to fall into four types: (1) alterations in opinion or fact, including major omissions, amplifications, or corrections of information; (2) alterations resulting from the time between writings, including changes in statement of fact consequent upon the passage of time and new publications; (3) alterations which qualify, emphasize, or give technical clarity; and (4) alterations which are purely verbal, or give semantic clarity, or result from shifts in word usage, and alterations in italicization. The changes here reveal several similarities to Mill’s practice in other reprinted essays: first, there is a large number, some 209 in all (or 6.5 per page of Dissertations and Discussions), as is common in the early essays reprinted by Mill; when less time intervened between the original form and the first revised form in 1859, fewer changes seemed necessary. Second, using the categories just described, one finds the order of frequency to be 4 (128 changes), 3 (58 changes), 1 (20 changes), and 2 (3 changes); by far the largest number (more than half) are of type 4.68 Third, very few of the changes (16 in all) were made for the 2nd ed. of Vols. I and II of Dissertations and Discussions (1867), and of these almost all were relatively trivial (12 involved the removal of italics that had survived the apparently thorough reduction of shrillness in 1859). It should be noted that while what, to modern taste, might seem to be excessive italicization appears in articles by others in the Monthly Repository, Mill’s usage in these articles went far beyond that journal’s norm. Finally, the non-substantive changes, like those in Mill’s other writings, generally parallel those of the substantives.69
Any selection of significant or even merely interesting variants will reflect subjective judgments, but, especially when seen in conjunction with the Autobiography and the other literary essays, it seems likely that most readers would attach importance to the long type 1 variants (p. 353s-s and p. 365a) that originally closed the separate essays. The former contains a comparison of French and Grecian (Modern and Ancient) artists (capped by a quotation from Carlyle), an account of beauty in painting, illustrated by Claude Lorraine and Salvator Rosa, and a passage on the weakness of modern architecture compared to the Classical and Gothic “tongues” which it “parrots” (here a quotation from Milton is used). The latter (with a quotation from Wordsworth) has a different kind of interest, explaining as it does (if again somewhat mysteriously) Mill’s use of the signature “Antiquus,” and by inference its successor, the simple “A” that he normally used in the London and Westminster Review.
An example of the few and slight type 2 changes may be seen in the deletion of “last summer” from the account of Mme Schröder-Devrient’s performance in Fidelio at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, in 1832 (p. 351q).
Probably the most easily identified characteristic of Mill’s revisions is the search for the properly weighted judgment, resulting in the qualifications that we count as type 3 changes. Most common are substitutions of a less extreme modifier: in 1859 “rarely” replaced “never” at p. 344j-j, and “commonly” replaced “always” at p. 364t-t. (See also the string of changes, pp. 359-60b-b tof.) A troublesome instance of scholarly obfuscation may be instanced: a description of poetry (in quotation marks) as “man’s thoughts tinged by his feelings” is ascribed by Mill to “a writer in Blackwood’s Magazine”; in 1859 he says, bluntly, “He defines” it as such; but in 1833 he had said, “We forget his exact words, but in substance he defined” (p. 348i-i)—he almost certainly refers to John Wilson, who used similar phrases (especially after Mill wrote these words), but no such definition has been located by us. Perhaps Mill was simply seeking a more positive persona, as in a similar change where “We believe that whenever” is strengthened to just “Whenever” (p. 362j-j). There are also some that remind one of the circumstances relating to the composition: at p. 364w-w Mill in 1833 placed the “logician-poet” above the “mere poet”; “logician” was the term he used at the time in contrasting himself with Carlyle the “poet”; in 1859 the higher talent was assigned to the “philosopher-poet”—not, it should be said, with any self-reference.
While the type 4 changes are most trivial as well as most common, they have a cumulative effect (as in the removal of italics already cited, with which may be compared the removal of exclamation marks at, e.g., p. 363o-o). Also some have special or typical interest, not infrequently of a slightly puzzling kind. For instance, at p. 347b-b, when Mill, referring to the powers of the imagination, altered “arranged in the colours and seen through the medium” to “seen through the medium and arrayed in the colours,” had his attention been caught by what may well be a printer’s misreading of his hand (“arranged” for “arrayed”) which led him to reconsider the temporal or logical priority of the two clauses?70
The final two essays in this group, the parallel reviews in 1833 of The ProducingMan’s Companion by W. B. Adams, were published in April (Monthly Repository) and June (Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine)—that is, in the period between the two essays on poetry. The one in Tait’s, though it appeared later, was written and submitted before the one in the Monthly Repository, being proposed by Mill in a letter to William Tait of 23 January, 1833:
I shall probably send you, in time for your March number, a short review of an excellent book, the Producing Man’s Companion, by Junius Redivivus—whom I think the very best popular writer whom the enlightened radicals count in their ranks—though I like his personal articles in the Examiner less than the many admirable papers he has written in the True Sun, Mechanics Magazine & various other periodicals.71
The article went to Tait on 28 February, with Mill’s comment: “I send you a paper on Junius Redivivus, for your Magazine, in case you think it worthy of insertion.”72 He also mentioned it to Carlyle in a letter of 3 March, saying that he was forwarding a copy of the book to him.73 Some implications in the review evidently gave Tait doubts, which Mill attempted to assuage on 30 March:
With respect to the article on Junius Redivivus, I myself have not made up my mind on the question whether the situation of the working classes is on the whole better or worse than it was: I worded the article so as if possible not to commit the Magazine to a decided opinion, but I thought the testimony of a writer who evidently knows much of the working people, an article of evidence very fit to be received, though not sufficient to decide the question. Could not you let the article stand as it is, and express your dissent from the opinion of J. R. in an editorial note? If not, I should like to see the article again before it is printed; not from any fear that you should “spoil” the article, but because when anything is to be left out, a writer almost always thinks it necessary that something else should be put in.
As to the matter of fact in dispute I feel convinced from the great diversity of opinion among equally good observers, & from the result of the enquiries of the Poor Law Commission, that the truth varies very much in different parts of the kingdom & among different classes of workmen.
Are there any other parts of the article which you object to?74
Tait’s reservations may have delayed publication, but in any case almost a month earlier, indeed on 1 March, the day after he had sent his review to Tait, Mill said to W. J. Fox: “I will write a short paper for the next M.R. on Junius Redivivus.”75 This he produced with his usual dispatch, commenting to Carlyle in a letter of 11-12 April:
Tait has not yet published that paper on Junius Redivivus, but in the meantime I have written another on the same subject for Fox, (a much better one as I think), which has appeared in the April number, and . . . you shall have it by the first opportunity.76
Before the “first opportunity” had arrived, Carlyle had seen a quoted passage that prompted him to think that, just as he had detected a new mystic (that is, a promising disciple) in Mill’s anonymous articles on the Spirit of the Age in the Examiner, so here he had found another.77 Mill, saying on 18 May that he has finally sent a copy, adds: “The passage you saw quoted about Books and Men, was from that; so there is not evidence therein of ‘another mystic’; so much the worse.”78
The brief notice of Views in the Pyrenees, which is not mentioned by Mill in extant correspondence or in the Autobiography, also appeared in 1833 in the Monthly Repository. Though slight, it shows his continued enthusiasm for mountain views; one recalls his remark that the powerful effect of Wordsworth on him was in part the result of Wordsworth’s setting much of his poetry in mountains, which, says Mill, “owing to my early Pyrenean excursion, were my ideal of natural beauty” (p. 151). Though we have no evidence to support the assertion, it seems not unlikely that Mill chose to notice the book, rather than having it given to him for review merely by accident.
The next five essays have a common source: all appeared in the journal edited by Mill, the London Review (later the London and Westminster Review). As might be expected when he was his own editor, they are more assured and independent. This tone is also seen, even when mixed with apology, in Mill’s editorial notes for the review, printed in Appendix F below.79 These help us see Mill in his editorial role, though it seems that Alexander Bain overstates the case in saying that the review “abounds in editorial caveats, attached to the articles: [Mill’s] principle of seeing partial truth on opposite sides was carried out in this form.”80 There can be no question, however, about their casting more light on his friendships with Sterling and Carlyle, and on his running battle with Abraham Hayward.81
Mill’s first major literary essay in his own journal was the review of Tennyson (1835), which has links with the preceding years: as we have already mentioned, “The Two Kinds of Poetry” was first conceived as the prelude to a notice of Tennyson. Had such a notice appeared in 1833, what has been recognized as Mill’s early appreciation of Tennyson’s poems would have been even more remarkable. His view was enthusiastic: in a letter to J. P. Nichol he ranked them as “the best poems . . . which have appeared since the best days of Coleridge.”82 As is typical of him, impressions were retained: a particular view, he wrote to his wife twenty years later, is “as one fancies the valley in Tennyson’s Oenone, only that there is no forest or turf here”; Francis Mineka notes that Mill had quoted in his review the lines from “Oenone” beginning, “There is a vale in Ida.”83
Though Mill chose, regrettably and for unknown reasons, not to include his review of Tennyson in Dissertations and Discussions, the next three items from the London and Westminster were represented there, though, in one case, only by the opening and, in another, by the closing paragraphs. That is, the “review” parts were deleted, leaving the generalized comments appropriate to an exordium and a peroration. The subject of the first of these reviews, Arthur Helps’s Thoughts inthe Cloister and the Crowd, was another book that Mill held in more than a reviewer’s regard. According to Alexander Bain,
This [review] was another occasion when [Mill] displayed his passion for discerning and encouraging the first indications of talent and genius. I remember when I first came to London, this was one of the books he lent me; and we agreed that, in point of thinking power, Helps had not fulfilled the promise of that little work.84
Mill seems to have pondered the subject for almost a year, for he told Nichol just after the article appeared that it “was all prepared last spring, though I had not put any of it on paper.”85 As usual, when he put pen to paper, the ink flowed easily and quickly: “I have stolen in the last two days, time to begin a little article for the review & a day or two more will finish it.”86 Helps gave Mill one of those fine moments of gratification for reviewers when he let Mill know, over thirty years later, that his had been a word in season. Mill replied:
If, as you intimate, my review of your first publication had any share in procuring for the world the series of works which I & so many others have since read with so much pleasure & instruction; far from regarding this exploit of mine as a sin to be repented of, I should look upon it as a fair set off against a good many sins.87
No detailed comment is needed on the revisions Mill made in the reprinted paragraphs, the discussion on pp. xxxv-xxxvi above being intended to cover the general issues and types. It may be noted, however, that there are comparatively few changes, only 12, or 2.4 per page of Dissertations and Discussions,88 all of them type 3 or type 4, and all but 2 made in 1859.
“Ware’s Letters from Palmyra” is not mentioned in any of Mill’s extant correspondence or in the Autobiography. The novel, published in the United States, was probably first brought to his attention by its mention (which he quotes to open his review) in Harriet Martineau’s Society in America. Here again there are few variants (7, or 2.3 per page of Dissertations and Discussions, each made in 1859), all of which are minor.89
Mill’s review of Alfred de Vigny’s Œuvres, which appears in Dissertations and Discussions, less only the summary and running comment on Cinq Mars (p. 474c), is his last major attempt, in Bain’s words, “to philosophize upon Literature and Poetry.”90 Though we have only two comments on it by Mill, they indicate why he thought it was worth reprinting, and also show how he saw it in relation to his earlier essays. In the Early Draft he remarks that of his literary essays, “the one which contained most thought” was that on Vigny (p. 224). And in a letter of February, 1841, to George Henry Lewes, he says:
You have not however yet convinced me that the line between poetry, & passionate writing of any kind, is best drawn where metre ends & prose begins. The distinction between the artistic expression of feeling for feeling’s sake & the artistic expression of feeling for the sake of compassing an end, or as I have phrased it between poetry & eloquence, appears to me to run through all art; & I am averse to saying that nothing is poetry which is not in words, as well as to saying that all passionate writing in verse is poetry. At the same time I allow that there is a natural, not an arbitrary relation between metre & what I call poetry. This is one of the truths I had not arrived at when I wrote those papers in the Repository but what afterwards occurred to me on the matter I put (in a very condensed form) into the concluding part of an article in the L. & W. on Alfred de Vigny. I wish you would look at that same when you have time, (I will shew it to you) & tell me whether what I have said there exhausts the meaning of what you say about the organic character of metre, or whether there is still something further which I have to take into my theory.91
A glance at the revisions in this article helps establish the generalization offered above, that the later the date of an essay (this appeared in 1838), the less rewriting was needed: here there are 132 substantive changes, or 3.1 per page of Dissertations and Discussions (as against 6.5 per page for “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties” of 1833).92 Once again no extensive treatment of the variants is called for. As usual, the order of frequency is type 4, type 3, type 1, type 2, with more than half being type 4,93 and more than a third type 3; and very few changes were made in 1867 (7 of 132).94
The last essay in this group from the London and Westminster is Mill’s first review (Aug., 1838) of Richard Monckton Milnes. It would appear again that he was searching out good material for the Review, for the first issues of Milnes’s two books (later in the year published as Milnes’s Poems, Vols. I and II) were rather elusive. In the review, it will be noted, Mill says one of the volumes “was not designed for publication, and the other is not yet published” (p. 505). Editorial consultation led him to write to Leigh Hunt on 11 November, 1838:
Robertson tells me you have a copy of Mr. Milnes’ volume of poems: if you are not needing it for a day or two, would it be too much to beg the favour of a sight of it? Something relating to the next number of the Review may depend upon the opinion we form of it—if left at Hooper’s or sent by omnibus or parcel company to the I[ndia] H[ouse] I should receive it.95
Despite the cautious tone (“Something . . . may depend”), Mill probably already intended to review the volumes, as the search and the praise in the review suggest prior knowledge.
After giving up the editorship and proprietorship of the London and Westminster, Mill wrote only a little for the Westminster, as it then once more became. The next two essays in this volume, appreciative notices of Milnes’s Poetry for the People and of Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, come from that small group, and it is at least moderately ironical that one of the remnant from the early, ferocious, and anti-poetical days of the Westminster should appear in it, almost for the last time, as the author of favourable reviews of poetry by non-Radicals. Nothing, it should be said, is known of the composition of these articles, nor do their texts present any challenges. And the same is true of the final item in the volume, Mill’s letter of January, 1844, in defence of his father, which appeared in the Edinburgh Review, the journal to which, in 1840, he began to contribute many of his best essays, as James Mill had in the years preceding the founding of the Westminster. (Concerning the main issue in this letter, James Mill’s financial obligations to Bentham, one should look at the revision of the Early Draft at p. 56a-a below.) So a cycle, which this volume illustrates, comes to a close: the young sectarian Benthamite, now assured and, with the publication of the Logic, widely acclaimed, whose first periodical article was an attack on the Edinburgh, has become a contributor to it. The Autobiography tells us, of course, that the story does not end here, but the record of Mill’s further career as an author must be sought in other volumes of the Collected Works.
This is not the appropriate place to enter into detailed exposition of Mill’s critical ideas or their relation to his ethical or political thought, and in any case one would be hard pressed to maintain that the essays in this volume—so various in occasion, scope, and seriousness of purpose—represent a coherent body of theory. A few of the pieces are not really “literary” at all (in the stricter sense of treating imaginative literature imaginatively), while others suggest that, as a practical critic, Mill had, by our standards, less than excellent taste. (His lengthy quotations in the two reviews of Milnes amount to a small anthology of the world’s worst poetry.) Even so, there are in the essays some statements that have, to modify Keats’s phrase, put Mill “among the English critics,” and these deserve to be noticed.
The best known of Mill’s critical ideas are contained in “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” and most of them more specifically in the first section (originally published separately as “What Is Poetry?”), where, after setting down the object of poetry (“to act upon the emotions”) and distinguishing between poetry and eloquence (“eloquence is heard, poetry is overheard”), Mill arrives at this summary definition: “Poetry is feeling, confessing itself to itself in moments of solitude, and embodying itself in symbols, which are the nearest possible representations of the feeling in the exact shape in which it exists in the poet’s mind” (p. 348). The three elements of this definition—the strong (almost exclusive) emphasis on feeling, the idea of the poet as self-confessor in solitude, and the description of symbols as vehicles of the poet’s emotion—are distinctive, and these are the points that have been of most interest to historians of modern criticism.96
Near the beginning of the essay, in a preliminary attempt to pin down exactly where poetry resides, Mill says that “poetry is not in the object itself, nor in the scientific truth itself, but in the state of mind in which the one and the other may be contemplated,” and he then invents an example, often quoted, of object as representation of feeling:
If a poet describes a lion, he does not describe him as a naturalist would, nor even as a traveller would, who was intent upon stating the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He describes him by imagery, that is, by suggesting the most striking likenesses and contrasts which might occur to a mind contemplating the lion, in the state of awe, wonder, or terror, which the spectacle naturally excites, or is, on the occasion, supposed to excite. Now this is describing the lion professedly, but the state of excitement of the spectator really.
In the later twentieth century, on the hither side of T. S. Eliot’s famous definition of “objective correlative”97 (which is certainly what Mill, in his simpler way, intended the lion to exemplify) and several decades of New Critical elaboration of the concept, we can appreciate Mill’s intelligence, even precocity, at this point in the essay. But in the course of developing the notion of self-confession—“All poetry is of the nature of soliloquy,” “no trace of consciousness that any eyes are upon us must be visible in the work itself,” “Poetry . . . is the natural fruit of solitude and meditation” (p. 349)—he strips poetry of nearly all its traditional elements (story, incident, description, moral truth, above all an audience to interact with), and in place of the poet as, in Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads (para. 15), “a man speaking to men,” we are presented with the much narrower concept of a man speaking to himself about himself.98
Mill was himself soliloquizing, of course, and his essay has the rhetorical character of the greater Romantic lyric, taking shape according to the movement of the speaker’s mind. In the second section (originally published separately as “The Two Kinds of Poetry”), Mill restores some of what he had taken away by defining two categories, the poetry of the “poet by nature” (represented by Shelley) and the “poetry of culture” (Wordsworth—some would today reverse the examples), and then, perhaps upon realizing that he has produced two halves of something rather than two discrete entities, ends up with the ideal union of the two in the concept “philosopher-poet” (p. 364).99 And this is the position that he begins with when he enters into the theoretical section of his review of Tennyson: “There are in the character of every true poet, two elements, for one of which he is indebted to nature, for the other to cultivation” (p. 413).
The Tennyson essay contains an eloquent statement on the relative value of feeling and thought in achieving “the noblest end of poetry”:
Every great poet, every poet who has extensively or permanently influenced mankind, has been a great thinker;—has had a philosophy, though perhaps he did not call it by that name;—has had his mind full of thoughts, derived not merely from passive sensibility, but from trains of reflection, from observation, analysis, and generalization. . . . Where the poetic temperament exists in its greatest degree, while the systematic culture of the intellect has been neglected, we may expect to find, what we do find in the best poems of Shelley—vivid representations of states of passive and dreamy emotion, fitted to give extreme pleasure to persons of similar organization to the poet, but not likely to be sympathized in, because not understood, by any other persons; and scarcely conducing at all to the noblest end of poetry as an intellectual pursuit, that of acting upon the desires and characters of mankind through their emotions, to raise them towards the perfection of their nature. This, like every other adaptation of means to ends, is the work of cultivated reason; and the poet’s success in it will be in proportion to the intrinsic value of his thoughts, and to the command which he has acquired over the materials of his imagination, for placing those thoughts in a strong light before the intellect, and impressing them on the feelings.
This is a much more generous and reasonable view of poetry than that of the first section of “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” and it much better represents Mill’s considered ideas on the subject. From the Tennyson essay on, and most prominently in the reviews of Vigny, Milnes, and Macaulay, his emphasis is where readers of the Autobiography would expect it to be—on the importance of feeling and thought, and on the educational, social, and cultural functions of poetry (“to raise [men and women] towards the perfection of their nature”). These later ideas, unlike those of “Thoughts on Poetry,” are not distinctive; they were long in the public domain before Mill arrived. But this is not the first instance in which Mill sacrificed distinctive originality for the sake of more substantial and more comprehensive truth.
There is little evidence that Mill read poetry later in life,100 and it is probably best, in the over-all view, to say that where, before the mental crisis, he had been “theoretically indifferent” to poetry (see p. 115), ever afterward he was theoretically in favour of it—still, however, almost entirely at the level of theory. But though he wrote no more articles or reviews that would qualify for inclusion as “literary essays,” we nevertheless have, from his middle years, the fine paragraphs about discovering Wordsworth and the importance of poetry and “culture of the feelings” in the Autobiography (pp. 149-53), and from his last decade the powerful defence of poetry and art at the conclusion of his Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St. Andrews (1867). What is most significant, finally, is not any specific idea about the nature of poetry or the role of the poet, but instead the spectacle of Mill’s “strange confusion . . . endeavouring to unite poetry and philosophy.”101 This “confusion” and endeavour made him a broader, deeper, and more complex thinker and writer than he had been before, and they continue to make him interesting and valuable. His more orderly predecessors and contemporaries now figure mainly in footnotes; he, on the other hand, as the works collected in these volumes amply testify, remains alive in text and in context.
[56 ]Of the fourteen, eight appeared in the Westminster Review (including one in the London Review and four in the London and Westminster Review), four (one of them originally two separate essays) in the Monthly Repository, and one each in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine and the Edinburgh Review. It is interesting to note that Mill signed his first three essays in the Monthly Repository “Antiquus,” explaining, when he last used it, his reason both for adopting and for abandoning it (see p. 365), and saying he would henceforth use “A.” And in five of the seven that appeared in the London and Westminster he used “A”; however, in the two others—the review of Ware and the first review of Milnes—he signed himself “S,” perhaps because he had other reviews in the same issues, and did not want readers to think the Review’s stable was emptying, and he was being left with a terminal case of Hobson’s choice.
[57 ]Alexander Bain, John Stuart Mill (London: Longmans, Green, 1882), p. 33.
[58 ]EL, CW, Vol. XII, pp. 97-8.
[59 ]Ibid., pp. 117-18. The other two articles referred to are “Corporation and Church Property” and “Austin on Jurisprudence.”
[60 ]Ibid., Vol. XIII, p. 449.
[61 ]Ibid., Vol. XII, p. 133. Later he would surely have regretted saying he was “not so well versed” in poetry.
[62 ]Ibid., p. 149.
[63 ]Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society, CW, Vol. X, pp. 3-18, and 499-502.
[64 ]“The J. S. Mill Marginalia in Robert Browning’s Pauline: A History and Transcription,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, LXVI (2nd quarter, 1972), 135-70, citing, inter alia, EL, CW, Vol. XII, pp. 157, 162, 174, 185. Our transcription corrects some errors in theirs. The marginal note quoted below is on p. 47 of Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession (London: Saunders and Otley, 1833).
[65 ]Monthly Repository, n.s. VII (Jan., Feb., Apr., 1833), 19-30, 84-8, 231-41. Mill refers to, and quotes from, the concluding portion in his Logic (CW, Vol. VII, p. 481, and Vol. VIII, pp. 857-8).
[66 ]EL, CW, Vol. XII, p. 247.
[67 ]Ibid., p. 181. For the article on Blakey, see Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society, CW, Vol. X, pp. 19-29.
[68 ]There are proportionally rather fewer type 3 changes here; in other essays there is more commonly only slightly more of type 4 than of type 3. See, e.g., CW, Vol. X, p. cxxii, and Vol. XVIII, p. lxxvii. In our calculations we are counting the variant notes, not the individual changes.
[69 ]That is, more (though not preponderantly) occur here than in later essays, and more (with the same qualification) in 1859 than in 1867. The great majority involve changes in the use of commas, but there are almost as many deletions of a comma or a pair of commas (30 instances) as of additions (27 instances). In general, and remembering that some of these changes probably reflect house style, one may say that there is a lightening of punctuation over time—again a tendency seen in Mill’s other writings.
[70 ]See also pp. 351n-n, 356b, 357t-t, and 360k-k. What is very likely a misreading, one paralleled elsewhere, may be seen in the change to “or” from “and” (habitually written by Mill as a small ampersand resembling both “or” and “a”) at p. 358w-w; and cf. below, the change from “where” to “when” (p. 423j-j) and from “those” to “these” (p. 467l-l), very likely the result of other common problems with Mill’s hand.
[71 ]EL, CW, Vol. XII, p. 137.
[72 ]Ibid., p. 142.
[73 ]Ibid., p. 146.
[74 ]Ibid., p. 148.
[75 ]Ibid., p. 142.
[76 ]Ibid., p. 149.
[77 ]See Carlyle’s letter to Mill of 1 May, 1833, in The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, ed. Charles Richard Sanders, et al. (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1970- ), Vol. VI, p. 377. Concerning his comment on Mill’s “The Spirit of the Age,” see p. 181n below.
[78 ]EL, CW, Vol. XII, p. 155.
[79 ]Some of the worrisome details of an editor’s life can be seen in Mill’s letters, for example in that of June, 1837, to Robertson (EL, CW, Vol. XII, pp. 338-9), in which he says, in part, “There is the devil to pay on another score—the new printers have begun with page 1 instead of page 285”—as indeed No. 10 and 53 (July, 1837) mistakenly did.
[80 ]Bain, John Stuart Mill, p. 57. The quotation from Locke that appears on the title pages of the review seems to indicate Mill’s determination that the periodical reflect his own search for truth rather than an assured dogmatism: “Those who have not thoroughly examined to the bottom all their own tenets, must confess they are unfit to prescribe to others; and are unreasonable in imposing that as truth on other men’s belief which they themselves have not searched into, nor weighed the arguments of probability on which they should receive or reject it.” (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in Works, New ed., 10 vols. (London: Tegg, et al., 1823), Vol. III. p. 104 [Bk IV, Chap xvi. §4]. In Locke the sentence begins, “At least those, who . . . .”)
[81 ]Concerning Hayward and Mill, see Francis E. Mineka, “John Stuart Mill and Neo-Malthusianism, 1873,” Mill News Letter, VIII (Fall, 1972), 3-10. Also, Hayward’s translation of Faust was attacked by J. H. Garnier in the London and Westminster, III and XXV (Apr., 1836), 366-90.
[82 ]EL, CW, Vol. XII, p. 245.
[83 ]LL, CW, Vol. XIV, p. 382.
[84 ]Bain, John Stuart Mill, p. 49.
[85 ]EL, CW, Vol. XII, p. 322.
[86 ]LL, CW, Vol. XVII, p. 1969.
[87 ]Ibid., p. 1709.
[88 ]Oddly enough, there are comparatively more (22 in total, all but 2 in 1859) changes in accidentals, which do not here, or in the next review (where there are only 5), appear in their final form because the copy-text for each is the earlier version.
[89 ]All are of type 3 or type 4, except that at p. 460g-g, which ranks as a type 1: Mill deleted in 1859 the passage here italicized: “greatly is any book to be valued, which in this age, and in a form suited to it, and not only unexceptionable but fitted to be most acceptable to the religious leader, does its part towards keeping alive the chivalrous spirit.”
[90 ]Bain, John Stuart Mill, p. 52.
[91 ]EL, CW, Vol. XIII, pp. 463-4.
[92 ]There are also relatively fewer non-substantive changes, only a handful of which were made in 1867 (including the addition of accents on four foreign words or names).
[93 ]In contrast to the revised essay of 1833, this one shows far less need for the removal of italics; there are only 8 instances (1 dating from 1867), and in one place (p. 484t-t) the word “salon” (probably judged still to be foreign) was italicized in 1859.
[94 ]Mill’s translations of Vigny demonstrate an extraordinary command of French. In those excerpts from Cinq-Mars chosen to illustrate Vigny’s ability to convey the character of an age, Mill successfully translates the flavour by employing structures and vocabulary, often cognates, for their archaic or poetic suggestiveness, occasionally leaving French words that contribute to atmosphere or mystery. In the excerpts that illustrate Vigny’s depiction of character and emotions, Mill, in his seemingly effortless way, renders faithfully ideas and nuances of feeling, but he also demonstrates, through the occasional omission and rearrangement of detail, that he has a good eye, and ear, for the dramatic. The most interesting omission and reordering of elements occurs in the translation of Stello’s credo concerning his poetic gift (p. 497), where Mill suppresses in each sentence the introductory main clause expressing belief in the self, and moves his affirmation of the poet’s visionary power from first to third place, after his response to Nature and his sympathy with mankind.
[95 ]EL, CW, Vol. XIII, p. 384.
[96 ]See in particular Alba H. Warren, Jr., English Poetic Theory, 1825-1865 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), pp. 66-78, M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp (New York Oxford University Press, 1953), pp. 23-5; René Wellek, A History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950, Vol. III (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), pp. 132-6.
[97 ]In “Hamlet and His Problems” (1919), reprinted in Selected Essays, 1917-1932 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1932), pp. 124-5. Eliot later echoes Mill in The Three Voices of Poetry (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1954), where the first voice is “the poet talking to himself—or to nobody,” and Eliot suggests that “part of our enjoyment of great poetry is the enjoyment of overhearing words which are not addressed to us” (pp. 6, 33). As Mill progresses to a less extreme position, with the emphasis on both thought and feeling that begins with the Tennyson essay, he joins the many anticipators of Eliot’s “unified sensibility” (see Eliot’s “The Metaphysical Poets,” in Selected Essays, pp. 245-8).
[98 ]Though there were other, more immediate stimuluses (Carlyle and James Martineau have been mentioned earlier, and Harriet Taylor is certain to have played a part), the most fundamental and pervasive influence on this essay, as on the literary essays more generally (especially “On Genius” and the reviews of Tennyson and Vigny), is Wordsworth, to whom Mill is indebted not just for quotations and the specific ideas that we have identified in reference notes, but for much of the vocabulary as well (e.g., “representation of feeling,” “state of excitement,” “feeling pouring itself out,” “emotion spontaneously embod[ying] itself,” “overflowing of . . . feelings,” “vivid sensations”) and even such rhetorical strategies as the affirmative antithesis so characteristic of Wordsworth when he wants to proceed in spite of the logical weakness of his position: “If the above be, as we believe, the true theory . . . or even though it be not so, yet . . .” (p. 350). (The paragraph of advice to readers beginning at the middle of p. 403 suggests that Mill read the 1798 Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads as well as the later prefaces.) But Wordsworth in his theory is constantly in touch with his audience, and the narrowness of Mill’s position in other respects is similarly unWordsworthian. Possibly we have here a prime case of Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence.” The most curious aspect of the relation is Mill’s use of the most typically Wordsworthian descriptions of the poet to apply not to Wordsworth but, as it turns out, to Shelley! (See especially the paragraph beginning at the bottom of p. 357.)
[99 ]This strategy Mill employs elsewhere, most notably in his discussions of Bentham and Coleridge; he found the notion of “halfness” in Carlyle, but the putting together of “halfmen” was probably based on his own self-examination.
[100 ]The following, however, from Lady Amberley’s journal, 28 Sept., 1870, is often quoted. “After dinner Mr. Mill read us Shelley’s Ode to Liberty & he got quite excited & moved over it rocking backwards & forwards & nearly choking with emotion; he said himself: “it is almost too much for one.’ Miss Taylor read the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty but in rather a theatrical voice not as pleasant as Mill’s, he also some of hisfavourite bits of Wordsworth whh he admires very much.” (The Amberley Papers, ed. Bertrand and Patricia Russell [London: Hogarth Press, 1937], Vol. II, p. 375.)
[101 ]John Bowring’s phrase, reported by Caroline Fox, Memories of Old Friends, ed. Horace N. Pym (London: Smith, Elder, 1882), p. 113 (journal entry for 7 Aug., 1840).