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Letter to the Editor of the Edinburgh Review, on James Mill[*] - 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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Letter to the Editor of the Edinburgh Review, on James Mill[*]
In an Article on Dr. Bowring’s “Life of Bentham,” published in the last Number of the Edinburgh Review,[†] statements are made, on the authority of that work, tending to give a most false impression of the character of one who, by his writings and personal influence, has done more for philosophy and good government than almost any man of his generation, and who has peculiar claims upon the justice of the Edinburgh Review, to which he was for many years an important contributor—I mean the late Mr. James Mill, my father.
That those whose lives are devoted to the service of mankind should meet with inadequate appreciation from their contemporaries can surprise no one; but when their motives and moral character are misrepresented, not only justice, but the public interest requires that the misrepresentation should be corrected; and I trust you will not refuse the necessary opportunity to the person on whom that duty is, in the present case, peculiarly incumbent.
The Reviewer, quoting from the “Memoirs,” says, “Bentham said of Mill, that his willingness to do good to others depended too much on his power of making the good done to them subservient to good done to himself. His creed of politics results less from love for the many than from hatred of the few. It is too much under the influence of social and dissocial affection.”[‡]
What is here promulgated as Bentham’s deliberate judgment, was never, I will venture to affirm, believed by any human being who had the smallest knowledge of Mr. Mill.
I know not how a biographer is to be justified in giving publicity and permanence to every idle word which may have been said to the prejudice of others, under some passing impression or momentary irritation. It would, besides, be easy to show, that the reports of Bentham’s conversations contained in the Biography, abound in the inaccuracies which are to be expected when things carelessly stated by one person, are afterwards noted down from memory by another. But whatever Bentham may really have said, when a statement so injurious to another is made on his authority, justice to that other imposes the necessity of declaring what the “Memoirs” amply confirm, that among Mr. Bentham’s eminent intellectual endowments, capacity for judging of character was not one. The manner of his intercourse with others was not favourable to his acquiring a real knowledge of them; and his warmest friends and admirers often lamented that his opinion of men depended less on their merits than on accidental circumstances, and on the state of his personal relations with them at the time. On no other principle can I account for his expressing any opinion of Mr. Mill bearing the complexion of that quoted in the Article.
It imputes to Mr. Mill, as the source of his democratic opinions, the vulgarest motives of an unprincipled demagogue; namely, selfish ambition, and a malignant hatred of the ruling classes. Now, there was perhaps no one man among Mr. Mill’s contemporaries, holding similar opinions to his, who stood more manifestly clear from even the suspicion of these motives.
He could in no way hope for “good to himself” from the opinions he professed. In many respects they stood in the way of his personal interest. They deprived his writings of the countenance of either of the great parties in the state, in times when that countenance was much more important than it now is, and when he might have obtained it as easily as many others did, who had not a tithe of his talents. Even had his opinions become predominant, which he never expected would be the case during his life, he would, as he well knew, have reaped no personal benefit from them; and assuredly, the time when he embraced democratic doctrines, was a time when no person in his senses could have entertained the smallest hope of gaining any thing by their profession.
As for “hatred of the few,” the phrase seems introduced solely to round an antithesis. There never was a man more free from any feelings of hatred. His hostility was to institutions and principles, not to persons. It was his invariable doctrine that the ruling individuals were not intentionally bad, nor in any way worse than other men. Towards some of them he entertained strong feelings of personal friendship. A certain asperity, no doubt, appears occasionally in his controversial writings; but it proceeded from no private motives:—the individuals against whom it showed itself never injured him, never wounded his vanity, or interfered with his interests; his path and theirs never crossed. It has been shown in the highly honourable acknowledgment recently made by Mr. Macaulay, how far Mr. Mill was from retaining any grudge, even when he had been personally attacked, and with a severity which the assailant himself cannot now approve.[*] Mr. Mill never wrote severe things of any one but from honest conviction, and in the exercise, as he believed, of a duty; and the fault, if fault it be, is one which we of this age may view with leniency, when we see how often the absence of it has no better source than incapacity of earnest feeling on any subject not personal.
The Reviewer, still following the “Memoirs,” enters into some points of private history, of so personal a nature, and so little interesting to the public, that it is unpleasant to feel called upon to speak of them; but since the impression conveyed is, that Mr. Mill received obligations from Bentham, such as one man rarely receives from another, and that for these obligations he made but an ungrateful return, it is necessary to show how incorrectly the facts are stated, and how false a colouring is put upon such of them as are true.
The statements in the “Memoirs” are, that Bentham “found Mill in great distress, about to emigrate to Caen; that he put him into a house, and took him and his family to live with him for the half of every year, for ten years together.”[†]
At the time when Bentham is said to have “found Mill about to emigrate,” they had already been intimate for many years, as the dates prove; since the “emigration” spoken of could not have been projected until after the Continent was open. Like many others, Mr. Mill had thoughts of removing to a country where a small income would go further in supporting and educating a family; but a person is not usually said to be “in great distress” who never in his life was in debt, and whose income, whatever it might be, always covered his expenses.
Secondly, that Bentham “put him into a house.” If this means that he occupied any house of Bentham’s, free of rent, the assertion is contrary to fact. He paid to Mr. Bentham between £50 and £60 a-year rent, which was as high a rent as he had been accustomed to pay.
Thirdly, that Mr. Mill and his family lived with Mr. Bentham for half of ten years. They did so for half of four years, at Ford Abbey; and they passed small portions of several previous summers with him at Barrow Green. His last visit to Barrow Green, I know, was of not more than a month’s duration, and the previous ones all together, did not, as I am informed, (for my own memory does not reach so far back,) extend to more than six months, or seven at most. Bentham himself, in a letter published in the “Life,” says, the half of five years:[‡] which is not far from the mark.
The pecuniary benefit, therefore, which Mr. Mill derived from his intimacy with Bentham consisted in this, that he and his family lived with him as his guests, while he was in the country, periods amounting in all to about two years and a half. I have no reason to think that this hospitality was either given, or accepted, as pecuniary assistance; and I will add, that the obligation was not exclusively on one side. Bentham was not then, as he was afterwards, surrounded by persons who courted his society, and were ever ready to volunteer their services; and to a man of his secluded habits, it was no little advantage to have near him such a man as Mr. Mill, to whose advice and aid he habitually had recourse in all business transactions with the outward world, of a troublesome or irksome nature. Such as the connexion was, that it was not of Mr. Mill’s seeking, is shown by a remarkable letter from him to Mr. Bentham, which is to be found in the “Life,” and which was written, as its date proves, during the first visit to Ford Abbey.[*]
Lastly, the Reviewer, on his own authority, asserts, that Mr. Mill became estranged from Bentham, and, in after years, “so far withdrew his allegiance from the dead lion as to deny that he had ever called him master.”[†] There was, during the last few years of Bentham’s life, less frequency and cordiality of intercourse than in former years, chiefly because Bentham had acquired newer, and to him, more agreeable intimacies; but Mr. Mill’s feeling never altered towards him, nor did he ever fail, publicly or privately, in giving due honour to Bentham’s name, and acknowledgment of the intellectual debt he owed to him. The “allegiance” which he disclaimed was only that which no man, who thinks for himself, will own to another. He was no otherwise a disciple of Bentham, than of Hobbes, Hartley, or Ricardo.
These are small matters in themselves—quite unworthy to be brought before the public; but if the things are trivial, the inferences drawn from them are not so, and nothing is small which involves injustice to the memory, and a total misconception of the character, of an eminent man. Reluctant, therefore, as I am so to occupy your space; yet as the extensive circulation of the Edinburgh Review has been given to these misstatements, I do not feel that I am unreasonable in soliciting a place, in the next Number, for this contradiction of them.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
J. S. Mill.
[[*] ]Though it is not the practice to insert in this Journal any controversial statements respecting the Articles contained in it, the Editor’s great respect for the memory of the Father defended in the following Letter, and for the Son who writes it, induces him to comply with that claim “for justice” which it urges, by giving it all the publicity which its appearance here can insure. He leaves all comment or observation upon its contents to others; feeling, that if there is any case in which, independently of any opinion as to the justness of the complaint, such a claim ought to be complied with, it must be that where a son craves the opportunity of vindicating, in the same work where he thinks it was injured, the character of a Father of whose name and services to the cause of liberal knowledge he is justly proud.
[[†] ]William Empson, “Jeremy Bentham,” Edinburgh Review, LXXVIII (Oct., 1843), 460-516, reviewing John Bowring, “Memoirs of Bentham,” Parts 19, 20, 21 (later Vols. X and XI) of Bentham’s Works (Edinburgh: Tait, 1842 [Parts], 1843 [Vols.]).
[[‡] ]Empson, p. 461n, quoting Bowring, “Memoirs,” Works of Bentham, Vol. X, p. 450.
[[*] ]See Macaulay, “Preface,” Critical and Historical Essays, Vol. I, p. viii.
[[†] ]Empson, p. 467n, based on Bowring, “Memoirs,” Works of Bentham, Vol. X, p. 483.
[[‡] ]Mill may be referring to the passage in “Memoirs,” p. 480, where Bentham mentions his renting Ford Abbey for “nearly five years” (cf. ibid., p. 25), though, if so, Mill’s interpretation is strained. Empson’s comment is based on Bentham’s reported remark that James Mill and his family “lived with [him] a half of every year, from 1808 to 1817 inclusive” (ibid., p. 483).
[[*] ]See James Mill to Jeremy Bentham, 19 Sept., 1814, ibid., pp. 481-2.
[[†] ]Empson, p. 516.