Front Page Titles (by Subject) 198.: THE MONTHLY REPOSITORY FOR MARCH 1833 EXAMINER, 17 MAR., 1833, PP. 164-5 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
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198.: THE MONTHLY REPOSITORY FOR MARCH 1833 EXAMINER, 17 MAR., 1833, PP. 164-5 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE MONTHLY REPOSITORY FOR MARCH 1833
This is the first of six eulogistic notices by Mill (see Nos. 200, 207, 214, 225, and 229) of the Monthly Repository, a journal founded in 1806 as a Unitarian organ but transformed under the editorship (1828 to 1836) of Mill’s friend W.J. Fox into a wide-ranging journal of literature and politics. Mill himself had begun to contribute to the journal with “On Genius” in October 1832, followed by “What Is Poetry?” in January; he had nothing in the March number. The attack on marriage law in the notice may be compared with the contemporary essays on marriage by Mill and Harriet Taylor (CW, Vol. XXI, pp. 35-49 and 375-7). The review, in the “Literary Examiner,” is headed “The Monthly Repository for March 1833 [n.s. VII]. Edited by W.J. Fox”; the references are to this volume. The review is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A notice in the Examiner of 17th March 1833 of the number of the ‘Monthly Repository’ for the same month, incl. [sic]” (MacMinn, p. 25). In the Somerville College set of the Examiner, it is listed as “Review of the Monthly Repository for March 1833” and enclosed in square brackets.
this valuable periodical, though its reputation and influence are rapidly extending, has not yet made so much way among the general public, as it will when it is better known; chiefly, as we believe, from the impression that, although conducted by the least sectarian of all ministers of religion, it is still in some degree what it once was avowedly, the organ of the theological opinions of a sect. Mr. Fox, however, is well known as a man with whom religion is not a thing apart, an interest which supersedes and excludes all others, but one which heightens and purifies them; in whose estimation the duty of a christian man or of a christian teacher, is not to abstain from worldly concerns, but to pursue them in an unworldly spirit. With him, the temporal welfare of man and the eternal are not two objects conflicting and contradictory, but the first is part and parcel of the last; the last, but the prolongation and amplification of the first. Reversing the order in which commonplace divines present the two ideas, he holds, not that human beings will best perform their duty here by keeping the internal eye constantly fixed in mystical contemplation upon hereafter; but that whatever is best calculated to fit mankind for this world, fits them best also for the world to come.
It would be strange if under such editorship a work could be sectarian. The controversial theology which occupied a large part of the pages of the Repository under the former management, is now banished to a separate publication, the Unitarian Chronicle;1 and the Repository has so completely divested itself of its original character, that the Unitarian Association, we are informed, have withdrawn their patronage from it; not from any disapprobation of its principles or tendencies, but on the declared ground that it is no longer a religious work.
A moral and political magazine, which in politics and legislation stedfastly advocates the principles of the philosophic reformers; which carries the same principles of really conservative reform through the whole range of social morality; and which, along with all that tends to improve the physical state and social relations of man, includes likewise in its comprehensive aim all that can elevate, refine, and beautify the individual mind; such a work ought not to be looked shyly upon by the general reader on suspicion of being sectarian, while it is losing the support of sectarians precisely because it is not so.
The most remarkable paper in the number which has just appeared—we might say one of the most remarkable which have appeared in any periodical for many months—is the recital, with its appropriate commentary, of an “ower true tale”2 —the authentic history of the life of Mehetabel Wesley, a sister of the celebrated founder of Methodism.3 The writer has here given us the deeply affecting and most instructive narrative of the sufferings of a being formed to give and to enjoy happiness such as few are capable of, but whose life, from infancy till death, was a continued martyrdom. She was one of the most to be pitied of the victims of whom whole hecatombs have been and are sacrificed, first to a narrow and bigoted and chilling education, aiming deliberately to crush all independent exercise of the faculties whether of heart or of understanding: and next to a marriage-law, which, as at present constituted, is one of the worst of our social institutions—a law which permits the stronger party to evade with impunity every one of the essentials of the contract, while the misery of an ill-assorted union is left to press upon the weaker with unmitigated burden, and without a hope of relief, unless purchased by what the world have stamped as infamy.
Mehetabel Wesley had the misfortune “of being born into what is called a well-regulated family.” [P. 165.] After an animated description of the highly correct and respectable formalists whom she had the unhappiness to call father and mother,4 the writer proceeds as follows:
Under such auspices was the gentle, fragile, playful, lovely, loving, and sensitive Mehetabel Wesley ushered into the world. She sprang up like the chance seedling of a delicate acacia between the cold hard pebbles of a well-rolled gravel walk, in a square bedded garden, with its formal box and thorny fence, there to be trained, nailed up, and crucified to an iron frame, or a varnished brick-wall, and be tortured, chilled, and wither; beautiful even in her drooping and her death. Her first calamity was what there are too many who would still regard as the best of all possible educations. The industrious Mrs. Wesley, the paragon of moral and religious mothers, was soon hard at work upon her. The plans pursued are minutely detailed in a letter from the good lady herself, which is preserved as an almost infallible directory. It describes the law, order, and duty system, the fear, honour, reverence, and obey plan in its most complete development. Every thing is summed up in submission; submission of heart, mind, and limb, in thought, word, will, and deed.
Mrs. Wesley’s one thing needful5 in the education of children was to conquer their will.
To inform the understanding (we quote her words) is a work of time, and must proceed with children by slow degrees, as they are able to bear it; but the subjecting the will is a thing that must be done at once, and the sooner the better.
[P. 167; Fox’s parenthesis.]
Not one suspicion that it is possible in education to form and guide the will through the agency of the affections, ever seems to have crossed the mind of this paragon of mothers.
We had marked for extraction a passage which not only all parents but all human beings should lay to heart—a protest, noble in thought and animated in expression, against this servile and brutalizing theory of education, the favourite theory even now of the ascetic school of religionists. [Pp. 168-70.] But our readers should be readers of this admirable paper in its original integrity, not in such fragments as space permits us to transcribe.
It was not, indeed, in the power even of Mrs. Wesley and her well-regulated family to crush the feelings, or altogether deaden the intellect of a being in whom “the spirit of love could not be quenched—it was in her very frame;” [p. 170] but what her wretched education could do to corrupt such a being it accomplished; it did pervert her opinions; it taught her that the subjugation of her own will, and the sacrifice of the entire happiness of her life to the arbitrary commands and to the noxious superstitions of others, was a religious duty. Here was the primary evil; in this lay the origin of “a costly wreck of thoughts, feelings, hopes, and capacities of enjoyment, which surely nothing in nature rendered necessary or unavoidable,” [p. 170] and which needed not even thus to have been so utter and so hopeless, had not the institutions which pass for the highest and holiest safeguards of morality, predetermined that, for the most heart-withering of all miseries, though nature allows a remedy, law should allow none.
In the bitterness of a disappointment in love, she made a vow to marry the first man who offered himself to her. “A creature as low in mind as in condition, ignorant and grovelling,” wholly illiterate and wholly unfeeling,—“a Caliban civilized into vulgarity by the pot-house, had the audacity to offer the violence of marriage to this Miranda, and her father compelled her to submit to the brutality. His enforcement of his daughter’s vow in misery, was far worse than Jephtha’s consummation of his own vow in blood.” [P. 172.]6 The importunities of her whole family, who would have regarded the breach of this irrational vow as one of the deadliest of sins, prevailed over a will “effectually broken down” [p. 174] by the notable education of her notable mother, and she offered herself up as a sacrifice.
The victim is bound to the altar. A brand never to be erased marks her for the property of a brute. The truthful burst of agony from the lips of disappointed love was false in its form of expression, and superstition has made it a spell whereby to conjure up more vows, which are false in essence, and defy volition, which pledge her for ever to love the unlovely, and honour the dishonoured, and obey what there were immorality in not resisting. It is done; and the long train of hopeless years commence their lagging march through a world whose beauty should only echo the voice of joy and singing; a wretched procession, in tears and anguish, slow winding to the grave.—And this endured, or rather she endured, through the quarter of a century. It was only in the six and twentieth year of her suffering, that she was dismissed to tell Milton in heaven that his doctrine was still immoral upon earth.
For the greater part of that period “she lived in the hope of death.” [P. 176.] Well and truly does the writer say of this state of endurance, that “it cannot be read of or imagined without acute sympathy or irrepressible indignation.” [P. 171.]
We will not weaken by any words of ours the impression which must be left upon all minds not utterly callous, by the lofty and moving eloquence of the concluding passage: a passage in which (as indeed in the whole article) the noble soul of the writer actually shines through his words.
Mehetabel Wesley was the victim, as woman is yet continually the victim, of bad education, perverted religion, and unequal institution. The finer the individual nature, the more costly is the sacrifice. The feeling, taste, mental power, and moral purity, which some of her poems, and many passages of her life indicate, are such as to prove her capability, in favourable circumstances, of ministering most largely to social improvement and enjoyment, and, at the same time, to individual happiness, and of having both blessings amply measured back into her own bosom. And all this was wasted upon one for whom a comely scullion, with not a thought above her avocation, would have been as satisfactory a companion, probably much more so, and would have received from him much better treatment. How is this? Her brothers would have said that it pleased Heaven sorely to try her; and that is true as far as it goes; but we rather think it also pleases Heaven to show by this, and similar examples, that the true morality, that which conducts to happiness, is not always correctly interpreted by society, not even by that portion of society which claims to be eminently religious. The restraint which crippled her faculties, the awful rod which made her an infant slave, was an immorality. This was the source of her own errors. The twig was twisted, and so grew the tree, though graceful even in its distortion. Her marriage was an immorality. So was her continuing through life in a sexual companionship where mutual affection was impossible; not that she was conscious of viciousness, but the contrary; she no doubt thought her misery was her duty. Ill fare the machinery that wrought the perversion and the suffering. For woman so situated there ought to be redress, open and honourable redress, in every country that calls itself civilized. Her situation was even worse than if she had committed that act which, by the law of Moses, would have subjected her to death by stoning;8 for then she might have been liberated from an enforced and intolerable bond, and even have entered on a new state, perchance of the affection and enjoyment for which she was framed. But her mind was enslaved; it had been scourged into the faith that she was a property, and not a being; her father had divorced himself for a twelvemonth; her husband probably did worse; but she never suspected reciprocity of right or equality of will. And they never suspected that there was degradation in the species of mastery which they arrogated. Savage man kicks and beats woman, and makes her toil in the fields; semi-civilized man locks her up in a harem; and man three-quarters civilized, which is as far as we are got, educates her for pleasure and dependency, keeps her in a state of pupilage, closes against her most of the avenues of self-support, and cheats her by the false forms of an irrevocable contract into a life of subservience to his will. The reason for all which is “that he is the stronger.” And the result of which is that he often lacks an intelligent and sympathizing companion when most he needs one; a high-minded helpmate to cheer him in noble toils and bitter sacrifices; and a mother for his children who will take care that the next generation shall advance on the mental and moral attainments of the present. Truly he makes as bad a bargain as he deserves.
[1 ]The Unitarian Chronicle and Companion to the Monthly Repository, a sixteen-page sheet selling for 3d., lasted only until 1834, when the need for it was thought to have dissipated. It was directed for most of its two-year life by the Reverend Edwin Chapman.
[2 ]Scott, The Bride of Lammermoor, Vol. III, p. 111 (Chap. vii).
[3 ]William Johnson Fox, “A Victim,” pp. 164-77. Mehetabel Wesley (1697-1751), a poet of considerable talent, married William Wright, a London plumber, a coarse and brutal man. All her children died in infancy.
[4 ]Mehetabel’s mother was Susannah Wesley (1670-1742), who about 1690 married Samuel Wesley (1662-1735), Rector of South Ormsby and later of Epworth. They had nineteen children, ten of whom survived infancy.
[5 ]Luke, 10:42.
[6 ]The references are to characters (Caliban and Miranda) in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and to Judges, 11:30-1, where Jephtha’s vow results in his daughter’s sacrifice.
[7 ]The reference is to Milton’s advocacy of divorce; see The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), in Prose Works, Vol. I, pp. 342-76.
[8 ]Deuteronomy, 22:20-4.