Front Page Titles (by Subject) 234.: FONTANA AND PRATI'S ST. SIMONISM IN LONDON EXAMINER, 2 FEB., 1834, PP. 68-9 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
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234.: FONTANA AND PRATI’S ST. SIMONISM IN LONDON EXAMINER, 2 FEB., 1834, PP. 68-9 - 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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FONTANA AND PRATI’S ST. SIMONISM IN LONDON
Mill probably had this review in mind, or may have even written it, by 22 Dec., 1833, when he advised Carlyle: “Of the St. Simonians next time; vide also a forthcoming Examiner” (EL, CW, Vol. XII, p. 203). The concluding paragraphs on marriage and divorce have a particular force when placed in the context of his relations with Harriet Taylor at this time, just after their sojourn in Paris; from these months also date the companion essays they wrote on marriage (CW, Vol. XXI, pp. 35-49 and 375-7). The review, in the “Literary Examiner,” is headed “St. Simonism in London. The Pretended Community of Goods; or, the Organization of Industry. The Pretended Community of Women; or, Matrimony and Divorce. By Fontana, Chief, Prati, Preacher, of the St. Simonian religion in England.” Actually the pamphlet (London: Effingham Wilson, 1833), which does not further identify Fontana or Prati, does not have the words “The Pretended” before “Community of Goods” or “Community of Women.” It is described in Mill’s bibliography as “An article on St. Simonism being a review of the pamphlet entitled ‘St. Simonism in London’ in the Examiner of 2d February 1834” (MacMinn, p. 38). In the Somerville College set of the Examiner, it is listed as “Review of ‘St Simonism in London.’ ”
we notice this rather empty, though in no respect immoral pamphlet, chiefly for the opportunity it affords us of correcting the impression which has gone forth, that its authors are accredited missionaries of some association or sect; the teachers of some creed, some religion, or soi-disant religion, which is believed or professed by other persons besides themselves. We certainly have no ground for imputing to the individuals who are now holding themselves forth as St. Simonian teachers, the assumption of any character which does not belong to them: they have no connexion with any society or body of persons at Paris, but it may be that they do not pretend to any. The style and tone, however, which they have adopted, and even the title which they have given themselves, naturally suggest such an inference, and accordingly it has almost universally been drawn. We, therefore, though without wishing any ill to Messrs. Fontana and Prati,1 think it but right to state, that they are not the authorised representatives of the St. Simonian Society, nor would have been at all likely to be selected as such by the Society if it still existed.2 It had, moreover, ceased to exist, before the young man named Fontana made his appearance in this country. He was sent by no one, had credentials from no one; and after considerable personal inquiry, we have not been able to ascertain that he ever was an acknowledged member of the St. Simonian body, or is known personally to any one of the remarkable men from whom St. Simonism has derived its celebrity. The case is otherwise with Dr. Prati, who has long resided in this country, and who did occupy a place, though never a high one, in the St. Simonian society; but who occupies it no longer, because the society is dissolved.
After casting upon the stormy waters of discussion a greater number of interesting and instructive ideas than have been sent forth to the French public since Rousseau, ideas too of which the profound are not less profound, and the absurd and exaggerated far less absurd and exaggerated, than his; after literally educating a large proportion of the most promising among the youth of the instructed classes in France,—teaching them the lesson which is learnt only once, and from error as often as from truth, viz., to think; after doing all this in the short space of about three years, the St. Simonian religion shared the fate of all religions which profess to be founded on reason: the reason of the different members of the sect, was found to conflict; the divergency of opinion which arose, shook the faith of all in the infallibility of their system, and the sect disbanded itself. To have been hurried by a generous enthusiasm into any vagaries, however strange or absurd, does no permanent injury, in France, to any man’s reputation or prospects in life, when once the delusion is over. The twenty or thirty individuals who were most conspicuous in the sect, have mostly (as all expected who knew the attainments and powers of the men) stepped at once into the very first rank of the several professions or careers which they have since embraced, or to which they have returned. Having renounced all that was bad in their late creed, and generally held fast to all (and there was much) which was good in it; many of them are now exercising, through the press and otherwise, a powerful and highly beneficial influence over the public mind of France. But there is not now remaining at Paris one single individual who calls himself a St. Simonian, or adheres to what was St. Simonism—while St. Simonism was either as a religion or as a philosophy. The late chief and founder of the sect, Enfantin, has quitted France, and gone into Egypt, with the two or three members of the association who still adhere to him, to instruct Mehemet Ali, not in the doctrines of his religion, but how to restore the canal which formerly connected the Red Sea with the Mediterranean.3 We believe that these two Italians, Messrs. Fontana and Prati, are, if not the only St. Simonians extant, the only professed apostles of St. Simonism. It may perhaps be thought that a name which has been dropped by all who held it, belongs of right to those who chuse to pick it up. But if Messrs. Fontana and Prati think fit to hoist the standard of a sect which is extinct, and to identify themselves (as far as names go) with a religious and political system which, though now defunct, once numbered among its adherents men vastly their superiors in talents and attainments; they must expect to be told that nobody besides themselves is responsible for any of their proceedings; and that St. Simonism was a far better thing than it would be supposed if these, its surviving apostles, were considered as a fair sample of all that it could produce.
We have thought it necessary to say thus much, because an impotent attempt, by persons altogether unequal to the task, to fight up a lost cause, is likely to bring discredit upon any truths which, with their nerveless hands, they may attempt to do battle for. The novelties in opinion, broached by the St. Simonian Society, came before the French public in conjunction with evidences of high intellectual powers; and therefore commanded the attention, and even gained the respect, of almost all thinking and disinterested persons, (whatever might be their creed,) who were not religious or philosophical fanatics. But similar opinions thrust into notice here, in a manner which associates them, not with mental power but with mental poverty and weakness, can have no effect but to strengthen the prejudice against all who question established opinions, and increase the cowardice which makes people shrink from exercising their reason on some of the most important questions of legislation and morality.
The St. Simonians are supposed by most of those who have heard of them only through these self-constituted representatives, to be an obscure knot of senseless visionaries, or designing knaves, who inculcate, as the Times says, “community of goods and community of women; in other words, universal profligacy and universal plunder.”4 If such were the fact, is it likely that the second man in the sect, the editor and principal writer of their very able and interesting journal Le Globe, would have been released from prison before his sentence had expired, and immediately selected by the Government for an important mission to the United States?5 That another of their leading men6 would have been appointed one of the principal editors of the Constitutionnel, eminently the journal of the cautious and timid part of the middle class, those who are most shocked at all eccentricities, whether of opinion or conduct? That many who had quitted the service of Government to become apostles of the new creed, would on their abandonment of it have been at once restored to the rank they previously held in the various departments of the administration? That the financial and commercial articles of almost all the principal newspapers, both in Paris and the provinces, and all the articles of the only Review of a high philosophical character now existing in France,7 would be, as they are, written either by ex-St. Simonians, or by persons whose intellects have been formed chiefly by the St. Simonians? There is scarcely a thinker of any importance, in France, at the present moment, who is not largely indebted to St. Simonism; and many have the candour fully to acknowledge the obligation. Nor would it be easy to find a parallel in history to the striking improvement which, aided no doubt by the circumstances of the times, the St. Simonians have introduced into the whole character of public discussion in France.
The St. Simonians neither advocated community of goods nor community of women. They did advocate doctrines of a peculiar kind, both with respect to property and marriage. On both subjects they laid down many just and valuable speculative premises, while on neither were their practical conclusions defensible; and the doctrines of some of them relative to marriage created the schism which ultimately broke up the sect. On the subject of property, the system they advocated, was the extension to the whole nation of that kind of “community of goods,” and no other, which already exists in the management of the Bank of England or the East India Company; a sort of joint-stock management of the entire productive resources of the nation: the land, and all the instruments of production, being the property of the State, (as is the case with land already in the East,) and the produce not being apportioned as in Mr. Owen’s parallelograms, in equal shares to the industrious and the idle,8 but distributed among the different members of the community on the principle that no one who does not work either with head or hands, shall be allowed to eat, and that each person shall be employed according to his capacity, and paid by a salary proportioned as far as possible to his services, as is now supposed to be the case in the army, or in a public office. A scheme, impracticable indeed—but differing from Owenism, and from every other Utopia we ever read of, in this, that the impracticability is only in degree, not in kind; and that while most other visionary projects for reforming society are not only impossible, but if possible, would be bad, this plan, if it could be realized, would be good. It is the true ideal of a perfect human society; the spirit of which will more and more pervade even the existing social institutions, as human beings become wiser and better; and which, like any other model of unattainable perfection, everybody is the better for aspiring to, although it be impossible to reach it. We may never get to the north star, but there is much use in turning our faces towards it if we are journeying northward. As civilization has advanced, the principle of combination of labour has come into perpetually greater play; and associations for purposes of productive industry have become practicable, and been actually realized, on a continually enlarging scale. We have only to imagine the same progression indefinitely continued, and a time would come when St. Simonism would be practicable; and if practicable, desirable.
As for the pretended “community of women;” were such really the opinion maintained, though a barbarous, and, so far as such an epithet can be applied to opinions, an immoral doctrine, it is not necessarily a licentious or sensual one: it may be connected, as it was in Plato, with a rigid, though an indefensible system of morality;9 and may be the result of a train of philosophical speculation, pushed to its extreme consequences. But the doctrine of the St. Simonians, as all know who are really acquainted with it, was objectionable on a directly contrary ground; instead of leaving too much license, it left none at all; it encroached far more than even our present institutions and customs, upon human freedom, and spontaneity of choice; for it made both marriage and divorce depend upon circumstances, of which others, and not the parties themselves, were to be the judges. Their’s was a system much nearer to despotism than to licentiousness, or even rational liberty. Their absurdities on this subject are, however, forgotten, and the memory of them shall not, by us, be revived. But we are at a loss to see how the accusation of immorality can lie against the only doctrine which, if we may judge from their pamphlet, Messrs. Fontana and Prati maintain with respect to the marriage contract—its dissolubility. Surely this is an opinion which it is open to conscientious persons to entertain and advocate, without deserving to be treated as the very scum of the earth—looked down upon even by the Literary Gazette!10 Surely the accusation of grossness, if applicable any where, may with far greater reason be retorted against the morality at present in vogue. But the same persons who pronounce that to be immoral and irreligious which Milton deemed essential to morality and religion11 —the same persons who pronounce that to be inconsistent with the good order of society, which is the law of the land in all or almost all Protestant Germany—can see no sensuality, no indelicacy, in the continuance of a merely animal connexion between two persons who have become conscious that affection has never existed, or has ceased to exist between them. For our part, our difficulty is to conceive how a people, whose current morality countenances or tolerates such a debasing prostitution, can dare to call any doctrines or practices gross or licentious.
To the impure, all things are impure:12 a sensualist, let him hold what opinion he may, will hold it in a sensual spirit: to such, marriage as it now exists, is but a guarantee of exclusive property in an instrument of sensual gratification. The most unlimited freedom of divorce could engender no feeling viler than this. But unlimited freedom is not what we contend for. It might be suitable to a people among whom personal profligacy is rare; but in the present state of European society, the degree of latitude allowed must be limited by the varying probability of its being abused for purposes of sensuality, or exercised in mere caprice. We think that divorce should be always pronounced by the Magistrate, in cases defined with more or less strictness according to circumstances, but in which the attempt should be to include all those instances, and no others, in which, after ample trial, the union had obviously and decidedly failed to attain the purposes for which it has been ordained: the interests of children being, of course, always reckoned as part of the account. If in any country, under such a system as this, marriage (as is pretended) would degenerate into a mere temporary concubinage, the state of opinion in that country must be such as would permit the utmost latitude of profligacy, whatever were nominally the law.
But this is too grave a subject, and of too far-reaching an interest, to be disposed of incidentally. Unless we greatly err, a time will come, and soon, when the discussion of it will assume a more serious aspect, and will be conducted on far loftier principles than heretofore. It is a question of the deepest concernment to all who feel interested in the moral and social condition of women; who, it is contended on the one hand, would be degraded, if marriage were rendered dissoluble; while the very ground upon which the dissolubility is defended on the other, is that it is the only means by which woman can be elevated in the social scale. The natural consequence of greater freedom in respect to the dissolution of marriage would be that women, like men, would be either provided for by their parents, or taught to provide for themselves; that they would no longer be under a kind of moral necessity of allying themselves to some man; and would become, what they have never yet been, really the equals of men. Because it is part of the perfection of woman to be dependent, as it is of the perfection of man too, (dependent, we mean, for affection, a dependence, which is, as all dependence ought to be, reciprocal,) is it therefore right that women should hold their subsistence, and their estimation in society at the will of a man? So long as most women depend for actual support, and all for preserving their reputation, upon keeping upon good terms, coûte qu’il coûte, with their husband, while he, affection apart, depends upon his wife for nothing but sitting at the head of his table, or looking after his servants, the ordinary relation between husband and wife can be no other than that of a helpless dependent towards, at best, an affectionate master, at worst, a cruel tyrant. And with respect to the other side of the question, we do not think he can be a man of much fineness of character, who can greatly value any hold that convention can give him over affections which he believes would, if the customs of society permitted, be transferred elsewhere.
[1 ]Gregorio Fontana-Rava has left little trace. It is known that he ran a bookshop in Antwerp which became a centre for Italian patriots and that after he came to England in May 1833 he lectured twice a week in the Burton Lecture Rooms on advanced topics. Gioacchino Prati (1790-1863) was a romantic Italian patriot and revolutionary of high birth. He travelled throughout Italy and (after his exile in 1821) Europe, founding secret societies and furthering revolutionary causes. In 1823 he came to England where, he says, through Bowring he wrote for the Westminster Review. He became a Saint-Simonian in 1803-31 and in 1837 was editor of the Penny Satirist, in which he published his autobiography (1837-39), reprinted in Annuario dell’istituto storico italiano per l’età moderna e contemporanea, Vols. XVII-XVIII (1965-66) and XIX-XX (1967-68).
[2 ]The Society broke up after the trial of Enfantin and his followers in August 1832; see No. 180.
[3 ]Mohammed (or Mehemet) Ali (1769-1849), the ex-Albanian soldier who had cooperated with the British in expelling the French, by 1811 had command of Egypt. He began investigating the feasibility of a Suez Canal, on which Enfantin advised. Enfantin was accompanied to Egypt by about five disciples, including Marie Jérôme Henri Fournel (1799-1876), a mining engineer; they were preceded by another larger group of former Saint-Simonians, including, as well as Barrault and Rodrigues, Félicien David (1810-76), composer, and Charles Joseph Lambert (1804-64), yet another engineer.
[4 ]The Times, 8 Nov., 1833, p. 2.
[5 ]Michel Chevalier, imprisoned for six months after the trial of August 1832, then was sent to the United States for two years to study transportation systems.
[6 ]Christophe Stéphane Mony Flachat (1810-84), a civil engineer active in organizing Saint-Simonian ateliers, also worked on transportation after the Society broke up.
[7 ]The Revue Encyclopédique included articles by such former Saint-Simonians as Pierre Leroux (1798-1871), its director, and Jean Reynaud (1806-63), who contributed a series on Saint-Simonianism, and who was imprisoned after defending Guinard in the trial of the Société des Droits de l’Homme.
[8 ]See Robert Owen, Report to the County of Lanark, of a Plan for Relieving Public Distress, and Removing Discontent, by Giving Permanent, Productive Employment, to the Poor and Working Classes (Glasgow: Wardlaw and Cunningham, 1821), pp. 27-8.
[9 ]See Plato, Republic (Greek and English), trans. Paul Shorey, 2 vols. (London: Heinemann, 1930), Vol. I, pp. 452-8 (457c-458d).
[10 ]An anonymous, scathingly dismissive review of St. Simonism in London appeared in the Literary Gazette on 7 Dec., 1833, pp. 772-3; much of its scorn was directed at the Saint-Simonian beliefs about women.
[11 ]In his Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.
[12 ]Cf. Titus, 1:15.