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Source: Editor's introduction to The Collected Works
of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVI - Journals and Debating Speeches Part I, ed. John M. Robson (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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Introduction by JOHN M. ROBSON
mill is known as a sage, whose major works are detachable from time and author; only careful analysis shows them related to “persons and places,” to borrow George Santayana’s chosen determiners for his memoirs. More easily connected with episodes in Mill’s life are periodical essays, great and small, occasioned by and developed in response to external forces. The principal sources of personal information are his Autobiography and his correspondence, which provide a great wealth of information about his development, almost always in relation to his ideas (decided and tentative). This record needs to be supplemented from records of his daily life that locate him—body as well as mind—in public places and in relation to other people. These are the materials of this collection.
This is not, however, the place for a biography, especially as these documents are concentrated in one period of Mill’s life, heavily significant for an understanding of him but not leading to a full portrait. An appropriate goal is an outline of the biographical surround that touches on the relations between life and thought, and suggests significances.
up to 1820, Mill’s fourteenth year, his recorded life is mainly one of directed study, not of cram but of a planned expansion of intellectual powers, driven by his father’s will and his own curiosity. His year in France (1820-21) did not change the direction or intensity of this programme, but it laid the ground for later developments that diversified his ideas and his behaviour. Initially the plan was very much part of the established pattern. James Mill had thought it essential, as early as 1814, to nurse his limited means by moving his family to the less expensive domain of France. As his position, financial and public, improved, the translation seemed less attractive, and his appointment to the Examiner’s Office of the East India Company made it impracticable. But the possibility of his son’s benefiting from a linguistic and cultural immersion was still appealing, especially because the family of Sir Samuel Bentham, the younger brother of Jeremy, already known to the Mills, was living in the south of France. In response to a query about the progress of his education, John Mill wrote a detailed letter to Samuel Bentham that surely must have surprised even a man so accustomed to talent as he. Shortly thereafter Jeremy Bentham’s current amanuensis, Richard Doane, joined the Samuel Bentham family, with whom he stayed for more than six months, and Jeremy proposed that he be replaced by John Mill.
Well: I must draw back one pet-boy from you; what say you to my sending you another? . . . What other? Why John Mill, whom you may shew for 6d. a piece and get rich. The scheme is this, if you happen to take to it. John Mill to continue here 6 months after R.D.’s return, learning French of him, and teaching him other things. This will suffice to enable him to ask for victuals on the road, and then you may manufacture him into a French boy in 6 other months. I remember you had a project . . . for manufacturing his temper; this it may still have some need of, but it is a good deal better, I believe, now. I thought that what he saw and heard of P[om]pignan and R.D. would excite the fellow’s concupiscence. But I would not throw out the least hint about it; waiting for him to rub his cheeks against my legs, and pur, which at last he did.
A month later the project was agreed, as Jeremy Bentham informed his brother: James Mill is reported as having “grinned pleasure and twice declared himself ‘much gratified’: gratified is a conjugate to grateful and gratitude: but nearer to gratitude than this he never comes; for he is and always was proud as Lucifer.” The plans moved to completion, and finally Bentham was able to write on 12 May to Lady Bentham to say that the boy would set out on Monday for Paris by diligence via Calais, in the company of their friend George Ensor; the date of his departure for the South was still uncertain.
James Mill thought it wise to prepare the somewhat secluded youth for a wider acquaintance, and did so effectively, as Mill’s Autobiography records:
I remember the very place in Hyde Park where, in my fourteenth year, on the eve of leaving my father’s house for a long absence, he told me that I should find, as I got acquainted with new people, that I had been taught many things which youths of my age did not commonly know; and that many persons would be disposed to talk to me of this, and to compliment me upon it. What other things he said on this topic I remember very imperfectly; but he wound up by saying, that whatever I knew more than others, could not be ascribed to any merit in me, but to the very unusual advantage which had fallen to my lot, of having a father who was able to teach me, and willing to give the necessary trouble and time; that it was no matter of praise to me, if I knew more than those who had not had a similar advantage, but the deepest disgrace to me if I did not.
This lesson well engraved, John began his trip a few days before his fourteenth birthday (20 May), and started his journal immediately. Instructed by his father to record all his activities, John responded in typically obedient fashion, differing in this as in other respects from David Ricardo and George Grote, who were similarly instructed by James Mill, but fell short of his exacting standards. In fact, this was not his first attempt; in one of his very few childhood letters, written from Forde Abbey on 13 September, 1814, the eight-year-old boy says: “What has been omitted here will be found in a journal which I am writing of this and last year’s journeys.” That journal has not survived, and the one of his French journey gives us such full detail that the loss of the former must be regretted.
The outline of the French trip may be quickly sketched. After two weeks in Paris at the home of Jean Baptiste Say, the eminent economist, the youth travelled by himself to the Château de Pompignan, near Toulouse, where the Samuel Benthams were in accommodation rented from the impecunious Marquis. There he stayed until 24 June, when the Benthams took him with them to Toulouse, where they lived for almost two months. Then on 10 August they began touring about, going first to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, then on a long excursion to Bayonne, followed by more time spent in Bagnères-de-Bigorre and Bagnères-de-Luchon, then back to Toulouse, before settling finally in Montpellier in mid-October. Though it had been planned that he return to England after six months, Mill stayed with the Benthams in Montpellier, attending lectures and further expanding his acquaintance, until March 1821. After a brief visit to Restinclières in mid-March he went to Paris, where he again stayed with the Says, from 23 April to 19 May, and then went on to Caen, visiting his father’s friend, Joseph Lowe, before finally going home in July.
This brief glance at his itinerary does not even hint at the importance of the year in France to Mill’s education, formal and informal. The first pages of the Journal, written in an unformed, large, youthful hand, and much blotted, give the impression of a normally intelligent, healthy if somewhat fastidious boy, excited by a first trip alone and abroad, but determined to keep his feelings under control. While in Paris he consorted, appropriately in view of Bentham’s and his father’s reputations, with prominent French radicals, and was in “high request”; but only in retrospect, in the Autobiography, does he make anything of the experience. One may remark his digesting a dialogue in the Socratic manner as evidence of the precocity that was unquestionably his, but on his coach trip to the South there is little further evidence, as he observes the unpleasant, comments unremarkably on the pleasant, and displays his growing French vocabulary.
With his entry into the Bentham household on 2 June, and the resumption of his studies, the extraordinary begins to predominate. That household was by any standards but Benthamic ones very unusual. It was headed by Sir Samuel, naval architect, mineralogist, explorer, inventor, ex-Brigadier General in the army of Catherine the Great of Russia, and ex-Inspector General of His Majesty’s Naval Works, the inventor of the Panopticon usually attributed to his brother. Lady Bentham, daughter of George Fordyce, the celebrated Scottish physician and chemist, intelligent, learned, and active in managing the domestic details, was responsible for overseeing Mill’s routine. Their three daughters make only fleeting appearances in the account, although it becomes quite clear that the troubles of the eldest, who at the beginning of Mill’s visit was about to give birth to a daughter and was being abandoned by her feckless husband, caused much of the family’s domestic confusion and perambulations. Quite important to the young Mill was the son, George, nearly twenty years of age, who was just beginning the studies that would make him an internationally renowned botanist. Though the Benthams engaged outside masters (charging the expense to James Mill), the education of their visitor was a joint family concern; the general supervision, as well as some particular instruction in French, botany, and zoology, devolved on “Mr. George.” The Benthams were not as overawed as others by the boy’s abilities and attainments, because they had already heard of them and in part seen them displayed in England seven years earlier, and also because they themselves had displayed the like. In his manuscript autobiography George Bentham mentions that his sisters made their own clothes for their fourth birthdays and were able to make a list of them; he also records that when they went to Russia for two years he (at age five) and his brother (two years older) quickly learned Russian, French, and some German, “resumed” their Latin studies, and picked up a bit of Swedish on the way home.
The matter of Mill’s French may be first approached. It will be recalled that the initial plan was for Richard Doane to begin John Mill’s instruction during the six months between his return to London and John’s departure. But because Doane did not leave the Benthams until the end of February, and Mill started on his trip in early May, not much teaching can have taken place. Nonetheless, a start was certainly made, and it seems probable that Mill got busy on his own account with a French grammar as soon as the trip was bruited. And, as the entry for 4 July indicates, he had been reading (perhaps with a translation) Voltaire’s Essai sur les moeurs before his departure. Jeremy Bentham mentions that James Mill had “found a man for commencing the instruction of the son in French and supplying his place as instructor to the other children,” but there is no evidence that such an engagement actually took place, and Sarah Austin may have taken on the latter part of the scheme.
The progress he had made was already evident when he reached Paris, for he indicates in his entries of 19 May, 1820, that “None of them except [M. Say] and his eldest son can speak a word of English” and that “Mme Say . . . does not understand English, so that I was obliged to speak always French to her, and commonly also to M. Say.” And of a visit to the theatre in Toulouse on 3 June, just after his arrival at the Benthams’, he says he “understood a good deal” (Journal entry for 3 June). George Bentham’s diary entry for the same day gives further evidence: “he conversed a good deal in French about crops, the country he has passed etc. though he has been but a fortnight in France and had learn[ed] but a month or six weeks before from Richard.” And in another place he comments on Mill’s “rapid progress in French,” as well as his “readiness at difficult algebraic problems which had rather puzzled me etc.”
Mill’s reading programme, begun as soon as he reached Pompignan, is equally impressive. Beginning with Millot (probably Eléments de l’histoire de France), he moved quickly to plays, “by the advice of Mr. George and of Lady Bentham, who say that dialogues are better to be read, on account of their giving the 1st and 2nd person of the verbs, and for many other reasons” (13 June). Between 9 and 16 June he read three or four plays by Voltaire, three by Racine, one or two by Molière, and one by Corneille. Lady Bentham also recommended parts of the Code Napoléon. A further recommendation was the memorization of fables, most likely Lafontaine’s, as also giving all the persons of verbs and having common words. He began a “Livre Statistique,” primarily to learn the geography of France, but also to gain familiarity with names and terms, and started daily “French exercises” on 8 June, probably helped by George Bentham, though there is no explicit reference by Mill to such aid until 5 July (George Bentham mentions it in his Diary earlier, on 26 to 28 June, after the move to Toulouse); on 10 July he began to take lessons from a French tutor, M. Sauvage. Thereafter the lessons are frequent, with details of texts read, studied, and translated.
Mill evidently went through a varied and thorough programme in advanced grammar and elegant expression, with additional work on pronunciation. He was, of course, practising his French in talk with the marquise de Pompignan, her son, the curé, and other visitors to the Benthams, as well as with his other masters in fencing, music, etc. The Benthams seem to have encouraged him to converse with local inhabitants: looking just to the first month in the South, one finds him going “with the domestique Piertot to see his Metairie and his little piece of land and help him to gather cherries” (12 June); he fell in with the “very talkative” Garde Champêtre (13 June); and “had a conversation with two workmen,” who seemed “to be very intelligent,” and told him that “they are able to read an English book though they cannot speak English; they speak Spanish” (23 June). By the beginning of August, his competence was such that he decided to keep his records in French, as is indicated by the Notebook, started on the 10th of that month when they departed for the Pyrenees. George Bentham commonly read over the entries, making corrections, until, by the time the Journal ends, Mill needed little help of that kind. Tracing this process of rapid learning—which resulted in Mill’s being a practising bilingualist for the rest of his life—reveals more.
The first part of the record shows vividly a boy most remarkable in his activities, lesson piling on lesson, text on text, as carefully recorded down to the quarter hour as in a modern law office. But the full account reveals more and implies much more. The reader lives through the confusion of the Bentham household in its last weeks at Pompignan, recorded by a boy slightly bewildered, unaccustomed to neglect and family chaos, his books packed, unpacked, repacked, as the timetable for removal shifts. A week later there is a glimpse of the supposedly self-sufficient youngster haunting the Toulouse post-office in what seems a rather homesick way, and responding to the long-awaited news with eager messages and requests for more. He is able to accept what comes, however, commenting with dry humour, and with increasing niceness of phrase, on life’s hazards and mishaps. The general tone, it may be admitted, is laconically impersonal, with little to choose between the accounts of reading and fencing; the rare outbursts of enthusiasm (not his father’s métier) defy classification, spontaneous delight over Lucian being matched by awed wonder at Franconi’s amazing horses.
Other elements, however, catch the eye: family jokes, trouble with the domestics and the dilatory washerwoman; comments with a liberal bias on political events; accidents in the redoubtable charabanc, now past its prime; a great deal of the outdoors, especially of the hot, thirsty Sunday expeditions, chasing butterflies (for scientific reasons, of course, although the exercise and broader observations were not merely coincidental) and consuming glass after glass of water. These welcome details in fact merely bring into sharper focus the central occupation of the Pompignan-Toulouse period: the boy’s prodigious programme of reading and study, carried on in defiance of continual distractions and competing claims.
The next period (and the last covered in the Journal as distinct from the Notebook), the visit to the Pyrenees with three weeks at Bagnères-de-Bigorre and ten days at Bagnères-de-Luchon, has special interest. First, there is the evidence of Mill’s growing competence in French and topographical descriptions rendered with the help of guidebooks and within the limits of an untrained eye and an as yet narrow basis for comparison. But also one finds a constantly expanding awareness of externals, gradually being incorporated into understanding and judgment. While it is true that, deprived of his books and his routine, the boy has to record—for record he must—impressions other than those of his studies, it is equally true that the trip and its recording put him in the way of a new maturity, by giving him both experience and the opportunity to reflect on it. The scenery, so different from the familiar gentle landscapes of southern England, indelibly marked his aesthetics: “This first introduction to the highest order of mountain scenery,” he says in the Autobiography, “made the deepest impression on me, and gave a colour to my tastes through life.” Even more, he was introduced to his lifelong avocation, botanizing. At Toulouse, the Sunday “entomotheric” expeditions had been interludes in the graver concerns of the week; in the Pyrenees botanical and entomological activities were the main business. George Bentham was (unknowingly) laying the foundation of his first important work, on the flora of the region, and Mill was privileged to be with him on many of his field trips.
The Journal entries end on 13 October, two days before the party reached Montpellier, and the Notebook records the next few months there, until 6 February, after which the French record is blank except for the lecture notes in logic and one letter of 25 April to his father from Paris. But the Notebook, supplemented by the lecture notes and the related Traité de logique (Nos. 2 and 3 below), gives us ample evidence that the tour through the Pyrenees did not alter, except by strengthening, Mill’s relentless pursuit of the knowledge that makes wisdom possible. There can be little doubt that he took as careful and detailed notes in Chemistry and Zoology as in Logic, and the surviving notes of the last bear witness to his still surprising mastery of French (how seldom is there a gap indicating a term not understood or not heard), and his ability to comprehend and even to criticize the lecturer’s presentation of concepts. Indeed the fullness and accuracy of his notes demonstrate yet another extraordinary power, even allowing for his making revisions when copying. That he attempted to make a book out of his logic notes is less surprising, given his previous addiction to composition, but still when looking at it one has to make oneself remember that it was the work of a fourteen-year-old, writing in a language he had begun to learn less than a year earlier.
July 1821 saw the end of the “plus heureux” months of his youth, as he called them more than twenty years later. James Mill showed his customary enthusiasm on the results of the trip, writing to Ricardo on 23 August: “John has been at home for some weeks: very much grown; looking almost a man; in other respects not much different from what he went. He has got the French language—but almost forgot his own—and is nearly as shy and awkward as before. His love of study, however, remains; and he shews tractability and good sense. If he do not make what the French call an aimable man, I have no doubt he will make what the English call an amiable and a useful one.”
To that end his “education resumed its ordinary course.”
DEBATING SPEECHES: 1823-29
though mill came again under his father’s direction, the manner and matter both changed, as the boy moved to early manhood (“teenage” seems inappropriate as well as not available in French). The most memorable element for him was his induction into active Benthamism, but related to that enlistment was his studying of law under the tutelage of John Austin, and of philosophy, stimulated by his father but carried on solo. Before long he became a force for reform in his own right, in a whirl of activities not fully evident even in the Autobiography’s detailed account. In bare outline, with the debating activities discussed below, he busied himself first by forming the Utilitarian Society in 1822-23, whose membership included Richard Doane, for discussion of political and ethical questions; this was succeeded by the Society of Students of Mental Philosophy (1824-29) that dealt with detailed questions in philosophy and economics; during the period he kept a journal (not extant) of his group’s activities, and also planned a Philosophical Dictionary for which he wrote a few articles (also not extant). Having begun his extensive work as a newspaper journalist in 1822, he became the most frequent contributor to the Westminster Review after its foundation in 1824, participated as one of the major planners and authors in the Parliamentary History and Review from 1825 to 1828, and edited the three manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham’s Rationale of Judicial Evidence into its five published volumes (1827). He engaged in what seems like continuous discussion of all subjects from architecture to zoology during extensive daily, weekly, and holiday walks while botanizing and searching out the picturesque, and cultivated music through practice on the piano and at musical evenings. Quite enough for a man of leisure, which he was not: in May 1823 on his seventeenth birthday (the earliest possible date), he entered the Examiner’s Office of the East India Company, where he was to earn his living for thirty-five years.
Mill’s activities as a debater demonstrate clearly his maturation. From his early years he had been trained in “dissecting a bad argument,” and had studied with his father the Greek and Latin orators, especially Demosthenes, “some of whose principal orations [he] read several times over, and wrote out, by way of exercise, a full analysis of them.” James Mill, in addition to stressing the substance,
pointed out the skill and art of the orator—how everything important to his purpose was said at the exact moment when he had brought the minds of his audience into the state most fitted to receive it; how he made steal into their minds, gradually and by insinuation, thoughts which if expressed in a more direct manner would have roused their opposition. Most of these reflections were beyond my capacity of full comprehension at the time; but they left seed behind, which germinated in due season.
An interesting window is opened on James Mill’s views by one of his letters to another pupil, Ricardo, in this same period:
Let those discourses . . . which we have so often talked about, be written without delay. And do not stay, in the first instance, to be very nice and punctilious about any thing; run the matter off while the vein is open. I would, if I were you, set down in the first place, on a separate piece of paper, in a distinct proposition or propositions, the subject which I meant to handle, and then under it I would state the different points which I meant to take up, as well my own propositions as the answers to them. I would pass and repass these in my mind; to see as far as I could recollect, if they contained every thing, and if I had them in the best possible order; that is, the order in which that is taken first which needs nothing of what follows to explain it, and which serves to explain what follows; that is taken second which is explained by what precedes, and is serviceable for explaining what follows, without needing what follows for explaining itself. This is the plain rule of utility, which will always guide you right, and in which there is no mystery. After this, I would sit down to write, and expand. When the writing is done, you should talk over the subject to yourself. I mean not harangue, but as you would talk about it in conversation at your own table; talk audibly, however, walking about in your room. This will practice your memory, and will also practice you in finding words at the moment to express your thoughts. After this you shall talk the various subjects over to me, when we have again an opportunity of being together: and after this you may have perfect confidence in yourself. One thing more, however; you must write your discourses, with the purpose of sending them to me. Depend upon it, this will be a stimulus, not without its use. I will be the representative of an audience, of a public; and even if you had in your eye a person whom you respect much less than you do me, it would be a motive both to bestow the labour more regularly, as it should be; and to increase the force of your attention. Therefore no apologies, and no excuses will be listened to.
Delivery, so important to the Classical theorists, was not overlooked by James Mill.
He had thought much on the principles of the art of reading, especially the most neglected part of it, the inflexions of the voice, or modulation as writers on elocution call it (in contrast with articulation on the one side, and expression on the other), and had reduced it to rules, grounded on the logical analysis of a sentence. These rules he strongly impressed upon me, and took me severely to task for every violation of them: but I even then remarked (though I did not venture to make the remark to him) that though he reproached me when I read a sentence ill, and told me how I ought to have read it, he never, by reading it himself, shewed me how it ought to be read. . . . It was at a much later period of my youth, when practising elocution by myself, or with companions of my own age, that I for the first time understood the object of his rules, and saw the psychological grounds of them. At that time I and others followed out the subject into its ramifications, and could have composed a very useful treatise, grounded on my father’s principles. He himself left those principles and rules unwritten. I regret that when my mind was full of the subject, from systematic practice, I did not put them, and our improvements of them, into a formal shape.
Just before John Mill began to debate, he was advised by his father to write practice orations. Obedient as ever, and availing himself of his “familiarity with Greek history and ideas and with the Athenian orators,” he wrote “two speeches, one an accusation, the other a defence of Pericles on a supposed impeachment.” Thus armed, he was ready for actual debate, initially in a “Mutual Improvement Society,” a little documented organization. However, his surviving contributions to it (Nos. 4-6) are formal and rigid, seldom indicating any flexing in response to audience or occasion—though one must recall that these, like all the similar surviving manuscripts, were prepared in advance, and (these may be an exception) not actually read from in debate. In the absence of any indication, one cannot assume that he formulated the topics for debate in the Mutual Improvement Society, though they certainly are apt to his interests then and later.
Considerable rhetorical advance is seen in the next speeches (Nos. 7-13), prepared for debates between the young Utilitarians (or Philosophic Radicals as they became known later) and the followers of Robert Owen at the latter’s Co-operative Society, which has left surprisingly few traces. In the Autobiography Mill notes that early in 1825 Roebuck had attended some of their weekly public discussions in Chancery Lane, and the proposal was mooted that a debate between the two groups would be useful. He continues:
The question of population was proposed as the subject of debate: Charles Austin led the case on our side with a brilliant speech, and the fight was kept up by adjournment through five or six weekly meetings before crowded auditories, including along with the members of the Society and their friends, many hearers and some speakers from the Inns of Court.
The texts themselves indicate that the Philosophic Radicals were in the affirmative, asserting the perils of over-population, and that, following the first round, Mill took over the management of their side from Charles Austin. After this debate, Mill says, “another was commenced on the general merits of Owen’s system”; it appears from No. 9 that again the Philosophic Radicals were in the affirmative, criticizing the Owenites’ view of economics, and that Mill himself had proposed the question. The “contest altogether lasted about three months,” Mill says:
It was a lutte corps-à-corps between Owenites and political economists, whom the Owenites regarded as their most inveterate opponents: but it was a perfectly friendly dispute. We who represented political economy had the same objects in view as they had, and took pains to shew it; and the principal champion on their side was a very estimable man, with whom I was well acquainted, Mr. William Thompson, of Cork, author of a book on the Distribution of Wealth, and of an Appeal in behalf of women against the passage relating to them in my father’s Essay on Government. Ellis, Roebuck, and I, took an active part in the debate, and among those from the Inns of Court who joined in it I remember Charles Villiers. The other side obtained also, on the population question, very efficient support from without. The well known Gale Jones, then an elderly man, made one of his florid speeches; but the speaker with whom I was most struck, though I dissented from nearly every word he said, was Thirlwall, the historian, since bishop of St. David’s, then a Chancery barrister, unknown except by a high reputation for eloquence acquired at the Cambridge Union before the era of Austin and Macaulay. His speech was in answer to one of mine. Before he had uttered ten sentences, I set him down as the best speaker I had ever heard, and I have never since heard any one whom I placed above him.
The encounter with the Owenites led to the formation of the debating society most important in Mill’s intellectual and social development. It is better documented: many of the details missing from Mill’s own account and not to be inferred from his speeches and letters are supplied by three printed documents of the London Debating Society and Henry Cole’s Diary; there are some references and a few surviving speeches by others. The description in the Autobiography of its founding follows immediately on that of the Owenite battles.
The great interest of these debates predisposed some of those who took part in them, to catch at a suggestion thrown out by McCulloch, the political economist, that a society was wanted in London similar to the Speculative Society at Edinburgh, in which Brougham, Horner and others first cultivated public speaking. Our experience at the Cooperative Society seemed to give cause for being sanguine as to the sort of men who might be brought together in London for such a purpose. McCulloch mentioned the matter to several young men of influence to whom he was then giving private lessons in political economy. Some of these entered warmly into the project, particularly George Villiers, afterwards Earl of Clarendon. He and his brothers Hyde and Charles, Romilly, Charles Austin, and I, with some others, met and agreed on a plan. We determined to meet once a fortnight, from November to June, at the Freemason’s Tavern, and we had soon a splendid list of members, containing, along with several members of parliament, nearly all the most noted speakers of the Cambridge Union and of the Oxford United Debating Society.
It was, of course, not particularly the procedures, but the proved utility of the goals and experience of these societies that suggested them as models for the London Debating Society. Consequently a few words about them are appropriate.
J.R. McCulloch seems not to have been a member of the Speculative Society, founded in Edinburgh in 1764 and located on the grounds of Edinburgh University, which included in its illustrious but limited membership—in addition to Henry Brougham and Francis Horner—Walter Scott, Francis Jeffrey, Lord John Russell, and Lord Cockburn. Its self-perceived importance is seen in Cockburn’s comment that to record the affairs of the “Spec’” would be to write “a history of the best talent that has been reared in Scotland” and “of the subjects which have chiefly engaged the attention of the literary and scientific youths, of statesmen, of parties, and of the public.” It would disclose “the early seeds of the individual eminence, which, after being brought into bud there, is blown, in various walks, over the country,” and would provide “the most inspiring picture that the real life of youth can exhibit of the results of mental energy or of mental sloth, when excited or sunk by competition.”
While this hyperbolic prediction is not borne out by the histories of the Speculative Society, it makes it all the more regrettable that the records of the London Debating Society, which could make a similar, if lesser claim, are so meagre. On the evidence, one cannot tell how serious the suggestion was that the London Society model itself on the Edinburgh one, particularly when other models were closer to hand (though perhaps not warmer to heart among the London Scots) in Cambridge and Oxford, whence came many of the members of the London Debating Society and, to a lesser extent but even closer for Mill, in the Mutual Improvement Society. However, Edinburgh deserves some attention as the original exemplar. It met weekly (on Tuesdays after Fridays proved difficult) in its own small premises, and initially heard papers as well as engaging in debate. Divisions had been introduced into its debates in 1783, and many of the subjects, not surprisingly, parallel generally those later in London. Also, after a period of prohibition, discussion of the politics of the day was permitted at the beginning of 1826, on the grounds that the proscription had been beneficially and systematically violated for some time; the London Debating Society would certainly not have seen the “Spec’” as a model had political debates not been allowed. The same sort of proscription had, in fact, been in force at Cambridge and Oxford, and it seems likely that the freedom of choice in London was associated at least in Mill’s mind with freedom from university ecclesiastical control.
The Cambridge Union was formed in 1815, during the excitement of the initial postwar months, through a merging of three debating societies, the most important of which had taken the Edinburgh Speculative Society as its model. The subjects, chosen by the body of some two hundred a few weeks in advance, were, in keeping with the spirit of the times, political and historical, and within two years conflict with the university authorities arose, at a time when Connop Thirlwall, whose debating skills so impressed Mill in 1825, was Secretary. As a result, the Union became a reading club from 1817 to 1821, when the restrictions on dangerous topics were relaxed by making it permissible to debate political topics before 1800, and then prior to twenty years before the date of debate. This limitation was ingeniously evaded by adding the phrase “twenty years ago” to obviously contemporary questions, such as reform of the Commons, or the appropriateness of the Greek independence struggle—in 1799. In the early 1820s the Union attracted brilliant speakers, including many later to join the London Debating Society, such as Macaulay, Bulwer, Charles and Hyde Villiers, Praed and, most relevant to Mill, Charles Austin, President in 1822, who was a powerful propagator of Bentham’s and James Mill’s views. Later in the decade other familiars of Mill were active, not least Charles Buller, F.D. Maurice, and John Sterling, the last well known in that context as a radical. The Union was the place to make a name, and many succeeded. Some of course failed, W.M. Thackeray being a well established case, his initial disaster presaging his notorious lifelong inability to speak in public.
The Oxford Union was less significant, being itself founded only in 1823 in obvious imitation of Cambridge. Indeed, early in 1825 the two Unions offered reciprocal privileges, and the temper and subjects ran in parallel, with the pressures of contemporary politics making for divisions into liberal and conservative, though the former was less strident at Oxford, and conflict with the authorities, though not unknown, was less significant. The topics of debate are reminiscent of those in Edinburgh and Cambridge, and foreshadow those in London. One of the most significant debates from this point of view occurred in 1829, when the London Society was well into its active life; at Cambridge’s instigation, representatives from its Society went to Oxford to debate the relative merits of Byron and Shelley. That the subject attracted much interest, ranging over political as well as literary grounds, indicates yet again the importance attached to such issues in the 1820s. And the interest was not only among the participants, for the public took note of the activities of the rising generation.
Though, as mentioned, the Oxford Union was less important as a model for London than the Edinburgh or Cambridge societies, the overall parallels are obviously significant, and some members of the London Debating Society had made a name at Oxford. Most important in determining Mill’s role was Donald Maclean, who had presided over the first debate at Oxford in 1823, and was to fail in the first one in London. And the intention, to acquire confidence and control while dealing with great issues, was of course similar, though the London debates were, for the Oxbridge men, postgraduate, and therefore more mature but also less enthralling.
To ensure the requisite heat, Mill and his friends tried to recruit Tories, but had more success in attracting a number of prominent men of diverse but generally liberal views. Mill’s account, with its suppressed but evident enthusiasm, continues:
Nothing could seem more promising. But when the time for action drew near, and it was necessary to fix on a President, and find somebody to open the first debate, none of our celebrities would consent to perform either office. Of the many who were pressed on the subject, the only one who could be prevailed on was a man of whom I knew very little [Donald Maclean], but who had taken high honours at Oxford and was said to have acquired a great oratorical reputation there; who some time afterwards became a Tory member of parliament. He accordingly was fixed on, both for filling the President’s chair and for making the first speech. The important day arrived; the benches were crowded; all our great speakers were present, to judge of, but not to help our efforts. The Oxford orator’s speech was a complete failure. This threw a damp on the whole concern: the speakers who followed were few, and none of them did their best: the affair was a complete fiasco; and the oratorical celebrities we had counted on went away never to return, giving to me at least a lesson in knowledge of the world. This unexpected breakdown altered my whole relation to the project. I had not anticipated taking a prominent part, or speaking much or often, particularly at first; but I now saw that the success of the scheme depended on the new men, and I put my shoulder to the wheel. I opened the second question [with No. 14], and from that time spoke in nearly every debate. It was very uphill work for some time. The three Villiers’ and Romilly stuck to us for some time longer, but the patience of all the founders of the Society was at last exhausted, except me and Roebuck.
As to the frequency of his speaking, it is indicative that he felt it necessary in his last extant speech to the Society in 1829 to apologize for the great number of appearances he had made before it. But he did more than speak. Though initially he was not an officer, he joined the Committee of Management, and his activities soon included the unhappy treasurer’s duties of dunning delinquent members (the subscription was £1 per annum), and undoubtedly attempting to ensure a good attendance at the sessions, which, as indicated above, were held fortnightly on Friday evenings from November until June. Occasionally they assembled on other days and infrequently at weekly intervals. There was a month’s gap from mid-December to mid-January. The sessions began with a business meeting at 7 p.m. (attended, one may safely assume, by Mill and very few others), the debate opening at 8 p.m.
The first debate, the “fiasco,” on the topic, “That the Colonies are beneficial to Great Britain,” was held on 25 November, 1825, with the negative carrying the day, 28 to 21. The second, “That the Influence of the Aristocracy in the Government of this Country is beneficial,” on 9 December, was not proposed by Mill but opened by him (against normal practice, in the negative). Mill’s contribution was anticipated by a letter of December from Henry Taylor to his mother that gives, from another point of view, the excitement generated by the Society (called by Taylor the Academics).
The audience was a more striking one in appearance than one can see elsewhere—the Houses of Lords and Commons furnish no remarkable assemblage. Young Mill is to open the debate on Friday week with an attack upon the aristocracy as a pernicious class. He is about twenty years old, a great speaker, and considered to be a youth of very singular ability. Singular one can certainly tell him to be in a moment. I have only heard him speak a few words now and then when the rules of the Society were debated. He is an animated, determined-looking youth, and speaks, I am told, without hesitation, digression, ornament, or emphasis, in a tone to me in the little I heard almost ridiculously simple and with very odd but very considerable effect.
Taylor wrote after the second debate to his father, mentioning Hyde Villiers’ success in the first session and his own failure, and adding:
But our great speaker hitherto (we have only had two meetings) is young Mill, son of the Radical of that name at the India House. The youth (only nineteen years old) believes as he has been taught—that is, in the book of Jeremy; from which he preaches in all parts, being the apostle of the Benthamites. The smallest ornament or flourish is a sin with this school, and they draw their conclusions from their narrow premises with logical dryness and precision.
The vote in the second debate, despite what Mill saw as a heavy liberal overloading, was 63 affirmative and 17 negative. The number of votes, of course, is not equivalent to the attendance, but it is noteworthy that considerably more members took an active interest in the second than in the first debate, indicating either that Mill’s anxieties were misplaced, that his memory was faulty, or that his shoulder got the wheel moving quickly. At the next session, however, on 20 January, 1826, when he proposed the subject, “That the Law and Custom of Primogeniture are detrimental to Society,” and, though not the opener, spoke to it in the affirmative (No. 15), there were only 16 affirmative and 12 negative votes.
Perhaps, however, the weather was bad, for there were more than 70 votes at the debate on 3 February, at which Mill did not speak, though only 47 on 17 February, when, on the question, “That it is expedient that the New Catholic Association be suppressed,” Mill opened, once more in the negative, and won easily, there being no speakers in the affirmative. There is no record of his remarks on this occasion, though one would expect that, as opener, he would have prepared some. Perhaps the small and single-minded attendance forced him into the opener’s role. The shortest extant list of speakers is recorded for the session on 28 February when Mill (and only he) opposed Roebuck (and only him), arguing against the proposition “That the Character of Catiline has been calumniated by the Roman Historians” (No. 16); the vote was 25 negative (with Mill) and 12 affirmative. He proposed and opened for the affirmative on the next topic (16 March), “That the Resolution lately moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the Suppression of One and Two Pound Notes was inexpedient,” this time losing by two votes in a total of 40. Again no text survives.
Sustaining his loyalty, Mill spoke again on 7 April, arguing, with a winning majority, against the proposition “That the System pursued at our Universities is adapted to the Ends of Education” (see Nos. 17 and 18, not all spoken, but prepared for this occasion). He did not speak during the next debate, on 21 April, “That a speedy Emancipation of the Slaves in the West Indies is incompatible with the Interests of all parties concerned,” though, since he was not given to arguing a case against his beliefs, one may be sure he would have been in the negative; however, he returned to the fray in the next debate, the first one to be adjourned to a second session, on 5 and 19 May, “That the practical constitution of Great Britain is adequate to all the Purposes of good Government.” He spoke (see Nos. 19 and 20) only on the second occasion, and not surprisingly in the negative; though there was a good roster of speakers at both sessions, there were only eighteen votes, equally divided, with the affirmative winning by the casting vote of the chair. Mill is not recorded as contributing to the discussion on 2 June, “That the Character of Napoleon Buonaparte deserves the detestation of Mankind,” a subject on which he certainly had views, but he joined in the winning affirmative on 16 June, the last debate of the session, “That the Residence of the Irish Landlords upon their Estates would not alleviate any one of the Evils of Ireland”; again his remarks are not recorded.
This, the end of the opening session, 1825-26, is as far as the first printed record of the Society takes us. Mill says that in the second session, 1826-27,
things began to mend. We had acquired two excellent Tory speakers, Hayward, and Shee (afterwards Sergeant Shee): the radical side was reinforced by Charles Buller, Cockburn, and others of the second generation of Cambridge Benthamites; and with their and other occasional aid, and the two Tories as well as Roebuck and me for regular speakers, almost every debate was a bataille rangée between the “philosophic radicals” and the Tory lawyers; until our conflicts were talked about, and several persons of note and consideration came to hear us.
One practical result is seen in Roebuck’s career. “Mr. Roebuck first became celebrated as one of the most eminent members of the London Debating Society. The celebrity which he obtained for his oratory at this society, and for his various literary productions in the ‘Westminster Review’ and elsewhere, made him known to several leading Reformers, and through their recommendations he was introduced to the citizens of Bath.”
Cole, who met Mill first on 7 November, 1826, and says he attended debates on 10, 18, and 22 November, 1826, and 10 January, 1827 (respectively a Friday, Saturday, Thursday, and Wednesday), did not begin to record the topics until 19 January, 1827, and did not join the Society until 25 May of that year, though thereafter he attended regularly. There are no surviving texts, and no record of Mill’s participation, in November and December of 1826. Cole records the subject of debate on 19 January, 1827, proposed by Roebuck, as “Whether the writings of Lord Byron had an immoral tendency.” Roebuck’s opening speech (on the losing side) is the only one mentioned by Cole; Mill’s account of his differences with Roebuck over the poetry of Byron most obviously refers to No. 32 of 1829 (discussed below), but it seems likely that, if he was in attendance as one may presume, Mill participated in this debate. In February 1827 Henry Taylor participated in a debate the precise topic of which is not known, but centring on the question of selfishness as the main motive to action, with Taylor arguing “in refutation of [his] friends, the young Benthamites.” Once more it is hard to imagine Mill remaining silent.
There is no further record of the debates until that of 30 March, 1827, “Whether Lawyers’ Influence is not pernicious to Morals, Jurisprudence, and Government,” which appears to be the one for which Mill prepared No. 21; Cole mentions no speakers, but indicates a victory for the affirmative, on which side Mill certainly was found. On 25 May the Society debated “Whether Logic is more curious than useful,” with “useful” carrying the day by a majority of 8: Mill’s silence would be surprising, but there is no record. The occasion of No. 22, “The Use of History,” is not certain, but the manuscript is dated 1827, and looking at the gaps in Cole’s record, one may hypothesize a date in the first half of the year, perhaps 8 June, for which Cole has no entry. The final debate of the session, “That the Coalition of the Whigs with Mr. Canning was natural, honorable, and conducive to the best interests of the state,” occupied two meetings, 22 and 29 June; Cole gives neither speakers nor outcome, but obviously No. 23 was prepared for this debate, and internal evidence marks it as intended for 29 June.
By this time Cole had become a regular member of the Students of Mental Philosophy in their meetings at Grote’s house in Threadneedle Street, and was now a constant companion of Mill’s. He began his own career in the London Debating Society at the first meeting of the next session, on 16 November, 1827. The subject, “That the Literature of this Country has declined and is declining,” was also addressed by Mill (No. 24). Cole records the meetings of 30 November, 14 December, and 18 January without mentioning Mill, but the second of these may have been the occasion when Mill, according to Neal, proposed that “freedom of discussion upon religious subjects should not be restricted by law”; Cole records the topic on 14 December as “Whether it would not be beneficial to Society that all opinions should be openly avowed either respecting Politics, Morals, and Religion.” “That England derives no benefit from its Church Establishment” was debated on 1 and 15 February, 1828. Roebuck opened on the first occasion with what Cole thought “a most excellent speech,” and John Sterling, “a new member,” made his maiden address; Mill delivered No. 25 on the second evening. Mill’s next recorded appearance is in the debate on “Perfectibility,” which began on 2 May, when he delivered No. 26, and concluded a week later on the 9th. And on 30 May, Gustave D’Eichthal, then on a Saint-Simonian missionary visit to London, reports that Mill spoke during a debate identified by Cole as “That the laws relating to cruelty to animals have arisen in a misconception of the objects and without the scope of Legislation.” D’Eichthal says:
M. Mill parla le dernier; il admit la convenance de la loi en principe, mais il en regarda l’application comme impraticable, puisqu’il était impossible de déterminer bien souvent jusqu’à quel point un mauvais traitement était plus ou moins nécessaire. Mais M. Mill ne se borna pas à poser son opinion sous cette forme parfaitement raisonnable. Il reprit les uns après les autres tous les points touchés dans la soirée, même ceux qui n’avaient qu’une relation éloignée avec le sujet, et sur chacun il émit une opinion pleine de bon sens et de mesure et dégagée de toute considération absolue. C’est ainsi qu’il passa en revue ce qu’on avait dit des droits des animaux, des droits de l’homme sur eux, de l’effet des peines, des changements dans la morale et la législation, etc. Jamais je n’ai entendu un discours dans lequel j’aurais moins voulu changer quoi que ce soit.
Cole was “too much fatigued” to attend on 13 June, but D’Eichthal reports, “J’ai de nouveau assisté à cette société le vendredi 13 juin. La question débattue était: le gouvernement de l’Inde doit-il être laissé à la Compagnie?” and adds disparagingly:
Telle m’a paru du moins être la position de la question, car elle n’a été nettement posée par personne.
J’ai trouvé généralement le même défaut que la première fois, c’est-à-dire le penchant à se jeter dans les généralités et une grande négligence des faits provenant sans doute de leur ignorance. J’ai trouvé la même hostilité contre le gouvernement et aussi la même disposition à mettre le mot pour rire et à donner un tour plaisant à la discussion, ce dont j’avoue, j’ai été surpris et charmé. On ne manquait jamais l’occasion de faire quelque manifestation de principes bien libérale et de lancer un coup de patte à ses adversaires. . . .
In Mill’s view, the acclaim that the Society gained in 1826-27 had increased in 1827-28,
when the Coleridgians, in the persons of Maurice and Sterling, made their appearance in the Society as a second Liberal and even Radical party, on totally different grounds from Benthamism and vehemently opposed to it; bringing into these discussions the general doctrines and modes of thought of the European reaction against the philosophy of the eighteenth century; and adding a third and very important belligerent party to our contests, which were now no bad exponent of the movement of opinion among the most cultivated part of the new generation. Our debates were very different from those of common debating societies, for they habitually consisted of the strongest arguments and most philosophic principles which either side was able to produce, thrown often into close and serré confutations of one another.
The session of 1828-29 began on 14 November (with an adjournment to the 28th) on the question, as Cole reports, “That the Constituent assembly deserve the eulogy of Posterity.” Roebuck opened, and Mill delivered “a most elaborate Speech” that was “somewhat lengthy 1 hour and half.” This is probably the occasion intended by Neal when he says that Mill “proposed to show . . . ‘that the French Revolution was necessary’ ”; these unrecorded remarks would be a useful addition to his contemporaneous reviews of French history.
Mill’s next known contribution (No. 27) was one of his most important, on the proposition “That Wordsworth was a greater poet than Byron.” The debate was opened on 16 January, 1829, by Sterling, “who made a long rambling speech,” followed by Roebuck who, Cole thought, made “a good case out for Byron” in “a most excellent speech.” On 20 January, Cole visited Mill to talk over the merits of Byron and Wordsworth, and perhaps warmed by this discussion Mill, when the debate resumed on 30 January, “delivered a most excellent essay which from its length (2 hours) caused some squabbling at the end of the debate.” Sterling’s judgment is recorded in a letter to Joseph Williams Blakesley on 8 February, where he says: “I practised upon the vigilance of no one but Roebuck, and I suppose you do not consider it an atrocity to cheat that mousing owl.” His speech was, he thinks, too short; he “should have stipulated for being allowed to speak for at least five hours.” He continues:
On the second evening of the Debate there were two or three unhappy performers of nonsense of whom I remember little.—but Mill, the Westminster Reviewer (attacked absurdly in the last Edinburgh) made an admirable speech in defence of Wordsworth. It was at least as long as mine, & infinitely better. I wish you had heard it. Except in Wordsworth & Coleridge & Maurice’s conversation I have never seen or heard anything like the same quantity of acute & profound poetical criticism. Late in the evening I replied in a speech of half-an-hour, & was obliged from want of time to omit the greater part of what I should have liked to have said.
Richard Monckton Milnes reported to his father after the debate that the Society did not seem “half as good” as the Cambridge Union, adding: “Sterling spoke splendidly, and Mill made an essay on Wordsworth’s poetry for two and three-quarter hours, which delighted me, but all the rest was meagre in the extreme.”
Mill seems not to have participated in the next two sessions listed by Cole (13 February and 13 March), but he ended his appearances for that spring on the topic, “That Montesquieu as a political and philosophical writer is not worthy of the character he usually bears.” The debate opened on 27 March, when Sterling spoke; on its resumption on 3 April, Mill spoke against Sterling (No. 28) in exceptionally strong terms.
In the autumn of 1829, Mill is listed in the Transactions as speaking on 27 November in the affirmative, with Roebuck, on the proposition “That Persons refusing to contribute to the Defence of a State, ought not to be considered criminal.” The negative carried the debate, and there is no record of Mill’s remarks. That appears to have been his last regular participation. He says in the Autobiography: “After 1829 I withdrew from attendance on the Debating Society. I had had enough of speech-making, and was glad to carry on my private studies and meditations without any immediate call for outward assertion of their results.”
This remark, while it accurately indicates that Mill wrote little for the next year, is a trifle disingenuous, for his leaving the Society unquestionably was occasioned by his strongly expressed dissent from the positions of Roebuck and Sterling. In the case of Roebuck, though the exact timing and cause of Mill’s disaffection are moot, the lack of fellow feeling with one of his closest companions and allies, a friend who saw himself as having been taught by Mill, must have made public debating difficult. In the case of Sterling, a new and growing affection could not tolerate the outspoken and unqualified rhetoric of debate. His withdrawal, with Sterling, was certain and recognized, for Cole, who continued to be active until the break up of the London Debating Society in 1832, notes on 19 February, 1830, that he fears the Society to be “in a bad way—doubtless owing to the secession of Mill and his friends.” New preoccupations brought Mill back once, however; on 18 February, 1831, Cole reports that “Mill made a good explanatory speech on the progress of the French Revolution,” one he was well qualified to make on the basis of his weekly series on France in the Examiner.
The Society but not the experience was left behind by Mill. “For my own part,” he says,
nothing I ever wrote was more carefully elaborated both in matter and expression than some of those speeches. My delivery was and remained bad; but I could make myself listened to; and I even acquired a certain readiness of extemporary speaking, on questions of pure argument, and could reply offhand, with some effect, to the speech of an opponent: but whenever I had an exposition to make in which from the feelings involved or from the nature of the ideas to be developed, expression seemed important, I always most carefully wrote the speech and committed it to memory, and I did this even with my replies, when an opportunity was afforded by an adjourned debate. Therefore many of my speeches were of some worth as compositions, to be set against a bad and ungraceful manner. I believe that this practice greatly increased my power of effective writing. The habit of composing speeches for delivery gave me not only an ear for smoothness and rhythm but a practical sense for telling sentences and an immediate criterion of their telling property, by their effect on a mixed audience.
The few extant reports do not give strong evidence of his having a “bad and ungraceful manner,” but, looking at the speeches in sequence, we can certainly see evidence, of his growing powers of persuasion. The early ones are stiff and unresponsive, vehement through shrillness rather than power, and shaped more by the extrinsic evidence supplied by his teachers than by the intrinsic evidence of the strong yet supple mind. It is of course almost as difficult to judge delivery from a manuscript as to record it in writing. There are in the manuscripts few instances of underlining for emphasis, or of exclamation points (“The people capricious!” ; “But no!” ). One may treat merely as an example of the combined emotional and ethical appeals, rather than objective description, Mill’s early remark to the Cooperative Society: “the tones of my voice are not sufficiently vehement and sufficiently energetic—in short . . . I do not speak well” (306). This kind of self-deprecation appears more frequently in the first speeches—in the exordia of Nos. 5 and 7 (which are almost identical), and of Nos. 14 and 18, for instance—but even there with increasing skill; the last of these incorporates a defence of his limited range of comment on universities. The anti-rhetorical stance of the novice is also evident: in No. 7 he asserts that the subject, population, does not permit of panegyric, vivid painting, glowing and poetical description, elegant metaphor, or florid declamation; in No. 9 he apologizes “for confounding . . . one who treats his audience like children, to be dazzled by a gaudy brilliancy of colouring, with one who treats them like men, and I may add, like women, of judgment and sense” (298); in No. 14 he deplores topics that invite rhetorical extravagances; and in No. 19 he exemplifies the fault, inveighing against the “varnish of rhetoric . . . the tinsel and frippery of the harlot eloquence” (365).
Against these cosmetic accessories, he is early able to employ the “rational” strategies so beloved of his father. Noteworthy are his arguing in No. 9 (not in vain, since no vote was taken) that a flaw in the wording of the question should not stand in the way of correct judgment, and, in the same speech, his using a basic logical strategy: “The gentleman has at the same time two contrary theories—the one, that education can do nothing, the other that it can do every thing: both theories may be false, but both cannot be true” (305). Compare a passage from No. 14, where the accusation of petitio principii is calmly levelled:
But it has usually been deemed sufficient to point to the British Constitution, and to beg the three following questions in relation to it: 1. that it is a balance, 2. that it is good, and 3. that it is good, because it is a balance: which three premisses being taken for granted, the conclusion, that a balance must be good, follows, it must be owned, quite easily and naturally
Fine flourishes of the logical wand are seen in No. 16: “The absence of evidence against [Catiline] is not evidence in his favour” (344), and in No. 18: “If to have been at the University be the end of education there is no doubt but that by going to the University that end may be most effectually attained” (355).
Such comments were an early stock in trade, none the worse for being repeatedly displayed: “that speech is the most difficult to answer of any—for the difficulty of refutation is usually proportional to the insignificance of the arguments, and it is not easy to reply, where nothing has been adduced” (283); “No one can be required to argue against a bare assertion: if I shew that it is a bare assertion, I have surely done all that can be required” (300); “An opinion, however erroneous, is much sooner stated than refuted” (315); “Assertion without proof, takes up little time: misrepresentation is always beautifully brief” (367).
Mill’s opponents are often faulted for adopting other than the rational appeal: “the honourable opener may learn that even when he is in the wrong, a little logic will do him no harm” (363); “transcendent talents are not necessary” to achieve the effects of his opponent, for it “only requires a tolerable command over the two great instruments, assumption and abuse” (371); “The orator who has the fears of his audience on his side, has only to awaken the emotion by a few frightful words, and persuasion follows of itself” (379). His own manner is of course much different: “. . . I thought it best to appear what I am, straightforward and uncompromising” (370).
In that passage we see the obvious apologetics of the ethical appeal that Mill learned to use more subtly, as in: “From the length to which my remarks have already extended, I have left myself but little time” (366; note that the speech was of course prepared ahead of time); and “If I seem to dismiss these theories in a summary manner, want of time must be my apology” (375).
Clear divisio, always one of Mill’s goals and powers, is seen throughout, but his early perorations are, like his exordia, not well developed. It may be observed, of course, that closing remarks are much better conceived on the spot, being most powerful when they take into account the past and future of the debate; probably Mill left them to the impulse of the moment, although there are some effective elements in the drafts. One may instance a conciliatory note (313-15), a supplication to the uncommitted as well as to allies (335), and (that favourite radical ploy) an appeal to the inevitable future (371). An unusual note is struck in No. 23, where he closes with the announcement that he will not vote in the division, as events will settle the question. Certainly where the speeches show him attempting to anticipate a reaction from his audience one must assume that he in fact modified his words ad hoc. That he took notes during the debate is evident in the manuscript materials for No. 21 (and doodles are found elsewhere, though they appear to be byproducts of the process of composition rather than of boredom).
Non-rational persuasion is, of course, present. While figurative language—viewed as the false rhetorician’s poisoned honey—is not Mill’s forte, he always was capable of some power, referring as early as No. 4, for instance, to “the terrific engines of auricular confession and absolution” (260). His greater strength, displayed in several of the examples above, is epigrammatic, as when he anticipates Emerson: “Every man is a man, long before he is a poet or a philosopher” (410). In one place (375-7) he uses a fable that he felt telling enough to be used almost without modification in print nine years later. Given the habits of the age, it is surprising that Mill uses so few Latin tags, but perhaps he simply threw them in ad libitum; there are, indeed, few quotations of any kind, except when, as in No. 27, they are the main part of the argument (and here they are only signalled in the manuscript). One can only guess at the background of his remark in No. 20, “quotations have become so ridiculous that I shall not venture upon the original [in Italian]” (385); the earlier version of that speech (No. 19) in fact has the original. There are many allusions, including rather more Biblical ones than might be expected, and one interesting “dramatized” illustration: “Well, the provident man says to the spendthrift, You are a strong man . . .” (311).
Rhetorical questions are found in plenty but not excess, often involving irony; for instance: “is eating my dinner inconsistent with the practice of benevolence? Must we either renounce our virtues or our meals?” (316.) At 337 a question is put into his opponents’ mouths in another of his rare excursions into reported direct speech, and at 372 there is a nice twist from the assertive to the interrogative. Also effective is the anaphora at 407: “Do they . . . ? Do they . . . ? Do they . . . ? Do they . . . ? No.” Another variation is seen at 406: “I would ask Mr. Canning—if I were at this moment in his presence I would ask him. . . .”
In such speeches we would not expect much evidence of the fairness (or, in the judgment of those who are suspicious, the appearance of fairness) for which Mill later strove, although it is traditional in debating, of course, to make some claim to disinterest, even when the basis of the game is evident enough to all. But Mill shows throughout at least the minimal courtesy of attending to his opponent’s arguments, including those offered on previous occasions; this courtesy he was later to elevate into an essential part of the endeavour to discover truth.
His major goal in these years, however, was the exposure and uprooting of error, and many will find the matter of his speeches more revealing than the manner. The basic judgments round which the earlier speeches are structured will quickly be recognized as those of the philosophic radical group. The march of mind is celebrated: “Knowledge has triumphed. . . . It is in vain to suppose that it will pass by and spare any institution the existence of which is pernicious to mankind” (261); “I am an enemy to church establishments because an established clergy must be enemies to the progressiveness of the human mind” (424). Perhaps with a reference to his senior colleague in the Examiner’s Office of the East India Company, Thomas Love Peacock, he notes that the “march of intellect” is to opponents “a subject of laughter and derision” (424), whereas in truth the “most important quality of the human intellect is its progressiveness, its tendency to improvement” and “a really good education would promote to the utmost this spirit of progression, to inspire an ardent desire of improvement” (349). Here lie the grounds for hope, enabling us to judge mankind not “merely by what they are” but “by what they are capable of becoming” (349). To that end, another of the Radicals’ nostrums, cheap publications, will advance the cause, for “a stupid and ignorant people cannot be a happy one” (382; cf. 368-9).
The Radicals’ adaptation of Aristotle’s distinction between the “few” and the “many” appears time and again. In only one place is the distinction applied to other than the ruling few and the subject many, and here the balance jumps quickly to the other side, as Mill refers to the “cant words by which the many who do not think are in the habit of expressing their contempt for the few who do” (364). This tergiversation, typical of Radicals torn between populism and elitism, led to the tension in Mill’s mature thought when he tries to balance the values of democratic participation and expert leadership.
Most strongly marked in the apprentice speeches is the retailing of James Mill’s characteristic tenets. Mill draws directly on his father’s “Government” for the idea that there are three simple forms of government, and security for person and property is stressed, as are securities for good government. These are common in the son’s early essays as well, accompanied by the hallmarks of the father’s short and easy way with the irrational who oppose him. The young debater asserts: “Now I proved in my opening speech, on data the correctness of which cannot be and has not been called in question” (315); he avers that “to wait for specific experience is [the characteristic] of the man who is incapable of doing more than groping in the dark” (268); he bluntly claims that “Experience has shewn” (378), and that “All experience . . . bears testimony to the extreme difficulty of supplying motives sufficient to keep such men within the line of virtue—it is the grand problem of political science” (395). The great problem in moral science, he might then have said, was to avoid the irrational; we know from his Autobiography that he was taught to eschew feeling, and the lesson is manifest at 296: “this is the first time I ever heard that feeling is the test of truth; that a proposition is true or false, according as we happen to like or dislike it, and that there can be no such things as unpleasant truths.” And again: “Feeling has to do with our actions, reason with our opinions; it is by our reason that we find out what it is our duty to do; it is our feelings which supply us with motives to act upon it when found” (307).
Equally characteristic of his father’s message is the appeal to an undescribed human nature: reasoning from “the properties of the human mind” leads him to the “general principles of human nature” (284); he appeals to “our experience of human nature” (350); and asserts that “The best measures, we know, cannot from the nature of man, be always adopted . . .” (366). Its authority is constantly appealed to: “that favourable opinion of human nature which universal experience shows to be a necessary foundation of all the active virtues” (390); that “volume which should be [a statesman’s] guide is not the book of history but the book of human nature” (393). And that book is not hard to scan: “When I wish to foretel men’s actions, I endeavour to put myself in possession of the motives under which they act, and to see how other men would act in their situation” (284).
Parental manner and matter are combined in “I rest [my case] upon two assertions: that an aristocracy is bad, and that this government is an aristocracy” (271). A further attack on the aristocratic hegemony draws on James Mill’s “seesaw” argument that there is no difference between the Whigs and Tories except as “ins and outs” (273). Another reiterated early lesson concerns the values and relations between theory and practice: “If by calling it theory he means to allege that it is unfounded, this is precisely the question on which we are at issue. I dare him to the proof, but if by theory, he means general principles I agree with him. . .” (283; the argument continues for some time). And in a most filial moment, he asks his honourable opponents to “point out in the whole world a single individual who believes a theory for any reason except because he considers it to be founded upon experience . . .” (392).
Mill’s other great mentor, Jeremy Bentham, is also present in attitude and, when lawyers are in the dock, even tone: “If the law were so clear and intelligible that its import could not be mistaken, and if the administration of justice were so cheap and expeditious that no one could benefit himself by contesting a just claim, lawyers must starve” (386). Similarly Benthamic is the willing acceptance of the sanction of public opinion: “Each working man becomes himself better qualified to distinguish right from wrong, while each knows that he is under the constant surveillance of hundreds and thousands equally instructed with himself” (259). The notion of the opposition between “sinister interests” and the “general interest” is heavily deployed in key speeches: “The many can act wrong only from mistake—they cannot act wrong from design, because they have no sinister interest” (366). Also Benthamic are passages bearing on the relation between morals and politics, such as: “a time is approaching when the enquiry, What has been, shall no longer supersede the enquiry, What ought to be, and when the rust of antiquity shall no longer be permitted to sanctify institutions which reason and the public interest condemn” (269-70). Other of the master’s targets are sighted: ambiguity of terms (365), the unpaid magistracy (273-4, 361, and 362), the universities (354-5 and 274) and with them poetry, Mill asserting that at Oxford the Classical poets, “being the least useful, are the most cultivated, and as the dramatists are hardly of any use at all it may easily be conceived with what ardour they are studied” (352). A less celebrated Benthamic echo is seen in Mill’s hope that “the time will come” when there will be “no evils but those arising from the necessary constitution of man and of external nature” (442).
In all of this (and there is much) one might miss the independence of mind that becomes increasingly apparent. And, of course, it is not judicious to assume that agreement with his teachers and friends signals mere parroting; thought and discussion, even if directed down set channels, developed the powers that enabled Mill to originate, assess, and revise rather than merely adopt. So it is, for instance, with his views on population in the debates with the Owenites; see especially his reference to the failure of the prudential check to operate in Ireland (305). One can almost date to the same debates his conversion to sexual equality. Earlier he seems committed to the usual diction and banter: “if the greater good, a government responsible to the people, can only be obtained by means of a commotion, no weak and feminine humanity will induce me at least to deprecate such a result” (270); and has some typical male fun with his opponent’s saying that the British Constitution results in the beauty of women: “Sir, no one would lament more than myself, that any deterioration should take place in female beauty . . .” (277). But suddenly in 1825 one finds a quite different note: “nor does Mr. Thompson himself lament more deeply than we, that miserable thraldom in which the weaker half of our species are held, by the tyranny of the stronger, aided and encouraged by their own abject and slavish submission” (314).
It is easy also to detect a new note in another of his arguments against the Owenites, when he objects to the Cooperative system because
in its very nature it is a system of universal regulation. I am not one of those, who set up liberty as an idol to be worshipped, and I am even willing to go farther than most people in regulating and controlling when there is a special advantage to be obtained by regulation and control. I presume, however, that no one will deny that there is a pleasure in enjoying perfect freedom of action; that to be controlled, even if it be for our own good, is in itself far from pleasant, and that other things being alike, it is infinitely better to attain a given end by leaving people to themselves than to attain the same end by controlling them. It is delightful to man to be an independent being.
And On Liberty seems even less far in the future in other passages. Referring to Condorcet on questioning the authority of received opinions, he says: “If they are wrong, it is of course an advantage to get rid of an error: if they are right, it is still no small advantage, to believe upon evidence what we had hitherto believed upon trust” (341). Again, he argues that, supposing established opinions to be correct, “It is not the less true that in the progress of human improvement every one of these opinions comes to be questioned. The good of mankind requires that it should be so.” (350.)
Mill’s new interest in poetry, increasingly seen as a moralizing agent, is demonstrable in the speeches that follow the first onset of his mental crisis. While the comment that “our literature has declined and is declining” incorporates a debating commonplace, it is followed by the personal judgment that Wordsworth is the only active British “poet of the first rank,” who “will probably never write any more” (410). One thinks of the moral aesthetic to be enunciated in the early 1830s when reading that “the passions are the spring, the moral principle only the regulator of human life” (432); while the image is taken from his father, the “only” is his. And he is certainly on his own when he asserts the importance of poetry to education, referring explicitly to his own need, the education of the feelings (436). Indeed the tone for once becomes confessional when, after asserting that the condition of one’s own mind determines the response to poetry, he says:
I have learned from Wordsworth that it is possible by dwelling on certain ideas to keep up a constant freshness in the emotions which objects excite and which else they would cease to excite as we grew older—to connect cheerful and joyous states of mind with almost every object, to make every thing speak to us of our own enjoyments or those of other sentient beings, and to multiply ourselves as it were in the enjoyments of other creatures: to make the good parts of human nature afford us more pleasure than the bad parts afford us pain—and to rid ourselves entirely of all feelings of hatred or scorn for our fellow creatures. . . . My own change since I thought life a perpetual struggle—how much more there is to aim at when we see that happiness may coexist with being stationary and does not require us to keep moving.
In the same speech—given in January 1828—he notes the need to “Shew the difference between describing feelings and being able to analyse them . . . ” (440), and evidence that he had already been analyzing his own experience and seeking defences of his guides is found a few months earlier (November 1827) both in themes and diction:
We all know the power of early impressions over the human mind and how often the direction which they give, decides the whole character, the whole life of the man. The greatest men of every age, generally bear a family likeness to their contemporaries: the most splendid monuments of genius which literature can boast of, bear almost universally in a greater or less degree the stamp of their age.
(411; cf. 430-1.)
Hints at the reassessment of his heritage are also seen when he conducts his defence of Bentham in No. 28 in terms that suggest some defence is needed —and Coleridge, Bentham’s “completing counterpart,” makes an appearance at 429-30. His praise of Turgot, who had been attacked as a visionary and theorist (396-7), is another adumbration of his mature views, and in this context may also be placed his disclaimer of sectarianism (444), a lesson he says in the Autobiography he learned from Condorcet’s life of Turgot. Other themes that he developed later in theory and practice are seen in his comment on the effect on an author of writing anonymously (416); his definition of nature (295-6); his assertion that, of the “culture of our intellectual faculties . . . there are two great instruments, education and discussion” (424); his argument, foreshadowing that in the Principles of Political Economy, that the distribution as well as the production of human happiness is a proper consideration for legislators (336); and his anticipation of a main strategy of that work: “it is not by a review of the evils of the Competitive system that this great question can be decided, but by a fair comparison of the evils of the Competitive and the evils of the Cooperative system” (319). And a difference from his senior guides is that, while they were committed in their own fashion to the well-being of the lower orders, there is already in Mill’s enunciation of principles a modified message (that would of course become further modified): “the working people being the majority of the whole population, the interests of all the other classes are of no importance compared with theirs” (312).
WALKING TOURS: 1827-32
whatever Mill knew of the working classes, he was a leading exemplar of the walking classes. Through the years when he was debating, Mill walked seemingly increasing distances daily, weekly, and during holidays.
I passed most Sundays, throughout the year, in the country, taking long rural walks on that day even when residing in London. The month’s holiday was, for a few years, passed at my father’s house in the country: afterwards a part or the whole was spent in tours, chiefly pedestrian, with some one or more of the young men who were my chosen companions; and at a later period, in longer journeys or excursions, alone or with other friends.
In fact, through his life, he went afoot and apace, though one must infer most of the activity from incidental and indirect evidence.
There are, however, extant journals of five early holiday tours, all but the last in mid-summer: Sussex (20-30 July, 1827); Berkshire; Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, and Surrey (3-15 July, 1828); Yorkshire and the Lake District (ca. 8 July-8 August, 1831); Hampshire, West Sussex, and the Isle of Wight (19 July-6 August, 1832); and Western Cornwall (3-9 October, 1832). (Only the Yorkshire one has no dated entries.)
He did not walk alone: in the first tour he was accompanied by his close friends George John Graham and Horace Grant; the latter, who worked with Mill in the Examiner’s Office, also joined him in the second, along with Francis Edward Crawley and Edwin Chadwick, both members of the London Debating Society and otherwise connected with Mill. Grant again went with Mill on the third tour, and they were joined towards the end by Henry Cole, a recently acquired friend, who continued his walk (guided by Mill’s instructions) after they left him; Cole was Mill’s sole companion on the fourth of these tours. On the last one, setting out alone, he was met by Sarah and John Austin for the main part.
Both purpose and inclination were generally served best by pedestrian travel, but occasionally coaches were necessary to get to starting points or ending places, to get quickly over uninteresting or previously traversed ground, or because of a companion’s infirmity. More occasionally boats were used to make views possible or better, or simply to get to promising areas. Neither destinations nor routes were by chance; internal evidence reveals consultation of guide books and maps.
That Mill took such tours is as unsurprising as it is commendable; his having kept records of them may appear to some both unexpected and unmeritorious. He himself seems not to have been unaware of the problem, saying, in words that will strike a responsive chord: “It is dull work describing every inch of a country: The only way to be endurable is to select such particulars as will suggest a conception of the rest” (617). Passing by the unendurable, one may ask, What guided his selection?
Looking at the details, one is of course struck (or oppressed) by the comments on the walker’s main concern, topography, but Mill, who should perhaps, like others, be primarily identified in the Dictionary of National Biography as a pedestrian, is not one to complain about hills. Also, unlike many similarly occupied in England, he gives little space to the weather. Indeed, he is easily pleased, noting (in July) “the agreeable temperature produced by the bright sun and high wind” (489). Rain is sometimes troublesome, though seldom sufficient to cancel excursions. His strongest statement (or understatement) comes at 534-5: “we did not get back to Keswick without being caught in a shower; an example of the uncertainty of the climate of these mountains; the ordinary English climate is steadiness itself in comparison.”
As one would expect, flora (including trees) attract his notice, and even serve as the basis of comparison. For example, the situation of a tarn and its little extent “remind one of the pure crystalline water which collects in the basin formed by the united leaves of the teazle, or other perfoliate plants. But the comparison is too humble, and does it injustice.” (550.) He reveals both an interest in and some knowledge of geology, referring, for instance, to “greenstone, or trachytic amygdaloid” and “red sienitic mountains” (523, 540); evidence that he had, not surprisingly, been reading texts is seen in such references as that at 633 to the “now prevailing school of geologists” (cf. 586).
Architectural features of abbeys and great houses are occasionally noted (usually with the detectable odour of a guidebook); a comparison with parallel passages in Cole’s diaries indicates Mill’s amateur status and relative indifference, as well as his preoccupation with the grounds. His early accounts are almost comic; he devotes only two sentences to Prevensey Castle, commenting that while part of the “outer enceinte” and the keep’s walls are preserved, “in other respects it was just like any other ruin”—and he quickly passes to the botanical find on its walls (468). His interest and confidence grew, so that by No. 30 he is willing to see Wycombe Abbey as “a model which it were much to be wished that our stupid race of London architects had consulted before they had deformed the capital with a race of new churches, the ugliest surely which ever were built by man” (491). Though recognizing his limitations—“I must leave it to those who better understand the subject, to describe this beautiful building [the church in Christchurch] in detail” (602)—he has views on the coming craze: Gothic unites, he says, by keeping elements subordinate to the main scheme, “the most barbaric splendour and often the most barbaric quaintness and even grotesqueness in the details, with the greatest purity and chasteness and the most striking grandeur in the general effect” (603); and elsewhere he scorns “the gewgaw stile of the modern Gothic” (633). His infrequent excursions into art criticism are reluctant, as at Knole Castle: “I am so indifferent a judge of painting, that I will not venture to say any thing of their merits, though I was greatly struck with several pictures”; those he mentions are portraits, which of course have non-aesthetic associations (474).
Towns and villages are in his narrative mainly places where inns are found and whence one can walk, but there is a sufficient account of their plans and leading features. And observation is much more common than participation in local opportunities: one exception is immersion in the cold chalybeate water at Tunbridge Wells (472). Mill was never one to seek promiscuous society, and there is here little about people. It is surprising to find those on the road to Portsmouth characterized as “altogether a different race from the people about Selborne, and far from handsome or prepossessing; the women instead of being merely free and lively, as at Selborne, seemed impudent” (567). The people observed seem not much occupied; local details are seldom cited, and even politics is not a major theme, though we are introduced to one opinionated nurseryman (599), and treated to some irony when we are told of a conservative who is “averse to those violent innovations and changes which some call for” (574-5).
So far interest will take us in explanation of the journal keeping, but what of habit and use? As seen above, Mill was trained by his father to keep daily records when afoot and abroad, and it seems prima facie probable that these journals were kept primarily for his own use. They are, like diaries and personal memoranda, utile in recording data for later consideration and reconsideration. There can be little in the way of internal evidence to show that the record was designed to stimulate memories; one does not expect to find in travel diaries statements such as “This description will enable me to recall the experience more vividly”—though such may indeed be the intention and the fact. There is, however, negative evidence of a kind; that which is clearly remembered need not be recorded: “I was now upon ground familiar to me, and have therefore the less occasion to be extremely particular in the description” (491). As he says at 566, the “remainder of our day’s journey has been described in one of my former tours” (i.e., No. 29), and therefore need not be recorded. His occasional rough illustrations seem to be designed as prods to recollection, and one may stretch a point to say that his reticences (most notably the boating escapade with Cole at 598) may cover matters for which reminders were unnecessary and which were better left unrecorded.
Field naturalists will be pleased with those entries recording botanical finds, where Mill is probably expanding entries in notebooks like those that exist for other excursions. These lists typically include some comments of interest, such as that the people of the neighbourhood practised forbearance in not picking the flowers in the gardens, though such often happens “where the taste for flowers is new” (512). This conservationist’s passion (normal in Mill) is balanced by the collector’s urge evident in his regret at not being able to gather specimens on an inaccessible part of a cliff (588).
Other, sometimes tenuous, evidence suggests that Mill saw journal keeping as an exercise in composition, the goal being to record impressions (and some events) in a clear narrative form; doing so evidently meant writing the full account from jottings, for there is unmistakable evidence that he went over notes or a draft when composing the extant versions. For instance, at 455 he says in an interlineation: “N.B. I have since discovered that it [a ridge of high land] does lie just beyond Cobham. . . .” And of one of his illustrations he says: “This being taken from memory is of course extremely inaccurate in respect of proportions, but it is quite correct in the general conception” (630).
Practice made better, if not perfect. Mill increasingly founded aesthetic judgments on more fully considered grounds. The implied audience is increasingly evident, subjective responses multiply, and metaphors appear. His self-conscious training is most obvious in the frequent flourishes, a few of which may be quoted. In No. 29: “until at last these hills dropped down, and so did we” (464); “village, or hamlet (call it which you will)” (472). Ironically, he says: “And here ‘ends this strange eventful history’ ” (499—one of his favourite Shakespearean tags). In No. 31: “It is a great quality in a mountain as in a woman, to carry herself well and to seem conscious of her whole height” (505). In No. 32, quite exceptionally: “when we reached the top we left the road and exspatiated like young horses over the turfy slopes and eminences” (566). And finally, with a touch of litotes, “petty obstacles of various kinds connected with time, space, and conveyance, rendered this journey impracticable” (635). If one played the game of quoting lines from Mill least likely to be identified as his, a serious contender would be: “I should like to ride over the forest on a forest pony, and immerse myself more completely in its green and grassy glades” (607).
Another personal use related to rhetorical practice is undeniable: Mill was developing his sensibilities through testing and training his perception. Increasingly the tours show his cultivation of the romantic response to the picturesque, his initiation having occurred as early as 1813, when on a tour of the West Country with his father and Bentham, he had acquired his “first taste for natural scenery, in the elementary form of fondness for a ‘view.’ ” In France his appreciation had deepened, the mountains of the Pyrenees giving birth to his “ideal of natural beauty,” a phrase he uses in connection with Wordsworth’s healing effect on him. He obviously was acquainted with writings on the picturesque, especially those of William Gilpin, which were the staple of travellers in the period, and of Uvedale Price, as well as contributing works such as Archibald Alison’s associationist Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (formerly in his library). Not that he could be considered either a practised “painter” or an uncritical devotee (his mentor Wordsworth was opposed to the pure picturesque).
Nonetheless Mill was affected by the passion, and in these journals uses the term itself to reveal an implicit norm: the hills had “nothing picturesque in their forms” (504); the brooks “are crossed by numerous bridges, built of lumps of slate put upon their ends; these have a highly picturesque effect” (537). Usually, however, the descriptions themselves embody the desiderata. In the tradition, behind the natural forms lie the ideal ones, towards which a painter turns. But actual observation leads to revision, and—certainly in Mill’s case—the natural transforms the ideal. He typically looks for a view that is varied, with sinuous development of a treed valley towards a horizon closed by jagged heights without a break at ground level: for instance, “We could see the valley for the length of miles before us, winding down towards the plain, among cornfields and woods, until stopped and closed by the high chalk hill beyond Wycombe” (491). To close, to embrace, to hem in: this is essential for the beauty of views that would otherwise be “incomplete and tame” (599).
Mill also mentions the observer’s point of view, so central to picturesque theory: when valleys are observed from within themselves, “especially by a spectator placed halfway up one of their hilly sides, they are seen to be, as they in fact are, one of the most strikingly beautiful and remarkable objects in this or in any country” (614; cf. 570). Other aspects of scenic composition are elucidated: were Crummock lake “no otherwise beautiful, it is water, and therefore an unequalled foreground to hill or mountain scenery” (547). Every “fine prospect should have some points more conspicuous than others” (512). The outline of Skiddaw “might be correctly conveyed by a much smaller number of lines than even the little mountains near Ambleside; and this is eminently favorable to imposingness of effect as we see in a Greek temple” (531).
The massing of mountains is crucial: Patterdale is “much finer” than the other broad valleys, but it is not easy to say
in what its superiority consists: the mountains are not so high; they are hardly even steeper, but there seems to be more among them of what a painter would call, harmony of composition: there are no striking contrasts, or bold reliefs, but one mountain seems to glide naturally into another, every one seems in his place, and you feel at every point, that his shape is just what it should be. The secret, I suspect, is, variety without tameness. . . .
This passage points to another desideratum. Uniformity is to be avoided: “The curve was just sufficient to take off the monotonous regularity of a rectilineal shore, while it did not greatly diminish the extent of the watery horizon” (572); change is to be sought: above Guildford there “is so much variety in the arrangement of the hills one behind another, and so much richness in the appearance of the country, . . . that the Chiltern hills are entirely eclipsed by it” (499).
Like other connoisseurs, he values active but contained streams: “A waterfall, in itself gives me little pleasure: I value it only as one of the incidents of a mountain torrent”; a stream “rushes with arrowy swiftness, yet with that deep repose and silence which excites far stronger feeling of power, than is raised by a noisy torrent” (520, 543).
Another picturesque note is sounded when Mill expresses dislike for “improvements”: he objects to the whitewashing of cottages in the Lake District, thinking they should be left like the barns, which are built of the same rough stones (523). He can approve the artificial plantings on Latrigg only because they are “an exception to the general rule,” being done “with real taste: woods, corn fields and bare turf or brown heath, are in this instance mixed with very agreeable effect” (535).
The utilitarian, however, is not dead—a meadow “is one of the finest whether for beauty or pasture which I ever beheld” (491)—but can touch sacred themes ironically: “Cockneys, though they destroy seclusion, have this advantage that they cause increased traffic and consequently improved communications” (488). The solitude is dearer, however, to the Romantic in training: the tall trees “contribute greatly to give [the ruin of Netley Abbey] that tranquil yet wild and deserted air which harmonizes so well with the other parts of the scene” (609). Wordsworth had made his mark; tranquillity, felt and recollected, would never cease to charm Mill: “We . . . could have staid here a week with pleasure under the certainty of seeing this, and nothing but this, every day” (513). Solitude, a basic Byronic goal, is valued: “[We had] for the first time in our present journey, a feeling of perfect separation from the world and all its concerns. . . .” This passage allows, in its continuation, for a Wordsworthian mixture of the social, for Mill says that other features “superadd to the feeling of seclusion, that of life and rural enjoyment, and render the spot one of those, among all I ever saw, which excited in the imagination the most vivid sense of the delight of living there for one’s whole life” (543). But some forms of “rural enjoyment” are far from admirable: Mill remarks—and will win modern hearts in doing so—that a sea-mark of chalky material is much “cut or . . . mouldered away, and the remainder as far as arm can reach, is scribbled over with the names of sundry John Browns and Dick Smiths, who with that aspiring desire so general among Englishmen, that something of them though it be but a thumb-nail shall survive them, have taken the trouble of informing posterity of the name of the Norton or Sutton or Greatham or Littleham which they inhabited” (571). Similarly, he sees Netley Abbey as “a place where (if tourist and sight-seers could be but for so long a time excluded) one might dream and muse for a whole summer day”; the passage continues, and one recalls that Mill was just then formulating his distinction between the artist (Shelley, Harriet Taylor, Carlyle) and the scientist (his humble but active self), “and a poet might perhaps derive inspiration from time so passed, though to any one else, if in the full vigour of his health and faculties, it would be a scarcely justifiable piece of indolent self-indulgence” (609). But the logician, unlike the hills, should not be hemmed in: a “spot of green meadow . . . alone distinguishes the prospect before you from a mere desert; but a desert of cheerful aspect; you see nothing of man, but you do not seek him. . . . Were there a single house on its banks, its peculiar charm would be gone: it would be beautiful, but no longer Wastwater.” (545-6.) That most Wordsworthian of the tours concludes with the comment, as they leave Windermere, that their “departure had something of the melancholy character of parting from a beloved friend; and the image of the lake and mountains remained impressed upon the internal eye, long after the physical organs could see them no more” (556).
Mill was also, not surprisingly, open to the Romantic contrast between the beautiful and the sublime: “we were enabled to study, under most favorable circumstances, the effect, pictorially considered, of that imposing feature in a landscape, darkness” (504). He “who has not seen mountains in the very worst state of the weather is far from knowing what beauty they are capable of” (554). “Sunny seas are fine things, for the ocean is beautiful as well as sublime: but there is nothing really awe-striking but a gloomy sea” (631).
All of the foregoing suggests that the journals were used for personal exploration and development. But, as suggested above, there is evidence that someone else was expected to read and profit from the final versions. We know that the French journal was written for James Mill (and the rest of the family); similarly in these journals explicit (utilitarian) intimations are given, with respect to the cost: “I subjoin an account of the expenses of our tour for the information of myself and others on future occasions” (475); “I shall insert an account of our expenses in case we or any others should wish to go this journey hereafter” (499). Most of the other intimations of audience are muted, but seem not merely tokens of rhetorical practice. Minor examples abound: for example, if the record were only for his eyes, why say that Hastings is, “as all know,” a very old town (470)? Or that a particular stretch of country “need not be described to any person who has seen chalk hills” (482)? It might also be inferred that his rough illustrations (especially the later ones) were intended for another’s instruction (delight seems unlikely).
Other clues are comments that parallel guide-book inducements: “the mode I should recommend of seeing Beaulieu is to come to it by water quite from the river’s mouth” (598-9); advice to visit the Pearce brothers’ hotels is prefaced by “Notice to all travellers who read this” (624). Some of these passages evolve into fuller descriptions, more lyrically conceived (and in part executed). “Thus far have I ventured though without much confidence of success, to attempt to convey an idea of what I saw; but here I hardly dare proceed further, so impossible do I feel it to make any one who has not seen Falmouth and its harbour, comprehend what it is that renders them so enchantingly beautiful” (619). Later in the same journal there is direct instruction as to response as well as action:
Now stand on the extreme verge of one of the rocks, and look down, you will see . . . and you will see . . . , but you will see it different in every different period of the tide. . . . Look to the left, and you will see. . . . But now look rather to your right. . . . [You] are saved from hearing [the faint murmur of an expiring wave] by the groaning of the succeeding waves long series of which are already up and following the first. The first! as if there had been a first! Since there has been a world, these breakers have succeeded one another uninterruptedly; and while there is a world they shall never cease.
These remarks seem indeed to be directed at a specific audience, and if one recalls when Mill was first experiencing the love of a man for a woman, it seems not at all fanciful to think that the last two or three, and most surely No. 32, were written at least in part for Harriet Taylor. In No. 32 occur curious references to an article on Sandown Bay in the Monthly Repository. Mill is coy about the authorship of the article (572), though he must have known that it was by W.J. Fox, the editor, who had introduced Mill to the Taylors in 1830 (and had been a contributor to the Westminster Review from its inception). There seems no reason for the tone in a journal meant only for himself, especially given the excessive sentiment of his second reference to the article: “the beauty of the scene” at Sandown Bay was “enhanced . . . by the charm which true poetry whether metrical or not gives to all which it has touched, endowing it with beauties not its own” (581). It seems reasonable to assume that such a comment was intended for a close friend, and she is the most likely, particularly in the light of external evidence. That tour concluded in the New Forest of Hampshire, where Mill gathered some flowers. An undated letter to Harriet Taylor, almost certainly written just after his return, in an attempt to prevent a cessation of their relations, begins: “Benie soit la main qui a tracé ces caractères!” and ends: “Elle ne refusera pas, j’espère, l’offrande de ces petites fleurs, que j’ai apportées pour elle du fond de la Nouvelle-Forêt. Donnez-les lui s’il le faut, de votre part.”
Whatever uses Mill may have had in mind, there is no question that we can use the journals as evidence of biographical fact and as basis of inference about his behaviour and development. One of his frequent devices is comparison, which normally involves memory of past experience. So little is documented about his early life and views that even the trivial takes on interest. For example, he believes that the judgment that the bread of Godalming is the best in England “will not be easily credited by any person who has lived at Dorking” (456). In No. 30 he went over much ground familiar to him from an extensive journey in 1821: he refers to “living near Sandhurst College” (478), and notes that after passing through the village or hamlet of Sandhurst, they “soon came to the Military College, where [he] revived [his] old recollections by wandering about the semi-cultivated ground in front of the College, about the Governor’s house, and on the margin of the first lake” (497). He also mentions that the plants of the neighbourhood were not “rare or curious” to him, for he had “explored the Surrey chalk hills,” but worth enumerating—and here is another hint of (at least ideally) a reader—because “a young botanist may expect to find” them (490). This same tour describes a second meeting at Reading with Gustave D’Eichthal, the Saint-Simonian disciple who became a close friend (478), and sees him joining his family at their summer home in Walton-upon-Thames (496).
Memories of France confirm the deep impression it had made upon him. In No. 30, for instance, two hills near Bagshot Heath are seen to bear “a considerable resemblance in shape to the round volcanic hills of Cette and Agde on the coast of Languedoc” (478), while a plain appears “like some parts of France, particularly the Haute Normandie” (482). Later the country has “something of the appearance of the plain of the Garonne seen from the Frontin and Pompignan hills” (483), and he notes that in “every village, or close to it there was one, and but one, very large house and grounds which reminded us of a French village and the château of its seigneur, and no doubt originated in the same way” (484). Similarly, in the next journal, when in the Lake District, he finds that Troutbeck vale “well represents on a small scale, some of the valleys of the Pyrenees” (515), and the Greta reminds him “much of the Adour near Bagnères de Bigorre, in the Pyrenees” (535). Probably the most revealing comment, showing the hidden side of his youthful emotion, closes No. 33, as, looking from the coach, after leaving Cornwall, he says that he “thought the rich green hills of Somersetshire, and the forests of hedgerow elms, much more beautiful than I ever thought them before. So I remember being in extacy [sic] at the beauty of the Southampton road immediately after landing from Normandy” (637).
There are memories also of the earlier walking tours, including several references to the Leith hill ranges in Surrey, seen at 498, 499; some of these demonstrate an acute visual memory: “As I walked along the solitary and sequestered beach [looking at the Solent], I was forcibly reminded of the shores of Ulleswater and Windermere. . . . In this respect the resemblance [of the long projecting headlands] was still greater to the south coast of Cornwall” (569; cf. 572).
whatever questions may arise about the intended audience for the walking tours, there can be no question about that for the intimate record that Mill kept in the early months of 1854. He wrote to his wife on 11 January of that year: “The little book was procured—I wrote in it for the first time on Sunday and have written something each evening since—whether what I have written was much worth writing is another question.” And again on the 19th: “I write every evening in the little book.” It is a heavy requirement (see the first entry) to have a profound thought each day; most diarists are content with less than memorable mundane events, and it is not surprising that the entries cease in April, when Harriet Taylor Mill returned to London for more direct communication and mutual stimulation of ideas.
The tone is valedictory and autumnal as Mill thinks much of death, both he and his wife being manifestly ill of pulmonary disease, and one recalls that this is the period when they planned together the work by which they wished to be remembered. The entries touch on this theme, and also, in spite of the general intellectual orientation, give both interesting and affective personal judgments and anecdotal biographical hints. One may instance his mention of the Examiner’s Office (641), and the eulogy of his father, in which he identifies James Mill’s only flaws as those of omission (642). His comments on character, clearly self-reflexive, are instructive generally and particularly: he mentions (and will surprise some by doing so) the need for some lightness of character to combat evils and even prevent madness (643), lauds the personal benefits of poetry and music (647-8) and the role of the “Artist” (667), and also touches on a matter that must have been at least quietly vexing to him, now that the Romantic urges were quieter in these years of comparative isolation, the tendency of solitary occupations to deaden sympathy (655).
Not least interesting are adumbrations of ideas found in the works he, with Harriet Taylor Mill, was planning and even drafting at the time. For example, one thinks of the Autobiography when one reads his condemnation of onesideness (644), or his account of the threat to a true picture of human relations that gossip poses by magnifying insignificant particulars (649-50). And the eulogies of his wife in that work are here forecast when he mentions the value of vision (645), in his estimation one of her great qualities, and acknowledges his debt to her for enlarging his ideas and feelings, while regretting that she could not give him the same expansion in power of execution (655-6).
Without attempting to exhaust the intimations, it may be mentioned that On Liberty is suggested by the references to the deadliness of custom in the East (647) and the difficulty of removing received opinions (649), as well as by the description of the progress of opinion as an uphill spiral (661), and the praise of freedom of expression (661-2). Key matters in Utilitarianism appear: for instance, Mill presents the ideal of humanity as inspiring (654, 661), and insists on the vital necessity of considering the quality as well as the quantity of happiness, even using what became one of his famous comparisons, that between Socrates and a pig (663).
Perhaps most surprising is the amount of comment on religion, and especially on the hope of immortality (for instance, 654 and 662); but one recalls that once again a later work, the Three Essays on Religion, was on their minds, and the strong smell of mortality was in their nostrils. Finally, and less surprising, are his comments on sexual equality (663), to be manifested in many a speech and in The Subjection of Women.
Ending the account with the diary entries of 1854, valetudinarian in tone (though Mill had nearly twenty more active years of life), makes for a “Whiggish” effect, with all the documents showing development and adumbrating mature views. Because Mill matters to most people as a political philosopher and sage, such an effect is almost inevitable, and need not be regretted. But there is in the journals and speeches other matter with other messages. Mill is revealed—not that he would like the term—as a social being, caught up in the excitement of youth, curious about his world, looking about rather than within, and responding to people as well as ideas. We can look elsewhere in the period, say to Crabb Robinson for gossip, to Carlyle for vituperative personalities, to Macaulay for brilliant paradox, or to Sidney Smith for boisterous wit; these are not Mill’s weaknesses or strengths. He shows, however, what none of those does in the same degree, an extraordinary intellectual sensitivity, almost unmarked by egocentricity. Even in the years when he later admitted he may have appeared to be “a mere reasoning machine,” these personal documents prove that the ideal improvement he sought was vital as well as ideal, individual as well as social. The highest standards he set were for himself.