Mill’s Newspaper Articles: Collected Works vol. XXII
Source: Editor's introduction to The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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this introduction does not attempt to analyze the thought of John Stuart Mill; it attempts to provide the context of his contribution to newspapers. The limited task is quite sufficient. Mill wrote in the papers for more than fifty of his sixty-seven years, twice on a sustained basis, in the 1830s on France and in 1846 on Ireland. From the chaotic early years of the nineteenth century to the more organized life of Victoria’s heyday, he contributed practical and theoretical advice, sometimes hopefully, sometimes irately, frequently despairingly, to his stolid countrymen.
Newspapers were not his major medium—periodicals and books were the media he chose for his important writings—but he knew their impact and their value. Their impact was immediate and widespread. The Morning Chronicle under John Black in his prime was read over more cups of coffee than The Times. Albany Fonblanque’s Examiner informed radical opinion. There was no other forum but the press influencing the minds of the politically important men and women with an immediacy made all the more potent because in Mill’s youth the numbers who proposed and disposed were so small. As the years went by and as numbers grew, individual influence lessened, Mill’s not so much as others, but the influence of the press, still unchallenged, increased with its readership.
Influence upon policy was not the most that Mill obtained by his journalism. Of more value to him was the necessity, forced upon him by the political involvement his journalism entailed, of bringing his hypotheses to the bar of actual events. Perhaps opportunity would be the better word because Mill was aware of, and took advantage of, the laboratory provided by “common experience respecting human nature.”1 It is the testing of his theories concerning human behaviour and the progress of human civilization which gives his newspaper writings weight in the development of his thought and interest to its students.
The London into which John Stuart Mill was born had a population of under one million; by the time he was twenty-five, it had doubled; when he died there were over three million. The changes taking place in England had produced by the beginning of the nineteenth century a turbulence in society rarely experienced before and a radical political press unique in English history. James Mill may have protected his son from the rough and tumble of boys his own age but he brought him up in the centre of the riots, assassinations, treasonous plots, and mass meetings that were the political manifestation of the social upheaval of early industrial England. The world around the young boy—and he lived his boyhood in London in its very vortex, precocious, his father’s intellectual shadow, listening to radical arguments and plans—was violent, brutal, anarchic, insecure, filthy, and noisy. His youthful mind was shaped in this environment—he always stressed the influence of circumstances—as was also his vision as a mature Radical.
Mill was born on 20 May, 1806, in a small house in Pentonville. His father was establishing himself amongst the Radicals of London. The times were desperate for radicalism and yet equally desperate for the condition of England; there was little time for reform but never greater need. Insecurity and violence, and the repression and hatred they bred, were everywhere. The rapidly changing basis of wealth brought increased insecurity for rich and poor. It would be fifty years before the technological and administrative knowledge would be developed to make town life secure, and the same was true for the new financial world. Insecurity haunted all levels of society. Consequently, while Mill was growing up, riots were a way of life, in peace or in war.
There were nearly always riots of more or less seriousness at elections; there were food riots; there were riots amongst the prisoners in Dartmoor and Porchester Castle in 1810; there were riots among the theatre-goers, not only the Old Price riots at Drury Lane in 1809, but at Plymouth in 1810 and Peterborough and Liverpool in 1811; that year the East India College students rioted in Hertford and the next year rioters wrecked the newsroom at the Manchester Exchange; there were riots against high food prices, in favour of a minimum wage, against press gangs; handloom weavers, Tyneside keelmen, Suffolk labourers, Bilston colliers, London shipwrights, all rioted in 1814. From 1811 to 1816 the Luddites broke machinery throughout Yorkshire and the Midlands; in Nottinghamshire in 1812 to make their feelings perfectly clear they rioted in celebration of the assassination of Lord Perceval. The Prime Minister was shot, the King was insane, a profligate Prince was regent, and the country was at war. There was reason for violent dissatisfaction and fear, and both continued to increase. The outbreaks fed into the post-war violence.
In 1815 James Mill moved his family to 1 Queen Square Place, to live beside Bentham. A stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament, this was the very heart of political London, so the young Mill was right in the thick of things, not only for the splendid celebrations as the Prince Regent fêted European royalty at the marriage of Princess Charlotte, but also for the activity leading up to the Spa Fields meeting when the Spenceans, led by the two Watsons and joined by some sailors, broke into several gunsmiths’ shops, killing one gunsmith, and attempted to seize the Tower and the Bank of England. Unrest is the word most frequently used to describe the outbreaks from 1815 to 1820, but the word does not indicate the tension or explain Government response. In the atmosphere of the times, any outbreak seemed a possible revolutionary spark to both participants and observers. The year 1817 saw the Manchester Blanketeers, the activities of Oliver the Spy, and the Derbyshire insurrection, for which three were executed and many transported. The popularity of the monarchy reached new depths as public sorrow over the death of Princess Charlotte in childbirth turned to anger over the spectacle of the unprepossessing children of George III without a legitimate heir among them. No one was surprised when a missile was hurled at the Prince’s carriage along with the boos and jeers. Rumours of an assassination attempt were readily believed. The years 1819 and 1820—the years of John Stuart’s thirteenth and fourteenth birthdays—saw Peterloo, the Six Acts, the death of the beloved old mad king, the Cato Street conspiracy, and Queen Caroline’s trial. These events may be played down with hindsight, but at the time rumour fed violence and no one was sure when the revolution might ignite. The year 1789, seen through the glare of 1792, was in everyone’s mind. How far could repression and prosecution go? Might the suspension of habeas corpus lead a mob to storm the Tower?
No child living in the heart of Westminster in a house that was the centre of a passionately radical group could be unaware of the violence out of doors. So much has been made of the seclusion and concentration of Mill’s upbringing and education that it is necessary to give some emphasis to the other side. The image of the child prodigy screened from friends of his own age is dear to a society which holds the untrained mind to be proof of a happy childhood and which delights in the crisis of the trained mind. But Mill’s childhood was not unhappy—he is to be believed on this point, his Autobiography being painfully honest and happiness being estimable only by the possessor—nor did his crisis necessarily come from the concentration of the education. Indeed a more likely cause is the gap between his father’s solutions and the coarse world he grew up in.
James Mill’s house was not a place of total seclusion except from children not of his own making; and of those who were, it should be remembered, there were nine. The young boy also had the society of his father’s friends.
During this first period of my life [up to the age of fourteen], the habitual frequenters of my father’s house were limited to a very few persons, most of them little known to the world, but whom personal worth, and more or less of congeniality with at least his political opinions (not so frequently to be met with then as since) inclined him to cultivate; and his conversations with them I listened to with interest and instruction.
He also mentions being “disputatious” “from having been encouraged in an unusual degree to talk on matters beyond [his] age, and with grown persons.”2 Mill mentions only David Ricardo, Joseph Hume, and Jeremy Bentham (A, 55), but there were others.
And if the number who came to the house was small, the much larger world of violent political activity entered with them. The turmoil of England, its causes and its remedies, was the urgent question during John Stuart Mill’s formative years and it was the paramount, if not the only topic of conversation amongst his father’s friends. They were an extraordinary group of men. They argued the facts and the principles passionately. It was not the talk of abstract philosophers but of men committed to the society, a society on the brink of revolution or dissolution, of which they felt themselves the proper leaders.3 The young Mill’s world was exciting; all about him was radicalism verging on revolution, not necessarily violent but violent if necessary. He dreamt of being a Girondist.4 The impression Mill gives in the Autobiography that life in Queen Square Place was regulated and commonplace is frequently accepted without question because the work is so obviously intellectually honest. But what was commonplace to the young Mill would have been commonplace to few others. (It is doubtful if Mill ever had much idea how uncommonplace he was.) All around him were unconforming, if not eccentric.
The central figure was Jeremy Bentham who, however much his eccentricity stemmed from his rationality, was also a passionate, at times incoherent, denouncer of abuses. History has often made him quaint, concentrating on his foibles and universal constitutions and prisons, giving others the credit for realizing his law reforms in particular and his social reforms in general. History has made Francis Place respectable, but he had at one time been a co-worker of Colonel Despard, hanged for treason in 1803. And it was he who, through his writings on birth control, was, if indirectly, responsible for the young Mill’s being arrested for distributing “anti-social” pamphlets. Frequently on Sundays, John Black, a man who as editor of the Morning Chronicle was to be long an associate of John Mill’s, visited James Mill. They talked politics, but some of the flavour of Black’s unconventional personality must have been noticed by the listening and disputatious son. Black’s quarrelsome nature had led to twelve challenges to duels before he was thirty. Having failed to win a divorce suit, he was now living with his housekeeper and being blackmailed by his wife. Brougham, Ricardo, Romilly, and Hume, each of marked character and ability, also provided contrast and interest. And of equal interest but possibly more charm, after 1819 there were the neighbours Sarah and John Austin with, two years later, their lovely baby daughter Lucie. Despite the long hours of study, life could not have been dull for the young boy and, even without the rough-and-tumble of his peers (siblings are never peers), he was better fitted than most to go at age fourteen to stay for a week with J.B. Say in Paris, meeting many of the French liberal circle, on his way for an extended visit in the south of France with the eccentric Samuel Benthams, where, however, the turmoil and chaos were domestic.
It may have been somewhat of a relief to leave London in the spring of 1820. Within a week of the death of the Duke of Kent, the old King had died. Arthur Thistlewood, a long-time friend of the Watsons of Spa Fields, advanced his plans and was surprised in Cato Street on the night of 23 February. The opening scenes of the drama of Queen Caroline, an emotional extravaganza orchestrated by Brougham, were drawing large London audiences.5 But France was in truth not much calmer, although less noisy and, for the moment, seemingly less volatile. The Duke of Berry had been assassinated the week before the Cato Street conspiracy (the Cato Street conspirators now seem farcically inept; but so would Louvel had he missed), and the royalist reaction was benefiting. Under the Ministry of Villèle, Louis XVIII was following his autocratic inclinations fully supported by the old aristocracy. The law of the double vote passed, increasing the influence of the small rich minority which had already seemed impregnable. The talk at the home of J.B. Say would have been of the kind the boy was used to, only in French. Say’s household was radical; he was a political economist—in 1822 he became an honorary member of the Political Economy Club in London—a long-time friend of Lafayette’s and a befriender of the Carbonari. Mill met many of the leaders of the French left, “among whom [he had] pleasure in the recollection of having once seen Saint-Simon, not yet the founder either of a philosophy or a religion, and considered only as a clever original” (A, 63). He also recorded that he benefited little; this is hardly surprising since he was only fourteen and spoke only English. But although he may have benefited little immediately, the friendship with that family and the acquaintance of the political group to which it belonged were of immense importance to both his thinking and his actions a decade later. And Mill would have benefited more than any other lad his age.
His radical training also stood him in good stead as he started off on his own to the Garonne to join the Samuel Benthams. As a true Radical and a disputatious youngster he knew his rights, and asserted them against a female claimant to an inside seat that was his by seniority in the coach if not in the world.6 He arrived without mishap and spent an exceedingly happy year in a household that was normal only by Benthamite standards. The success of this year was of immense importance in Mill’s intellectual growth; he developed an enduring affection for France and an unwavering belief that she was in the van of European civilization and that all, including England, must follow the path she took. These thoughts were not matured in 1821, but the ground had been prepared and sown. The influence on his political thought was to be crucial. He later said: “the greatest, perhaps, of the many advantages which I owed to this episode in my education, was that of having breathed for a whole year the free and genial atmosphere of Continental life.” In England it is taken for granted “that conduct is of course always directed towards low and petty objects” (James Mill’s teaching can be heard here); amongst the French elevated sentiments are “the current coin of human intercourse” (A, 59-61). That Mill could feel these sentiments unchanged after the French events of 1851 and 1870 shows how powerful were his early impressions. One may also see here feelings which would contribute to the promptings of the “irrepressible self-consciousness” to answer “No!” and trigger his depression in 1826 (A, 139). Certainly one can see here the seeds of his later emphasis on the possibility of the improvement of mankind through the cultivation of their higher natures. The method of his thinking was to be altered in another direction also—one which was to be crucial to his youthful journalism. Mill concluded the account of his sojourn in France:
The chief fruit which I carried away from the society I saw, was a strong and permanent interest in Continental Liberalism, of which I ever afterwards kept myself au courant, as much as of English politics: a thing not at all usual in those days with Englishmen, and which had a very salutary influence on my development, keeping me free from the error always prevalent in England, and from which even my father with all his superiority to prejudice was not exempt, of judging universal questions by a merely English standard (A, 63).
The England to which the fifteen-year-old Mill returned in June 1821 was a little calmer than the one he had left. Queen Caroline’s trial was over and the illuminations extinguished. The royal Dukes’ hasty marriages had produced more than one promising successor to the throne. It was hoped that, God and the Duke of Clarence willing, a regency could be avoided; George IV was unlikely to last long enough—certainly everybody hoped that too. England had largely separated herself from the repressive ideas of the great Continental powers and was associating herself with the liberal aspirations asserting themselves in Europe. There were many insurrections, the precise aims of which were not always clear, but it was clear that Europe was far from calm. Greece, Spain, the Spanish colonies, the Two Sicilies, Northern Italy, Portugal, all were providing alternating hope and despair for the Radicals. At home the mood was easier. The pitch of excitement reached by the summer of 1820 could not be maintained, partly because Burdett, Cochrane, and Cobbett had all in their several ways pulled back from the monster demonstrations in London. A brief period of prosperity in both town and country had lowered tempers and reduced the mob.
John Stuart Mill spent two busy years after his return from France, enjoying a wider acquaintance, including many much nearer his own age with whom to match wits. His father’s plans for him at that time included as a distinct possibility a career at the bar. Consequently Mill read law to his great benefit with John Austin, a man whose incisive understanding of the subject was best communicated by tutoring, not lecturing. Mill gained more than legal knowledge from the Austin connection. He went to stay with Sarah Austin’s family, the Taylors of Norwich. There he met John Austin’s brother Charles, a brilliant Cambridge undergraduate, who, Mill says, “attached me among others to his car. Through him I became acquainted with Macaulay, Hyde and Charles Villiers, Strutt (now Lord Belper), Romilly (now Lord Romilly and Master of the Rolls), and various others. . . . It was through him that I first felt myself, not a pupil under teachers, but a man among men.” (A, 79.) It is small wonder that Mill’s writing shows an unusual blend of modesty, certainty, and arrogance when one looks at the contemporaries against whom he measured himself. And they all assumed it their right and their duty to point England the way.
Mill received another benefit from his father’s arranging for him to read under Austin. As part of his preparation for law, Mill was given Bentham’s principal speculations, as interpreted to the Continent, and indeed to all the world, by Pierre Etienne Louis Dumont, in the Traités de législation (1802).
The reading of this book was an epoch in my life; one of the turning points in my mental history. . . . The feeling rushed upon me, that all previous moralists were superseded, and that here indeed was the commencement of a new era in thought. . . . As I proceeded farther, there seemed to be added to this intellectual clearness, the most inspiring prospects of practical improvement in human affairs. . . . Bentham’s subject was Legislation . . . and at every page he seemed to open a clearer and broader conception of what human opinions and institutions ought to be, how they might be made what they ought to be, and how far removed from it they now are. When I laid down the last volume of the Traité I had become a different being. . . . I now had opinions; a creed, a doctrine, a philosophy; in one among the best senses of the word, a religion; the inculcation and diffusion of which could be made the principal outward purpose of a life. And I had a grand conception laid before me of changes to be effected in the condition of mankind through that doctrine. The Traité de Legislation wound up with what was to me a most impressive picture of human life as it would be made by such opinions and such laws as were recommended in the treatise. . . . And the vista of improvement which he did open was sufficiently large and brilliant to light up my life, as well as to give a definite shape to my aspirations.
The euphoria of the moment of grace shines through the calculated wording of thirty years later. Not the least of the emotions was relief at now at last understanding what his father had been teaching him. But the paramount effect was the vision; for the young lad of fifteen the feelings he had experienced in his Girondist dreams were now his in reality. For the rest of his life Mill was to be a visionary, at times a very depressed visionary when the future became blurred or the present seemingly regressing, but always beneath the calm, measured analytical philosopher or economist or political scientist, the saint of rationalism would be following the yellow brick road.
The immediate effects of the vision were to inspire Mill to write his first “argumentative essay” (A, 73) and to form debating clubs and discussion societies in order to prove and spread the gospel. He was also ready to take his message to the wider public; he was finally confident of what he had been taught and, truly comprehending it for the first time, was not only able “to converse, on general subjects, with the instructed men with whom [he] came in contact” (A, 75) but also desirous of instructing the uninstructed. In December of 1822 appeared the first of his newspaper writings.7
Journalism was never intended by James Mill to be his son’s career. Some time during the winter of 1822-23, he decided that the India House was a more utilitarian career for his son than the bar. Certainly in retrospect John Mill expressed few regrets about the bar and an acute awareness of the drawbacks of journalism, especially when contrasted with the advantages of following in his father’s footsteps.
I do not know any one of the occupations by which a subsistence can now be gained, more suitable than such as this to any one who, not being in independent circumstances, desires to devote a part of the twenty-four hours to private intellectual pursuits. Writing for the press, cannot be recommended as a permanent resource to any one qualified to accomplish anything in the higher departments of literature or thought. . . . Those who have to support themselves by their pen must depend on literary drudgery . . . and can employ in the pursuits of their own choice . . . less than the leisure allowed by office occupations, while the effect on the mind is far more enervating and fatiguing.
So John Mill started work, the day after his seventeenth birthday, 21 May, 1823, in the Examiner’s Office of the East India Company, and the newspaper was to become for him throughout his life a means of putting his solutions for immediate problems before the public and of educating that public on the broader philosophical and political issues that lay behind the great events of the day.8
Journalism also educated Mill; it played an important part in his development by keeping his feet firmly on the ground. He himself was not unaware of the importance of active involvement to prove philosophical speculation. “But the man to lead his age is he who has been familiar with thought directed to the accomplishment of immediate objects, and who has been accustomed to see his theories brought early and promptly to the test of experiment . . . and to make an estimate of means and of obstacles habitually a part of all his theories that have for their object practice, either at the present or at a more distant period.”9 In his newspaper writings, Mill can be watched applying the principles he had acquired to the practical problems of everyday administration and politics: “My practice (learnt from Hobbes and my father) [was] to study abstract principles by means of the best concrete instances I could find . . .” (A, 167). The political scientist needed, like every other scientist, to see if the laws or the hypotheses were verified by the facts.10 Especially in his earlier years the world was Mill’s laboratory and the newspapers his daily notebook. There are interesting times in his journalism, in the early 1820s, the early 1830s, the late 1840s, and the early 1850s, when Mill is quite evidently applying a strongly held belief, quite recently worked out, to contemporary events: in the ’20s, Bentham’s laws; in the ’30s, the laws of historical development and social progress; in the ’40s, the consequences of systems of land tenure; and in the ’50s, the social consequences of sexual inequality. It is his observation of the actual instances around him (and here his work in the India Office greatly added to his journalist’s experience) that lies behind his conviction, so often expressed, that all reforms must be chosen for their present practicality, as well as their furthering of the eventual goal. It was not only his early mental training that led him, in spite of his great sympathy, to reject Saint-Simonism in his time.
The radical world of journalism that he now entered was a small world, peopled by figures long familiar to the sixteen-year-old Mill.11 Radical politics were led by a select, dedicated few, all of whom turned their hands to whatever task needed doing. The persecution of the press had strengthened the bonds of brotherhood, and freedom of the press became a sine qua non, if not the sine qua non, of the intellectual radical movement. Between 1808 and 1821, there had been 101 prosecutions for seditious libel, many of them unsuccessful thanks to Charles James Fox’s amendment of the law in 1792, which gave juries the power to decide if the words in question were libellous. That amendment itself may have spared England revolution. As it was, the trials provided soapboxes, and if sometimes imprisonment followed, Lord Ellenborough found himself thwarted as often as not. But the continuing struggle against repression, the shared prison experiences, the rallying point provided by people like the Carliles, all created an exciting world, not less so for its danger, which the young boy was now to share. His father and his father’s allies welcomed the new torch bearer, but journalism was more a rite of passage than a new land.
Small though the world of journalism was, it had a power quite out of proportion to its size. A great deal of influence was wielded by those whose reasoned argument or memorable invective was read over breakfast or coffee. Westminster with its eleven thousand voters could be swayed by a Black or a Barnes, and most constituencies had less than a tenth that number. But even more important, if also more intangible, was the amount of pressure that could be exerted on the Government by the political temperature in London. Certainly a succession of ministries thought it worth the risk of increasing their unpopularity by attempting to silence, or keep within bounds, a Leigh Hunt or a Cobbett. It was said that “an epigram in the Examiner went off like a great gun, echoing all over the country.”12 In 1835, when the Chronicle, which had fallen behind The Times, suddenly acquired many readers lost by its rival through a change in policy, Black exclaimed, “Now our readers will follow me anywhere I like to lead them!”13 A government that ruled in the final analysis by the tolerance of the people could be forced to alter its course by the strong expression of feeling out of doors. Lord Brougham’s triumph in the withdrawal of the Bill relating to Queen Caroline was a triumph of the press and the people, certainly not of justice.
John Mill was fully aware of the power of the press. When he pours scorn on the state of the press in England (No. 57) it is just because he was aware of how much good journalists could do and how much evil in his eyes many of them—The Times was often in his mind—were doing. Mill’s diatribes against the press must be seen in the context of his frustration with England and Englishmen for their “low moral tone” and “absence of high feelings” (A, 61). Certainly only a handful of men in England, including himself, employed daily or weekly journalism with the honesty, respect, knowledge, and integrity that would make it an instrument for the advancement of mankind. To Mill’s mind one of that handful was John Black, his father’s old friend and, to a certain extent, disciple; when considering Mill’s own journalism his estimate of Black should be set beside his condemnations of the press.
I have always considered Black as the first journalist who carried criticism & the spirit of reform into the details of English institutions. . . . [He] introduced Bentham’s opinions on legal & judicial reform into newspaper discussion. And by doing this he broke the spell. Very early in his editorship he fought a great battle for the freedom of reporting the preliminary investigations in the Police Courts in which Fonblanque . . . occasionally helped him, but he had little other help. . . . Another subject on which his writings were of the greatest service was the freedom of the press in matters of religion. His first years as editor of the Chronicle coincided with the prosecutions of Carlile & his shopmen & Black kept up the fight against those prosecutions with great spirit & power. All these subjects were Black’s own. Parl. Reform, Catholic emancipation, free trade, &c, were the liberal topics of the day & on all of these he wrote frequently, as you will see by any file of the Chronicle.14
The Mills’ only worry was that Black might not maintain his influence over the regular purchasers of his paper:15 “in their weekly talks with their editor, both the Mills insisted as a condescension necessary to the temper of the time” on a lightness of touch. It was feared “that Black and his contributors were habitually writing above the heads of the public.”16
The readers, it must be kept in mind, were in the dining room or the coffee house at the beginning or end of a busy day. They had the normal physical disadvantages to contend with: dull weather, smoke, poor window glass, flickering candlelight, more-or-less helpful spectacles, and small bad print on fawn paper. To modern eyes it appears (somewhat dimly) strange that so little effort was made to ease the task of the reader. In the first half of the century the leading dailies usually had only four pages of small print in six columns, the first and fourth pages being devoted to advertisements. (Advertisements were integral to a newspaper then as now, bringing in the crucial portion of their revenue; indeed most, like the Morning Chronicle, were originally established as advertising media for a trade.) The second page would contain extracts from foreign papers in two columns, with the other four columns containing theatre and current happenings, chiefly domestic politics. A leading article, if there was one, would usually be on page two. Foreign news, society news, sporting news, and the ever-popular detailed description of the seamy side of life from the law courts filled page three. The Examiner was a weekly, with more pages but smaller format than the dailies, and appeared every Sunday; it had sixteen pages with only two columns but of equally miserable type-face.
The reader the Mills had in mind, though interested in politics, had other activities to occupy the greater part of his day. He would have intellectual pretensions but not necessarily a profession; most probably he would be to a large extent self-educated after the age of fourteen. He would like to consider himself an independent thinker, keeping abreast of what went on at home and abroad, especially the former and especially politically, standing on his own intellectual feet, and voicing opinions which he could support on intelligible principles. He would consider himself anti-Tory and, although certainly not of the labouring classes himself, was frequently sympathetic to their plight. But he was not a deep thinker and he was a busy man; his attention must be caught and held and his opinion influenced by blunt arguments. For the most part, John Mill keeps the temporary nature of his reader’s attention in mind; the largest exception would be the series of articles on the “Spirit of the Age,” their length being unusual even for the Examiner—but on Sunday perhaps the reader could be expected to sit somewhat longer over his coffee. (I say “his” coffee, because it is my impression—and I have no hard facts—that newspapers then for the most part addressed themselves consciously or unconsciously to a male audience.)17
There are advantages to the student of Mill’s thought in the demands that this audience made on him. In a newspaper, the ideas cannot be hedged around with qualifications and elaborations. What a journalist feels, he must say in a limited number of words, in a straightforward manner immediately intelligible to a man of intelligence but lacking learning and sophistication. For the most part, Mill was very successful (although he thought he lacked the light touch [A, 181]) in adapting his writing to this level. In addition, journalism most frequently demands hasty execution and topicality. The hasty execution was not a problem for Mill; from the beginning of his career, he wrote enviably well under pressure. The topicality can occasionally be a barrier for the reader many generations later, because the ambience of an incident is very difficult, if not impossible, to recapture; one cannot live in the past. But this difficulty is more than compensated for by the opportunity to watch Mill’s ideas, unequivocally expressed, shape and reshape themselves as they are proved against the facts and the events.
DECEMBER 1822 TO DECEMBER 1824
john stuart mill began to write for the press in December of 1822. It was not a propitious time, or not seemingly so. The European powers generally were looking for a return to the status quo ante; the experience of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars with their economic and political turbulence was much too recent to admit of broad proposals for change. But the time had rays of hope. Although France had invaded Spain to re-establish the autocratic rule of Ferdinand VII, the Spanish constitutionalists were showing considerable strength. The Greeks had risen against Turkey and liberal fervour was wholly on their side. At home, Lord Liverpool was still stolidly sitting in the saddle, but the worst of the post-war economic disruption was over. Prosperity was returning and tension was lessening. The Cabinet now contained considerable liberal talent: Castlereagh’s suicide and Liverpool’s resistance to the King had brought Canning back to the Foreign Office; Peel, who had endorsed in 1819 a return to cash payments, had replaced Sidmouth at the Home Office; Huskisson was supporting freer trade at the Board of Trade; and Lord John Russell had been successful in disenfranchising the quite rotten borough of Grampound, thus setting the precedent of eliminating a parliamentary borough. But at the end of 1822 these were little more than straws in the wind; Peterloo and the Six Acts, Cato Street, and Queen Caroline were only yesterday and still fresh in the mind. The unpopularity of George IV, which was if possible increasing with his girth, assured popular dislike of his Ministry. Peel might contemplate reforms in the Home Office but they would have to be accompanied by a watchful eye and a firm hand, especially on the radical press. The stamp duty had been extended after Peterloo and there were continual prosecutions as the war of the unstamped press raged. For most Radicals a cheap press and a free one continued to be the rallying ground in the defence of Englishmen’s liberties, for it was still a radicalism largely in the eighteenth-century tradition of John Wilkes. Radicals stood against encroachment by the King and his Ministers upon the constitutional rights of free men; and generally speaking the reforms they proposed were within the system rather than of the system.
Mill was sixteen and a half, a brilliant, gauche, likely lad, the product of one of the best-known educations of any nineteenth-century figure. He was ready to write, having found a message, and his father was nothing loath, perhaps wanting his son to have experience before Bentham’s projected radical periodical was started.18 During the next fifteen months, until the plans for the Westminster Review were realized, the young boy wrote thirty-two newspaper pieces, some quite short, but some more than a full column in length. His taking up his post in the East India Office caused only a slight and momentary lessening of his output; the pattern of life that was to prevail until his retirement in 1858 was set in the first months. The pattern of thought was not.
These early attempts are what might be expected, even from a prodigy, of a youth in his seventeenth and eighteenth years. They are clever but not profound or original, giving ample proof of his own assessment:
The first intellectual operation in which I arrived at any proficiency, was dissecting a bad argument, and finding in what part the fallacy lay. . . . It is also a study peculiarly adapted to an early stage in the education of philosophical students, since it does not presuppose the slow process of acquiring, by experience and reflection, valuable thoughts of their own.
Mill’s youthful journalism shows as much the thought of the Queen Square Place circle as of the youngest member of it. In these years the young Mill accepted his mentors’ view of a mechanistic world whose parts could not be redesigned, but could be realigned by the adjusting of a legal problem here and the promoting of a political economy reform there. The first principle on which their reforms were based was that men, because they put their own interests before the public’s, abuse a public trust if left unchecked. Mill’s articles all assume a dog-eat-dog world wherein every top dog must be prevented from dining off those lower in the hierarchy. The nature of the beast could not be much improved, but the beast’s behaviour could be bettered through the judicious provision of punishments and rewards. A second principle was that there are laws of political economy, the correct understanding of which would vastly improve the lot of the greatest number. It was appropriate that Mill, whose name has become inseparable from his Principles of Political Economy, should have written publicly first in that field.
The first writings of mine which got into print were two letters published towards the end of 1822, in the Traveller evening newspaper. The Traveller (which afterwards grew into the Globe and Traveller by the purchase and incorporation of the Globe) was then the property of the well known political economist Colonel Torrens. Under the editorship of an able man, Mr. Walter Coulson (who after being an amanuensis of Mr. Bentham, became a reporter, then an editor . . . ), it had become one of the most important newspaper organs of liberal politics. Col. Torrens wrote much of the political economy of his paper; and had at this time made an attack upon some opinion of Ricardo and my father, to which at my father’s instigation I attempted an answer, and Coulson out of consideration for my father and good will to me, inserted it. There was a reply by Torrens, to which I again rejoined.
Thus his career started off on ground he knew well; he had been educated on and by Ricardo, and was well aware of the controversy over the theory of value which had frequently exercised them all. It is twentieth-century opinion expressed by Lord Robbins that in these first two essays in public controversy, the newcomer received a “thorough trouncing from Torrens, evoked by . . . [the] effort to sustain his father’s preposterous view that differences in the period of investment might all be reduced to labour.”19
The controversy over the causes of price fluctuations—related to that over value—was equally undecided. This controversy had been stimulated rather than settled by the passing of the Corn Law of 1815 and Peel’s Currency Act of 1819. Mill’s favourable reviews of Thomas Tooke’s Thoughts on High and Low Prices (Nos. 8 and 12) consist largely of expository, approving synopses of Tooke’s influential book. (He was to use Tooke’s arguments again in the following year in his Westminster Review article, “War Expenditure.”)20 Young Mill next took on the Rev. Thomas Malthus in a review (No. 18) of The Measure of Value, which demonstrated the adolescent neophyte’s proficiency at dissecting bad logic. Having dismissed one of the established economist’s arguments “as a specimen of the obscure and disjointed mode of reasoning which Mr. Malthus has adopted,” and referring to “two or three other paragraphs of too little importance to require a refutation,” the youngster concludes with a triumphant reassertion of the orthodox position on the currency question.21
Another economic piece, written in June 1823, “The Debate on East and West Indian Sugars” (No. 10), has additional interest as an example of the way Mill’s daily articles not infrequently originated. James Mill was Zachary Macaulay’s ally in the anti-slavery movement (Macaulay had supported James Mill for the position in the Examiner’s Office of the East India Company); in December of 1821 he had been applied to as the natural authority by Macaulay, who was seeking help in the preparation for a debate, scheduled for May 1822, on the West Indian Monopoly.22 Macaulay then contributed to the pamphlet war,23 showing a detailed knowledge of India, its manufactures, and its trade. At this distance we cannot know whether John worked to gather information for his father and Macaulay, but certainly James Mill and his radical allies with their constant discussion and planning provided the motivation and put the needed knowledge at John Mill’s fingertips for an article on the parliamentary debate in 1823.
Another example is Mill’s article on Spanish affairs (No. 13). His easy familiarity with the recent very complicated events came quite naturally. Radical eyes had been watching the revolutionary events in Spain since 1820. Jeremy Bentham had written a pamphlet to impress upon the Cortes the importance of a free press.24 In April 1823 the French invasion of Spain had outraged radical opinion; Major Cartwright “entreats” (in Alexander Bain’s words) James Mill’s “intervention,” and a meeting was held on 13 June at the London Tavern “for aiding the Spaniards to maintain their independence against France.”25 Consequently, when on 4 August the news came of the capitulation of the constitutionalist general, Ballasteros, heralding the restoration of Ferdinand, the young boy could write a remarkably sure and percipient article without delay.
The young Mill’s main interest in 1823, however, was not political economy or foreign affairs but the issues that Bentham’s Traités had inspired him to fight for. In Mill’s account of the thought of the radical writers—he included himself—associated with the Westminster Review founded in 1824 he says, “Their mode of thinking was not characterized by Benthamism in any sense which has relation to Bentham as a chief or guide . . .” (A, 107), but his own journalism of 1823 would lead to a qualification of this estimate. Recollecting thirty years later his “considerably more ambitious” articles in the Morning Chronicle on freedom of the press, prompted by the prosecution of the Carliles, Mill dismisses his other contributions: “during the whole of this year, 1823, a considerable number of my contributions were printed in the Chronicle and Traveller: sometimes notices of books, but oftener letters, commenting on some nonsense talked in Parliament, or some defect of the law, or misdoings of the magistracy or the courts of justice” (A, 91); however, it is these writings, especially those on “some defect or misdoings” that show the strength of Bentham’s influence, be it from his writings or his lips.
A far greater number than Mill implies of his early articles appeared in the Morning Chronicle exposing the “defects of the law, and of the administration of justice.” “I do not go beyond the mark in saying,” Mill comments, “that after Bentham, who supplied the principal materials, the greatest share of the merit of breaking down this wretched superstition belongs to Black, as editor of the Morning Chronicle” (A, 91).26 In 1823 seventeen of his twenty-five contributions, at a conservative estimate, are applications of principles enunciated by Bentham, and by James Mill in his articles in Napier’s Supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
In his castigation of religious persecution in January of 1823 (No. 3), Mill applied the fundamental lesson learnt from the Traités: “What thus impressed me was the chapter in which Bentham passed judgment on the common modes of reasoning in morals and legislation, deduced from phrases like ‘law of nature,’ ‘right reason,’ ‘the moral sense,’ ‘natural rectitude,’ and the like, and characterized them as dogmatism in disguise . . .” (A, 67). The exposure of such fallacious language had become the trademark of a true practising Benthamite.27 Such a maxim as “Christianity is part and parcel of the law of England,” declares Mill to the editor of the Morning Chronicle, is “utterly unmeaning and absurd,” and no grounds for religious persecution.28
As he pursued the argument in the “Letters on Free Discussion” (Nos. 5, 6, and 7) the young disciple laid about him with his master’s sword. Bentham’s arguments on efficacious causes and truthfulness in witnesses,29 Quaker honesty,30 atheists’ reliability,31 and foresworn jurymen when the punishment is too large for the crime,32 all appear quite recognizably in these letters to the editor. The argument that Christianity is not needed for the basis of a good judicature, since non-Christians keep their word and many Christians ignore their oaths, bolstered by examples of custom-house oaths and university students’ oaths, can be found repeatedly in Bentham.33 Perhaps even in his reusing of examples, Bentham’s influence can be seen. When the evidence of a Quaker is refused in July 1823, custom-house oaths and university regulations are called into service again (No. 11). Mill in August applies Bentham’s expostulations on the perniciousness of oath-taking as weakening the sin of lying in “The Mischievousness of an Oath” (No. 14). And the following week in yet another letter on oath-taking (No. 16), custom houses and universities bear witness one more time.34
The move from oaths to judges (No. 15) gives the young Benthamite many texts to choose from, all vituperative and all based on the axiom so movingly put by George Grote in his letter to Fanny Lewin on her discovery of the true faith, “I truly rejoice that you have satisfied yourself as to the fact of amour de soi being the universal mover, variously modified, of the human race. There is no possibility of correctly appreciating men or motives until this has become a faultless truth.”35 Mill argues, “A Judge must always have much to gain by injustice: and if due securities are not provided, he will do injustice” (No. 15). Bentham said the same thing at greater length in the Rationale of Judicial Evidence, especially in Vol. IV, Book viii, culminating in Chapter xxix, “Apology for the Above Exposure,” which for sheer spluttering indignant abuse cannot be outdone. Mill’s solution is Bentham’s—publicity.36 Mill goes so far as to propose “giving to the people, either immediately or through their representatives, the power of removing judges of all descriptions from their offices” (No. 20)—a position he later qualifies.
When Mill objects to the use of the treadmill (No. 26) and reviews a book by Hippisley deploring its use (No. 22), it is Bentham’s views of punishment, found also in James Mill’s “Prison and Prison Discipline,” that he puts forward. The son includes a puff for his father’s work, and well he might, since his piece is little more than a rewording of his father’s argument that “People of industry, people who love labour, seldom become the criminal inmates of a prison,”37 and, therefore, to use labour of any kind, even the treadmill, as an instrument of punishment is exceptionable. But he might equally well have acknowledged his erstwhile guardian in whose Rationale of Punishment the distinction between reformation and punishment was argued: reformation would be achieved by bringing the slothful to an appreciation of labour.38
In September of 1823 (No. 19) Mill took as his text Bentham’s expostulation that it is hardly conceivable that a people could be found so stupid as to be persuaded that to serve justice “Nothing more was in any case necessary, than to pronounce one or other of three or four words, such as null, void, bad, quash, irregularity”;39 the legal student holds up two cases, one dismissed for the misspelling of a magistrate’s name and the other for using “after-forenoon” for “afternoon.”
In January of 1824 two more articles (Nos. 29 and 30) echo Bentham. In his review of Francis Place’s pamphlet on special juries, which was itself largely based on Bentham,40 Mill paraphrases Bentham’s defence of his personal criticism of judges, that he meant no slur on any individual. Bentham wrote: “The fault lies not in the individual, not in any particular taint of improbity seated in the bosom of the individual, but in the system itself”;41 Mill writes: “We cannot sufficiently reprobate the principle itself, of endeavouring to deter men from exposing a bad system, lest their strictures should be construed into imputations upon the character of individuals” (No. 29). Mill pointed out “the absurdity of a system of law which forces the Grand Jury to say one thing when they mean another; and not only to say it, but to swear it. This is innocent perjury, but it is perjury, and though the Jurors do not deserve blame, the law evidently does,” and signed himself, “An Enemy to Legal Fictions” (No. 30): in doing so, he must have had Bentham’s voice in his ear, the voice that had filled vitriolic pages on “Legal Mendacity” in the Rationale of Judicial Evidence.42
The echoes of James Mill’s voice in these articles, though not as resonant as those of Bentham’s, are better known, so a few examples will make the point. There is no embarrassment, indeed there is pride, at being the son of his father when Mill writes that this “subject is developed in the most satisfactory manner in Mr. Mill’s invaluable Essay on the Liberty of the Press, forming an article in Napier’s Supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica” (No. 5). No thought then of renouncing “sectarian follies” (A, 117). The father’s essays and the son’s articles show a remarkable similarity in word and idea. James Mill: “As the surface of history affords, therefore, no certain principle of decision, we must go beyond the surface, and penetrate to the springs within.”43 John Mill: “Against theories founded upon universal experience, the enemies of improvement hold out—what? Theories founded upon history; that is, upon partial and incomplete experience.” (No. 13.) James Mill: “Government is founded upon this, as a law of human nature, that a man, if able, will take from others any thing which they have and he desires. . . .”44 John Mill: “unless securities are provided, men will neglect the public interest, whenever it interferes with their own” (No. 13). These were the commonplaces of the Philosophic Radicals at the time, be they seventeen-year-old boys or nineteen-year-old girls or fifty-year-old mentors.
Mill’s article on parliamentary reform (No. 21) relies heavily on his father’s essay on “Government” but with an interesting twist, one of the early examples of the rhetoric that John Mill was frequently to use against wrong thinkers. James Mill dismissed the argument that a king or aristocracy is ever satiated as “an opinion founded upon a partial and incomplete view of the laws of human nature.”45 The son, more subtle than the father, did not use his father’s hatred of the aristocracy. He preferred to defeat his opponents by allowing their original premise: that a people would infallibly make so bad a choice “as to render the attainment of good government in this mode utterly hopeless” (No. 21), and to prove that the logical alternative is not an aristocratic government but an absolute monarchy. Mill’s consciousness of his potential opponents, undoubtedly heightened by his debating experience, typifies his lifelong rhetorical style. But the clever scoring of points, though undoubtedly a rewarding game, with a serious purpose for the recently unleashed reformer, was still a game, still “dissecting a bad argument, and finding in what part the fallacy lay,” rather than examining the principles of good government and “acquiring, by experience and reflection, valuable thoughts” of one’s own. In a short while, this game was to prove unsatisfactory, and the young man would be seeking the principles upon which to base the refutation of his opponents’ argument.
There may even be an early warning sign of this dissatisfaction in “Old and New Institutions” (No. 24). Mill attacks an innocent Colonel Hughes who, although advocating reform, does so on the grounds of restoring the old, not introducing the new. Mill’s views are quite orthodox, but there is rather an abundance of fervour in his Benthamite deluging of “the wisdom of our ancestors” with scorn. “Happily we are much wiser than our ancestors; it were a shame if we were not, seeing that we have all their experience, and much more in addition to it” (No. 24). The words of a cocky young whippersnapper. Does half a century between birth dates make one an ancestor and another an heir? Bentham and his father were essentially improving the springs of the stagecoach rather than designing the steam engine.
Another element in the philosophical radical synthesis, Hartleian metaphysics, lies behind the curious piece that Mill wrote for the newly founded Lancet; the uncompromising nature of his assertion is quite startling:
as it is generally admitted that circumstances often overcome the effect of natural predisposition, while no proof has ever been given that natural disposition can overcome external circumstances: we are at liberty to conclude, that in ascribing to any person a natural and original disposition to vice, men are following the very common practice of representing as natural that which is only habitual, merely because they do not recollect its beginning, and will not take the trouble to inquire into its cause
Although both Bentham and James Mill were Hartleians, John Mill’s analysis in this article on the making of a murderer is more than a derivative attempt to argue a problem. This question of human nature bothered him all his life (in the Subjection of Women he skirted around it),46 though he was to find a position he could live with: “I saw that though our character is formed by circumstances, our own desires can do much to shape those circumstances . . .” (A, 177). Interwoven with his argument was the depressing prospect of reforming a world for people who are of clay, not only their feet but their souls, clay that must be shaped in Benthamite moulds for every generation. No wonder the promptings of the small voice that wanted to believe in the improvement of mankind, not just circumstances, were gathering force.
The teen-age Mill’s regular writing for the newspapers ended with the unfurling of the Malthusian banner in combat against the Black Dwarf (Nos. 27, 28, 31, and 32). It is still clever debating: Wooler has only to be forced to concede one point—“such matters will always regulate themselves”—and Mill exults in triumph: “This, Sir, is all that I want” (No. 31). But the central issue of the article is powerfully felt and continues to be felt throughout his life; diminution of family size would bring about other and permanent improvement. Many of the principles learnt from Bentham and James Mill are mustered for this debate, and it is fitting that their influence on him should be so clearly illustrated as the first phase of Mill’s journalism draws to a close. What makes a government bad is the amount of discomfort it produces. “Until they [the people] are well fed, they cannot be well instructed: and until they are well instructed, they cannot emancipate themselves from the double yoke of priestcraft and of reverence for superiors” (No. 27). Overpopulation, he argues, is in the interest of landowner and manufacturer who will, therefore, oppose any remedy. To the argument that the plan was against the law of nature, Mill rejoined, “To check population is not more unnatural than to make use of an umbrella” (No. 27), an analogy perhaps prompted by Joseph Hanway’s being the introducer into London of both brollies and foundling hospitals. And there is a happy echo of Bentham’s style in the concluding sentence of his next article, where he protests the application of the word “heartless” to the promoters of limitation, “unless, indeed, the word heartless, be one of the engines of a sentimental cant, invented to discourage all steady pursuit of the general happiness of mankind” (No. 28).
His technique of argument has developed over the last twelve months; he has become cleverer in ticking off one by one the possible objections of probable opponents; he turns their arguments upon them. Neat turns of invective come from his pen (“you have made a much more free use, in this paper, of that easy figure of speech called assertion, than of that more intractable one called proof” [No. 31]—a use at this age he was well qualified to recognize); but some techniques seem to have been instilled with his training. For example, he sets the onus of an argument upon his opponents (“it is incumbent upon those who declare against toleration to point out some reason which prevents the general rule from being applicable to this particular case” [No. 5])—he uses nearly the same words forty years later when writing The Subjection of Women.47 But the great value of these early writings is their unique witness to the mind created by James Mill’s education. It is almost uncomfortably apposite that this period of his apprenticeship should conclude with two letters to the editor, one (No. 33) defending his father’s views, and one which reads:
The accompanying paragraphs are destined for insertion in your Dwarf. They are extracted from the article “Colonies,” in the supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica; a discourse composed by an eminent friend of the people. They contain, I think, a most conclusive answer to your last article on population; and if you insert them, you will be very well able to dispense with the reply which you would otherwise have received from Sir, your most obedient Servant.
SEPTEMBER 1825 TO OCTOBER 1828
parliamentary events were the centre of interest in England in the latter half of the decade. The rioting common after the Napoleonic Wars was less so now, though not unknown. There were strikes in 1824 and after the repeal of the Combination Acts that year, engineered by Place and executed by Hume, there were even more strikes in 1825. The middle classes, too, had their griefs. That year saw wild speculation in “bubble” companies, and county banks joined the Bank of England in over-issuing paper money to fuel the dreams. In December the end came; Pole and Company failed and between sixty and seventy banks were sucked under with it. The Bank Act of 1826 authorizing joint-stock banks and providing controls for currency issue was Peel’s response. There followed coincidentally a period of prosperity, quickly terminated by a poor harvest. Corn Law agitation revived amongst the manufacturing classes, and the labouring classes again vented their despair by attacks on mills, especially those with power looms. To the economic uncertainty and discontent at all levels was suddenly added political uncertainty and discontent. On 18 February, 1827, Lord Liverpool had a stroke; the hand that had for fifteen years provided a semblance of stability was gone. The Whigs raised their hopes. After six weeks, Canning formed a Government including some Whigs and thus embittered both Tories and the Whigs who were not included. In August he died. For five months the ship of state was guided by Viscount Goderich, “as firm as a bullrush.” He was succeeded in January of 1828 by the Duke of Wellington, with the support, until May, of William Huskisson and other Canningites, to whom Canning’s widow referred publicly as her husband’s murderers. It was in this spirit of public animosity that Parliament and the country debated the Corn Law, Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, Catholic Emancipation, and electoral reform.
During all the uproar, Mill contributed only a few pieces to the daily press. His newspaper career was in virtual abeyance between 1824 and 1828; during those five years he wrote mostly for the Westminster Review, thirteen articles in all, with another four in the Parliamentary Review. He also edited the Rationale of Judicial Evidence, a formidable task despite his demonstrated familiarity with Bentham’s ideas, and contributed to McCulloch’s edition of the Wealth of Nations an appendix on Adam Smith’s views on rent, territory also familiar to him. There is little new in the topics of Mill’s articles in the Westminster on free trade and the laws of libel,48 but, significantly, there were three on France, its great revolution, and its historians.49 And Mill felt that those written in the Parliamentary History and Review50 were also markedly different: “These writings were no longer mere reproductions and applications of the doctrines I had been taught; they were original thinking, as far as that name can be applied to old ideas in new forms and connexions” (A, 121-3). Although this impressive output, especially in the light of his other activities, would easily explain the paucity of his newspaper contributions, inclination undoubtedly played a role. He was depressed during 1826; duty occasionally led him to contribute though he was not inspirited—except in his political satire on Wellington’s Ministry—but by 1828 the gloom was lifting.
After his hasty closing of the debate with Thomas Wooler over population, he wrote nothing more until the end of 1824, when he wrote one piece (No. 33) correcting Black’s misinterpretation in the Morning Chronicle of what James Mill had said in the Westminster Review. He wrote another piece in September 1825; two others in June and December 1827; and six in 1828. In themselves they are of only minor significance. His defence of McCulloch’s views (No. 34) was off the top of a well-stocked head; he had been writing in the Westminster on both economics and Ireland, and showed once again that warmed-up leftovers make a palatable enough snack. Ireland was also the topic of “The Brunswick Clubs” (No. 42). He contributed to the New Times (No. 35), probably because he could score off The Times and help Eugenius Roche, an editor known to his father from the earlier days of persecution of the press, who had just become its editor (again). Both the inhabitants of Queenborough (No. 36) and the shopkeepers on the approaches to London Bridge (No. 41) were small people being hurt by sinister interests, but there seems to be no special motivation for the articles. These are desultory pieces. More interesting are the satirical political squibs in 1828 prompted by the resignation of the Canningite faction from Wellington’s cabinet (Nos. 37, 38, 39, and 40); perhaps he was cheering up, for they exhibit publicly the clever wit for which John Mill was enjoyed by his intimates but which, one must regret, appeared in his writings usually only as a very neat, sharp turn of phrase.
Gaiety had been certainly missing from the adolescent mind. There have been many analyses of the mental crisis since 1873; the light thrown on it by his early journalism (and vice versa) is all that need be seen here. John Stuart Mill, the teen-age romantic dreaming of the French Revolution (A, 65-7), himself playing the lead as the noblest of the Girondists, had spent his days writing letters and leaders. In them he applied the sectarian doctrines of the Utilitarians to a creaking eighteenth-century mechanical model in an attempt to make it run smoothly in the nineteenth. The world of Jeremy Bentham and James Mill was by definition made up of eternally self-seeking, pre-programmed abusers of power, all carefully set to watch over each other so that their selfish desires were controlled and directed towards the greatest happiness of the greatest number, who “will always prefer themselves to their neighbours . . . will indulge their indolence and satiate their rapacity whenever they can do it without fear of detection” (No. 15). Bentham said, “Amend the system, you amend the man.” The idealistic teenager wanted more than to prevent a man from abusing his power; he wanted to reform the man and the system would take care of itself. It is no wonder that the small voice of his self-consciousness whispered “No” clearly, distinctly, and brooking no argument. It is no wonder that the brilliance of “the vista of improvement” that Bentham’s Traités opened, originally sufficient “to light up my life, as well as to give a definite shape to my aspirations” (A, 71), began to dim after several years of applying principles to actual cases and evaluating the effects.
From the end of 1828 until the middle of 1830 he wrote very little (both John and James Mill withdrew from the Westminster Review) and nothing in the papers, “and great were the advantages which I derived from the intermission. It was of no common importance to me, at this period, to be able to digest and mature my thoughts. . . .” (A, 137.) The ideas which he needed to digest had come from a bewildering number of sources, all tending to loosen the moorings of the basically stationary world his father had explained to him. In England, many other influences came upon him: the ideas of people as different as Robert Owen, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Macaulay, John Sterling, William Thompson. Most important were the young men with whom he associated. Change was in the atmosphere for the young—and for some not so young. For there was not one of Mill’s thoughtful cotemporaries (as he would say) who did not acknowledge that some change must come. There was vast disagreement about the route to be taken and how far should be travelled, but there was no disagreement that travel one must. There is an enormous sense of the temporary in the first half of the century, especially after about 1820. Mill may have taken up from the French the phrase “age of transition” in his “Spirit of the Age,” but it labelled what many in England felt. Everybody was passing through. Be they currency reformers or Corn Law repealers, Cambridge apostles or utilitarians, ten-hours men or socialists, Chartists or trade unionists, muscular Christians or Popish ones, Poor Law bashaws or angels of charity, conservatives or radicals, they were all working for a better tomorrow. One person’s tomorrow might look like another person’s yesterday, but they would both agree that today could not be the pattern for the future.
The young men who had developed this sense of change into a philosophy were French youths who breathed “the free and genial atmosphere of Continental life” (A, 59) so much admired by Mill. He read Auguste Comte’s early Système de politique positive (1824) and learnt the stages of historical development, the characteristics of an age of transition, and, most importantly, the significance in historical progress of the French Revolution (A, 173); he started his lifelong friendship with Gustave d’Eichthal. The Saint-Simonians had a fundamental influence on him. Through their eyes, Mill had seen the promised land, and that vision, indeed obsession (but perhaps all visions are obsessions), he never lost.51 The writings of the mature man were sustained by the passionate vision vouchsafed to the young man in his late teens. Not the less passionate by its expression being moderate,52 this vision was dramatically given immediate reality by the French Revolution of 1830. Experience was to make the expected realization of the vision fade into the future, but the vision itself did not fade. The cards of history revealed movement. Mankind would improve; infinite improvement was possible.
JULY 1830 TO JULY 1831
if life in london had been less violent for the last decade than in the 1810s, violence was about to threaten once again. In the summer of 1830 the elections in England on the death of George IV were fought on reform and under the excitement of the July Revolution in France. It was thought the Tories had lost, and in November, when Parliament resumed, the issues became absolutely clear. Earl Grey raised the question of reform; the Duke of Wellington replied that England was perfect. London was so roused that King William’s safety was feared for were he to attend the Lord Mayor’s dinner accompanied by the Duke. The Duke resigned. Earl Grey formed a government and everybody went home for Christmas and the foxhunting. When Parliament resumed, Lord John Russell introduced the Reform Bill on 1 March, 1831. On 23 March, it passed its second reading by one vote, with the support of the Irish members. In April the Tories defeated the Government. A general election returned a majority for Grey and reform, and in June a second version of the Reform Bill was introduced into the Commons. Throughout the spring and summer of 1831, tension in England mounted. Crowds gathered in the streets; guns were being bought; political unions were formed and their members attended military drills. All watched as the Reform Bill, carried along by the parliamentary process, moved slowly and inexorably towards the House of Lords.
The tension was heightened by events in France.53 The Polignac Ministry, with Charles X’s full encouragement, had attempted to tamper with the elections in July of 1830. When, nevertheless, it became clear that the tiny electorate had defied their King and returned a majority opposed to the present Government, including the 221 recalcitrant Deputies who had signed a protest to the King against Polignac, Charles X issued the fatal ordinances, annulling the elections, constricting the electorate even more, and gagging the press. Paris rose, and for three glorious days, 27, 28, and 29 July, manned the barricades. During an exhilarating, frenetic week, those who had opposed Charles gathered and argued under a Provisional Government. Charles X abdicated, and Lafayette, the republican idol of France, embraced the Duke of Orleans before an immense crowd saying, “Voilà ce que nous avons pu faire de plus républicain.”54 The Duke, son of Philippe Egalité, became Louis Philippe I on 9 August; Lafayette’s embrace had established “un trône populaire entouré d’institutions tout à fait républicaines.”55 From that day began the struggle between, as Mill saw it, the party of movement, led in the National Assembly by the old revolutionists and outside it by the young republicans especially the journalists, and the stationary party, led in the Assembly by Guizot and the Doctrinaires—broadly speaking the 221 Deputies who had been the phalanx of the opposition to Charles X—and outside it by Louis Philippe, his Ministry, and the thousands of government place-men throughout the bureaucracy of France. By the summer of 1831, Louis Philippe and the Ministry under Casimir Périer, through relentless persecution of the republican press and brutal repression of insurrections, had established the bourgeois monarchy modelled, to Mill’s infinite disgust, on the Whig example in England.
In the spring of 1830 Mill was well on the way to recovery of his equilibrium, although periods of depression would return. The frame of mind in which the French Revolution of July found him (A, 163ff.) still showed many of the effects of his depression, but three things elated him: his introduction to Harriet Taylor, whose effect on him, whatever one may think of her, cannot be overestimated; the prorogation of the French Parliament; and the death of George IV, which effectually prorogued the English Parliament. All three events portended for the young man a much brighter future. The mouvement of history that he had learnt from his French acquaintances to hold as a faith was clearly about to advance noticeably.
Mill was quite confident that the death of George IV would mean reform in England. He himself took little part directly in advancing the movement of history in England, not even with his pen. But indirectly he did. His articles on France, contributed to the Examiner regularly after August 1830, are written with an acute awareness of the happenings and the attitudes around him. Here Mill’s new ideas can be seen being put to the test. “The only actual revolution which has ever taken place in my modes of thinking, was already complete. My new tendencies had to be confirmed in some respects, moderated in others: but the only substantial changes of opinion that were yet to come, related to politics. . . .” (A, 199.)
Mill’s return to journalism (No. 43) was fired by his desire to ensure that the English public were correctly informed about the issues involved in the French elections; misunderstanding of France must not lead to a weakening of resolve at home. Ignorance could mean destruction and bloodshed in England.56 It is noteworthy that Mill wrote his articles on France for Fonblanque’s Examiner.57 The Examiner was a weekly and therefore occasionally allowed longer articles while demanding a summary of the week’s news rather than daily reports. Fonblanque’s ardour was more suitable in spirit than Black’s heavier touch for the new (born again?) Mill, and his father’s shadow over his shoulder was less sensed.
When the French elections turned into confrontation which developed into revolution, “it roused [his] utmost enthusiasm, and gave [him], as it were, a new existence” (A, 179). Mill ecstatically travelled to Paris for two weeks, to the very heart of the intellectual excitement he so much admired. He wrote a hagiographic description of the popular uprising to his father in three letters, two of which were printed in the Examiner.58 When Mill returned to London, he was on tenterhooks as France established herself after the Glorious Days. He at first took advantage of the greater space allowed to discuss the Prospects of France, in a series of articles which he wrote from September to November 1830 (Nos. 44, 45, 48, 50, 51, 57, and 61). His philosophy of history, with its belief in progress through alternating transitional and organic stages, was being tested; before his very eyes was passing in fast-forward a transitional stage. Here was a chance not only to explain progress in history but also to further it by providing the broader background needed for a true appreciation of the forces of movement and stagnation that underlay events both in France and in England. Any party that is on the side of movement is on the side of history and must be on the side of the people. It cannot be otherwise. Any party which opposes movement must be against the interests of France, of her people, and therefore of mankind. “The design of these papers was to prepare the English public . . . for the struggle which we knew was approaching between the new oligarchy and the people; to arm them against the misapprehensions . . .; to supply facts . . . without which we are aware that that they could not possibly understand the true character of the events which were coming” (No. 61).
At the beginning of the series, Mill’s hopes were high. The French people had behaved in exemplary fashion, showing that they were the unselfish force of the future, willing at present to leave their interests in the hands of their natural leaders, the educated men. As early as 19 September, however, he was aware that there were those who “in every step which it [the Revolution] takes towards the achievement of its destiny . . . are more keenly alive to the dangers which beset it, than to the glory and the happiness towards which it is irresistibly advancing” (No. 44). Two things worried Mill right from the start: one was the apparent jobbing which immediately took place on a grand scale after the change of government. Place hunters poured into the Elysée Palace by the thousands. The power of self-interest was evident, and Mill realized that France was still ruled by an oligarchy, self-interest being the result of oligarchical rule. A second worry was much more serious. Even in an oligarchy, there can be a division between movement and stagnation. But many Frenchmen and nearly all Englishmen mistook the Doctrinaires under Guizot for the party of reform and gave them their support (No. 49); it could even be enough support for the Doctrinaires to dominate in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Government. But Guizot and his constitutionalists were backward looking. The “221” looked to the preservation of the Charter for which they had laudably fought against the encroachments of Charles X. Since the Glorious Days such an attitude was folly, was the result of a misunderstanding of the shift in the balance of power that had taken place when the people realized their strength, was a denial of the movement. Mill heaped abuse on the “fund of stupidity and vulgar prejudice in our principal journalists” (No. 56); especially the Quarterly Review and The Times constantly misinformed their readers about the true nature of the parties in France (Nos. 44, 49, 54, and 56 in particular).
In the early days, Mill could not believe in spite of his worries that he had misread the effects of revolution and the timing of history. The French would, he believed, “effect their parliamentary reform in two years, perhaps sooner,—not with muskets, but with newspapers and petitions: after which there will be ‘tranquility,’ if that name can be given to the intense activity of a people which, freed from its shackles, will speedily outstrip all the rest of the world in the career of civilization” (No. 44). His belief in the importance of newspapers was strengthened by his increasing hesitation about the anachronistic Chamber of Deputies; it was in the newspapers edited by young men that one heard the voice of the movement. A new Chamber chosen by an enlarged electorate was an essential first step, to be followed by elected municipal governments and a reformed peerage; these modest planks constituted the republican platform (No. 51).
When Laffitte, whom Mill saw as a liberal and (in spite of his age) more forward-looking than the constitutionalists, left the presidency of the Chamber to join the cabinet at the end of October, Mill was delighted at this sign that Louis Philippe was turning away from the stationary party (No. 55). It may be only a coincidence that Mill started at this time to contribute regular detailed reports on French politics and brought to a close his discursive series on the “Prospects of France.” He argued for the domination of the Chamber by the Ministry—not a position English readers would expect a Radical to adopt; he thought Laffitte’s Ministry (in which he included Louis Philippe) ought to control the Chamber because its members were more advanced than the majority of the Deputies. It was certainly more than a coincidence that Mill was putting forward these ideas in November when in England the debate on the speech from the throne, the first test of Lord Grey’s support, was taking place. In Mill’s analysis of the political developments, the popularity that would allow Laffitte to dominate the Government could only come from the popular press. (Mill used “popular” not to mean representing majority opinion among the people, but being on the side of the people, on the side of history.) Most of the popular press was republican—Le National, of which Armand Carrel was one of the editors, was his ideal; these young journalists alone dared to question institutions hallowed by time. This was not like the licentious press of England and America where people pursued journalism as a trade, “as they would gin-making,” for it was written by the “highly cultivated portion of la jeune France” out of the most noble principle (No. 54). Mill is quite carried away by the prospect afforded by the brilliant young men leading “this noble people [who] afford every day some new and splendid example of its progress in humane feelings and enlightened views” (No. 52), even when they were rioting in favour of the death penalty for Polignac and his ministers.
Mill was very disturbed when the rejection at the end of November of Benjamin Constant’s Bill to exempt printers from obtaining licences showed that the Chamber was prepared to see the press curbed (No. 62). The rejection led him to question and then qualify the use of the ballot. The Deputies voted on separate clauses openly and every clause passed, but the Bill as a whole failed to pass on the final vote by ballot. The ballot, he concluded, was not suitable for use in a representative assembly where a man’s vote should be known to his constituents, but was for the constituents themselves who needed its protection. His position drew him briefly into a debate with the Standard (Nos. 63 and 65).
By December the young enthusiast’s growing doubts were given a particular issue to cluster around. Because “a revolution carries society farther on its course, and makes greater changes in the popular mind, than half a century of untroubled tranquillity” (No. 48), Louis Philippe and the Ministry must not be content to tinker with the system but must reconstitute it in accordance with the new society. Laffitte’s proposed reform of the election law—at least what it was rumoured to include—was far too narrow to satisfy Mill, especially a Mill with one eye on events in England (No. 64).59 Earl Grey should realize that a far-reaching reform bill was the only way to bring English institutions into harmony with the new society. Mill’s growing disillusionment spills over in his reporting of the death of Benjamin Constant: “We are assured that this lamented patriot, almost with his last breath, expressed to the friends who encircled his death-bed, the regret which he felt, while dying, that the revolution of July was manquée, and had fallen into the hands of intrigans” (No. 68). The champion of a free press was dead, and the intrigans were persecuting and silencing the young men who stood for the movement.
The King’s dismissal of Lafayette at the end of December was followed by Laffitte’s replacement in March by the less acceptable—to Mill—Casimir Périer. Mill now set his hopes (as he was to do in English politics after the Reform Bill passed and Parliament changed not) on a radical opposition. Indirectly warning the Whigs at home, he poured vitriol on the head of Guizot, who was attempting to form a middle party between the popular party, led by Lafayette, and the oligarchy, for his “bigotted and coxcombical devotion” (No. 74) to his own ways instead of joining the popular party which had the backing of all under thirty-five and was thus “a power which no one dares despise; and, by earnest and well-directed exertions, is sure of ultimate victory” (No. 72).
There were small improvements, but little to feed Mill’s hopes or catch his imagination. The number of judges was to be reduced; the Commissioner who introduced the Bill delighted the heart of the editor of Bentham’s Rationale of Judicial Evidence by showing a sense “of the immense importance of the principle of undivided responsibility” of judges (No. 76),60 but the fact that he was the only one in the debate who did so somewhat lessened the delight. There was to be Government retrenchment of salaries. And then there was the municipal bill by which the local bodies were to be elected “by a suffrage tolerably extensive,” though “all the good which would otherwise result from the law is neutralised” by their being elected for six years. The amount of moral improvement engendered amongst the people would presumably therefore be minimal. Mill went so far as to argue that it might be better if the municipal officers continued as Crown appointees, because then they could be removed if the popular outcry was strong enough. He was upset but understanding when the people threw the Archbishop’s furniture into the Seine. The people, Mill explained, though they loved religion, could not abide political religion—possibly a timely word to the English bishops (No. 87). Again with the reform crisis at home very much in mind—the Bill was to be introduced on 1 March—Mill chastised The Times and the Quarterly Review for their failure to realize that the Doctrinaires under Guizot were the stationary party: “If the English and the new French government are destined severally to give another lesson to the world on the incapacity of oligarchies, howsoever constituted, to learn wisdom from experience, the trial must be submitted to: but at least those who shall provoke it shall do so knowingly, and must hold themselves prepared to suffer the natural consequences of their own folly” (No. 89).
On 6 March, 1831, Mill wrote on both Lord John Russell’s Reform Bill (No. 90) and French electoral reform (No. 91). Mill’s reaction to Russell’s Bill was surprisingly cool, since it was surely more thorough than he had expected: it should be supported, although limited, because either the new Parliament under it would represent the wishes of the people or the people would force the ballot. (Mill, like his allies and most others at this time, makes no distinction between the middle class to be enfranchised and the lower classes who are not.) When the new French electoral law was introduced, Mill should have been delighted that it was more generous than he had expected, but instead he was depressed as the parties in the Chamber manoeuvred to secure an election date to serve their selfish interests: “The destinies of France are in the hands of men more than nine-tenths of whom are not fit to have any part in the government of a parish” (No. 91).
With such men in power, throughout the spring of 1831 Mill understandably continued in low spirits.61 The revolution seemed to have stagnated, to have declined into piecemeal reforms extracted from a grudging Ministry, passed by a petty, selfish, factionalized Chamber of Deputies. Even the middle classes were not satisfied “either in respect to men or measures”; consequently there was no feeling of security. Until there was security, “the labouring population will be without work, will be dissatisfied, a prey to agitators, and ready for continual tumults: which tumults, so long as they do not endanger human life or private property, the National Guard [some of whose companies, Mill does not mention, were commanded by young republicans] will give themselves as little trouble as possible to suppress” (No. 89). It was thus the Government’s fault that mobs and rioting were once more commonplace. Mill’s enthusiasm for the republican youth was not diminished.
Mill never ceased to defend the right of the youth of Paris to speak and write their thoughts, even in extreme cases when the results of their behaviour were dangerous by ordinary standards. At twenty-four, Mill felt he had much in common with the gallant band of young men who had placed themselves in the van of history. As their influence waned and power became established in the hands of the older liberals, Mill became profoundly disturbed. He hardly mentioned the republicans’ part in fuelling the December riots during the trial of the ex-Ministers—the reports of which he had at first dismissed as exaggerated rumour (Nos. 72 and 89)—for which they had been arrested, tried, and acquitted. He referred to the “pretended republican conspirators” (No. 100) “who, it has been supposed by good-natured, timid friends of freedom, both in this country and in France, must needs be firebrands and sowers of sedition” (No. 101). Mill translated Cavaignac’s speech in his own defence; the appeal to him was obvious: “it is inevitable; . . . all things are moving in that direction; the course of events, the human mind, and outward things. I have perceived, that it is impossible for the movement which now rules the world to end in any thing but a republic.” (App. A.)
It is this spirit, this understanding of the forward movement of history to progressively more democratic institutions, the shift in power to greater numbers, that Mill is trying to inculcate in his readers. It is this spirit that is the spirit of the age. In early 1831, to develop these ideas more elaborately, he wrote five long articles under that title.62 His belief explains his lack of interest—the words are not too strong—in the details of Grey’s Reform Bill. The historical process will bring reform to England; with or without revolution is the choice before Englishmen. He wanted to persuade Englishmen to vote on the side of history; the alternative for England was revolution.
The price had been worth paying in France. Mill is so convinced that revolution is always a great leap forward, an advancing of the historical process, that his vision at times must have made his thought a little obscure to his readers. It triumphed over any disappointment, and he assured Englishmen that despite appearances the French Revolution was a good. If at times the young enthusiast felt that history moved in mysterious ways, his prose revealed no hint of irony.
It is not to be denied that, up to this moment, the Revolution of 1830 has brought forth none but bitter fruits;—the ruin of hundreds of opulent families; thousands of industrious workmen thrown out of employment; perpetual apprehension of internal tumults or foreign war; the most grievous disappointments; the most violent political dissensions; and, finally, a Government not more democratic in its constitution—not more popular in its spirit—and, by the necessity of its false position, not less oppressive and anti-national in its acts, than that of Charles X. . . .
To all this, the answer is, that the circumstances of France and the character of the French nation are grievously mistaken, if it is imagined that the people of France made their Revolution under the conception that it was a thing to gain by.
Such sentiments were a far cry from “amour de soi being the universal mover.”63
The universal mover had become the historical process whose agent was the people. Leaders on both sides of the Channel must understand that power was inevitably moving to the people; political democracy would come. The young men of France knew this truth and were actually striving to prevent the stationary party from perpetuating unrest in France. In a time of transition, it is the young who question the received ideas and who will eventually develop the new ideas that will bring stability. It is essential, therefore, that they be permitted freedom of speech and action.
The men of the present day rather incline to an opinion than embrace it; few, except the very penetrating, or the very presumptuous, have full confidence in their own convictions. This is not a state of health, but, at the best, of convalescence. It is a necessary stage in the progress of civilization, but it is attended with numerous evils; as one part of a road may be rougher or more dangerous than another, although every step brings the traveller nearer to his desired end.
It was absolutely essential to keep stepping. If the leaders refused to help the historical process, there would be a long period of disruption, perhaps much bloodshed; the period of transition would be prolonged in all its uncertainty. This was the message Mill delivered in the spring of 1831 as both Louis Philippe and William IV dissolved their parliaments, the former with dignity after the new electoral law had been passed, and the latter in some haste to forestall the Lords after the proposed electoral reform had been thwarted: “in the two greatest nations in the world, general elections will simultaneously take place, and the new legislative bodies will be simultaneously called upon to determine the future constitution of their country” (No. 102). Mill had two elections of great interest to watch.
But he also had to plan a trip to the Lake District for July, an exciting journey involving four days of conversation with Wordsworth, which, along with Harriet Taylor’s safe delivery of a daughter, Helen, may have done something to lift his spirits. For the next few years, Mill’s annual summer trips coincided naturally with the summer political recess and with, equally naturally, a gap in his political reporting, and they form for editors convenient chapter breaks. Before he went on his trip, he took time to fulfil a few occasional obligations such as an obituary and a review (Nos. 108 and 110), a response to an attack, if oblique, on a principle (Nos. 109 and 111), and puffs for friends or friends of friends (Nos. 104, 106, and 112). These last remind one that Mill was now, as was Harriet, a frequenter of the Monthly Repository circle and a close friend of W.J. Fox and Eliza Flower.
AUGUST 1831 TO JULY 1832
back from his holiday in the Lake District, Mill returned to his France-watching in a somewhat better frame of mind. But he returned to an England that was to come to the brink of revolution in the next nine months. Grey’s increased support from that summer’s elections meant the reintroduced Reform Bill easily passed its third reading in the Commons in September; in October the Lords threw it out; the Bristol riots the same month showed how little protection property had against the mob. Throughout the winter, while cholera raged, the country waited to see which way the King would lean: towards the creation of peers, Grey, and reform, or towards the House of Lords, Wellington, and repression. Then in May 1832 came the ten days without a Government, when Wellington tried and failed to form one; this was the turning point. Grey returned to power with William IV’s promise to create peers if need be. In June of 1832, the first Reform Bill received Royal Assent. With considerable excitement the country prepared to elect a reformed Parliament.
Mill’s curiously detached attitude towards English politics is explained in a long, very personal letter he wrote to John Sterling:
If the ministers flinch or the Peers remain obstinate, I am firmly convinced that in six months a national convention chosen by universal suffrage, will be sitting in London. Should this happen, I have not made up my mind what would be best to do: I incline to think it would be best to lie by and let the tempest blow over, if one could but get a shilling a day to live upon meanwhile: for until the whole of the existing institutions of society are levelled with the ground, there will be nothing for a wise man to do which the most pig-headed fool cannot do much better than he. A Turgot, even, could not do in the present state of England what Turgot himself failed of doing in France—mend the old system. If it goes all at once, let us wait till it is gone: if it goes piece by piece, why, let the blockheads who will compose the first Parliament after the bill passes, do what a blockhead can do, viz. overthrow, & the ground will be cleared, & the passion of destruction sated, & a coalition prepared between the wisest radicals & the wisest anti-radicals, between all the wiser men who agree in their general views & differ only in their estimate of the present condition of this country.—You will perhaps think from this long prosing rambling talk about politics, that they occupy much of my attention: but in fact I am myself often surprised, how little I really care about them. The time is not yet come when a calm & impartial person can intermeddle with advantage in the questions & contests of the day. I never write in the Examiner now except on France, which nobody else that I know of seems to know any thing about; & now & then on some insulated question of political economy. The only thing which I can usefully do at present, & which I am doing more & more every day, is to work out principles: which are of use for all times, though to be applied cautiously & circumspectly to any: principles of morals, government, law, education, above all self-education. I am here much more in my element: the only thing that I believe I am really fit for, is the investigation of abstract truth, & the more abstract the better.64
Mill’s reporting of French affairs could not help but be increasingly coloured by events in England and his attitude to them. During the next twelve months, Mill seems in his articles to be analyzing the political process more than reporting it. He claimed he was only good for the “investigation of abstract truth,” but his newspaper articles qualify that claim, because it was from watching the French argue principle and fail to achieve the needed reforms that he began to realize the truths of practical politics. As soon as he returned in August he wrote two pieces on the French elections, which had also resulted in gains for “the popular party.” More than ever he thought the Ministerial Party under Casimir Périer was that of resistance and the opposition the party of movement—the Bonapartists and Republicans being insignificant in the Chamber—but he now thought the balance of power would allow reason to prevail and slow change would result. The French should now rest content until “the great step which their institutions have now made, shall have had leisure to produce its fruits” (No. 114). He recommended calm to allow the new French electoral law, although very inadequate, to make its effect felt; Mill did not want a revolution in England, and continuing ferment and further demands in France might stiffen the resistance, especially of the Lords, at home.
The main issue in the French Chamber during the autumn was the abolition of the hereditary peerage, one of the issues that helped Mill to work out principles and their use. In the article he wrote Mill seemed to be thinking out loud, not just about the peerage in England or France, but about leaders in a time of transition in whatever country.65 “The will of the majority is not to be obeyed as a law, but it is to be attended to as a fact: the opinions and feelings of the nation are entitled to consideration, not for their own sake, but as one of the circumstances of the times . . . which produces effects not to be overlooked; a power, which so largely modifies and interferes with all you do, that unless it is allowed for in your calculations, you can predict nothing” (No. 115). The experience of these years had only confirmed his dislike of those liberal thinkers who were “for making every man his own guide & sovereign master, & letting him think for himself & do exactly as he judges best for himself. . . . It is difficult to conceive a more thorough ignorance of man’s nature, & of what is necessary for his happiness or what degree of happiness & virtue he is capable of attaining than this system implies.”66
He had moved a long way from his earlier radicalism; his observation of the immediate result of the French Revolution made him adjust his theories to fit the actual rather than the abstract consequences of a revolution. He had watched, and reported on, the devolution of an heroic struggle into a depressing battle between stationary liberals and conservatives, with only the people unthinkingly on the side of movement—and their thinking leaders, the young republicans.
The events in France during the months from October 1831 to May 1832 are of less interest than Mill’s reaction to them. The temporary excitement he had felt at the uprising in Lyons in December had been quickly evaporated by its suppression. Debates on the Civil List and the budget dragged on. The Bill for national education was delayed. Corruption seemed everywhere. All feeling, except disgust, had been dissipated by the rumours of poisoning that had accompanied the devastating outbreak of cholera in Paris in the spring of 1832. Riots had taken place and Paris was placed under martial law; warrants were issued for the arrest of men as different as Armand Carrel and Chateaubriand; Louis Philippe had handed the Government over to the stationary party, that of the Doctrinaires (nominally under Marshal Soult). Mill did not try to hide his contempt:
The French Chambers were prorogued on the 21st of April, after a session of nine months, in which but little that is of any real use has been even talked about; and of that little, nothing but the most paltry and insignificant fraction has been accomplished. The first session of the first Parliament elected under the Citizen King and the charte-vérité, has demonstrated nothing but the vices of the institutions of France, and the backwardness of her national mind.
The fruits which leisure had produced while the French rested content were unpalatable. How could England save herself from a similar fate? By understanding and avoiding the conditions which caused it.
France’s failure could be accounted for by the disastrous effect the concentration on the Charter had had, especially on the young men; the majority were mesmerized by its defence throughout the 1820s, so that when
the Revolution of July [came]: the greatest advance which any nation perhaps ever made by a single step—an advance which no one expected, and for which no one’s habits and ideas were prepared—a change which gave the French nation a clear field to build on, . . . they had [not] possessed themselves of the materials to build withal; a leap, which cleared in an instant a space of many years journey; and transported France through mid-air, away from the scenes with which she was familiar, into regions unvisited and unknown.
Tragically for France, power was in the hands of Guizot and the Doctrinaires, who were trying to suppress the only group, the young republicans, who were capable of charting those regions. Particularly, Mill cited the Saint-Simonians, who were “just now, the only association of public writers existing in the world who systematically stir up from the foundation all the great social questions” (No. 158). Mill continued to support those who shared with him the vision of those unknown lands even if he disagreed about how they should be settled.
In his comparison of the French and English intellects (No. 158),67 Mill was not only lending his support to his fellow travellers but he was also pursuing his work as a political scientist. He needed to learn so that he could help the English Radicals to avoid suffering the same disastrous aftermath when England had achieved her radical reform as the French had.68 From this perspective, the differences between the two nations, viewed
in any way in which it can be looked at by an enlarged intellect, and a soul aspiring to indefinite improvement, . . . is a subject of rejoicing; for it furnishes the philosopher with varied experiments on the education of the human race; and affords the only mode by which all the parts of our nature are enabled to move forward at once, none of them being choked (as some must be in every attempt to reduce all characters to a single invariable type) by the disproportionate growth of the remainder
He still felt in 1831, or so he told his French friends, that when he wished
to carry discussion into the field of science and philosophy, to state any general principles of politics, or propound doubts tending to put other people upon stating general principles for my instruction, I must go where I find readers capable of understanding and relishing such inquiries, and writers capable of taking part in them. . . . I conceive that, in political philosophy, the initiative belongs to France at this moment; not so much from the number of truths which have yet been practically arrived at, but rather from the far more elevated terrain on which the discussion is engaged; a terrain from which England is still separated by the whole interval which lies between 1789 and 1832.
Some English friends, such as Sterling and Carlyle, were capable of understanding and relishing such enquiries, but for the most part
In writing to persuade the English, one must tell them only of the next step they have to take, keeping back all mention of any subsequent step. Whatever we may have to propose, we must contract our reasoning into the most confined limits; we must place the expediency of the particular measure upon the narrowest grounds on which it can rest; and endeavour to let out no more of general truth, than exactly as much as is absolutely indispensable to make out our particular conclusion.
His lack of active participation in the reform struggle in England can be at least partly attributed to the lack of lofty feelings involved:
The English people have never had their political feelings called out by abstractions. They have fought for particular laws, but never for a principle of legislation. The doctrines of the sovereignty of the people, and the rights of man, never had any root in this country. The cry was always for a particular change in the mode of electing members of the House of Commons. . . .
But once passed, the Reform Act, although limited in its immediate provisions, could effect a bursting of the fetters on the spirit of the English people. By May of 1832 the task of persuading them of the next step had come to seem more attractive—at least more than watching the French politicians. In France there had been “only public discontent and irritation, and a voice perpetually crying out ‘Do something,’ but not telling what to do, not having any thing to tell” (No. 162). In the Chamber were “scenes of confusion and disturbance” and outside there was no public opinion to pressure the Deputies (No. 164). The riots continued; the Duchess of Berry invaded (No. 171). At the end of the session Mill exclaimed: “The nature and amount of the doings of the French Chambers, during the session which has just expired, raise a serious doubt of the capacity of those assemblies as at present constituted, we will not say to legislate tolerably, but to legislate at all” (No. 172). So when the passage of the English Reform Bill was assured, he writes that it is small wonder that “The interest of foreign politics now fades before that of our own. The theatre of political excitement has changed. The current of the mouvement has now shifted to Great Britain: how rapidly to proceed, or in what latitudes to terminate, he must be a bold man who deems that he can foreknow: nor needs he: it is not now the time to hope but to do.” (No. 165.)
The immediate “doing” was the election precipitated by the new franchise. Mill’s limited contribution was two articles (Nos. 174 and 177) on a question which divided the Radicals: whether candidates should be required to pledge themselves to certain courses of action in return for support. The articles show the influence of Mill’s French experience on the development of his ideas, ideas that were later to be incorporated into Representative Government. Only a general pledge should “be tendered to a candidate, his acceptance or refusal of which would decide whether he is with us or against us,—whether he is for the Movement or the Resistance,—whether he voted for the Reform Bill as a prop to all our remaining institutions, or as a means of beating down such of them as are bad, and repairing such as are decaying . . .” (No. 177). Mill’s ideal electorate would be chosen from among the superior men trained to govern: “Government must be performed by the few, for the benefit of the many: and the security of the many consists in being governed by those who possess the largest share of their confidence, and no longer than while that confidence lasts” (No. 174). To govern well, the legislators must remember that “the test of what is right in politics is not the will of the people, but the good of the people” (No. 177)—a view he had espoused the previous September during the debate over the French peerage.
There is a hint in these articles that he saw himself as a possible candidate. Though it was not until thirty-three years later that he was to fulfil that ambition, when he did, he lived up to the youthful principles:
When all other things are equal, give your votes to him who refuses to degrade himself and you by personal solicitation. To entrust a man with a burthensome duty (unless he means to betray it) is a compliment indeed, but no favour. The man who manifests the highest opinion of the electors, is not he who tries to gain them over individually by civil speeches, but he who assumes that their only object is to choose the fittest man, and abstains from all canvassing, except by laying his pretensions before them collectively, on the hustings, at public meetings, or through the press.
Although English politics had been neglected by Mill the journalist—of his sixty-five contributions, all to the Examiner, between August 1831 and August 1832, all but some fifteen had been on France—he found time for his English friends. The affectionate and loyal side of the young man showed as he again inserted favourable notices of his friends in the Monthly Repository circle, Eliza Flower (No. 155), William Pemberton (No. 168), and also two other acquaintances, Charlotte Lewin (another of George Grote’s sisters-in-law) (No. 175) and William Hickson (No. 141). He also praised Whately on his promotion (No. 121) and, as was sadly inevitable, Jeremy Bentham on his death (No. 170). His interest in logic dictated lengthy book reviews of Todd (No. 144), Smart (Nos. 151 and 153), and Lewis (No. 159).71 The other items in this period are disparate, but many of them reveal the shifting sands of Mill’s ideas: the Sugar Refinery Bill and the Slave Trade (No. 118) showed that some things changed very little; the one on the Irish character (No. 138), a very nineteenth-century piece, is of interest in light of his later thoughts on national character; the ideas behind “Property in Land” (No. 163) came from his French friends and would underlie the later Irish articles, the Political Economy, and his eventual membership in the Land Tenure Reform Association; and some short pieces were perhaps simply the product of Fonblanque’s having passed on to Mill items well within his known competence.
Mill had begun the two articles on pledges with a grand flourish suitable for the new era ushered in by the royal signature on the Reform Act: “The steed is at the door, saddled and bridled, and it is time to mount and journey onward” (No. 174). But for the moment, with both the French and English parliaments adjourned, he was content to go on foot for a tour of the New Forest, Hampshire, West Sussex, and the Isle of Wight.
SEPTEMBER 1832 TO AUGUST 1833
mill returned to london but did not settle down to his journalism immediately. Presumably he had some India Office correspondence to catch up with, and he was also planning to go to Cornwall for a couple of weeks with the Bullers. He took time before he left to write recommendations for some of those anxious for election under the new dispensation (No. 179). Many of those he recommended were known to him; all of them, as he made a point of saying, were young.
On his return in October his writings for the Examiner were once more resumed, and once more on France. On English affairs there are only two quite predictable pieces on the Corn Laws. After what he had said, such an allotment of his time may seem strange, but in England there was the inevitable delay in Parliamentary activity: the necessity of registering the enlarged electorate postponed the elections into the fall.72 Earl Grey’s Ministry was unchanged by the election: the Radicals’ old champion, Lord Brougham, was Lord Chancellor, Russell and Durham were Paymaster-General and Lord Privy Seal, and the stalwart Viscount Althorp continued as Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the Commons. Parliament did not meet until 29 January, 1833, and when it did the House appeared little altered overall although, importantly for Mill, it contained a small but recognizable group of Radicals, among whom stood out Mill’s old friends, George Grote, J.A. Roebuck, and Sir William Molesworth. For his own part, having appreciated the vital part the young French journalists played in forwarding the movement, and acknowledging that his position at India House prevented his entering Parliament himself, he started orchestrating the radical programme. Such plans as were to mature with the appearance of the London Review in April 1835 might have crossed his mind as early as 1832; such a supposition is given substance by his criticism of the English journalists and praise of the French, especially Armand Carrel, in the article addressed to the latter, written in December of 1832 (No. 186).
In the glare of the illuminations for the Reform victory, Mill might well have seen a role for himself as the ginger journalist if his friends were elected73 and exuberantly forgotten about the necessary political hiatus. This speculation also provides perhaps a key to his continued reporting on the French riots, insurrections, and prosecutions of the press.74 It was important that his English readers know about the ruthless but inevitably futile attempts to bring stability to France. The continuous unedifying prosecutions for libel that attempted to silence the youth of France and the uncivilized behaviour of all parties both in the courtroom and in the streets75 were instructive as Mill prepared the way for the radical reforms that were vital if England was to reap the benefits of her revolution and avoid France’s failure.76 The Government of the Doctrinaires, he says, “is an instructive experiment upon what is to be expected from those who affect to found their political wisdom principally on history, instead of looking to history merely for suggestions, to be brought to the test of a larger and surer experience” (No. 181).77
The Guizot party were not, he argued, to be confused with the Whigs, in spite of their own claims. They thought they were modelling themselves on the English Whigs but that was because they thought 1688 and 1830 were comparable and because they thought the Whigs had principles. The first thought was the result of their being
a kind of people for whom history has no lessons, because they bring to its study no real knowledge of the human mind, or of the character of their own age,—[and, therefore they] could hit upon nothing better than erecting into universal maxims the conditions of the compromise which they fancied had been made at our Revolution of 1688, between the monarchical and the popular principle
If Mill’s readers had read his “Spirit of the Age,” they would have known that the knowledge one got from history was that the character of an age was peculiar to that age, always changing, evolving into the next stage, and that therefore no such things as universal maxims could be found; especially short-lived were all maxims in an age of transition.
The second thought was the result of confounding the French and the English: “in England few, except the very greatest thinkers, think systematically, or aim at connecting their scattered opinions into a consistent scheme of general principles. . . . ‘Whig principles’ simply meant, feeling and acting with the men called Whigs. . . . The Doctrinaires have not the wisdom of the beaver; they will never yield a part to save the remainder. . . . They are the most inflexible and impracticable of politicians.” (No. 181.) The inevitable disaster for France under Louis Philippe and his Doctrinaires Mill now sat back to watch, knowing it would come and in coming would prove his analysis of the spirit of the age correct. England should watch and note well the fatal outcome of stationary government.
The ideas he had put forward in the “Spirit of the Age” were being tested against events in France; his hypotheses were being proved correct; his analyses accurately predicted outcomes. Stability could only be restored to a society in transition by completing the revolution. Mill’s articles on France were the windows through which Englishmen could see the fate awaiting them if they too arrested the revolution before it was completed. Thus Mill continued until the end of 1832 to report, with an air almost of satisfaction, the signs of deterioration: the corruption in the courts (No. 182), the attempt to shoot Louis Philippe on his way to open the new session (according to Mill all a farce enacted by the Government to gain public support) (Nos. 185 and 188), the manipulation of the election of the President of the Chamber of Deputies (No. 185). He noticed with commendation the re-establishment of the Department of Moral and Political Science in the Institute (No. 183) and also the move towards freer trade (No. 190). But the only times when strong feelings appeared were in a moving obituary of his old friend Say (No. 185) and a biting denunciation of the British press which, he assured Carrel, did not represent British feelings. “The popular party in England think as ill of the present French Government as M. Carrel himself, and are as anxious as he can be that republican institutions, whether with an elective or hereditary chief, should be firmly established in France” (No. 186).78 Throughout 1833 Mill reported very infrequently on French politics; his reasons are adumbrated in his earlier remark that “we almost doubt whether the scenes that are unfolded took place in a civilized country” (No. 182), and now made plain: “We have discontinued of late our usual notices of French affairs, because all which has been doing in that country is so paltry . . . ” (No. 199);79 “What then has the Session produced? Produced! It has produced money. Its results are the vote of an enormous budget, and an endless series of extraordinary votes of credit.” (No. 204.)80 Throughout these months perhaps only the establishment of national education and municipal institutions gave him concrete grounds for hope for France.
In January of 1833 the first session of the British Parliament since the Reform Act opened. The English political scene seemed promising; Mill had remarked in December:
we see reason to congratulate the friends of improvement upon the definiteness of their objects, and the zeal and unanimity of their exertions. Scarcely a voice has been raised for any causeless or fantastic change, nor has any captiousness been exhibited about mere forms and phrases. This, indeed, would have been inconsistent with the positive, practical, matter-of-fact character of the English mind.
Mill had had enough for the moment of Frenchmen in debate. His mind, in any case, was distracted,81 and even on English politics his writing in 1833 lacks the concentration of the past year.82 There were a number of favourable pieces in the Examiner on the Monthly Repository (Nos. 198, 200, and 207); the first of these contained a revealing review of the life of Mehetabel Wesley and the tragedy of her indissoluble marriage.83 The two studious reviews of Eliza Flower’s songs (Nos. 197 and 201) and the praise of Beolchi’s poetry anthology (No. 206) were also the products of his friendship with W.J. Fox and his circle.
None of these pieces was demanding.84 During the whole of the session, which lasted until the end of August, only one or two political matters received his attention; his Parliamentary friends were left largely unaided and unguided while the House discussed factory legislation, the Irish Church, education, law reform, and the emancipation of the slaves.
The proposed budget raised his ire in the spring (No. 202) and in the summer he roundly attacked the Government over that old chestnut the Bank Charter Bill (Nos. 208, 209, and 212). His criticisms were not very different from what he might have written ten years earlier, although his skill in vituperation is more assured. And, in spite of his dismay at the French opposition floundering in a sea of principles, he can still be almost equally dismayed at the British lack of them:
no power of grasping any principle; no attempt to ground their proceedings upon any comprehensive, even though false, views; no appearance of understanding the subject, or even of thinking they understand it; nothing contemplated which rises to the dignity of even a half-measure—only quarter and half-quarter measures; a little scratching on the surface of one or two existing evils, but no courage to attempt their excision, because there has been no vigour or skill to probe them to the bottom
In his piece on the commission to make recommendations about municipal institutions (on which sat some of his friends), Mill again stressed that England needed reform but even more needed principles to elevate the tone of public discourse:
A solemn declaration of opinion from an authoritative quarter, going the full length of a great principle, is worth ten paltry practical measures of nibbling amendment. The good which any mere enactment can do, is trifling compared with the effect of whatever helps to mature the public mind . . . and we always find that gradual reform proceeds by larger and more rapid steps, when the doctrines of radical reform are most uncompromisingly and intrepidly proclaimed.
At the end of the parliamentary session, Mill did not go for his usual summer ramble but stayed in town. Not parliamentary affairs but his own affairs determined his movements, and his own affairs had reached a crisis. Harriet and John Taylor had come to an understanding, the precise nature of which cannot be known, but Harriet Taylor was preparing in the spring of 1833 to go to France.85 The situation was unclear, and John Stuart Mill, an infatuated twenty-six year old, was uncertain of her plans and, therefore, of his. Throughout the spring and summer he hung uncertainly around town.86
SEPTEMBER 1833 TO OCTOBER 1834
mill’s dithering in london continued throughout September; he finally left for Paris on 10 October. After nearly six weeks in Mrs. Taylor’s company, he returned alone to London on 18 November. Despite the unsatisfactory state of his heart, Mill’s health improved, and he threw himself into his writing, perhaps easing his feelings by producing some acidic articles.
There could be no quarter given. The Radicals must not be associated with the Whigs either in Parliament or in the Examiner.87 The party of movement must not be embraced and disarmed by the stationary party, as had happened in France. But Mill and his father were to be disappointed by the radical group, partly because their row was particularly difficult to hoe without helping the Whig garden to grow. The truth was that, in spite of Mill’s acidulous tone, this first reform Ministry was a reforming Ministry; it did not emulate its French counterpart. Many reforms had been introduced dealing with factory children, slaves, the Irish Church, and much else. Frequently, therefore, the Radicals had found themselves voting with the Ministers even if they had not spoken with them. And for Mill such collusion spelled disaster. Grey’s Ministry was after all Whig—Melbourne was Grey’s successor in July 1834 when, deserted by Stanley and Graham over Ireland, Grey retired. Mill had seen the French Doctrinaires triumph from the confusion in the Chamber of Deputies when the Radicals had failed to coalesce and many had been co-opted by the Ministry. It was his role and that of the Parliamentary Radicals to keep their own principles flying and to prevent the Whigs from stagnating.
Mill’s series attacking the Whig Ministry, elicited by the pamphlet he refers to as the Ministerial Manifesto,88 was as much a rallying cry to the Radicals as a criticism of Grey’s Ministry (or Althorp’s Ministry, as Mill persists in calling it, Grey possibly being too much the popular hero). In this fight against the English counterpart of the Doctrinaires, nothing was to be praised; Mill pours vitriolic criticism indiscriminately on all the Ministry’s achievements: “Ten years, or even five years ago, some of these things might have been matter of praise; but now! to hear a Ministry deified for the Irish Church Bill! for the Slave Bill! for the East India Bill! for the Bank Bill! for the Factory Bill!”89 This Ministry could not
once find in their hearts to commit themselves to a principle, fairly embark themselves with a principle, wed it for better or worse! But no—they are afraid of principles. . . . They are men of shifts and expedients. What they are from the necessity of their own want of knowledge and judgment, they fancy they are from the necessity of the case. It is their notion of statesmanship.
Here lay the crucial difference between the stationary Whigs and the advanced Radicals who had the capacity of “in the first place choosing right [principles] . . . [and] in the second, of discerning where the dominion of one principle is limited by the conflicting operation of another” (No. 216).
In one cause, however, Mill’s praise could not be withheld—well, not altogether; there was too much Bentham in Lord Brougham’s law reforms even be he now a Whig Lord Chancellor. “These things, if accomplished, are the greater part of all which is to be desired. Codify the law, common and statute together, and establish Local Courts with unlimited jurisdiction, and all that will remain to complete a systematic reform of the law, is to simplify the procedure, and establish good courts of appeal.” (No. 218.) Maybe Fonblanque gave a jab; maybe Mill recalled his role of “keeping up the fight for radicalism.” The next week, he wrote of Brougham in terms he applied also to Bentham: “He is great as a destroyer; not great as a rebuilder. All that he has overthrown well deserved to fall; nothing that he has established, in the opinion of the most thorough law reformers in the profession, deserves to stand. Not only his reforms are partial and narrow, but they are such as cannot fit into any more comprehensive plan of reform.” (No. 219.) But on the whole Mill’s article did not bear out such an opening condemnation, although the proposal for more than one judge to hear a case brought a sharp rebuke. The subject had been Mill’s for so long that Bentham’s voice rang through, perhaps the louder for his French experience:90
to set three or four judges on a bench to hear one cause, is not only paying three or four persons to do the work of one, but it renders absolutely certain their doing it ill. One judge feels the public eye upon him; he is ashamed to be corrupt, or partial, or inattentive; but when there are several, each dares perpetrate under the sanction of the others, wickedness the undivided obloquy of which he would have shrunk from; each trusts that others have been listening though he has not, that others have given their minds to the cause though he has not; and instead of the services of several judges, the public has something considerably less than the best services of one.
Neither had his French experience given him cause to qualify his father’s teaching about the present: the members of Parliament were, “when strong public clamour does not compel some regard to the public interest, still as stupidly and as blindly selfish as in the worst times” (No. 219).
Mill found his row almost as difficult to hoe as did his Parliamentary friends. He again went after Brougham for his Corporation Bill (No. 220), but it was a half-hearted attack and the interest lies more in his advocacy of government by experts, a position that Tocqueville was to reinforce. He could not condemn the Factory Act (drawn up by Chadwick on the recommendations of the commission managed by him) except for the inclusion—not recommended by Chadwick—of certain classes of adults (No. 220). Neither could he condemn the proposed Poor Law reforms based also, he knew, on Chadwick’s work. But he could take a column or two to denounce the Labour Rate Bill defeated by the efforts of the Radicals though supported by Althorp. Althorp was a frequent target, unmistakably Whig, unquestionably honest but not fast on his intellectual feet. But it was with some difficulty and a scathing tone91 that Mill upheld the distinction in a reforming House between the good (the Radical and not in power) and the bad (the Whig and in power).
As always he had time for his radical friends, Harriet Martineau for her Tale of the Tyne exposing the evils of impressment (No. 222), Charles Napier for his book on the government proper to colonies, all of which ought to pay for themselves—in this particular case the Ionian Islands (No. 224)—and W.J. Fox for the December 1833 issue of the Monthly Repository. The approval of this last was slightly, but significantly, qualified:
In every word . . . we concur; but with the qualification, that not only the more vigorous minds in the poorer class, but persons also with the superior opportunities of instruction afforded by a higher station, may be, (and of this the writer himself is an example) most efficient instructors of the poorer classes, provided they have sufficient freedom from the littleness of mind which caste-distinctions engender. . . .
One must speak to the working man in Mill’s best of all possible worlds as “equals . . . less informed than himself on the particular subject, but with minds quite as capable of understanding it” (No. 225).
At the beginning of 1834, however, Mill had little intention of speaking to the working man. When he and Harriet were in Paris on a dry run as lovers, Mill had visited Armand Carrel, one of the much persecuted editors of the republican journal Le National, whom he had long admired and defended in the Examiner. Carrel had much to recommend him in Mill’s eyes (including a mistress).92 Carrel’s example had inspired Mill; he was the embodiment of the youthful Girondist dream. The meeting with Carrel, the stay in Paris amongst all the elevated youth, the most perfect of beings as his companion, had given a great impetus to the side of Mill which had brought about the stimulating friendship with Carlyle.93 If it had not been for Harriet Taylor and Armand Carrel perhaps the events in France would have dimmed Mill’s vision. The reality of Mill’s return to England alone and Harriet’s return to John Taylor would, on the surface of it, have dimmed most visions. But Harriet loved him, Armand Carrel led “formidable looking champions,”94 and, most excitingly, a role similar to Carrel’s was being suggested for him at home: the possibility of organizing and inspiring the English equivalent of the French left through the establishment of an English counterpart to Le National. Plans were being mooted for a journal to replace the Westminster Review, which in the eyes of the Mills had not under Bowring been fulfilling its original purpose.
This possibility was the more important because there was danger of the Examiner, or at least of the Examiner as guided by Fonblanque, having to fold. Even working with the excellent Fonblanque, Mill, now he was in the thick of it, desperately anxious to play a role, had become increasingly dissatisfied with his part in the enterprise. When Mill had briefly considered purchasing the Examiner (he had decided that doing so was totally impracticable) he discussed with Carlyle at some length Fonblanque’s problems and the policy of the paper. It is hard not to apply his description of the paper in general to his own particular recent articles on the Ministerial Manifesto:
such as do not take a daily paper, require in a weekly one a better abstract of news. . . . Then the more moderate radicals are revolted by the tone of hatred in which the paper is written. This feeling extends to many who would have no objection to, but would applaud, the utterance of the bitterest truths, but do not like a perpetual carping at little things, honestly indeed, yet often unfairly & making no personal allowances, sometimes misstating altogether the kind of blame which is deserved, & meting it out in unequal measures to different people, so as to give an appearance of spleen & personal antipathy to individuals—especially to some of the Ministers, & among them, most perhaps to some of those who deserve it rather less than the others. . . . At the very time . . . he [Fonblanque] was offending the moderate radicals by the nature of his attacks on the ministry. . . .95
Carping is the word that certainly springs to mind when reading Mill’s attacks on the Ministry, and equally Althorp could certainly be thought to “deserve it rather less than the others.” These feelings must have made the prospect of a new outlet for his writing, over which he would have more control, excitingly inviting. The solution to both the Bowring and Fonblanque situations would be a new radical review: “Roebuck, Strutt, Buller, and other radical members of Parliament have a scheme to start a radical review as their organ, with individual signatures like J.R., in which we should all of us write—the thing looks possible, and everybody seems so eager about it that I really think it will come to pass.”96 And indeed it did, although not quite after the fashion he had expected and not until the spring of 1835.
Meanwhile, Mill’s dissatisfaction was by no means great enough in January of 1834 to cause him to cease writing for Fonblanque, although he again concentrated on French affairs that spring, writing little on contemporary English politics after 1833 in the Examiner.97 Many a man watching French politics in 1834 would have thrown up his hands in despair (were that not too Gallic a gesture) and railed against the French and their preference for the thought over the deed. Mill certainly expressed disgust at times. But he was consciously testing his hypotheses and in the process was learning a good deal about representative bodies, their nature, the difficulties of operating within them and through them to achieve reforms. Undoubtedly his visit with Carrel had given him a deeper awareness of the frustrations and hazards of French political life, and the persistent line that Mill took on French affairs during the first eight months of 1834 can be understood only in the light of this experience. His analysis in 1834 of the French Government was soberer and more perceptive than it had been three years earlier: “The Chamber is no place for advocating doctrines in advance of the existing charter; for such the press is the proper organ; in the Chamber an orator, even of the most commanding talents, could not obtain a hearing for such opinions as are held by the ablest opponents of the present French Government” (No. 230). Mill no longer gave vent to feelings of exasperation at the failure of a popular opposition to emerge in the Chamber; he accepted the conservatism of those who actually wielded power. He had said as much in the autumn, more in the English context than the French, but certainly influenced by the “varied experiments” in which he had been participating:
There is a third kind of Minister whom we could allow to take to himself, to whom we could cheerfully give, a large share of credit for his administration. This would be a man who, taking the reins of office in a period of transition, a period which is called, according to the opinions of the speaker, an age of reform, of destruction, or of renovation, should deem it his chief duty and his chief wisdom to moderate the shock: to mediate between adverse interests; to make no compromise of opinions, except by avoiding any ill-timed declaration of them, but to negociate the most advantageous compromises possible in actual measures: to reform bit-by-bit, when more rapid progress is impracticable, but always with a comprehensive and well-digested plan of thorough reform placed before him as a guide. . . .
But just because a body of elected governors did not and could not represent advanced opinion in an age of transition, it was absolutely essential that the young men outside the Government be allowed to speak out. The reports of French affairs that Mill continued to provide for the Examiner throughout the first half of 1834 have these young men as their focus. The Government persecutions of the young journalists drew his wrath, especially those of Armand Carrel’s Le National (Nos. 232, 237, 238, 241, 247, 249, 266, and 269). Mill was prepared to defend the opposition outside the Chambers even when it went beyond mere words and even when it went beyond Armand Carrel (Nos. 226, 249, 250, and 251). The behaviour of these young men in court or in the streets might seem to some irresponsible and indefensible, but to Mill they had acted in the only way left to them as Louis Philippe and his Ministers tried to muzzle France and thwart the forward march of history. The misrepresentation by “Tory publications” (No. 244) must not delude England into similar disastrous repressions. The extreme activists of the Société des Droits de l’Homme were not to be feared. On the contrary, “The evil we are apprehensive of is stagnation,” and therefore those who put forward anti-property doctrines, although Mill could not “give such doctrines any encouragement,” performed a needed service: “unless the ruling few can be made and kept ‘uneasy,’ the many need expect no good” (No. 233). These men were the forces of history itself in an age of transition.
One important force was the Saint-Simonians. Mill’s courageous defence, after they had disbanded, of their doctrines, which again he made clear he did not share—or did he?—is very moving. They had dared to develop bold philosophical speculations that led them to “the most hostile scrutiny of the first principles of the social union” (No. 233) and had arrived at a
scheme, impracticable indeed but . . . only in degree, not in kind . . . of a perfect human society; the spirit of which will more and more pervade even the existing social institutions, as human beings become wiser and better; and which, like any other model of unattainable perfection, everybody is the better for aspiring to, although it be impossible to reach it. We may never get to the north star, but there is much use in turning our faces towards it if we are journeying northward. . . . We have only to imagine the same progression indefinitely continued, and a time would come when St. Simonism would be practicable; and if practicable, desirable.
He could not deny the vision three times, and he never ceased to defend those who, like him, had the vision of a different and brighter future.99 In spite of the immediate outcome of the Revolution of 1830, Mill continued to believe in the promised land; he had seen it. And for Mill it was French intellectual speculation that would reveal the path out of the desert. However reactionary the surface of French life might appear, the Revolutions of 1789 and 1830 had broken the bond that had enchained the French spirit and still fettered all others. The movement was, however, temporarily halted in France, and in the summer of 1834 Mill ceased to write regularly both on France and for the Examiner. It was fitting that his last article on France reported the acquittal of Armand Carrel on charges of libelling Louis Philippe (No. 269).
Apart from the articles on France, most of what he had contributed since the end of 1833, even possibly his earlier attacks on the Grey Ministry, could come under the heading of helping one’s friends, not that such help excludes in the least furthering one’s principles. His reviews of Wilson (No. 231) and Sarah Austin (No. 256),100 of Eliza Flower’s new songs (No. 248), and his mention of the German periodical begun by Garnier, a refugee friend of Carrel’s (Nos. 267 and 270), are interspersed with defences of the Poor Law proposals of Edwin Chadwick (Nos. 252 and 253) and the colonization scheme of Wakefield and Torrens (Nos. 259, 261, and 263). In his zeal for his friends, Mill broadened his audience by contributing to the Morning Chronicle in August an article on the Poor Law (No. 265) and in September one on Australian colonization (No. 271).
The articles on colonization throw very clear light on Mill’s view of the best planned society possible in his own time; it is a far cry from the Saint-Simonians’ Ménilmontant. He is most concerned, and quotes Wakefield approvingly at length in this cause, that the proper balance between land, labour, and capital be maintained. No country can be civilized and prosperous that does not possess various groups: some who own land; some who employ capital; and some who labour for the first two groups. There was no question here of anti-property doctrines; what was needed for present-day Englishmen at home or overseas was not the north star. But it was nevertheless the north star toward which Mill strove for the rest of his life to turn the faces of his countrymen.
JANUARY 1835 TO JUNE 1846
it was not only the state of the revolution in France in the summer of 1834 that led Mill virtually to stop writing for Fonblanque. That summer Sir William Molesworth, a wealthy, young, devoted Radical, had offered the money for the longed-for periodical if his hero, John Stuart Mill, would edit it. Mill, who had just turned twenty-eight, was still a young man, one who knew his capabilities but had not yet found the proper field for their exertion. Excluded from direct politics, he eagerly took on the task of editing and writing for the London Review. His articles in dailies and weeklies became very occasional. In any case, for him England’s politics were quite humdrum in the mid-1830s. The fervour surrounding the reform crisis had dissipated. Some good legislation was passed. Ireland was an habitual problem—much the same as always—with Daniel O’Connell providing fireworks in the House but no dangerous blaze in the country. Lord Melbourne had replaced Grey, who gratefully retired back to the north, and was then himself briefly replaced in December by Sir Robert Peel, on the King’s initiative.101 There was a stir over such a royal indiscretion but no one really thought that Silly Billy was plotting to become a despot. An election was held but Peel failed to win a majority despite his Tamworth Manifesto, and in April of 1835 Melbourne was again Prime Minister. The country was enjoying another of its periods of prosperity. Both the Chartists and the Anti-Corn Law Leaguers were no more than gleams in their future leaders’ eyes. There was some rioting, of course, but by and large Melbourne was considered to have overreacted to the Tolpuddle labourers (the Government pardoned the marytrs in 1836 and brought them home again). The Poor Law of 1834 was decidedly unpopular throughout the country, and it was fortunate that for the moment the meetings on the Yorkshire moors where Richard Oastler and James Raynor Stephens led thousands of men and women to demand the Ten Hours Bill had temporarily ceased after the Factory Act of 1833.
By the end of the decade, however, the country was stirring, but Mill did not turn back to newspapers even after he gave up the Review in 1840. In 1841 Sir Robert Peel succeeded Melbourne as Prime Minister, having failed to do so in 1839 thanks to the Bedchamber Crisis. Compared with 1819, the times were peaceful. But only in comparison. Mill knew the country could not yet be stable. And quite right he was; in 1842 the Plug Plot gave a taste of the violence the Oastlerites and the Chartists were threatening and the Anti-Corn Law League was predicting. This period of Mill’s journalism ends with the outbreak of the Irish famine and the repeal of the Corn Laws. By that time Mill had tried and failed to shape a radical party to complete the revolution—a completion undoubtedly appearing somewhat different to a man in his forties than it had to one in his twenties—and had instead established an unassailable reputation with his Logic (1843).
Understandably Mill did not write regularly for the newspapers during the frantic years of writing and editing the London Review.102 The tale of Mill’s hopes and hardships with the London and London and Westminster has been told elsewhere.103 He expended an enormous amount of effort and the last of his youthful ambitions as well as hard cash and five years of his life on the London Review. He wrote twenty-seven articles and part of eleven others until he withdrew from the editorship in 1840. But in spite of the excitement and work involved in preparing the first number, rather than neglect his friends he found time at the beginning of 1835 for a few newspaper notices. Eliza Flower’s Songs of the Months were mentioned as usual in the Examiner (No. 273); Nassau Senior’s pamphlet on National Property was reviewed twice—of course, favourably—in the Sun and in the Morning Chronicle (Nos. 272 and 275). As was not uncommon, long excerpts made up most of these articles. Senior criticized William IV’s independent action, and promoted the reduction of church endowments, municipal reform, and the admission of Dissenters to Oxford and Cambridge. He also advocated, calling forth Mill’s great approval, making peers eligible to sit in the House of Commons.
Mill stayed within the circle of his acquaintance when he contributed to the Globe; the Globe was still the Globe and Traveller and was still owned by Colonel Torrens. Walter Coulson had gone, and in 1834 it had come under the editorship of another of Mill’s friends, John Wilson (who had just finished working on the factory commission with Edwin Chadwick). Mill wrote eight articles for the Globe from February to October 1835—the only paper he wrote for at that time. (Perhaps these articles were a quid pro quo for Wilson’s contributions to the London and Westminster Review.)104 Being longer leaders than most of those he had written for the Examiner, they gave him an opportunity to press his views before a wider and different, in fact, a Whig audience; at least it was widely believed that the Globe was used by Melbourne. Occupied as he was, however, he wrote only occasional pieces supporting particular persons or proposals. However, his article defending the “destructives,” a label bestowed on the Radicals by Mill’s arch-enemy, The Times, contained an illuminating catalogue of what Radicals were made of at the beginning of 1835; Mill was first quoting and then amplifying the list in The Times: they were
for the ballot, for the separation of church and state, for the repeal of the union, and, it has the modesty to add, for an “equitable adjustment” with the fundholder . . . , corporation reform . . . , [and] repeal of the corn laws. . . . All who wish the reform bill to be made effectual by the improvement of the registration clauses, by disfranchising the corrupt freemen of such places as Norwich and Liverpool, and by getting rid of such of the smaller constituencies as have already become, beyond hope of redemption, close or rotten boroughs—all who wish that taxes should be taken off the necessaries of the poor instead of the luxuries of the rich—all who wish for local courts, or any other substitute for the irresponsible and incapable jurisdiction of the country magistracy—all who wish to see any measures introduced for the relief of the Dissenters but such as the Dissenters will indignantly reject—all who wish to see the Universities reformed . . . all who wish to see the church of England reformed, and all rational persons who do not wish to see it destroyed—all who wish to see the church of Ireland reduced to reasonable dimensions, and the national property . . . employed for the benefit of the unhappy oppressed Irish people . . . and, finally, all who will not endure that a dignitary of something calling itself a Protestant and English church shall go forth with armed men and assassinate the children and neighbours of a poor widow because she will not any longer give to him of her scanty substance the wages of a degrading tyranny.
Although his style was less vituperative than formerly, his ideas were not moderated as he continued to lend his support to radical friends such as Charles Buller. In one article (No. 277), Mill was to help a very close friend indeed, himself. With his now customary practice of having one stone hit a flock of birds, his article promoted the first number of the new London Review; the author of one of the articles, J.A. Roebuck; one of his favourite subjects, corporation reform; one of his abiding interests, Ireland; and first and foremost, the Radicals in Parliament, with special mention for the proprietor of the Review, Sir William Molesworth, and a hint as to the line he should adopt in the House. All this he did in a long leader, only the first paragraph of which he had to compose; the rest he copied from Roebuck’s article in the London Review. His skill, acquired in youth, of getting the most for his time and effort was standing him in good stead in these incredibly busy months.
In 1835 he also gave support to two old allies in two articles on the Poor Law (Nos. 278 and 279). The first of these particularly praised Nassau Senior’s careful analysis of the differences amongst countries that accounted for the varied success of the systems of relief. Mill stressed that most countries, like England, granted people a legal right to relief, but there was no such thing as a natural right. In October he lent support to the Radicals’ proposal for reform of the House of Lords. He drew on the French experience to refute the possibility of the Government’s making good appointments and to argue the necessity of those forming the Upper Chamber having the respect of the country. Mill wanted the House of Commons to choose the members of the House of Lords to ensure complete identity of interest: “But they would be a wiser, a more instructed and discreet body” (No. 281). Mill had been reading Tocqueville—his review in the London Review came out in the same month—and was here putting forward one solution to the problem about which he had become increasingly worried by Tocqueville’s discussion of democracy (A, 199-201). In these letters he waxed eloquent over the virtues of an Upper House which in theory would be chosen by a House of Commons for whose judgment in practice Mill rarely showed much respect. They would choose men “whom they believed the most fitted in point of talents and acquirements,” men “in whose intentions and in whose judgment they have full confidence” (No. 281). Such a conclusion seems born of the a priori reasoning of the earlier, much younger, Mill. He had not had a social laboratory in which to test this hypothesis.
The last piece of daily journalism Mill wrote that year was also about a friend’s work—a laudatory review of two books for teaching young children arithmetic and perception, both published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and both by Horace Grant, a debating and walking-tour companion who worked beside Mill in the India Office. Mill’s praise of Grant’s system sounds very like his later description of his own education.
It has, for instance, been long felt that there are two methods of what is called instruction, which are as remote from each other as light from darkness. One of these is the system of cram; the other is the system of cultivating mental power. One proposes to stuff a child’s memory with the results which have been got at by other people; [by] the other . . . the child acquires . . . ideas, and with those ideas the habit of really discovering truths for himself. . . . [H]e should be accustomed not to get by rote without understanding, but to understand, and not merely to understand, but whenever possible to find out for himself.
Such strong praise from the young man of nearly thirty for a system obviously close to that he had himself experienced adds support to the words of the Autobiography and the positive feelings there expressed about the benefits he had received from his father’s training (A, 33-5).
The son may have been consciously acknowledging a debt of which at that time he must have been acutely aware, for this was the last piece Mill wrote in the newspapers while his father was alive. He did not write for them again until the desolate year, 1836, was passed. James Mill’s health had been deteriorating during 1835 and a rapid worsening of his tuberculosis brought his death on 23 June, 1836, one of the few dates Mill specified in the Autobiography. The illness and death of his father increased not only the emotional and familial burden on him but also the editorial and literary one imposed by the London and Westminster Review.105 Another shock was sustained the month after his father’s death when Armand Carrel, the man who had provided much of the inspiration for assuming his present labours, was killed in a duel.106 It is hardly surprising that Mill had to take three months’ leave of absence to travel.107 He took his two younger brothers with him as far as Lausanne; they stayed there while he continued to Italy, where Harriet Taylor joined him.
When he had returned, somewhat recovered, he began work on the Logic, a book for which he had long been planning. There is something awesome about a man who spends part of each twenty-four hours helping to direct the governing of India, part trying to direct the governing of England, and part analyzing the method of arriving at the principles that direct his directing, while fulfilling family obligations with devotion and sustaining a relationship with a demanding lady. The little that he contributed to the press at this time was written for personal reasons, either his person or a friend’s.108
Gibbon Wakefield was given a long review (No. 283) in the Examiner and a second article (No. 284) in the True Sun, now edited by his old friend from the Monthly Repository, W.J. Fox, and owned by the long-time radical publisher Daniel Whittle Harvey, Member of Parliament for Southwark and one of Mill’s hopes for his radical parliamentary party. Mill had long supported Wakefield’s schemes; in addition, he may possibly have had shares in the new colony in South Australia. In return for his article in the True Sun, Mill got a long review from Fox for the London and Westminster—a brilliant example of multiple cuts with two strokes of the pen. Certainly friendship was the main reason for the placing of his piece on American banks (No. 285); Henry Cole, another old friend, had, under Mill’s urging, undertaken a rival to the Examiner called the Guide. (It survived for only nine issues.)109 His friends, J.P. Nichol, “who has carried into physical science a sounder philosophy than most mathematicians” (No. 286), William Molesworth, who had given a speech written by Mill at the end of 1834 (No. 287), and Lord Durham, who returned from Canada at the end of 1838 (the Examiner had noticed Mill’s London and Westminster Review article, “Lord Durham and His Assailants,” and then printed a long letter, signed “A.,” in which Mill continued the discussion [No. 288]), completed the list of people for whom Mill wrote to the papers. Nothing more appeared until the summer of 1841.
Looking back and reassuming the feelings of defeat of the years 1836 to 1840 when he was running the Review and trying to forge a radical ginger group in Parliament,110 Mill forgot how very much he had accomplished both within and without his own head.
I had, at the height of that reaction [against Benthamism], certainly become much more indulgent to the common opinions of society and the world, and more willing to be content with seconding the superficial improvement which had begun to take place in those common opinions, than became one whose convictions, on so many points, differed fundamentally from them. I was much more inclined, than I can now approve, to put in abeyance the more decidedly heretical part of my opinions, which I now look upon as almost the only ones, the assertion of which tends in any way to regenerate society.
Mill perhaps did less than justice to himself (as is frequently the case when he is seating himself in the shadow of Harriet). The lesson he had learnt from French politics by 1833 he had applied to English politics: “to make no compromise of opinions, except by avoiding any ill-timed declaration of them, but to negotiate the most advantageous compromises possible in actual measures” (No. 216).111 Although in his more direct political commentary he had expressed approval for practical and somewhat limited reforms without presenting the wider philosophical context, and although in forwarding the reforms of his friends (who were fewer than they had been before he began preaching his new radicalism in the London and Westminster Review in 1837) he was sometimes less than incisive, he had nonetheless taken many opportunities to express, sometimes obliquely, his vision of the future to which the historical process would bring mankind. To combine an understanding of the art of the possible with a vision is an unusual accomplishment, and it was the basis for Mill’s extraordinary attraction and influence over many decades. He had acquired the gift from his father’s teaching, reinforced by political participation through journals and periodicals during the crucial revolutionary years.
Between 1841 and 1846 Mill prepared the Logic for the press, and then his Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy, and began the Principles of Political Economy. Understandably he was still writing very little for the press—what he did write was in the less radical Morning Chronicle (both Melbourne and Palmerston were now reputed to be using it). John Black had retired in 1841 but the new editor, Andrew Doyle, was well known to Mill. Quite predictably he wrote on behalf of his friends: his praise of Sterling’s poem, The Election (No. 290), and his enjoyment of its wit show genuine warmth; the particularity of his defence of Tocqueville and the warmongering of the French against Brougham is skilful if idiosyncratic (No. 296); a strong article (No. 293) drew attention to the Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain by Edwin Chadwick.112 More significant and puzzling, for those—and there must have been many—who still did not fully grasp the Radicals’ historical point of view, would have been his praise, albeit somewhat backhanded, of Puseyism (Nos. 291 and 292); it would have been even more so had they known it came from the son of James Mill. He praised Newman and the Puseyites for “embracing not only a complete body of theology and philosophy, but a consistent theory of universal history” and he praised the mediaeval Catholic Church. There was more to this particular case than free speech. The fruitfulness of institutions for their own time was an essential part of his philosophy of history, and his friendship with d’Eichthal had recently encouraged more reading in this interest;113 his review of Michelet114 and his recently commenced correspondence with Auguste Comte show that the philosophy of history and within it the historical role of religion were occupying more and more of his attention.115 His heart and mind were not in his journalism.
At the end of 1842, Mill wrote a despondent letter to Robert Barclay Fox:
But these things [public affairs, especially the Corn Laws], important as they are, do not occupy so much of my thoughts as they once did; it is becoming more & more clearly evident to me that the mental regeneration of Europe must precede its social regeneration & also that none of the ways in which that mental regeneration is sought, Bible Societies, Tract Societies, Puseyism, Socialism, Chartism, Benthamism &c. will do, though doubtless they have all some elements of truth & good in them. I find quite enough to do in trying to make up my own mind as to the course which must be taken by the present great transitional movement of opinion & society. The little which I can dimly see, this country even less than several other European nations is as yet ripe for promulgating.116
The lack of enthusiasm can be felt. In a review of Torrens, Mill explained how Continental workmen could compete with the British:
Before a Continental operative can be as steady a workman as an Englishman, his whole nature must be changed: he must acquire both the virtues and the defects of the English labourer; he must become as patient, as conscientious, but also as careworn, as anxious, as joyless, as dull, as exclusively intent upon the main chance, as his British compeer. He will long be of inferior value as a mere machine, because, happily for him, he cares for pleasure as well as gain.
Mill might not have known what constituted happiness but he knew who had it not, and very depressing it was if prosperity could only be bought through joylessness. Nothing seemed advancing; nothing seemed certain, even in banking: “There is a fashion in mercantile, as well as in medical opinions. There is generally a favourite disease and a favourite remedy; and to know what these are we have seldom so much to consider the nature of the case as the date of the year, whether it is 1814 or 1844.” (No. 299.)
The most enthusiastic piece Mill wrote in the first half of 1846 and the last in this desultory period of journalism—a review in the Spectator of the first volumes of Grote’s History of Greece—combined his interest in history and in friends.117 His task was pleasant. His friendship with George and Harriet Grote, going back to his boyhood, had been strained in more recent years and now was under repair.118 Friendship was strengthened by his genuine admiration of Grote’s attempt at a philosophical history. Mill’s praise of Grote is based on two virtues of the historian in particular. Grote has an “unbiased opinion,” in contrast to Thirlwall, whose “impartiality seems rather that of a person who has no opinion”:
We do not say that an author is to write history with a purpose of bringing out illustrations of his own moral and political doctrines, however correct they may be. He cannot too carefully guard himself against any such temptation. . . . But we do say, that the mere facts, even of the most interesting history, are of little value without some attempt to show how and why they came to pass; . . . a history of Greece, which does not put in evidence the influences of Grecian institutions and of Grecian opinions and feelings—may be a useful work, but is not the history which we look for. . . .
This unbiased opinion goes hand in glove with Grote’s “sympathy with the Greek mind,” his ability to recognize historical periods and the concomitant historical differentiation of men’s ideas. For instance, Mill praises Grote for not separating legend and history, for recognizing that both are inextricably blended and “formed together the body of belief in the mind of a Greek” (No. 304). The Greeks lived in the infancy of the human race, and their minds are not to be seen simply as Victorian ones in Greek dress.
OCTOBER 1846 TO JUNE 1847
the potato crop failed in Ireland in the summer of 1845; the people avoided starvation that winter by eating the seed potatoes. The full extent of the disaster became apparent only at the beginning of the following winter and precipitated the repeal of the Corn Laws in June 1846. The next month Lord John Russell’s Whigs replaced Peel’s bitterly divided Tories. But repeal could not save a potato-less Irish peasantry, and schemes for more direct relief were under consideration by Russell’s Government.
Mill’s newspaper writing, except for the occasional review, might well have ceased altogether by the mid-1840s. His professional career had prospered; he was now third in rank at the India Office with a handsome salary of £1200, very ample for a bachelor of mild tastes living at home with his mother and sisters. He continued to find the work congenial, leaving him time for his writing. The Logic had established his reputation as a serious thinker, and he was working now on the Principles of Political Economy. But two pressures acted on him to prevent his abandoning journalism: Ireland and Harriet Taylor.119
Mill turned his concentrated attention to influencing the Government’s Irish poor-relief policy. Putting aside the Political Economy (though he later used in it much of what he now wrote), Mill, between 5 October, 1846, and 7 January, 1847, a period of only ninety-four days, published forty-three articles
in the Morning Chronicle (which unexpectedly entered warmly into my purpose) urging the formation of peasant properties on the waste lands of Ireland. This was during the period of the famine, the winter of 1846/47, when the stern necessities of the time seemed to afford a chance of gaining attention for what appeared to me the only mode of combining relief to immediate destitution with permanent improvement of the social and economical condition of the Irish people.
Mill shows himself in these articles very much aware that he is arguing a particular case for a particular time in history. The level of civilization which the Irish have reached—a very low one—is constantly before him. His solution is for the Irish as they actually behave in 1846, not as he or anyone else might think they ought to behave; but the more distant goal of the eventual improvement of their character is also constantly before him. Perhaps immediate charity was essential, at least “the whole English people are rushing frantically to expend any number of millions upon the present exigency,”120 but, as Mill so happily puts it, “Anybody may have a fixed idea, on which he is inaccessible to reason, but it does not follow that he is never to add a second idea to it” (No. 322). This second idea was that any reform, as opposed to a temporary expediency, “must be something operating upon the minds of the people, and not merely upon their stomachs” (No. 316). He rejected the principle of outdoor relief; it had once pauperized the English peasantry and it would be no remedy now in Ireland. He discussed fixity of tenure but saw it as not only unjust to the landlord but also devoid of the beneficial effects of ownership of land. A large emigration of Irish was undesirable: “. . . Ireland must be an altered country at home before we can wish to create an Ireland in every quarter of the globe, and it is not well to select as missionaries of civilization a people who, in so great a degree, yet remain to be civilized” (No. 317).
There remained public works. If these were on roads, the result would be that the Irish labourer would prefer to work for the Government, which paid well, rather than for a landlord or for himself. Neither should these be on a landlord’s land at the expense of the Government because such a profit to the landlord was totally unjust (No. 331), nor through loans to the landlord for the same reason—the profit from this tragedy would be all on the one side. “It would be an actual crime to bestow all this wealth upon the landlords, without exacting an equivalent” (No. 324). In addition rents would increase, thus augmenting the injustice to the peasant. Finally Mill argued that the immediate effect of large-scale improvement of agriculture by the landlord was to diminish the number of people employed on the land.121
No, what Ireland needed was
something which will stir the minds of the peasantry from one end of Ireland to the other, and cause a rush of all the active spirits to take advantage of the boon for the first time proffered to them. We want something which may be regarded as a great act of national justice—healing the wounds of centuries by giving, not selling, to the worthiest and most aspiring sons of the soil, the unused portion of the inheritance of their conquered ancestors.
This unused portion was the waste lands of Ireland. Those needing relief should be set to work and provided with tools to reclaim the uncultivated land, much of it bog; drainage projects should be supervised. The advantages of Mill’s scheme were manifold, and he pressed them home. The spirit of the Irish would be restored: “Trust to the feeling of proprietorship, that never-failing source of local attachments. When the cottage is theirs—when the land which surrounds it is theirs—there will be a pleasure in enlarging, and improving, and adorning the one and the other.” (No. 316.) Mill then outlined the benefits produced by small peasant properties (and at the same time praised his beloved France and his old friend Sismondi). It was at one time predicted that France would be a “pauper-warren,” but, quite to the contrary, it has been proved statistically that “the state of her rural population, who are four-fifths of the whole, has improved in every particular; that they are better housed, better clothed, better and more abundantly fed; that their agriculture has improved in quality; that all the productions of the soil have multiplied beyond precedent; that the wealth of the country has advanced, and advances with increasing rapidity, and the population with increasing slowness” (No. 328). It was absolutely vital that the opportunity should not be misused or lost:
We must give over telling the Irish that it is our business to find food for them. We must tell them, now and for ever, that it is their business. . . . They have a right, not to support at the public cost, but to aid and furtherance in finding support for themselves. They have a right to a repeal of all laws and a reform of all social systems which improperly impede them in finding it, and they have a right to their fair share of the raw material of the earth.
At the end of the year Mill thought he had triumphed and that it was now certain that the reclaiming of waste lands and the resettling of the peasantry would form at least part of any Government plan (Nos. 348 and 351). When Mill heard in January that the Treasury was suggesting further loans to landlords, just when he understood the Government to be preparing “a general plan for the reclamation of waste lands, in which the claims of the peasantry to receive some share in the common inheritance of the whole nation are not overlooked,” he was appalled (No. 352). The cup of victory was to be dashed from his lips by administrative fiat. On 7 January Mill brought his series to a close; he had done all he could during the parliamentary recess to influence policy.
When Mill ceased to write the leaders on Ireland for the Morning Chronicle, he did not give up entirely trying to stay the madness. He wrote four leaders controverting John Wilson Croker, another on the debates in the House of Commons, three condemning the proposed Irish Poor Law, a scathing one on the proposed National Fast, and a melancholy one on emigration from Ireland. On balance, Mill was on the losing side, and the bitterness of the defeat provoked some of his more brilliant displays of verbal acidity. He was not prepared for one minute to admit that peasant proprietors in France or anywhere else in Europe farmed badly. The principal cause of poor agriculture in France, contrary to Croker’s view, was “the exclusive taste of the wealthy and middle classes for town life and town pursuits, combined with the general want of enterprise of the French nation with respect to industrial improvements. . . . The thing would be soon done if the love of industrial progress should ever supplant in the French mind the love of national glory, or if the desire of national glorification should take that direction.” (No. 357.) France was still beloved, but the years since 1830 had left their mark.
On the proposed National Fast (No. 363), Mill cut loose with controlled satiric venom. He almost found delight in the depths of hypocrisy of a people who, professing to believe that God’s wrath had descended upon them for their “manifold sins and provocations,” and who, praying with penitent hearts to Him to “withdraw his afflicting hand,” could, in order thus to profess and pray, move the Queen’s drawing-room from Wednesday to Saturday. Even his friends got the back of his tongue—but only in private. “Roebuck . . . is enlisting his talents in support of the madness. . . . Molesworth, except that he has only made one speech instead of fifty, is just as bad.”122 By the end of March his despair was complete.
The people are all mad, and nothing will bring them to their senses but the terrible consequences they are certain to bring on themselves. . . . Fontenelle said that mankind must pass through all forms of error before arriving at truth. The form of error we are now possessed by is that of making all take care of each, instead of stimulating and helping each to take care of himself; and now this is going to be put to a terrible trial, which will bring it to a crisis and a termination sooner than could otherwise have been hoped for.123
However close Mill was to come to a “qualified Socialism” (A, 199), the Irish experience when incorporated in the Political Economy suggested no more than that property in land was a legitimate area for government intervention. The Saint-Simonian hypothesis might be said to have been tested against the reality of County Clare and the time found far from ripe. Mill’s historical sense was reinforced; time determined measures. Whatever the future might hold, whatever form of socialism was to evolve, his view of the Irish peasantry had strengthened his belief that “the object to be principally aimed at in the present stage of human improvement, is not the subversion of the system of individual property, but the improvement of it, and the full participation of every member of the community in its benefits.”124
Mill’s socialism was an integral part of his sense of historical progression, the approaching stage in the human development; that belief had not altered since he had first met Saint-Simonian ideas. But if Bentham has to be watched for his shift in mood from “is” to “ought,” a keen eye has to be kept on Mill’s tenses. He does not always make clear what is an “actual measure” and what a “plan of thorough reform”; although they are in the same line of progression, the multiplication of peasant proprietors and the nationalization of the land belong to different levels of civilization.
During that spring, Mill wrote for the Morning Chronicle only two pieces not on Ireland:125 a review (No. 360) of the article on “Centralisation” in the Edinburgh Review by his old tutor and friend John Austin126 and a report (No. 366) on the opening of the Prussian Diet. Both are fine examples of Mill’s historical relativism, which his less historically-minded friends, and more particularly his enemies, sometimes found puzzling and smacking of inconsistency and radical opportunism.127 He wrote to Austin, discussing his review: “I have necessarily thought a good deal about it lately for the purposes of a practical treatise on Pol. Economy & I have felt the same difficulty which you feel about the axiomata media. I suspect there are none which do not vary with time, place & circumstance.”128 A good example was Austin’s discussion of the reform of local government which should have both an immediate end, the provision of “a good administration of local affairs,” the means for which might vary between time and place—between, say, France in 1831 and England in 1835, to provide Mill with an example from his own past advocacy—and “its ulterior and paramount object,” the “social education of the country at large” (No. 360). In the article on the opening of the Prussian Diet he praised both an enlightened despot and a democratic diet; each benefited the country at the appropriate stage of its development.
This last piece marked the end of an era for Mill; the Morning Chronicle, for which he had written from his youth, was to become an organ for the Conservatives under the new ownership of Lord Cardwell and Beresford Hope. Although Mill would still have access to its pages, they were no longer the pages wherein he joined with like-minded men who had “carried criticism & the spirit of reform” into English institutions; the sense of belonging was gone.129
Another of Mill’s long-time friends and mentors claimed his attention before the summer break. George Grote had published volumes three and four of his History of Greece and Mill gave them a long, careful review in the Spectator (No. 368), underlining again the historical relativism which informed his understanding and analysis of his own times. He praised once more Grote’s understanding of the Greek mind and his ability to communicate that understanding. But above all he lauded Grote’s achievement in ascribing the enlightenment in the first place “to her unlimited Democracy” (qualified by a footnote noting the omission of women, aliens, and slaves); “and secondly, to the wise precautions, unknown to the other free states of Greece, by which the sagacity of Solon and of Cleisthenes had guarded the workings of Athenian institutions against the dangers to which they were most liable [from unlimited Democracy],—precautions which insensibly moulded the mind of the Demos itself, and made it capable of its heritage of freedom” (No. 368). Reading the History, Mill said, strengthened the arguments that had already led him to complete agreement with the author’s conclusions. Grote’s History no doubt lent added force to some of the passages in On Liberty and increased Mill’s delight in Hare’s proportional representation; but Tocqueville needed little support. For by the summer of 1847 Mill’s mind was set in most of its ways. Grote was not altering but confirming Mill’s own conclusions by providing more of the necessary “verification and correction” which come “from the general remarks afforded . . . by history respecting times gone by.”130
DECEMBER 1847 TO JULY 1858
during the next eleven years—years that began with the collapse of the Chartists and ended, after the Indian Mutiny, with the Crown taking over the East India Company—John Stuart Mill is to the outside eye a rather curious, almost a pathetic, figure. Alexander Bain said bluntly of the forty-one-year-old Mill, “His work, as a great originator, in my opinion, was done.”131 He lived almost in seclusion and was frequently in a low state. Although he had received great respect (as well as money) for his Logic and his Political Economy and had now an established public reputation, that to which he had devoted his life had not been achieved. The moral elevation of Europe, never mind England, seemed no nearer. Despite his position as a public sage and his vast, almost semi-official, correspondence, he had not been able to inspire the people, or their leaders (or the one leader), with the great principles needed to propel civilization onward. Mill seemed little impressed with the practical reforms that had been achieved. They appear, with hindsight, to have been vast: repeal of the Combination Acts, reform of Parliament, effective factory legislation, the abolition of slavery, an education grant, the new Poor Law (of which indeed he approved at length), rationalized municipal institutions, and repeal of the Corn Laws, none of these—not all of them combined—seemed to bring lasting satisfaction to Mill. The country was better off; prosecutions of the press and of the individual were far less frequent; the labouring classes were of national concern. But to Mill the country was still mean.132 The practical reforms for which he had once striven in the belief that their effects would be the moral education of mankind had proved ineffectual.
For a considerable time after this [the publication of the Political Economy], I published no work of magnitude; though I still occasionally wrote in periodicals. . . . During these years I wrote or commenced various Essays, for eventual publication, on some of the fundamental questions of human and social life. . . . I continued to watch with keen interest the progress of public events. But it was not, on the whole, very encouraging to me. The European reaction after 1848, and the success of an unprincipled usurper in December 1851, put an end, as it seemed, to all present hope for freedom or social improvement in France and the Continent. In England, I had seen and continued to see many of the opinions of my youth obtain general recognition, and many of the reforms in institutions, for which I had through life contended, either effected or in course of being so. But these changes had been attended with much less benefit to human well being than I should formerly have anticipated, because they had produced very little improvement in that which all real amelioration in the lot of mankind depends on, their intellectual and moral state: and it might even be questioned if the various causes of deterioration which had been at work in the meanwhile, had not more than counterbalanced the tendencies to improvement. I had learnt from experience that many false opinions may be exchanged for true ones, without in the least altering the habits of mind of which false opinions are the result. The English public . . . have thrown off certain errors [but] the general discipline of their minds, intellectually and morally, is not altered. I am now convinced, that no great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible, until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought.
In this intellectual frame of mind the political events in England during the next eleven years affected him little—at least publicly. The climax, or anti-climax, of the Chartist demonstration rained out on Kennington Common drew no more public comment from him than the political manoeuvrings of the Peelites.133 He did not comment in the newspapers on the Crimean War with all its mismanagement, even when Roebuck’s motion for an inquiry toppled the Government, nor on the Indian Mutiny.
Political events in France in 1848, however, roused him to write three items; Carlyle’s views on Ireland prompted two articles; Joseph Hume’s motion for Parliamentary reform elicited three articles; and Alexander Bain got a review. Those nine items were all he wrote for the papers in 1848. Although the establishment of a Provisional Government in France in February 1848 had not the effect on Mill of the one eighteen years earlier, he was briefly exhilarated: “I am hardly yet out of breath from reading and thinking about it” was how he put it. “If France succeeds in establishing a republic and reasonable republican government, all the rest of Europe, except England and Russia, will be republicanised in ten years, and England itself probably before we die. There never was a time when so great a drama was being played out in one generation.”134 Perhaps not bliss to be alive but very stirring. However, Mill was prompted initially to no more in the newspapers than a letter to the editor of the Spectator (No. 370). In August after the street fighting in June and the suppression of the insurrectionists by General Louis Cavaignac—a name that must have stirred memories for Mill—he denied the Tory press’s claim “that the insurrection was something unheard-of for its horrible barbarity” (No. 376). No barbarous actions had taken place and France was advancing rapidly but calmly. Ten days later, France had ceased advancing and Mill was not calm; his tone was one of outrage verging on disbelief as he expostulated against the gagging of the press by the executive commission supported by a democracy which had proved to be conservative. He had seen it all before: “It is the very law of Louis Philippe . . . ” (No. 378). Once again, as he had more than a decade earlier, Mill defended the young men who were forced to take up arms against their repressors. But it was a disillusioned voice that asked, “How much longer must we wait for an example, anywhere in Europe, of a ruler or a ruling party who really desire fair play for any opinions contrary to their own?” (No. 378) without which the spark of progress cannot be struck.135
Mill’s equilibrium was further upset that spring by Carlyle’s response to the disturbances in Ireland. The prophet was now prophesying for the wrong tribe, calling for force, preaching false doctrines about Ireland and England and also throwing in a few heresies on France and on the Chartist demonstration. The crowning touch was that his ravings appeared in the Examiner—a sad result of Fonblanque’s retirement and replacement by John Forster. Just when Mill was feeling that the future direction of Europe hung in the balance—wondering whether in England and in all Europe “faith in improvement, and determination to effect it, will become general, and the watchword of improvement will once more be, as it was of old, the emancipation of the oppressed classes” (No. 376)—Carlyle wrote prophesying anarchy and doom and citing France as proof. Mill trumpeted back, his sarcasm reaching sublime heights as he fought against this political incarnation of intuitionism. Carlyle said it was England’s mission to pacify Ireland. Mill first pointed slyly to the example of Cromwell; he who had had the authority and “courage and capacity of the highest order” had not succeeded. “But at present the individual in whom England is personified, and who is to regard himself as the chosen instrument of heaven for making Ireland what it ought to be, and is encouraged to carry fire and sword through Ireland if that assumption should be disputed, is—Lord John Russell!” (No. 372.) And how had England proved herself after four-and-a-half centuries of rule over Ireland fitted to fulfil her mission? “They spent ten millions in effecting what seemed impossible—in making Ireland worse than before. They demoralized and disorganized what little of rational industry the country contained; and the only permanent thing with which they endowed Ireland, was the only curse which her evil destiny seemed previously to have spared her—a bad poor law.” (No. 372.) The prophet of rationalism could also thunder from the mountain tops when roused. In his letter to the Examiner Mill quoted the Bible three times and Homer once.
A much sunnier note is struck in the three leaders Mill wrote in July 1848 (Nos. 373, 374, and 375) for the Daily News, supporting the motion of his father’s old friend, Joseph Hume, for Parliamentary reform. The move to the Daily News was entirely natural, both the Morning Chronicle and the Examiner having fallen into less congenial hands. The Daily News, whose first leader had been written by W.J. Fox, was the foremost liberal London paper.136 Its present editor was Eyre Evans Crowe, who had been a resident in France in 1830 and an enthusiastic witness to the street fighting, later Paris correspondent for the Morning Chronicle, and writer of a history of France for Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia. A congenial editor, obviously, of a paper under the equally congenial ownership of the Dilke family. The Morning Chronicle under Black and then Doyle had been serious; the Daily News was determined to be popular. It succeeded admirably, and, with a circulation briefly of over ten thousand a day, rivalled the influence of The Times and far surpassed that of the Morning Chronicle. Mill’s style was bright and clever, proving that he was quite master of his pen, able to write to an editor’s direction.
Mill’s message was the same in 1848 as in 1830: there was nothing to fear from reform; the natural order would not be turned upside down; from historical progress all would benefit. Mill used the example of France, which now had “universal” suffrage (Mill did not stop this time to qualify his use of the term), and yet not twenty members in an assembly of nine hundred were working class.
Then what has France gained, it may be asked, or what would England gain by the admission of the working classes to the franchise? A gain beyond all price, the effects of which may not show themselves in a day, or in a year, but are calculated to spread over and elevate the future. . . .
Grant but a democratic suffrage, and all the conditions of government are changed. . . . The discussions of parliament and of the press would be, what they ought to be, a continued course of political instruction for the working classes.
Here again speaks the spirit of the age. “The present age . . . is an age of struggle between conflicting principles [“between the instincts and immediate interests of the propertied classes and those of the unpropertied”] which it is the work of this time, and perhaps of many generations more, to bring into a just relation one with another” (No. 374). The peroration also could have been written any time in the last two decades: “The world will rally round a truly great principle, and be as much the better for the contest as for the attainment; but the petty objects by the pursuit of which no principle is asserted, are fruitless even when attained” (No. 375).
Mill’s occasional journalism in 1848 ended abruptly in the summer (although in September he managed a promotion of Bain’s first of four lectures for a course “On the Application of Physics to Common Life” [No. 379]), when his health, already weak from the labour involved in writing the Principles, was further aggravated by a nasty fall. According to Bain,
In treating the hurt, a belladonna plaster was applied. An affection of his eyes soon followed, which he had knowledge enough at once to attribute to the belladonna, and disused the plaster forthwith. For some weeks, however, he was both lame and unable to use his eyes. I never saw him in such a state of despair. Prostration of the nervous system may have aggravated his condition. His elasticity of constitution brought him through once more; but in the following year, 1849, he was still in an invalid condition.137
The year 1849 was not a good one for Mill. The first six months were full of disaster, both public and private. Louis Napoleon had beaten Cavaignac by some four million votes to become President of France. England’s reforming spirit was buried beneath relief and satisfaction at having withstood unscathed the European upheavals. Mill’s health was still very poor: although his leg healed slowly and his eyes gradually improved, his overall depression remained. His friendship with the Austins, which went back to the time when he played with little Lueie in the garden at Queen Square Place, had not survived the disagreements over the Revolution of 1848 in France, and now they were planning to remove with the Guizots to the neighbourhood of Walton-on-Thames, where Harriet Taylor had kept a country home since 1839. Their presence would necessitate her moving, she claimed. To return permanently to Kent Terrace was out of the question; the dedication of the Political Economy to her had elicited very sharp words from John Taylor.138 Her health was poor; her own family upset her beyond enduring; her father was seriously ill (in fact, terminally); her lover was hobbling, partially blind and depressed. She fled to the Continent. Only the prospect of joining her there in April lightened Mill’s gloom. That and reading volumes five and six of Grote’s History. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that no new ideas were developed in the three newspaper articles he wrote in the first six months of 1849. All appeared in March, two in the Spectator favourably reviewing Grote (Nos. 380 and 381)—there was far more quotation than review—and one, with Harriet’s encouragement, in the Daily News on the admission of Jews to Parliament (No. 382).139
The year which had begun so badly went steadily downhill. By the summer, Mill’s emotional frame of mind was, if anything, worse. Harriet Taylor had refused to accede to her husband’s implied request in a letter telling of his increasing ill health that she come home at the end of March.140 She had replied that she had a duty to Mill and could not consider her own wishes; it was her duty to follow through with the arrangements to meet him at Bagnères in the Pyrenees in April. She arrived home in the middle of May to find her husband in the last stages of cancer. She nursed him hysterically until his death on 18 July, 1849. For the rest of the year, Mill himself published alone141 just four short pieces, keeping faith with people who had striven for their ideals and been crushed by a philistine world. He added the prestige of his voice to the plea for the Hungarian refugees who had fled to Turkey and were in danger of being handed back to the Czar (Nos. 384 and 385), and with a touch of his old economy got in a slap at France who, “in a moment of insanity, has given herself up for four years to the discretion of the relative (by marriage), and servile tool of the Emperor of Russia, by whose help he hopes to be made Emperor of France” (No. 384), and at the British public who could not be trusted “for support in any energetic and generous course of action in foreign affairs” (No. 385). As always loyal to, and admiring of, any followers of Saint-Simonism, he drew the public’s attention to the persecution of Etienne Cabet on trial for fraud in the United States and of Jules Lechevalier prosecuted in France (Nos. 386 and 387). They were men of noble character, dedicated, in the words of Cabet’s followers living with him in his utopian community, “to the moral education of mankind” (No. 386). Such dedication was a flame to be cherished in a dark world.
John Taylor’s death had done nothing to lighten it, as some might callously have expected. There is no question that it was a dreadful blow to them. It was a sad and very unsettling event; while he was alive, the Mill-Taylor relationship, if far from ideal, had been stable, and custom had made it familiar. Now all was open once more to public speculation, and their small circle of acquaintance and family could not help but be turning on them those prying eyes they both so loathed. They withdrew into even deeper seclusion, and perhaps not surprisingly in 1850 they resumed their joint productions,142 initiated in 1846 just before the series on Ireland. These articles, mostly on domestic brutality, have been largely overlooked by modern critics. The understandable prejudice against Harriet Taylor, certainly not lessened by Mill’s indiscreet praises of her; the instinctive dislike of accepting his reversal of the most obviously reasonable view of their intellectual relationship; the diffuse, if not scattered, composition of parts of the articles; and the offensively Punch and Judy nature of the subject matter—all these factors have led to a somewhat embarrassed ignoring of the roughly twenty articles of their joint production. They are cited very rarely and then mostly only for evidence either of the deleterious influence Harriet Taylor had on John Mill or of his besotted state. These joint productions ought not, however, to be passed over.
The passage in the Autobiography quoted at the beginning of this section makes clear that in his mid-forties Mill was looking for an explanation of the failure of Europe and England to produce any real improvement in the lot of mankind. Europe had had revolutions; England had had reforms; and yet the expected, eagerly awaited leap forward had not taken place. Why was there so little improvement in the “intellectual and moral state”? How could it be that “the general discipline” of people’s minds, “intellectually and morally, [was] not altered”? All the reforms had brought no satisfaction because no “great change” had taken place “in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought.” Mill’s convictions would incline him to the conclusion that there must exist an anachronistic social institution—or institutions—that was damming up the historical process, and that he and his fellow Radicals had so far not exposed. Radical analysis had failed to reveal the next step for the improvement of mankind. By intuition Harriet Taylor succeeded.
Mill’s disclaimer of having learnt from Harriet Taylor to recognize the claims of women is well known. His acknowledgment of that which he did come to understand through her is almost equally unknown.
Undoubtedly however this conviction was at that time, in my mind, little more than an abstract principle: it was through her teaching that I first perceived and understood its practical bearings; her rare knowledge of human nature, and perception and comprehension of moral and social influences, shewed me (what I should never have found out in more than a very vague way for myself) the mode in which the consequences of the inferior position of women intertwine themselves with all the evils of existing society and with the difficulties of human improvement. Without her I should probably always have held my present opinions on the question, but it would never have become to me as, with the deepest conviction, it now is, the great question of the coming time: the most urgent interest of human progress, involving the removal of a barrier which now stops the way, and renders all the improvements which can be effected while it remains, slight and superficial.
The vast “practical bearings” and “the consequences of the inferior position of women” were illuminated for Mill by the reports of legal proceedings, frequently concerning brutality, to which Harriet Taylor drew his attention. Together they tested the new hypothesis “by common experience respecting human nature in our own age.”143 He became convinced that injustice and tyranny were perpetuated in society by the familial arrangements between the sexes. When these were changed, only then would come about the fundamental reconstitution of modes of thought.144
This belief was a natural enough development in Mill’s thought. He had been first stirred by the possibilities of reshaping society through law reform; he accepted unreservedly associationist psychology; he lived in a society that believed fervently in the moral superiority of women and their irreplaceable civilizing role in the family. The belief in phases of history and the seeking of causes for the characteristics of each age were essential to his way of thinking; his interest in ethology led him to contemplate a book on the subject; and his faith for the future had always been reliant on the working class. In the most basic of all social relationships, that between man and woman, was to be found the explanation of working-class brutishness and the fundamental cause, and therefore the remedy, of “one of the chief hindrances to human improvement.”145 Equality for women was to become “a badge of advanced liberalism”;146 his having raised the question of women’s suffrage, was, he said, “by far the most important, perhaps the only really important public service I performed in the capacity of a Member of Parliament” (A, 285).
Their joint productions began to appear, very infrequently, at the beginning of 1846 in a manner quite reminiscent of the youthful Mill’s articles in the Morning Chronicle. Specific cases were used as springboards to the larger questions lying behind certain legal practices. The acquittal of the brutal Captain Johnstone (No. 303) on a charge of murder led to a discussion of “temporary insanity” as a legal fiction; the conviction by twelve Surrey tradesmen of Dr. Ellis (No. 305) for professional incompetence raised the questions whether medical practitioners ought to be held responsible for the results of treatment sought by the patient and whether a jury picked at random was competent to judge such treatment; and the case of Private Matthewson (No. 307) brought forth once again Mill’s theme of the need for disinterested judges. By the end of 1846 the Mill-Taylor interest had become more focused. The three cases of Sarah Brown (No. 318), William Burn (No. 329), and the North family (No. 350) all had to do with family relationships and the iniquitous consequences of the subordinate position of wives and children. Contemplation of these inequalities before the law led to strong conclusions about the married state, the brutality of some husbands, and the helplessness of all wives. Mill had known since he was a boy that the second-class position of women could not be upheld by a priori reasoning; through Harriet Taylor he learnt to feel it insupportable, and to understand its consequences. When Mill sent Eugène Sue a copy of his Political Economy in 1848 he wrote, “sur le mariage et sur l’entière égalité de droits entre les hommes et les femmes les opinions de l’auteur de ‘Martin’ et du ‘Juif Errant’ sont non seulement les miennes mais j’ai la conviction profonde que la liberté, la démocratie, la fraternité, ne sont nulle part si ce n’est dans ces opinions, et que l’avenir du progrès social et moral ne se trouve que là.”147
By 1850 the principle had been more fully developed and was more clearly applied. The persistence in society, especially among the lower classes, of coarseness—a combination of brutality and tyranny—was the result of the formative years being spent in domestic relations where the law recognized the rights of men only, refusing any to wives and children, and where, consequently, mistreatment of those weaker, either because of age or sex, was commonplace, physical chastisement being, if not encouraged, certainly not discouraged by society. In Mill’s youth self-interest had been the root cause of evil, circumstances being seen as capable of redirecting it to good. Then political institutions had been blamed for society’s lack of progress in civilization. Reform had come but not progress. In these articles, guided by Harriet Taylor’s “rare knowledge of human nature, and perception and comprehension of moral and social influences,” Mill the scientist traced the flaws in society to the nurturing of its citizens in an atmosphere of brutality, tyranny, and injustice.
The series of letters in 1850148 starts out with one on the Californian constitution (No. 388); nearly half of the letter is devoted to the granting of married women’s property rights. Harriet Taylor herself had suffered greatly in spirit if not in body from the law’s most universal injustice to women—the deprivation of all civil rights upon marriage.149 Women legally disappeared sous couverture. The law then had to assume, and it did, that all members of the family were subsumed under the male head. In society generally, but particularly among the lower classes, this fiction was reflected in a common attitude that inflicted degradation and hardship on wives and children:
The baser part of the populace think that when a legal power is given to them over a living creature—when a person, like a thing, is suffered to be spoken of as their own—as their wife, or their child, or their dog—they are allowed to do what they please with it; and in the eye of the law—if such judgments as the preceding are to be taken as its true interpretation—they are justified in supposing that the worst they can do will be accounted but as a case of slight assault.
(No. 400; cf. No. 395.)
The law positively encouraged brutality in the family (No. 389). Wife or child beating should be regarded with greater revulsion than common assaults outside the home. Those most affected, tragically, are “the wives and children of the brutal part of the population,” and on their torturers the law should be harshest (No. 400).
The law’s callous sufferance of wife beating was all the more deplorable because it deprived a woman of any alternative to dependence on her husband. Thanks to the law she could not leave him to escape his brutality because legally all her earnings belonged to him. In these circumstances could there be a greater injustice than that inflicted by a law which fined a husband for a barbarous cruelty but did not protect the wife from future torture? Mill cited the case of a man acquitted on charges of attempted murder on the evidence of his terrified wife, who said he had hanged her only in jest, “for what would have been the consequence to her of having given strong evidence against him, in the event of his acquittal?” (No. 400.)150 Husbands could beat their wives and, if they chanced to kill them, they would be tried for manslaughter. “Is it because juries are composed of husbands in a low rank of life, that men who kill their wives almost invariably escape—wives who kill their husbands, never? How long will such a state of things be permitted to continue?” (No. 393.) Insidiously destructive was the habitual violence, the daily brutality, that never came to court.
Let any one consider the degrading moral effect, in the midst of these crowded dwellings, of scenes of physical violence, repeated day after day—the debased, spirit-broken, down-trodden condition of the unfortunate woman, the most constant sufferer from domestic brutality in the poorer classes, unaffectedly believing herself to be out of the protection of the law—the children born and bred in this moral atmosphere—with the unchecked indulgence of the most odious passions, the tyranny of physical force in its coarsest manifestations, constantly exhibited as the most familiar facts of their daily life—can it be wondered if they grow up without any of the ideas and feelings which it is the purpose of moral education to infuse, without any sense of justice or affection, any conception of self-restraint. . . .
Brutal treatment in childhood prepared the victim “for being a bully and a tyrant. He will feel none of that respect for the personality of other human beings which has not been shown towards his own. The object of his respect will be power.” (No. 396.)151 Domestic tyranny and the brutality that accompanied it, encouraged as they were in society by the courts’ tolerance, had a profound, an historically crucial, effect on society.
The great majority of the inhabitants of this and of every country—including nearly the whole of one sex, and all the young of both—are, either by law or by circumstances stronger than the law, subject to some one man’s arbitrary will [and] it would show a profound ignorance of the effect of moral agencies on the character not to perceive how deeply depraving must be the influence of such a lesson given from the seat of justice. It cannot be doubted that to this more than to any other single cause is to be attributed the frightful brutality which marks a very large proportion of the poorest class, and no small portion of a class much above the poorest.
Seen in the light of their belief in its vast social ramifications, Harriet Taylor’s plea “that her Majesty would take in hand this vast and vital question of the extinction of personal violence by the best and surest means—the illegalising of corporal punishment, domestic as well as judicial, at any age” (No. 383) was foolish only from its impracticability. Failing the Queen, two acts were needed immediately to reform the law to prevent its continuing inculcation of domestic brutality and tyranny.152 “There should be a declaratory Act, distinctly setting forth that it is not lawful for a man to strike his wife, any more than to strike his brother or his father. . . . It seems almost inconceivable that the smallest blow from a man to a man should be by law a criminal offence, and yet that it should not be—or should not be known to be—unlawful for a man to strike a woman.” And there should be “a short Act of Parliament, providing that judicial conviction of gross maltreatment should free the victim from the obligation of living with the oppressor, and from all compulsory subjection to his power—leaving him under the same legal obligation as before of affording the sufferer the means of support, if the circumstances of the case require it” (No. 395). Given the state of the unreformed law, Mill’s renunciation of his rights in 1851 seems a little less quixotic.
Harriet Taylor’s interest in cases of domestic brutality, whatever its origins, profoundly influenced John Stuart Mill’s understanding of the present condition of society and its historical development. It had provided an environmental cause—and hence a remediable one—of the condition of the working classes to refute the anti-democratic assumption of the innate brutishness of the lower orders. In the laboratory of the courts the hypothesis that men and women were not irredeemable brutes by nature but depraved by and, therefore, salvageable by nurture, had been tested and proved (though there remained some question as to the extent of man’s redemption). The importance of these ideas for Mill’s future thought and actions should not be ignored. The joint productions themselves are not major works, but they should be taken seriously as the exploration of a significant new element that Mill was adding to his basic beliefs about the necessary steps towards the improvement of mankind.
The parallels with the Subjection of Women are too obvious to need elaboration.153 The very tones were recaptured, although Mill now worked alone: “the wife is the actual bondservant of her husband: no less so, as far as legal obligation goes, than slaves commonly so called”; “the full power of tyranny with which the man is legally invested”; “however brutal a tyrant she may unfortunately be chained to—though she may know that he hates her, though it may be his daily pleasure to torture her, and though she may feel it impossible not to loathe him—he can claim from her and enforce the lowest degradation of a human being. . . . While she is held in this worst description of slavery as to her own person, what is her position in regard to the children in whom she and her master have a joint interest? They are by law his children. . . . Not one act can she do towards . . . them, except by delegation from him. Even after he is dead she is not their legal guardian. . . .”154 “The family is a school of despotism, in which the virtues of despotism, but also its vices, are largely nourished.”155 The book was written to show that “the legal subordination of one sex to the other . . . is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement. . . .”156 It was from working with Harriet that this truth had been borne in upon him.
Denial of the suffrage was the political side of the legal subordination. Although Mill did not designate as a joint production his letter to the Leader (No. 398)157 of 17 August, 1850, on the stability of society, it certainly dealt with a subject they had talked over together. Harriet Taylor was already working on her article on the enfranchisement of women,158 and there is no doubt that Mill expressed their mutual views in this early public advocacy of women’s suffrage. The letter started as a reply to a gentleman who had written that society without strict divorce laws to guide it would run aground. There was a humorously presented analysis of what society’s being on a sandbank could possibly mean: understanding what it meant for a ship to come upon a sandbank, Mill wanted “to have it made equally clear to me what would happen if, in consequence of permitting facility of divorce, ‘society’ should . . . come upon a sandbank.” Mill went on in more serious vein to point out that in two other letters, one in favour of divorce and one in favour of extended suffrage, “the writer shows the most unaffected unconsciousness that anybody has an interest in the matter except the man,” whereas women have more need of facility for divorce, and every argument for men’s voting applies equally to women’s voting.
But this entire ignoring of women, as if their claim to the same rights as the other half of mankind were not even worth mentioning, stares one in the face from every report of a speech, every column of a newspaper. In your paper of the 27th ultimo, there is a long letter signed Homo, claiming the “right of the suffrage” as justly belonging to every man, while there is not one line of his argument which would not be exactly as applicable if “woman” were read instead of “man;” yet the thought never appears to occur to him. In a Conservative this would be intelligible—monopoly, exclusion, privilege, is his general rule; but in one who demands the suffrage on the ground of abstract right, it is an odious dereliction of principle, or an evidence of intellectual incompetence. While the majority of men are excluded, the insult to women of their exclusion as a class is less obvious. But even the present capricious distribution of the franchise has more semblance of justice and rationality than a rule admitting all men to the suffrage and denying it to all women.
It is little wonder, with the memories of what they had once talked over together, that Mill had noticeably to pause to control his emotions after he began to speak in the House of Commons on 20 May, 1867, moving to substitute “person” for “man” in the Representation of the People Bill.
After their marriage in April 1851 until Harriet’s death in November 1858 Mill wrote for the papers hardly at all: eight pieces in as many years; in 1851 he wrote only one piece. The question of street organs would perhaps be deemed an odd choice for the solitary contribution to the newspapers in over a year by the author of the Logic and the Principles of Political Economy, but that was the subject upon which Mill contributed an article—to the Morning Chronicle—in 1851 (No. 401). Miscarriages of justice and the limited understandings of magistrates had been the subject of their joint letters, and perhaps this was a sequel drafted or suggested by his wife. In 1852 he took time for only two letters (Nos. 402 and 403), very short, supporting free trade in the book trade and opposing the control exercised by the Booksellers’ Association. The following year, 1853, plagued by ill health, but intensely loyal to the East India Company through which he genuinely believed India was getting as good a government as was humanly available, he published two articles (Nos. 404 and 405) during the debate on the India Bill to defend the Company against the meddling fingers of a harassed Government. In the spring of 1854 he was told his life was in danger from consumption, and from then on he and Harriet tried to put on paper for posterity their best thoughts, and only twice were their thoughts sent to the newspapers for their contemporaries. Time, they felt, was running out. Harriet’s health was weak; she nearly died of a lung haemorrhage at Nice in 1853 and now John was threatened. His father and one brother had already died of tuberculosis, and another brother was living abroad but with no hope of curing the disease, only delaying its progress. Mill’s health remained unreliable even after the consumption was arrested (seemingly by 1856); splitting headaches continued to make his India Office duties more onerous than normal. There was less time for writing: he was frequently travelling for his health and when he was not, she was. The newlyweds worked hard outlining the ideas they wished to leave to the future—even on their separate trips.159
When they were together, they lived very private lives. In November 1854 in the Morning Post they published one more joint effort (No. 406). It was a short letter expressing distress and disgust that even after the passing of the new Act to protect battered wives, magistrates would not hand down hard sentences. Mill did not write again for the daily press until, somewhat unexpectedly after three-and-a-half years of silence, on 31 July, 1858, he sent a letter to the Daily News on the Laws of Lunacy (No. 407). The surprise results from the sudden break in the silence, not from the topic; recent incidents in which “refractory wives” had been declared insane prompted the letter. Criticism of the Lunacy Laws was not uncommon at this time but it was rarely presented from the women’s point of view. This was the last piece in the papers published with his wife’s encouragement.
In October they left for a long, warm winter in southern Europe; at Avignon, Harriet Mill collapsed and on 3 November she died.
MARCH 1863 TO MAY 1873
when john stuart mill returned to public life, he had beside him his stepdaughter, Helen Taylor. She had been born in 1831 and, still in her twenties when her mother died, had already developed great strength of character. (She had abandoned an apprenticeship as an actress to join Mill in his despair.) Mill referred to her somewhat inappropriately as a “prize in the lottery of life” (A, 264). For the next six and a half years, the grieving pair lived quiet lives, half the year in Blackheath and half in Avignon. They travelled together and on one occasion, in 1862, took a genuinely daring trip through the Greek interior. She helped him in many ways after her mother’s death, one of which was with his correspondence; the echo of Taylor phrasing can still be heard, therefore, in some of his later public letters, though less in those concerning international affairs. After he recovered from the shock of his loss, Mill devoted himself to making ready for publication works he and Harriet had planned.160 He was only fifty-two, but Harriet’s death halted his mental development—at least he felt so—and those developments in his thought which took place are not best seen in his sporadic journalism. The general set of his thinking was established. He was a highly respected philosopher and Radical. Commentary on contemporary events was no longer of value to his own development, nor was daily journalism the medium most effective for the exercise of his influence, especially when he was in Parliament. Mill’s concern was less to influence immediate actions than to complete mankind’s guides to the future. His final pieces, then, have interest but little cohesion, being disparate and few. Events in England seem not to provide the occasion; Europe, friends, and ideas are the stimulants.161
The year 1865 saw the realization of an ambition he had first dreamt of thirty years earlier; he was asked to stand for Parliament. His candidacy gave him an excellent chance to express his views on matters for which the occasion might not otherwise have presented itself. He had been promoting Thomas Hare’s system of proportional representation ever since, in the spring of 1859, he had first received and read Hare’s book, which had, “for the first time, solved the difficulty of popular representation; and by doing so, [had] raised up the cloud of gloom and uncertainty which hung over the futurity of representative government and therefore of civilization.”162 In contradiction to a writer in the Spectator, he affirmed that Hare’s system “is equally suitable to the state of things under which we now live, since it would at once assure to that minority in the constituencies which consists of the operative classes, the share in the representation which you demand for them,” as it will be to that state when the operatives far outnumber those likely to support the eminent men (No. 411).
He attacked the ballot when reviewing Henry Romilly’s pamphlet favouring it (No. 413).163 His arguments are very similar in one way to the arguments he had put forward on the opposite side under his father’s tutelage forty years earlier. In the old days the good of the country was served by diminishing the power of the aristocracy through giving a man a ballot and thus removing influence and bribery at one stroke. But now Mill saw man’s actions as not determined solely by his selfish interests but—in keeping, in fact, with Bentham’s list of influences that make a judge a good judge too—people were influenced by the desire to stand well with their fellows. This social motive would be weakened “when the act is done in secret, and he can neither be admired for disinterested, nor blamed for mean and selfish conduct” (No. 413). He repeated his unequivocal denial whenever asked (No. 425).
But the real, the great reward of his candidacy was his election on 12 July, 1865. His letter thanking the Liberal electors of Westminster is warming to read over a century later. All Mill had feared about democracy had been (at least temporarily) assuaged and all he had claimed about Radicals and workers had been triumphantly vindicated—and by a personal triumph. It must have been a sweet moment when, after a long stationary period, the historical process, with him as its agent, seemed to be visibly advancing. “I should join . . . in hearty and grateful acknowledgments to the Liberal electors generally, and especially to the great number who, by their strenuous and disinterested personal exertions, renewed the lesson so often forgotten, of the power of a high and generous purpose over bodies of citizens accustomed to free political action. . . . That I may not fall so far below your hopes as to make you regret your choice, will be my constant and earnest endeavour.” (No. 414.) The knight’s armour was slightly loose, the limbs not so lithe, but he rose to do battle against the “personal and pecuniary influences” who had won a majority in the House with the same conviction and sense of righteousness with which he had wielded his pen for the last forty years.
While Mill was a sitting member of Parliament, he does not appear to have written for or to the newspapers. During the election of 1868, he published two letters.164 In September he wrote a letter to the borough of Greenwich which had emulated Westminster and further rekindled Mill’s hope for the future by “electing a public man, without any solicitation on his part” (No. 416). The only other public letter from this time published in England was an attempt to mop up the hot water boiled over by his support of Chadwick for a riding in which there was a sitting Liberal member, albeit an Adullamite (also a leader in the anti-feminist forces). The letter, published in The Times, had some fine hits by the Avignon team; the tone of Helen Taylor is evident in the sharp riposte to Bouverie: “For my part I never presumed to give you any advice, nor did I ‘invite’ you to retire in Mr. Chadwick’s favour, because I had no idea that you were in the least likely to do so; I merely, in reply to a communication from yourself, shewed how very public spirited a proceeding I should consider it if you did.”165
The memories evoked by Mill’s active role promoting women’s right to vote, especially his preparation of the Subjection of Women, surely must relate to a letter intended for the Daily News in January of 1870 (No. 419), which seems to put the calendar back twenty years. The attention of the readers was drawn to the case of William Smith, a policeman, sentenced for (according to the magistrate) an “unprovoked, brutal, and unjustifiable” assault upon a man who had knocked his wife down in the street. Though now Mill could write also to the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, and the Recorder of the City of London, he could not secure the unfortunate policeman’s reinstatement in the force when he came out of prison.
Now a distinguished philosopher in his sixties, Mill had no need and no desire to put his ideas before the public through the newspapers. He preferred to develop his thoughts in longer form and published, apart from books,166 lengthy essays in the Fortnightly Review edited by his disciple John Morley.167 In 1870 he commented on the Education Bill (No. 420) and Russia’s threatened abrogation of the Treaty of 1856 (Nos. 421 and 422).168
Mill did not speak out again in newspapers until the last year of his life.169 It was a singularly appropriate ending to his long association with the newspapers: he wrote for the Examiner, and on a subject that was part of his vision, land tenure. Since his youth many advances in public thinking had been made on the question, promoted in part by the state of Ireland and Mill’s writings on it; it had been possible for Gladstone to introduce an Irish Land Act. To advance the public attitude further, Mill now actively promoted a Land Tenure Reform Association, for which he had drawn up and published the programme.170 The justification for restricting the rights in land already in private hands is vintage Mill:
The land not having been made by the owner, nor by any one to whose rights he has succeeded, and the justification of private ownership in land being the interest it gives to the owner in the good cultivation of the land, the rights of the owner ought not to be stretched farther than this purpose requires. No rights to the land should be recognised which do not act as a motive to the person who has power over it, to make it as productive, or otherwise as useful to mankind, as possible. Anything beyond this exceeds the reason of the case, and is an injustice to the remainder of the community.
All his life he had pitted reason against injustice.
Mill died quite unexpectedly on 7 May, 1873, after a long walk botanizing. He died while still enjoying the full vigour of a mind that analyzed with logical precision each next step forward for mankind’s betterment. His advocacy had been extraordinarily influential, because his dreams of the future had been tempered by his knowledge of present possibilities. This commonsensical approach to the millenium was the reward he reaped from all his arduous efforts to instruct his countrymen through the newspapers, because awareness of his readers never allowed him to forget that reforms had to be designed for, and accepted by, his fallible contemporaries. His career as a journalist ensured that he kept his feet firmly on the ground while he urged mankind forward towards his hoped-for heaven.
[1 ]John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, Collected Works [CW], VII-VIII (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973), VIII, 874.
[2 ]J.S. Mill, Autobiography [A], in Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, CW, I (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981), 37. Subsequent references to the Autobiography are given in the text. References to Mill’s newspaper writings are also given in the text by the item number assigned in these volumes.
[3 ]Young John might well have listened “with interest and instruction” while his father talked over with Francis Place the possible need to form a Committee of Public Safety contingent on the reform meeting they were organizing in September 1816. The meeting was to have Burdett, Cochrane, and Hunt as speakers, proposing the selection of delegates from all districts to come to London, ostensibly bearing petitions for reform, in time for the opening of the official Parliament’s session. No one could foresee the result of such a proposal. The meetings continued and led directly to the Spa Fields attempt of the Spenceans. James Mill and Francis Place had by then drawn back. But nonetheless in December 1816 a Convention of Delegates was gathered in London. It was a very thin line between peaceful agitation as it was practised in the London meetings and armed insurrection. Elie Halévy’s account of the state of London and Radical agitation is still the best, in his The Liberal Awakening (London: Benn, 1949), 9-53. And note the title of Joseph Hamburger’s fine study, James Mill and the Art of Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963).
[4 ]Mill said of his younger self: “the most transcendant glory I was capable of conceiving, was that of figuring, successful or unsuccessful, as a Girondist in an English Convention” (A, 67)
[5 ]It is an indication of the precarious state of England and the hatred that existed that the Whigs and Radicals could, for one minute, much less a year, make that indefensible woman their champion. London was illuminated for three nights when the Bill against her was dropped and the House of Commons voted her the enormous annuity of £50,000.
[6 ]Anna J. Mill, ed., John Mill’s Boyhood Visit to France (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961), 10.
[7 ]Some of the early newspaper pieces may well have grown out of papers for the Utilitarian Society.
[8 ]“Writing of a very high order is thrown away when it is buried in periodicals, which are mostly read but once, and that hastily: yet the only access now to the general public, is through periodicals. An article in a newspaper or a magazine, is to the public mind no more than a drop of water on a stone; and like that, it produces its effect by repetition.
“The peculiar ‘mission’ of this age, (if we may be allowed to borrow from the new French school of philosophers a term which they have abused,) is to popularize among the many, the more immediately practical results of the thought and experience of the few.” (“Writings of Junius Redivivus [I],” Monthly Repository, n.s. VII [Apr. 1833], CW, I, 372.)
[9 ]“Armand Carrel,” in Essays on French History and Historians, CW, XX (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), 174. In an earlier version his wording had shown even more awareness: “but before his thoughts can be acted upon, they must be recast in the mould of other and more business-like intellects. There is no limit to the chimeras which a man may persuade himself of, whose mind has never had anything to do but to form conceptions, without ever measuring itself and them with realities.” (Ibid., 173k.)
[10 ]These ideas are developed by Mill in the Logic. See also J.M. Robson, The Improvement of Mankind (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968), esp. Chap. 6, “Method: Scientist and Artist.”
[11 ]One brief daisy chain will illustrate the compactness, marginality, and mutual support of the circle. The Traveller was owned by Colonel Robert Torrens, an old friend of James Mill’s, political economist and founder member of the Political Economy Club; it was edited by Walter Coulson, whose father had worked in the dock yards supervised by Samuel Bentham, who had been instrumental in young Walter’s becoming an amanuensis of Jeremy Bentham, who in turn was the connection to Colonel Torrens and the Traveller (soon amalgamated with the Globe). Because both were close associates of Torrens and James Mill, Coulson would frequently meet John Black, whom he would succeed as editor of the Chronicle in the forties. He would also know Albany Fonblanque, who, having written for Black in the Chronicle and been a leader writer for the Examiner, followed in the footsteps of Leigh Hunt, who also had written for the Traveller, and became editor of the Examiner. Leigh Hunt, S.T. Coleridge, Charles Lamb, and Thomas Barnes of The Times all attended Christ’s Hospital, the “Blue Coat” School; it is quite reasonable to believe that if a London journalist were not a Blue Coat, he was a Scot. A young friend of Leigh Hunt’s was John Forster, in his early days dramatic critic of the True Sun, for which W.J. Fox, editor of the Monthly Repository from 1826 to 1836, became leader writer in 1835. Forster then wrote for the Courier and the Examiner and for Lardner’s Cyclopaedia before becoming briefly in his later years editor of the Daily News (succeeding Dickens) and then, for nine years, editor of the Examiner. Forster’s successor at the Daily News was Eyre Crowe, who had also written for Lardner’s Cyclopaedia before becoming French correspondent for the Morning Chronicle. “They could not have moved in a circle less small had they been inhabitants of a country town” (T.H.S. Escott, Masters of English Journalism [London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1911], 142).
[12 ]Richard Garnett, Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. Albany Fonblanque.
[13 ]Robert Harrison, ibid., s.v. John Black.
[14 ]The Later Letters of John Stuart Mill, 1849-1873 [LL], ed. Francis E. Mineka and Dwight N. Lindley, CW, XIV-XVII (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972), XV, 979 (12 Dec., 1864). This letter is written to Robert Harrison, who used it in his article on John Black cited above.
[15 ]A circulation of between 3000 and 5000 was adequate for a newspaper in the 1820s; particular brilliance or popular events might raise it to 10,000. The readership was, of course, greater, but one must be uneasy about the estimate of between ten and twenty readers for each purchaser; there must have been an enormous difference on that score between the Examiner and the Northern Star, to take a somewhat extreme example.
[16 ]Escott, Masters of English Journalism, 159.
[17 ]I do not know whether The Times’ occasional resort to Latin for the details of a particularly lurid crime indicates a solicitude for female readers.
[18 ]James Mill might well have been anxious for his son’s help. He felt he could not desert Bentham but he much doubted John Bowring’s ability to edit a political and philosophical review and “augured so ill of the enterprise that he regretted it altogether” (A, 93).
[19 ]Lord Robbins, Introduction to Essays on Economics and Society, CW, IV-V (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967), IV, viii.
[20 ]“War Expenditure” (1824), CW, IV, 3-22.
[21 ]In a letter to the Grotes the following year, Mill wrote: “Malthus, it seems, has been puffing himself again in the Quarterly—tho’ I have not seen the article, it propounds what no other mortal would think of propounding, his Measure of Value” (Mill News Letter, XX, no. 2 [Summer 1985], 6 [1 Sept., 1824]).
[22 ]Alexander Bain, James Mill: A Biography (London: Longmans, Green, 1882), 196-7.
[23 ]East and West India Sugar; or, A Refutation of the Claims of the West India Colonists to a Protecting Duty on East India Sugar (London: Relfe, and Hatchard and Son, 1823).
[24 ]Jeremy Bentham, On the Liberty of the Press and Public Discussion (1821), in Works, ed. John Bowring, 11 vols. (Edinburgh: Tait, 1843), II, 275-97.
[25 ]Bain, James Mill, p. 206. Bain gives 14 June as the date of the meeting, but The Times for that date reports on the meeting of the previous evening. James Mill’s name does not appear in the list of the important people attending.
[26 ]Of the changes in both criminal law and the law of juries wrought during the five years after Sir Robert Peel had accepted the Home Office, Mackintosh claimed it was as though he “had lived in two different countries, and conversed with people who spoke two different languages” (George Peel, Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. Robert Peel).
[27 ]George Grote earnestly explained in a letter to his nineteen-year-old sister-in-law, Fanny Lewin: “Volney is an excellent book, but take care that his vague expressions (such as loi naturelle, droit invariable et eternel, etc., etc.,) do not impose themselves upon you as ultimate truths. Never suffer a word or phrase to take the place of a reason, and whenever you meet such an expression, resolve it into the principle of utility.” (The Lewin Letters, ed. Thomas Herbert Lewin, 2 vols. [London: Constable, 1909], I, 202.) For Mill’s repeated reliance on this passage in Bentham, see John M. Robson, “John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, with Some Observations on James Mill,” in Essays in English Literature Presented to A.S.P. Woodhouse, ed. M. MacLure and F.W. Watt (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964), 245-68.
[28 ]Jeremy Bentham had used this example in “Swear Not at All”: Containing an Exposure of the Inutility and Mischievousness, as Well as Anti-Christianity, of the Ceremony of an Oath (London: Hunter, 1817), in Works, V, 187-229. James Mill used the same argument in his article on “Ecclesiastical Establishments” in the Westminster Review, V (Apr. 1826), 504-48. This comment is not meant to add to the store of examples of James’s using his son’s time and brain but rather to illustrate the common body of knowledge on which they all drew.
[29 ]Pierre Etienne Louis Dumont, A Treatise on Judicial Evidence, Extracted from the Manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham Esq. (translated into English) (London: Baldwin, et al., 1825), 81; the argument of efficacious causes also appears in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), in Works, I, 14-15 (Chap. iii). The dates of Bentham’s works here cited are not all previous to Mill’s articles. The assumption is that the young disciple saw and heard much of Bentham’s work before it was ordered for publication; Bentham’s habits of composition justify the assumption. For a detailed look at when Mill probably read and where he directly refers to Bentham’s works, see J.M. Robson, “Which Bentham Was Mill’s Bentham?” Bentham Newsletter, no. 7 (May 1983), 15-26. (The phrases and examples in Mill’s attacks in 1823 tempt me to question the year—the end of 1824 or beginning of 1825—given in the Autobiography, 117, for the year he received the papers from Dumont for the editing of the Rationale of Judicial Evidence.)
[30 ]A Treatise on Judicial Evidence, 84-5.
[31 ]Rationale of Judicial Evidence, Specially Applied to English Practice. From the Manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham, ed. J.S. Mill, 5 vols. (London: Hunt and Clarke, 1827), V, 125-6.
[32 ]Ibid., Bk. II, Chap. vi, sect. 2.
[33 ]Particular examples appear in A Treatise on Judicial Evidence, 81, and in Mill’s edition of the Rationale of Judicial Evidence, I, 242-6, 375-6.
[34 ]Mill throughout his life was parsimonious of his time and energy to the extent of occasionally plagiarizing himself. He was a polemicist as well as a philosopher, and if an idea was worth developing once, it was worth developing again and again until it took root in the public mind.
[35 ]Lewin Letters, 201.
[36 ]See A Treatise on Judicial Evidence, 69, and Rationale, I, 279.
[37 ]James Mill, “Prison and Prison Discipline,” in Essays (London: printed Innes, ), 8.
[38 ]Jeremy Bentham, The Rationale of Punishment (1830), in Works, I, 440.
[39 ]Rationale of Judicial Evidence, IV, 32.
[40 ]Place’s argument is sustained by the example of Middlesex, an example, including the numbers cited, and even Ellenborough’s statement at Cobbett’s trial, to be found in Bentham’s pamphlet, The Elements of the Art of Packing as Applied to Special Juries, Particularly in Cases of Libel Law (1821), in Works, V, 61-186. Place also quotes Bentham’s Church of Englandism (1818) and refers to his Judicial Establishment in France (1790).
[41 ]Rationale of Judicial Evidence, IV, 59.
[42 ]Bentham’s actual words would have been too rich even for John Black: “Fiction of use to justice? Exactly as swindling is to trade,” and “The fictions by which . . . the adjective branch is polluted, may be distinguished in the first instance into two great classes: the falsehoods which the judges are in the habit of uttering by themselves, or by the officers under their direction” (ibid., IV, 300).
[43 ]James Mill, “Government,” in Essays, 9.
[44 ]Ibid., 8.
[45 ]Ibid., 11. James Mill’s views were unlikely to allow the satiation of the aristocracy: “Mr. Mill had the strongest convictions as to the superior advantages of democratic government over the monarchical or the aristocratic; and with these he mingled a scorn and hatred of the ruling classes which amounted to positive fanaticism” (Harriet Grote, The Personal Life of George Grote [London: Murray, 1873], 22).
[46 ]In an interesting letter to Kate Amberley, Helen Taylor discusses the books she and Mill were reading on the subject of the formation of character in connection with, she implies, the writing of the Subjection of Women (29 Mar., 1869; Russell Archives, McMaster University).
[47 ]The Subjection of Women (1869), in Essays on Equality, Law, and Education, CW, XXI (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), 262.
[48 ]“The Corn Laws” (1825), “The Silk Trade” (1826), and “The New Corn Laws” (1827), CW, IV, 45-70, 125-39, and 141-59; “Law of Libel and Liberty of the Press” (1825), CW, XXI, 1-34.
[49 ]“Mignet’s French Revolution” (1826), “Modern French Historical Works” (1826), and “Scott’s Life of Napoleon” (1828), CW, XX, 1-14, 15-22, and 53-110.
[50 ]“Ireland” (1826), in Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire, CW, VI (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 59-98; “Paper Currency and Commercial Distress” (1826), CW, IV, 71-123; “Foreign Dependencies—Trade with India” (1826-27), in the penultimate volume of CW; and “Intercourse between the United States and the British Colonies in the West Indies” (1828), CW, VI, 121-47.
[51 ]J.A. Roebuck, looking back on these years, gives a sense of the messianic fervour: “I often laugh now at our splendid plans of moral & political regeneration. We frightened all the old people, by our daring doubts and conceptions. . . .” (Bodleian Library, MS Eng., Lett. c. 295, f. 41; quoted in Sarah Wilks, “The Mill-Roebuck Quarrel,” Mill News Letter, XII, no. 2 [Summer 1978], 9.)
[52 ]Harriet Taylor was one of those who shared his vision; therein lay the root of Mill’s admiration. The shared vision was what drew Mill to two such disparate men as Auguste Comte and William Gladstone.
[53 ]Details of those events are given in the headnotes to Mill’s articles where they will be of more use to readers whose memories are good but short. “One of the major problems in modern French history is the often confusing changes of governments and the appearance of many politicians, men of letters, and military leaders who very briefly play their role upon the stage and disappear. To the English or American mind this appears to be a kaleidoscopic madness which fails to lend itself to themes and steady interpretations. Certainly, there are basic threads within the history of modern France, but almost as certainly there is a certain Gallic tendency to be scattered.” (James J. Cooke, France 1789-1962 [Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1975], 7.)
[54 ]Quoted in René de la Croix, duc de Castries, La Fayette (Paris: Tallandier, 1981), 443.
[55 ]Marie Joseph Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, Mémoires, correspondance, et manuscrits du général Lafayette (Brussels: Hauman, 1839), 525.
[56 ]Letter to John Sterling, 20-22 Oct., 1831, in Earlier Letters, 1812-1848 [EL], ed. Francis E. Mineka, CW, XII-XIII (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963), XII, 78.
[57 ]“For the next few years I wrote copiously in newspapers. It was about this time that Fonblanque, who had for some time written the political articles in the Examiner, became the proprietor and editor of the paper. It is not forgotten with what verve and talent, as well as fine wit, he carried it on, during the whole period of Lord Grey’s ministry, and what importance it assumed as the principal representative, in the newspaper press, of radical opinions. The distinguishing character of the paper was given to it entirely by his own articles, which formed at least three fourths of all the original writing contained in it: but of the remaining fourth I contributed during those years a much larger share than any one else. I wrote nearly all the articles on French subjects, including a weekly summary of French politics, often extending to considerable length; together with many leading articles on general politics, commercial and financial legislation, and any miscellaneous subjects in which I felt interested, and which were suitable to the paper, including occasional reviews of books.” (A, 179-81.) For a recent discussion of Mill’s contributions on French politics, see Ann P. and John M. Robson, “ ‘Impetuous Eagerness’: The Young Mill’s Radical Journalism,” in The Victorian Periodical Press, ed. Joanne Shattock and Michael Wolff (Leicester: University of Leicester Press, 1982), 59-77.
[58 ]EL, CW, XII, 54-67 (13, 20, and 21 Aug., 1830).
[59 ]Mill kept his gaze on England long enough to write three orthodox articles supporting the stands taken by his old acquaintances Hume and Hyde Villiers, now in Parliament, on the Truck System and on the Poor Law (Nos. 67, 69, and 70)
[60 ]See Rationale of Judicial Evidence, IV, 444, where Mill himself has a note to this effect; also James Mill, “Jurisprudence” (1821), in Essays, 29-30.
[61 ]However much Mill’s personal life may have determined his writings, it can, for the most part, here receive only occasional mention. This particular spring and summer may have been a little trying on his spirits as Harriet and John Taylor were expecting their third child, Helen, born in July.
[62 ]“Mere newspaper articles on the occurrences or questions of the moment gave no opportunity for the development of any general mode of thought; but I attempted, in the beginning of 1831, to embody in a series of articles, headed ‘The Spirit of the Age,’ some of my new opinions, and especially to point out in the character of the present age, the anomalies and evils characteristic of the transition from a system of opinions which had worn out, to another only in process of being formed. These articles were, I fancy, lumbering in style, and not lively or striking enough to be at any time acceptable to newspaper readers; but had they been far more attractive, still, at that particular moment, when great political changes were impending, and engrossing all minds, these discussions were ill timed, and missed fire altogether. The only effect which I know to have been produced by them, was that Carlyle, then living in a secluded part of Scotland, read them in his solitude, and saying to himself (as he afterwards told me) ‘here is a new Mystic,’ enquired on coming to London that autumn respecting their authorship; an enquiry which was the immediate cause of our becoming personally acquainted.” (A, 181.)
[63 ]Lewin Letters, 201.
[64 ]EL, CW, XII, 78 (20-22 Oct., 1831).
[65 ]The letter to Sterling gives grounds for thinking Mill was pondering his own role.
[66 ]Again from the long letter to Sterling, ibid., 84. John Austin’s influence undoubtedly played a part; see Richard B. Friedman, “An Introduction to Mill’s Theory of Authority,” in Mill: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. J.B. Schneewind (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968), 379-425.
[67 ]The article was planned as the first of a series but Le Globe ceased publication on 20 April, 1832, two days after its appearance.
[68 ]That others saw a parallel between recent events in the two countries is shown clearly in Armand Carrel’s toast to “ ‘The People of England,’ with expression of the warmest sympathy and congratulation upon our late glorious though pacific Three Days” (No. 169).
[69 ]His truest companion for walking on elevated terrain—and walking hand-in-hand—was Harriet Taylor: “she possessed in combination, the qualities which in all other persons whom I had known I had been only too happy to find singly. In her, complete emancipation from every kind of superstition . . ., and an earnest protest against many things which are still part of the established constitution of society, resulted not from the hard intellect but from strength of noble and elevated feeling . .” (A, 195.)
[70 ]Mill’s views on this point only became stronger as his experience grew: “The English are fond of boasting that they do not regard the theory, but only the practice of institutions; but their boast stops short of the truth; they actually prefer that their theory should be at variance with their practice. If any one proposed to them to convert their practice into a theory, he would be scouted. It appears to them unnatural and unsafe, either to do the thing which they profess, or to profess the thing which they do. A theory which purports to be the very thing intended to be acted upon, fills them with alarm; it seems to carry with it a boundless extent of unforeseeable consequences. This disagreeable feeling they are only free from, when the principles laid down are obviously matters of convention, which, it is agreed on all parts, are not to be pressed home.” (“Vindication of the French Revolution of February 1848” , CW, XX, 331-2.)
[71 ]Lewis was also reviewed for Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, I (May 1832), CW, XVIII, 1-13.
[72 ]And he had turned his attention to England so far as to write three major articles for the Jurist and Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine: “The Currency Juggle” (1833), “Corporation and Church Property” (1833), CW, IV, 181-92, 193-222; and “Writings of Junius Redivivus [II]” (1833), CW, I, 379-90.
[73 ]In his Autobiography Mill wrote of this time: “In the meanwhile had taken place the election of the first Reformed Parliament, which included several of the most notable of my Radical friends and acquaintances; Grote, Roebuck, Buller, Sir William Molesworth, John and Edward Romilly, and several more; besides Warburton, Strutt, and others, who were in parliament already. Those who thought themselves, and were called by their friends, the philosophic radicals, had now, it seemed, a fair opportunity, in a more advantageous position than they had ever before occupied, for shewing what was in them; and I, as well as my father, founded great hopes on them. These hopes were destined to be disappointed.” (203.) See also Ann P. and John M. Robson, “Private and Public Goals,” in Innovators and Pioneers: The Role of the Editor in Victorian Britain, ed. Joel Weiner (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985), 231-57.
[74 ]He said, revealingly, of the prosecution of the Saint-Simonians, that it was quite unnecessary since they were killing themselves through ridicule—but that they had the right to be left free to do so (No. 180).
[75 ]One of Mill’s harshest criticisms of the French is provoked by their utter disregard of the law—“the first and fundamental condition of good government, and without which any people, however civilized they may imagine themselves, are little other than savages” (No. 173).
[76 ]Mill also worked privately to improve understanding. He wished to introduce to John Taylor two of his “acquaintances,” Jules Bastide and Hippolyte Dussard, “distinguished members of the republican party in France, [who had] been compelled to fly their country for a time in consequence of the affair of the fifth & sixth of June. They were not conspirators,” says Mill, “for there was no conspiracy, but when they found the troops and the people at blows, they took the side of the people. Now I am extremely desirous to render their stay here as little disagreeable as possible, and to enable them to profit by it, and to return with a knowledge of England and with those favourable sentiments towards our English hommes du mouvement which it is of so much importance that they and their friends should entertain.” (EL, CW, XII, 115.)
[77 ]Cf. the statement of the teen-age Mill, “the enemies of improvement hold out—what? Theories founded upon history; that is upon partial and incomplete experience.” (No. 13.)
[78 ]Mill’s sense of “republican” is fifty years earlier than that cited by the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives a quotation from the Quarterly Review of 1885: “Republic lately came to mean a government resting on a widely extended suffrage.”
[79 ]When Mill said “we”, he spoke for the Examiner. It had virtually ignored French affairs since January, thus reinforcing by omission the inference that Mill’s views were editorial policy
[80 ]He did have favourable comments to make on the Act providing national education which had finally passed the Chamber of Deputies (No 205).
[81 ]Mill’s relationship with Harriet and John Taylor was in crisis; see F.A. Hayek, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951), 36ff., and M.St.J. Packe, The Life of John Stuart Mill (London: Secker and Warburg, 1954), 137ff.
[82 ]In 1832 Mill had written sixty-one pieces for the newspapers, virtually all on France; in 1833 he wrote only thirty-three and only eight of those were on France. He wrote to Carlyle in April 1833: “. . . I will not if I can help it give way to gloom and morbid despondency. . . . I have allowed myself to be paralysed more than I should, during the last month or two by these gloomy feelings. . . . I have therefore a poor account to render of work done.” (EL, CW, XII, 149.)
[83 ]Is it in human nature to read this article in the spring of 1833 and not to think of the entangled affairs of Harriet and John? These affairs were not prospering at this time any better than his health.
[84 ]Much more demanding were longer articles he contributed to the Monthly Repository, but even so his output was far below what had become his norm.
[85 ]The W.J. Fox-Eliza Flower affair also reached a crisis this spring with Mrs. Fox shouting her wrongs from the attic. For a full account, see Richard Garnett, The Life of W.J. Fox (London and New York: Lane, 1910), 155ff.
[86 ]See the letters to Carlyle that summer (EL, CW, XII, 161-4, 169-73, 174-7).
[87 ]Mill comments in the Autobiography, “What I could do by writing, I did. During the year 1833 I continued working in the Examiner with Fonblanque, who at that time was zealous in keeping up the fight for radicalism against the Whigs” (205)
[88 ]The series, which started in the Examiner in September, went right through October and into November. Perhaps Mill sent copy back from Paris, but it is more likely that he wrote them all at a very rapid rate before he left. In a nice conceit Mill professes to be taken in by the book’s having only Le Marchant’s name on it, and to wish the Ministers concerned had written it themselves instead of causing it “to be composed and sent forth by an understrapper” (No. 216); it was well known that it had been written by Lord Althorp, et al.
[89 ]In the spring of 1833, Mill had written to Carlyle: “the Reformed Parliament has not disappointed me any more than you; it is (as Miss Martineau, I understand, says of Brougham) so ridiculously like what I expected: but some of our Utilitarian Radicals are downcast enough, having deemed that the nation had in it more of wisdom and virtue than they now see it has, and that the vicious state of the representation kept this wisdom & virtue out of parliament. At least this good will come out of their disappointment, that they will no longer rely upon the infallibility of Constitution-mongering: they admit that we have as good a House of Commons as any mode of election would have given us, in the present state of cultivation of our people.” (EL, CW, XII, 145.)
[90 ]See above, 1, and also No. 76.
[91 ]Mill’s journalist’s licence occasionally carried him far, e.g., in his suggestion that the whole diplomatic service be abolished now that statesmen were literate and could write to each other (No. 217).
[92 ]For a detailed account of Carrel’s influence on Mill and his career as editor of the London and Westminster Review see Robson and Robson, “Private and Public Goals,” 235-7. For Mill’s description of his meeting with Carrel in a letter to Carlyle, see EL, CW, XII, 195-6 (25 Nov., 1833).
[93 ]Carlyle in an uncharacteristic moment described Harriet Taylor at this time as “a living romance-heroine, of the clearest insight, of the royallest volition; very interesting, of questionable destiny, not above twenty-five” (letter to John Carlyle of 22 July, 1834, in Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, ed. Charles Richard Sanders, et al. [Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1970- ], VII, 245-6).
[94 ]EL, CW, XII, 195 (25 Nov., 1833).
[95 ]Ibid., 201 (22 Dec., 1833).
[96 ]Ibid., 198 (26 Nov., 1833).
[97 ]In the first half of 1834, twenty-four of his thirty-two contributions were on French affairs.
[98 ]It was only another short time before he could extend this same understanding to his bête noire of 1833, François Guizot: “I confounded the prudence of a wise man who lets some of his maxims go to sleep while the time is unpropitious for asserting them, with the laxity of principle which resigns them for personal advancement. Thank God I did not wait to know him personally in order to do him justice, for in 1838 & 1839 I saw that he had reasserted all his old principles at the first time at which he could do so with success & without compromising what in his view were more important principles still. I ought to have known better than to have imputed dishonourable inconsistency to a man whom I now see to have been consistent beyond any statesman of our time & altogether a model of the consistency of a statesman as distinguished from that of a fanatic.” (EL, CW, XIII, 454-5 [23 Dec., 1840].)
[99 ]See his description of the Saint-Simonians in Principles of Political Economy, CW, II-III (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), II, 210-11. The last letter to d’Eichthal was 21 May, 1871 (LL, CW, XVII, 1820-1). On Harriet’s tombstone he had had inscribed, “were there but a few hearts and intellects like hers this earth would already become the hoped-for heaven” (Packe, 408)
[100 ]In February, Mill had forwarded a “MS on education,” presumably Austin’s, to Effingham Wilson, who published her work, to say that though he had not had time to read it, he knew it had “the highest character” (unpublished letter in private hands, to E. Wilson, 14 Feb., 1834).
[101 ]Mill himself wrote nothing (though he quoted Senior) on what historians have sometimes seen as a constitutional outrage; possibly compared to Charles X and even Louis Philippe, William IV cast a small shadow. A discussion of what Mill did not write about would be very illuminating. For instance, during these eleven years he hardly touched in his newspaper writings on the three movements—Anti-Corn Law, Ten Hours, and Chartism—which dominate accounts in modern histories.
[102 ]In 1835 he wrote eleven pieces mostly for the Globe, in 1836, none; in 1837, six pieces were published, two in the Globe, two in the Examiner, and one each in the True Sun and the Morning Chronicle; in 1838, one in the Examiner; none in 1839 or 1840; in 1841, two in the Morning Chronicle; in 1842, four items, three in the Morning Chronicle and one in the Examiner; in 1843, two, one each in the Morning Chronicle and the Spectator; in 1844, four in the Morning Chronicle; and in 1845, none. As noted, the Logic, on which he had been working intently since 1836, was published in 1843.
[103 ]See n92. Not all the hopes and hardships were in journalism. Mill’s hopes were up and down as he and John and Harriet Taylor tried to sort out their relationship at the same time as W.J. Fox and Mrs. Fox and Eliza Flower and the whole South Place Chapel congregation tried to sort out theirs. It is impossible to conceive of, much less recapture, the scene and conversation when Harriet Taylor visited her father, a member of Fox’s congregation, to persuade him to support Flower power. For a discussion of the difficult, if not ornery, team that Mill was trying to drive, see Joseph Hamburger’s Introduction to Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire, CW, VI. xl ff.
[104 ]“Wraxall’s Memoirs,” London and Westminster Review, IV and XXVI (Jan. 1837), 483-501, and “Architectural Competition: The New Royal Exchange,” Westminster Review, XXXV (Jan. 1841), 52-88.
[105 ]Molesworth had bought the Westminster at the beginning of 1836 to merge it with the London Review.
[106 ]On the early days of 1848 in France, Mill wrote to Henry S Chapman, “In my meditations and feelings on the whole matter, every second thought has been of Carrel—he who perhaps alone in Europe was qualified to direct such a movement . . .” (EL, CW, XIII, 731-2 [29 Feb., 1848]).
[107 ]According to Alexander Bain: “In 1836, his thirtieth year, he was seized with an obstinate derangement of the brain. Among the external symptoms, were involuntary nervous twitchings in the face.” (John Stuart Mill, a Criticism: With Personal Recollections [London: Longmans, Green, 1882], 42-3.)
[108 ]He was fortunately relieved of the need to continue his unpaid contributions to the Monthly Repository, it having left W.J. Fox’s hands in 1836. More strain was added, however, in 1840, when the family was deeply saddened by another death from tuberculosis—of Henry, aged only nineteen. They gathered at Falmouth to be beside him in his last days; Mill was very affected. In addition fears were revived that his own health might be undermined by this family weakness.
[109 ]The piece is written with such feeling that the assumption would seem justified that the money was already invested that Mill was to lose in 1842 when American debts were repudiated.
[110 ]“And now, on a calm retrospect, I can perceive that the men were less in fault than we supposed, and that we had expected too much from them. They were in unfavourable circumstances. Their lot was cast in the ten years of inevitable reaction, when the Reform excitement being over, and the few legislative improvements which the public really cared for having been rapidly effected, power gravitated back in its natural direction, to those who were for keeping things as they were; when the public mind desired rest, and was less disposed than at any other period since the peace, to let itself be moved by attempts to work up the reform feeling into fresh activity in favour of new things.” (A, 203-5.)
[111 ]This lesson, reinforced by his English experience, contributed to his generous re-evaluation of Guizot (see above n98).
[112 ]Even more predictably to those who knew that Mill had advised Chadwick on its form: “I have read your report slowly & carefully. I do not find a single erroneous or questionable position in it, while there is the strength & largeness of practical views which are characteristic of all you do. In its present unrevised state it is as you are probably aware, utterly ineffective from the want of unity and of an apparent thread running through it and holding it together. I wish you would learn some of the forms of scientific exposition of which my friend Comte makes such superfluous use, & to use without abusing which is one of the principal lessons which practice & reflexion have to teach to people like you & me who have to make new trains of thought intelligible.” (EL, CW, XIII, 516 [Apr. 1842].) Chadwick rearranged it and Mill offered to review it (ibid., 523-4 [8 June, 1842]).
[113 ]Ibid., 487.
[114 ]“Michelet’s History of France” (1844), CW, XX, 217-55.
[115 ]See especially the letters of 8 November and 18 December, 1841 (EL, CW, XIII, 488-90 and 491-3).
[116 ]Ibid., 563-4 (19 Dec., 1842). Later, in January 1846, two pieces in the Morning Chronicle, one on the malt tax (No. 301) and one on poor rates (No. 302), could possibly be seen as bearing very indirectly on the corn law issue.
[117 ]He also wrote at the same time a review of Grote for the Edinburgh Review (1846), CW, XI, 271-305.
[118 ]The strain had been increased by both personal and political differences: Harriet Grote was thought to have gossiped about the relationship between Mill and Mrs. Taylor; the Grotes had not approved of Mill’s acceptance of Carlyle’s “Memoirs of Mirabeau” for the London and Westminster Review (IV and XXVI [Jan. 1837], 382-439), and Mill had been critical of George Grote’s parliamentary behaviour. After Harriet Taylor Mill’s death in 1858, George and Harriet Grote’s home was one of the very few Mill visited. They had never by any means ceased altogether to co-operate; in 1844 Grote had obliged Mill by providing financial support for Auguste Comte.
[119 ]Beginning in 1846 but more frequently in the 1850s, Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill wrote articles jointly. These co-operative efforts, of which Nos. 303, 305, 307, 318, 329, and 350 are examples, are best treated out of strict chronological ordering; they are all discussed in the next section.
[120 ]EL, CW, XIII, 709 (9 Mar., 1847).
[121 ]This argument was based on information in Torrens’s letter to Peel (No. 295), which he had reviewed four years earlier.
[122 ]EL, CW, XIII, 709 (9 Mar., 1847).
[123 ]Ibid., 710-11 (27 Mar., 1847). A few years later he was cheered by the realization that his endeavours had not been an entire failure but had, in fact, furthered his life’s work of improving mankind’s lot. “Are you [Harriet Taylor] not amused with Peel about Ireland? He sneers down the waste land plan, two years ago, . . . & now he has enfanté a scheme containing that & much more than was then proposed—& the Times supports him & Ireland praises him I am extremely glad he has done it—I can see that it is working as nothing else has yet worked to break down the superstition about property—& it is the only thing happening in England which promises a step forward—a thing which one may well welcome when things are going so badly for the popular cause in Europe—not that I am discouraged by this—progress of the right kind seems to me quite safe now that Socialism has become inextinguishable.” (LL, CW, XIV, 21 [31 Mar., 1849].)
His assessment in the Autobiography is less cheery: “the profound ignorance of English politicians and the English public concerning all social phenomena not generally met with in England (however common elsewhere) made my endeavours an entire failure. Instead of a great operation on the waste lands, and the conversion of cottiers into proprietors, Parliament passed a Poor Law for maintaining them as paupers: and if the nation has not since found itself in inextricable difficulties from the joint operation of the old evils and the quack remedy, it is indebted for its deliverance to that most unexpected and surprising fact, the depopulation of Ireland, commenced by famine, and continued by emigration.” (A, 243.)
[124 ]CW, II, 214.
[125 ]There were a further two rather curious pieces, one on “Sanitary” versus “Sanatory” (No. 365) in The Times and one on enlightened infidelity (No. 367) intended for G.J. Holyoake’s Reasoner but not published. Some of the phrasing suggests Harriet Taylor’s prompting.
[126 ]Edinburgh Review, LXXXV (Jan. 1847), 221-58. The lack of stir caused by Austin’s laboriously written article prompted Mill to explain to him: “It seems to me that reviews have had their day, & that nothing is now worth much except the two extremes, newspapers for diffusion & books for accurate thought” (EL, CW, XIII, 711-12 [13 Apr., 1847]).
[127 ]Alexander Bain reports that George Grote “would say to me, ‘Much as I admire John Mill, my admiration is always mixed with fear’; meaning that he never knew what unexpected turn Mill might take” (John Stuart Mill, 83).
[128 ]EL, CW, XIII, 712.
[129 ]LL, CW, XV, 978-9. It is an indication of Mill’s standing in the world of the press that he was offered joint-proprietorship of the Chronicle at this time (Harriet Taylor to John Taylor, 18 Jan., 1848, Mill-Taylor Collection, British Library of Political and Economic Science, London School of Economics, XXVIII, 174).
[130 ]CW, VIII, 874.
[131 ]John Stuart Mill, 91.
[132 ]He wrote to John Austin: “I think with you that the English higher classes . . . mean well, ‘what little they do mean’ as my father said of some person. They have grown good even to goodiness . . . [but show] more & more their pitoyable absence of even that very moderate degree of intellect, & that very moderate amount of will & character which are scattered through the other classes. . . . The doctrine of averting revolutions by wise concessions to the people does not need to be preached to the English aristocracy. They have long acted on it to the best of their capacity, & the fruits it produces are soup-kitchen and ten hours bills.” (EL, CW, XIII, 712-13 [13 Apr., 1847].)
[133 ]In 1842 Mill had written privately to William Lovett offering help although, as he pointed out, he was not a democrat (EL, CW, XIII, 533-4 [27 July, 1842]).
[134 ]Ibid., 731-2 (29 Feb., 1848).
[135 ]Nonetheless Mill wrote a defence of the revolution as forwarding France’s history: “Vindication of the French Revolution of February 1848,” CW, XX, 317-63.
[136 ]The paper had started in 1846 under the very brief editorship of Charles Dickens, followed for nine months by John Forster, who then took over the Examiner.
[137 ]John Stuart Mill, 90. Bain introduced Mill to Dr. Thomas Clark who attempted without success to induce Mill to try the water-treatment. Perhaps Harriet remembered the case of Dr. Ellis’s patient (see below).
[138 ]Hayek, 120ff. The dedication of the Political Economy caused considerable éclat within their small circle; their lives became even more reserved and (coincidentally?) their joint productions for a time ceased.
[139 ]His comment to Harriet, who had encouraged him to write the last article, illustrates the anonymity they wished to preserve at this time. “As you suggested I wrote an article on Russell’s piece of meanness in the Jew Bill & have sent it to Crowe. . . . But I fear the article, even as ‘from a correspondent’ will be too strong meat for the Daily News, as it declares without mincing the matter, that infidels are perfectly proper persons to be in parliament. I like the article myself. I have carefully avoided any thing disrespectful to Russell personally, or any of the marks known to me, by which my writing can be recognized.” (LL, CW, XIV, 18 [17 Mar., 1849].)
[140 ]John Taylor to Harriet Taylor, 30 Mar., 1849, Mill-Taylor Collection, XXVIII, 227.
[141 ]Just four days before John Taylor’s death, they had published an article on corporal punishment (No. 383), their first work designated as a joint production since December 1846—if one discounts the Principles of Political Economy.
[142 ]Mill quite frequently added “very little of which was mine” to the designation “joint production” in his bibliography. Some of these articles would appear to have been drafted by Harriet Taylor and little more than signed by John Stuart Mill.
[143 ]CW, VIII, 874.
[144 ]It was not perhaps unnatural that during the twenty-one months between John Taylor’s death and Harriet Taylor’s remarriage to John Mill, the subject of marriage and the laws governing it should have been much on their minds. Only one of their joint productions during those months, “Questionable Charity” (No. 394), was not concerned with domestic relations.
[145 ]Subjection of Women, CW, XXI, 261.
[146 ]Letter to Parker Pillsbury, LL, CW, XVI, 1289 (4 July, 1867).
[147 ]EL, CW, XIII, 736 ([May?] 1848).
[148 ]Apart from the co-operative productions, Mill published in the papers on only three occasions during 1850. The first and most significant was a review in the Spectator of Volumes VII and VIII of Grote’s History; it was again favourable. He also wrote two letters to the Leader (Nos. 397 and 398) in one of which there was a defence of nonconformity similar to that in On Liberty: “No order of society can be in my estimation desirable unless grounded on the maxim, that no man or woman is accountable to others for any conduct by which others are not injured or damaged” (No. 397). There was also one, dated 1 February, 1851 (No. 399), a draft of an unpublished letter to the Weekly Dispatch, defending the non-believer, who is undogmatic about religion, from the charge of being “merely a speculative, disquisitive, logical, thinking machine.”
[149 ]On his own marriage to Harriet, Mill wrote a solemn renunciation of any rights over his wife or her property granted him by the law: “Statement on Marriage,” CW, XXI, 97.
[150 ]This piece, entitled “Wife Murder,” was the first one written after their marriage.
[151 ]Another aspect of the case of the illegitimate child, Edward Hyde, who had been brutally beaten by his natural father, Edward Kenealy, roused the Mills as reflecting also on the injustice caused by a wife’s legal non-existence. Lord Campbell rejoiced that no stain would be left on Mr. Kenealy’s character; on the contrary, Lord Campbell bestowed praise on him for having shown an interest in his son when, by law, an illegitimate child was the responsibility solely of the mother. The injustice was the greater as a legitimate child belonged in law solely to the father because of the wife’s legal non-existence.
[152 ]In 1853, Mill, acting “chiefly as amanuensis to [his] wife,” published a pamphlet, Remarks on Mr. Fitzroy’s Bill for the More Effectual Prevention of Assaults on Women and Children (London: n.p., 1853), CW, XXI, 101-8.
[153 ]In the final version of the Autobiography, Mill wrote: “that perception of the vast practical bearings of women’s disabilities which found expression in the book on The Subjection of Women, was acquired mainly through her teaching” (A, 253n).
[154 ]Subjection of Women, CW, XXI, 284-5.
[155 ]Ibid., 294-5.
[156 ]Ibid., 261.
[157 ]The Leader had been newly established in 1849, based on a policy of positivist reporting; George Henry Lewes was principal writer, and Marian Evans and Harriet Martineau were regular contributors.
[158 ]“Enfranchisement of Women” (1851), CW, XXI, 393-415.
[159 ]In the late fall of 1853 Mill had accompanied his wife and stepdaughter to Nice, returning alone to London in December. Harriet Mill’s health made the avoidance of a Blackheath winter necessary (in a letter to her daughter in the winter of 1857, Harriet Mill apologized for her handwriting, explaining that the temperature in the room in front of the firewas 36°F. [Mill-Taylor Collection, LII, 103 (29 Jan., 1857)]), and mother and daughter did not return until the spring of 1854. Mill then, having waited until their return to tell them that he had consumption, left for two months in Brittany, returning home in July. They separated again in December—John Stuart Mill to Greece for six months for his health and Harriet Mill to Torquay for hers, she being too weak for the extended trip.
[160 ]Most notably, On Liberty (1859), Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform (1859), Dissertations and Discussions (1859), and Utilitarianism (1861)
[161 ]For example, in 1863 Mill wrote on Poland for the Penny Newsman, edited by Edwin Chadwick. one of the revolutionary journalists, Ogareff, whom he was praising for “shaking the whole fabric of Russian despotism,” was a follower of Saint-Simon (No. 408).
[162 ]LL, CW, XV, 598-9 (3 Mar., 1859).
[163 ]Mill was continuing his policy of supporting his friends by aiding in the establishment of new journalistic ventures. A group including Herbert Spencer, Thomas Huxley, John Cairnes, and Mill himself had attempted to rescue the failing Reader in 1865.
[164 ]A third (LL, CW, XVI, 1443-8 [24 Sept., 1868]) was published in the United States, solicited by Charles Eliot Norton, expressing strong disapprobation of the proposal for the American Government to pay its debts in debased currency and to cancel the interest His sentiments are unchanged over thirty years although he now had nothing to lose.
[165 ]LL, CW, XVI, 1461. In LL the reading is “ ‘incite’ you to retire” but the version in The Times, 22 Oct., 1868, 3, gives “ ‘invite’ you to retire”; Bouverie’s own letter supports the latter reading.
[166 ]The most significant being The Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1865), Auguste Comte and Positivism (1865), the Inaugural Address (1867), his edition of James Mill’s Analysis (1869), and The Subjection of Women (1869).
[167 ]“Endowments” (1869) and “Thornton on Labour and Its Claims” (1869), CW, V, 613-29 and 680-700; and reviews of Cliffe Leslie (CW, X, 669-85), Taine (CW, XI, 441-7), Berkeley (ibid., 449-71), Grote (ibid., 473-510), and Maine (in the penultimate volume of CW).
[168 ]Mill also published “Treaty Obligations” (1870), CW, XXI, 341-8.
[169 ]Mill’s denial in 1871 (No. 424) that he was to take the chair at a meeting to be addressed by Emily Faithfull probably reflects Helen’s views of her—views perhaps determined by the somewhat colourful episodes in Faithfull’s past.
[170 ]Programme of the Land Tenure Reform Association, with an Explanatory Statement by John Stuart Mill (London: Longmans, et al., 1871), CW, V, 687-95.
- A Guide to JS Mill Online
- Ashley’s Introduction to Mill’s Principles of Political Economy
- Hayek on Mill’s early letters: Collected Works vol. XII
- Mill and Liberty as the Cardinal Moral Virtue
- Mill and Taylor
- Mill and Taylor on Women
- Mill on England, Ireland, Empire: Collected Works vol. VI
- Mill on Equality, Law, Education: Collected Works vol. XXI
- Mill on Ethics & Religion: Collected Works vol. X
- Mill on French History: Collected Works vol. XX
- Mill on Hamilton’s Philosophy: Collected Works vol. IX
- Mill on India: Collected Works vol. XXX
- Mill on Philosophy & Classics: Collected Works vol. XI
- Mill on Political Economy: Collected Works vol. II
- Mill on Politics & Society: Collected Works vol. XVIII
- Mill’s Additional Letters: Collected Works vol. XXXII
- Mill’s Autobiography, Literary Essays: Collected Works vol. I
- Mill’s Essays on Economics: Collected Works vol. IV
- Mill’s Journals & Debating Speeches: Collected Works vol. XXVIII
- Mill’s Later Letters: Collected Works vol. XIV
- Mill’s Newspaper Articles: Collected Works vol. XXII
- Mill’s Parliamentary Speeches: Collected Works vol. XXVIII
- Mill’s System of Logic: Selected Works vol. VII
- Mill’s The Spirit of the Age (1831)
- Mill’s Utilitarianism: Collected Works vol. X
- Mill, Collected Works, Table of Contents
- Mill: A Bibliographical Essay by John Gray
- Stephen’s Critique of Mill’s Idea of Liberty