John Stuart Mill; His Life and Works

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Those extracts are made, not only in justice to the memory of James Mill, but as a help towards understanding the influences by which his son was surrounded from his earliest years. James Mill was living in a house at Pentonville when this son was born, and partly because of the peculiar abilities that the boy displayed from the first, partly because he could not afford to procure for him elsewhere such teaching as he was able himself to give him, he took his education entirely into his own hands. With what interest—even jealous interest, it would seem—Bentham watched that education, appears from a pleasant little letter addressed to him by the elder Mill in 1812. "I am not going to die," he wrote, "notwithstanding your zeal to come in for a legacy. However, if I were to die any time before this poor boy is a man, one of the things that would pinch me most sorely would be the being obliged to leave his mind unmade to the degree of excellence of which I hope to make it. But another thing is, that the only prospect which would lessen that pain would be the leaving him in your hands. I therefore take your offer quite seriously, and stipulate merely that it shall be made as soon as possible; and then we may perhaps leave him a successor worthy of both of us." It was a bold hope, but one destined to be fully realized. At the time of its utterance, the "poor boy" was barely more than six years old. The intellectual powers of which he gave such early proof were carefully, but apparently not excessively, cultivated. Mrs. Grote, in her lately-published "Personal Life of George Grote," has described him as he appeared in 1817, the year in which her husband made the acquaintance of his father. "John Stuart Mill, then a boy of about twelve years old,"—he was really only eleven,—"was studying, with his father as sole preceptor, under the paternal roof. Unquestionably forward for his years, and already possessed of a competent knowledge of Greek and Latin, as well as of some subordinate though solid attainments, John was, as a boy, somewhat repressed by the elder Mill, and seldom took any share in the conversation carried on by the society frequenting the house." It is perhaps not strange that a boy of eleven, at any rate a boy who was to become so modest a man, should not take much part in general conversation; and Mr. Mill himself never, in referring to his father, led his hearers to suppose that he had, as a child, been in any way unduly repressed by him. The tender affection with which he always cherished his father's memory in no way sanctions the belief that he was at any time subjected to unreasonable discipline. By him his father was only revered as the best and kindest of teachers.

There was a break in the home teaching in 1820. James Mill, after bearing bravely with his early difficulties, had acquired so much renown by his famous "History of India," that, in spite of its adverse criticisms of the East-India Company, the directors of the Company in 1817 honorably bestowed upon him a post in the India House, where he steadily and rapidly rose to a position which enabled him to pass the later years of his life in more comfort than had hitherto been within his reach. The new employment, however, interfered with his other occupation as instructor to his boy; and for this reason, as well probably as for others tending to his advancement, the lad was, in the summer of 1820, sent to France for a year and a half. For several months he lived in Paris, in the house of Jean Baptiste Say, the political economist. The rest of his time was passed in the company of Sir Samuel Bentham, Jeremy Bentham's brother. Early in 1822, before he was eighteen, he returned to London, soon to enter the India Office as a clerk in the department of which his father was chief. In that office he remained for five and thirty years, acquitting himself with great ability, and gradually rising to the most responsible position that could be there held by a subordinate.

But, though he was thus early started in life as a city clerk, his self-training and his education by his father were by no means abandoned. The ancient and modern languages, as well as the various branches of philosophy and philosophical thought in which he was afterwards to attain such eminence, were studied by him in the early mornings, under the guidance of his father, before going down to pass his days in the India Office. During the summer evenings, and on such holidays as he could get, he began those pedestrian exploits for which he afterwards became famous, and in which his main pleasure appears to have consisted in collecting plants and flowers in aid of the botanical studies that were his favorite pastime, and something more than a pastime, all through his life. His first printed writings are said to have been on botany, in the shape of some articles contributed to a scientific journal while he was still in his teens, and it is probable, that, could they now be detected, we should find in other periodicals traces of his work, at nearly if not quite as early a period in other lines of study. That he worked early and with wonderful ability in at least one very deep line, appears from the fact that while he was still only a lad, Jeremy Bentham intrusted to him the preparation for the press, and the supplementary annotation, of his "Rationale of Judicial Evidence." That work, for which he was highly commended by its author, published in 1827, contains the first publicly acknowledged literary work of John Stuart Mill.

While he was producing that result of laborious study in a special and intricate subject, his education in all sorts of other ways was continued. In evidence of the versatility of his pursuits, the veteran author of a short and ungenerous memoir that was published in "The Times" of May the 10th contributes one interesting note. "It is within our personal knowledge," he says, "that he was an extraordinary youth when, in 1824, he took the lead at the London Debating Club in one of the most remarkable collections of 'spirits of the age' that ever congregated for intellectual gladiatorship, he being by two or three years the junior of the clique. The rivalry was rather in knowledge and reasoning than in eloquence, mere declamation was discouraged; and subjects of paramount importance were conscientiously thought out." In evidence of his more general studies, we may here repeat a few sentences from an account, by an intimate friend of both these great men, of the life of Mr. Grote, which was published in our columns two years ago. "About this time a small society was formed for readings in philosophical subjects. The meetings took place at Mr. Grote's house in Threadneedle Street, on certain days from half past eight till ten in the morning, at which hour the members (all in official employment) had to repair to their respective avocations. The members were Grote, John Mill, Roebuck, William Ellice, William Henry Prescott, two brothers Whitmore, and George John Graham. The mentor of their studies was the elder Mr. Mill. The meetings were continued for two or three years. The readings embraced a small manual of logic, by Du Trieu, recommended by Mr. Mill, and reprinted for the purpose, Whately's Logic, Hobbes's Logic, and Hartley on Man, in Priestley's edition. The manner of proceeding was thorough. Each paragraph, on being read, was commented on by every one in turn, discussed and rediscussed, to the point of total exhaustion. In 1828 the meetings ceased; but they were resumed in 1830, upon Mill's 'Analysis of the Mind,' which was gone over in the same manner." These philosophical studies were not only of extreme advantage in strengthening and developing the merits of Mr. Mill and his friends, nearly all of whom were considerably older than he was, they also served to unite the friends in close and lasting intimacy of the most refined and elevating sort. Mr. Grote, his senior by twelve years, was perhaps the most intimate, as he was certainly the ablest, of all the friends whom Mr. Mill thus acquired.

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