John Stuart Mill; His Life and Works

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If to be unpopular because he promoted the practical success of the opinions his life had been spent in advocating is to have failed, then Mr. Mill failed. If, however, the success of a politician is to be measured by the degree in which he is able personally to influence the course of politics, and attach to himself a school of political thought, then Mr. Mill, in the best meaning of the words, has succeeded. If Mr. Mill had died ten years ago, is it probable that his views on representative reform would have received so much practical recognition as they have obtained during the last five years? If he had never entered the House of Commons, would the women's-suffrage question be where it now is? Before he introduced the subject into the House of Commons in 1867, it may be said to have had no political existence in this country. The whole question was held in such contempt by "practical politicians," that the House would probably have refused to listen to any member, except Mr. Mill, who advocated the removal of the political disabilities of women. Mr. Mill was the one member of Parliament whose high intellectual position enabled him to raise the question without being laughed down as a fool. To every one's astonishment, seventy-four members followed Mr. Mill into the lobby: the most sanguine estimate, previous to the division, of the number of his supporters had been thirty. Since that time, the movement in favor of women's suffrage has made rapid and steady progress. Like all genuine political movements, it has borne fruit in many measures which are intended to remove the grievances of which those who advocate the movement complain: among these collateral results of the agitation for women's suffrage, may be enumerated the Married Women's Property Act, the Custody of Infants Bill, and the admission of women to the municipal and educational franchises and to seats upon school-boards. A large part of the present anxiety to improve the education of girls and women is also due to the conviction that the political disabilities of women will not be maintained. In this question of the general improvement of the position of women, Mr. Mill's influence can scarcely be over-estimated. All through his life he regarded it as a question of first-rate importance; and the extent to which he was able practically to promote it is sufficient in itself to make his career as a politician a success. A strong proof of the vitality of the movement, of which he was the principal originator, is that his death cannot injuriously affect its activity or its prospects of ultimate success. What he has done for women is final: he gave to their service the best powers of his mind and the best years of his life. His death consecrates the gift: it can never lessen its value.

What is true of Mr. Mill's influence on the women's-suffrage question is true also of the other political movements in which he took an active interest. He was able in all of these powerfully to influence the political history of his day in the direction in which he desired to influence it. If this is failure, failure is worth much more than success.

Of the influence of Mr. Mill's personal character on those who were his political associates, it is difficult to speak too warmly. No one could be with him or work with him without being conscious of breathing a purer moral atmosphere: he made mean personal ambitions and rivalries seem despicable and ridiculous, not so much by any thing that he said directly on the subject, as by contrast with his own noble, strong, and generous nature. It is almost impossible to imagine that any one could be so insensible to the high morality of Mr. Mill's character as to suggest to him any course of conduct that was not entirely upright and consistent. A year or two ago, however, a story was told of a gentleman who asked Mr. Mill to stand for an Irish constituency, and stated that the only opinion it would be necessary for him to change was the one he had so often expressed against denominational education. A smile at the man's stupidity, and the remark, "I should like to have seen Mill's face when he heard this suggestion," is the almost invariable comment on this story. It is a very suggestive indication of the impression Mr. Mill's moral influence made on those who knew him.

An apology is due to the readers of these pages that the task of speaking of Mr. Mill as a practical politician has not fallen into more competent hands. No one can be more deeply sensible of my inability to deal adequately with the subject than I am myself. This sketch ought to have been written by one who is in every way more qualified to speak of Mr. Mill's political career than I am. Unavoidable circumstances, however, prevented his undertaking the work; and as the time was too short to allow of any being spent in a search that might have proved fruitless, the honor of writing these lines has devolved upon me.




The present course of lectures on a special subject has made no pretension to present the religious aspect of Positivism, and I shall not venture to intrude on one of its gravest functions the due commemoration of the dead. But nothing that is spoken here should have a merely scientific form, nor can I be satisfied until I have tried to give expression to the feeling which must be foremost in the minds of all present. It is impossible to forget that it was by Mr. Mill that Comte was first made known in this country, and that by him first in this country the great doctrines of positive thought, the supreme reign of law in the moral and social world, no less than in the intellectual world, were reduced to system and life. This conception as a whole has been gradually forming in the minds of all modern thinkers; but its full scope and force were presented to Englishmen for the first time by Mr. Mill. The growth of my own mind, and of that of all those with whom I have been associated, has been simply the recognition of this truth in all its bearings and force; and it was in minds saturated with this principle by the teaching of Mr. Mill that the great phases of English thought have germinated in our day. In this place it is impossible to forget, that, in introducing to the English world the principles of Comte, Mr. Mill so clearly and ardently professed the positive philosophy at that time restricted to its earlier phase alone. In this place it is impossible, too, to forget the generous assistance which he extended to Comte, whereby he was enabled to continue his labors in philosophy, impossible also to forget the active communion of mind between them, and the large space which their intercourse occupied in the thoughts and labors of both. Nor can I, and many present here, forget the many occasions on which we have been guided by his counsel and supported by his help in many a practical work in which we have depended on his example and experience. It is needless to repeat, for it must be present to all minds, how many and deep are the differences which separate him from the later doctrines of Comte, and how completely he repudiated connection with the religious reconstruction of Positivism. We here, at any rate, shall claim Mr. Mill for Positivism in no other sense than that in which he claimed it for himself in his own latest writings. These differences we shall neither exaggerate nor veil. They stand all written most clearly for all men to weigh and to use. But naturally we shall point, as one of us has already publicly pointed, to the cardinal features of agreement, and the vast importance of the features for which we may claim the whole weight of his authority. Yet I would not pretend that it is only on this side of his connection with the founder and principles of Positivism, that we dwell on the memory of Mr. Mill with admiration and sympathy. We reverence that unfaltering fearlessness of spirit, that warmth of generous emotion, that guileless simplicity of nature, which made his life heroic. Neither insult, failure, nor abandonment could shake his sense of duty, or touch his gentle and serene fortitude. For us his high example, his noble philosophic calm, continue to live and to teach. He, being dead, yet speaketh. And, if his great heart and brain are no longer amongst us as visible and conscious agencies, his spirit lives yet in all that he has given to the generation of to-day: the work of his spirit is not ended, nor the task of his life accomplished; but we feel that his nature is entering on a new and greater life amongst us,—one that is entirely spiritual, intellectual, and moral.

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