John Stuart Mill; His Life and Works

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Passing much of his time in the modest house that he had bought, that he might be within sight of his wife's tomb, Mr. Mill was also frequently in London, whither he came especially to facilitate the new course of philosophical and political writing on which he entered. He found relief also in excursions, one of which was taken nearly every year, in company with his step-daughter, Miss Helen Taylor, into various parts of Europe. Italy, Switzerland, and many other districts, were explored, partly on foot, with a keen eye both to the natural features of the localities, especially in furtherance of those botanical studies to which Mr. Mill now returned with the ardor of his youth, and also to their social and political institutions. Perhaps the longest and most eventful of these excursions was taken in 1862 to Greece. On this occasion it had been proposed that his old friend, Mr. Grote, should accompany him. "To go through those scenes, and especially to go through them in your company," wrote Mr. Grote in January, "would be to me pre-eminently delightful; but, alas! my physical condition altogether forbids it. I could not possibly stay away from London, without the greatest discomfort, for so long a period as two months. Still less could I endure the fatigue of horse and foot exercise which an excursion in Greece must inevitably entail." The journey occupied more than two months; but in the autumn Mr. Mill was at Avignon; and, returning to London in December, he spent Christmas week with Mr. Grote at his residence, Barrow Green,—Bentham's old house, and the one in which Mr. Mill had played himself when he was a child. "He is in good health and spirits," wrote Mr. Grote to Sir G.C. Lewis after that visit; "violent against the South in this American struggle; embracing heartily the extreme Abolitionist views, and thinking about little else in regard to the general question."

It was only to be expected that Mr. Mill would take much interest in the American civil war, and sympathize strongly with the Abolitionist party. His interest in politics had been keen, and his judgment on them had been remarkably sound all through life, as his early articles in "The Morning Chronicle" and "The London and Westminster Review," and his later contributions to various periodicals, helped to testify; but towards the close of his life the interest was perhaps keener, as the judgment was certainly more mellowed. It was not strange, therefore, that his admirers among the working classes, and the advanced radicals of all grades, should have urged him, and that, after some hesitation, he should have consented, to become a candidate for Westminster at the general election of 1865. That candidature will be long remembered as a notable example of the dignified way in which an honest man, and one who was as much a philosopher in practice as in theory, can do all that is needful, and avoid all that is unworthy, in an excited electioneering contest, and submit without injury to the insults of political opponents and of political time-servers professing to be of his own way of thinking. The result of the election was a far greater honor to the electors who chose him than to the representative whom they chose; though that honor was greatly tarnished by Mr. Mill's rejection when he offered himself for re-election three years later.

This is hardly the place in which to review at much length Mr. Mill's parliamentary career, though it may be briefly referred to in evidence of the great and almost unlooked-for ability with which he adapted himself to the requirements of a philosophical politician as distinct from a political philosopher. His first speech in the House of Commons, delivered very soon after its assembling, was on the occasion of the second reading of the Cattle Diseases Bill, on the 14th of February, 1866, when he supported Mr. Bright in his opposition to the proposals of Mr. Lowe for compensation to their owners for the slaughter of such animals as were diseased or likely to spread infection. His complaint against the bill was succinctly stated in two sentences, which fairly illustrated the method and basis of all his arguments upon current politics. "It compensates," he said, "a class for the results of a calamity which is borne by the whole community. In justice, the farmers who have not suffered ought to compensate those who have; but the bill does what it ought not to have done, and leaves undone what it ought to have done, by not equalizing the incidence of the burden upon that class, inasmuch as, from the operation of the local principle adopted, that portion of an agricultural community who have not suffered at all will not have to pay at all, and those who have suffered little will have to pay little; while those who have suffered most will have to pay a great deal." "An aristocracy," he added, in words that as truly indicate the way in which he subjected all matters of detail to the test of general principles of truth and expediency,—"an aristocracy should have the feelings of an aristocracy; and, inasmuch as they enjoy the highest honors and advantages, they ought to be willing to bear the first brunt of the inconveniences and evils which fall on the country generally. This is the ideal character of an aristocracy: it is the character with which all privileged classes are accustomed to credit themselves; though I am not aware of any aristocracy in history that has fulfilled those requirements."

That, and the later speeches that Mr. Mill delivered on the Cattle Diseases Bill, at once announced to the House of Commons and the public, if they needed any such announcement, the temper and spirit in which he was resolved to execute his legislative functions. The same spirit and temper appeared in the speech on the Habeas Corpus Suspension (Ireland) Bill, which he delivered on the 17th of February; but his full strength as a debater was first manifested during the discussion on Mr. Gladstone's Reform Bill of 1866, which was brought on for second reading on the 12th of April. His famous speech on that occasion, containing the most powerful arguments offered by any speaker in favor of the measure, and his shorter speech during its discussion on the 31st of May, need not here be recapitulated. They were only admirable developments in practical debate of those principles of political science which he had already enforced in his published works. The other leading topics handled by Mr. Mill during the session of 1866 were the expediency of reducing the National Debt, which he urged on the occasion of Mr. Neate's proposal on the 17th of April; the Tenure and Improvement of Land (Ireland) Bill, on which he spoke at length and with force on the 17th of May, then practically initiating the movement in favor of land-reform, which he partly helped to enforce in part with regard to Ireland, and for the more complete adoption of which in England he labored to the last; the Jamaica outbreak, and the conduct of Governor Eyre, on which he spoke on the 31st of July; and the electoral disabilities of women, which he first brought within the range of practical politics by moving, on the 20th of July, for a return of the numbers of householders, and others who, "fulfilling the conditions of property or rental prescribed by law as the qualification for the electoral franchise, are excluded from the franchise by reason of their sex."

In the session of 1867 Mr. Mill took a prominent part in the discussions on the Metropolitan Poor Bill; and he spoke on various other topics,—his introduction of the Women's Electoral Disabilities Removal Bill being in some respects the most notable: but his chief action was with reference to Mr. Disraeli's Reform Bill, several clauses of which he criticised and helped to alter in committee. Though he was as zealous as ever, however, in his attendance to public business, he made fewer great speeches, being content to set a wise example to other and less able men in only speaking when he felt it absolutely necessary to do so, and in generally performing merely the functions of a "silent member."

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