John Stuart Mill; His Life and Works

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It is little to say, that my own friendship with him was, from first to last, never once ruffled by difference or misunderstanding of any kind. Differences of opinion we had in abundance; but my open avowal of them was always recognized by him as one of the strongest proofs of respect, and served to cement instead of weakening our attachment.[1] The nearest approach made throughout our intercourse to any thing of an unpleasant character was about the time of his retirement from the India House. Talking over that one day with two or three of my colleagues, I said it would not do to let Mill go without receiving some permanently-visible token of our regard. The motion was no sooner made than it was carried by acclamation. Every member of the examiners' office—for we jealously insisted on confining the affair to ourselves—came tendering his subscription, scarcely waiting to be asked; in half an hour's time some fifty or sixty pounds—I forget the exact sum—was collected, which in due course was invested in a superb silver inkstand, designed by our friend, Digby Wyatt, and manufactured by Messrs. Elkington. Before it was ready, however, an unexpected trouble arose. In some way or other, Mill had got wind of our proceeding, and, coming to me in consequence, began almost to upbraid me as its originator. I had never before seen him so angry. He hated all such demonstrations, he said, and was quite resolved not to be made the subject of them. He was sure they were never altogether genuine or spontaneous; there were always several persons who took part in them merely because they did not like to refuse; and, in short, whatever we might do, he would have none of it. In vain I represented how eagerly everybody, without exception, had come forward; that we had now gone too far to recede; that, if he would not take the inkstand, we should be utterly at a loss what to do with it; and that I myself should be in a specially embarrassing position. Mill was not to be moved. This was a question of principle, and on principle he could not give way. There was nothing left, therefore, but resort to a species of force. I arranged with Messrs. Elkington that our little testimonial should be taken down to Mr. Mill's house at Blackheath by one of their men, who, after leaving it with the servant, should hurry away without waiting for an answer. This plan succeeded; but I have always suspected, though she never told me so, that its success was mainly due to Miss Helen Taylor's good offices. But for her, the inkstand would almost certainly have been returned, instead of being promoted, as it eventually was, to a place of honor in her own and her father's drawing-room.

Mine is scarcely just now the mood in which I should have been naturally disposed to relate anecdotes like this; but, in the execution of my present task, I have felt bound chiefly to consider what would be likely to interest the reader.



[1] I may be permitted here, without Mr. Thornton's knowledge, to recall a remark made by Mr. Mill only a few weeks ago. We were speaking of Mr. Thornton's recently published "Old-fashioned Ethics and Common-Sense Metaphysics," when I remarked on Mr. Mill's wide divergence from most of the views contained in it. "Yes," he replied, "it is pleasant to find something on which to differ from Thornton." Mr. Mill's prompt recognition of the importance of Mr. Thornton's refutation of the wage-fund theory is only one out of numberless instances of his peculiar magnanimity.—B.



To dilate upon Mr. Mill's achievements, and to insist upon the wideness of his influence over the thought of his time and consequently over the actions of his time, seems to me scarcely needful. The facts are sufficiently obvious, and are recognized by all who know any thing about the progress of opinion during the last half century. My own estimate of him, intellectually considered, has been emphatically though briefly given on an occasion of controversy between us, by expressing my regret at 'having to contend against the doctrine of one whose agreement I should value more than that of any other thinker.'

While, however, it is almost superfluous to assert of him that intellectual height so generally admitted there is more occasion for drawing attention to a moral elevation that is less recognized partly because his activities in many directions afforded no occasion for exhibiting it, and partly because some of its most remarkable manifestations in conduct are known only to those whose personal relations with him have called them forth. I feel especially prompted to say something on this point, because, where better things might have been expected, there has been, not only a grudging recognition of intellectual rank, but a marked blindness to those fine traits of character, which, in the valuation of men, must go for more than superiority of intelligence.

It might indeed have been supposed, that even those who never enjoyed the pleasure of personal acquaintance with Mr. Mill would have been impressed with the nobility of his nature as indicated in his opinions and deeds. How entirely his public career has been determined by a pure and strong sympathy for his fellow men, how entirely this sympathy has subordinated all desires for personal advantage, how little even the fear of being injured in reputation or position has deterred him from taking the course which he thought equitable or generous—ought to be manifest to every antagonist, however bitter. A generosity that might almost be called romantic was obviously the feeling prompting sundry of those courses of action which have been commented upon as errors. And nothing like a true conception of him can be formed, unless, along with dissent from them, there goes recognition of the fact that they resulted from the eagerness of a noble nature impatient to rectify injustice and to further human welfare.

It may perhaps be that my own perception of this pervading warmth of feeling has been sharpened by seeing it exemplified, not in the form of expressed opinions only, but in the form of private actions, for Mr. Mill was not one of those, who, to sympathy with their fellow men in the abstract, join indifference to them in the concrete. There came from him generous acts that corresponded with his generous sentiments. I say this, not from second-hand knowledge, but having in mind a remarkable example known only to myself and a few friends. I have hesitated whether to give this example, seeing that it has personal implications. But it affords so clear an insight into Mr. Mill's character, and shows so much more vividly than any description could do how fine were the motives swaying his conduct, that I think the occasion justifies disclosure of it.

Some seven years ago, after bearing as long as was possible the continued losses entailed on me by the publication of the "System of Philosophy," I notified to the subscribers that I should be obliged to cease at the close of the volume then in progress. Shortly after the issue of this announcement I received from Mr. Mill a letter, in which, after expressions of regret, and after naming a plan which he wished to prosecute for re-imbursing me, he went on to say, "In the next place ... what I propose is, that you should write the next of your treatises, and that I should guarantee the publisher against loss; i.e., should engage, after such length of time as may be agreed on, to make good any deficiency that may occur, not exceeding a given sum,—that sum being such as the publisher may think sufficient to secure him." Now, though these arrangements were of kinds that I could not bring myself to yield to, they none the less profoundly impressed me with Mr. Mill's nobility of feeling, and his anxiety to further what he regarded as a beneficial end. Such proposals would have been remarkable even had there been entire agreement of opinion, but they were the more remarkable as being made by him under the consciousness that there existed between us certain fundamental differences, openly avowed. I had, both directly and by implication, combated that form of the experiential theory of human knowledge which characterizes Mr. Mill's philosophy: in upholding Realism, I had opposed in decided ways those metaphysical systems to which his own Idealism was closely allied; and we had long carried on a controversy respecting the test of truth, in which I had similarly attacked Mr. Mill's positions in an outspoken manner. That, under such circumstances, he should have volunteered his aid, and urged it upon me, as he did, on the ground that it would not imply any personal obligation, proved in him a very exceptional generosity.

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