Billeder på siden

root in genuine benevolence, or sympathy with mankind; though these qualities held their due place in my ethical standard. Nor was it connected with any high enthusiasm for ideal nobleness. Yet of this feeling I was imaginatively very susceptible; but there was at that time an intermission of its natural aliment, poetical culture, while there was a superabundance of the discipline antagonistic to it, that of mere logic and analysis.'

At length the editorship of Dr. Bowring became intolerable to the original founders of and writers in the · Westminster • Review,' for Bowring was regarded by them as a spurious Benthamite. The funds were exhausted, until a further provision was made by Colonel Perronet Thompson, and in 1828 John Mill ceased to write for the Review, His last contribution was an article on the • Introduction to Scott's

Life of Napoleon,' in which he exposed with great severity Sir Walter's Tory prejudices and blunders on the subject of the French Revolution. The article was, of course, an unqualified vindication of the early French Revolutionists, but it showed an amount of reading and acuteness truly astonishing in a man of twenty-two. It so happened, that Mill entrusted to ourselves a copy of this article to be delivered to one of the few survivors of those memorable scenes, the venerable Dumont, then living at Geneva. The commission was performed, and Dumont read the article. We listened with interest to the judgment passed upon it by the translator of Bentham and the friend of Mirabeau. • It is prodigiously

powerful,' he said, ' for so young a man, but I should have • desired a little more modesty and moderation.'

It was then that Dumont made the epigram on Scott's history, quoted by Princess Lichtenstein in her interesting volumes on Holland House:

· Mauvais romancier quand il écrit l'histoire,
Habile historien quand il fait des romans,

S'il invente, il faut le croire,

S'il raconte, méfiez-vous en.' John Mill thus had attained, before he came of age, an official position which was a provision for life, and a literary position which ensured to him the means of freely exercising his pen and inculcating his opinions on the world. To a man not devoured by vanity and ambition such a position and such prospects might seem satisfactory. But at this very moment, the whole fabric, which his education had raised with so much labour and care, crumbled beneath him, and he discovered that the objects he had been taught to pursue were not the true objects of life. The page in which he describes this condition

of mind might have proceeded from the morbid brain of Rousseau.

'It was in the autumn of 1826. I was in a dull state of nerves, such as everybody is occasionally liable to; unsusceptible to enjoyment or pleasurable excitement; one of those moods when what is pleasure at other times, becomes insipid or indifferent; the state, I should think, in which converts to Methodism usually are, when smitten by their first “conviction of sin.” In this frame of mind it occurred to me to put the question directly to myself: " Suppose that “ all your objects in life were realised; that all the changes in insti" tutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be “completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy " and happiness to you?" And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, “No!" At this my heart sank within nie: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be interest in the means

as? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.


'For some months the cloud seemed to grow thicker and thicker. The lines in Coleridge's “Dejection "-I was not then acquainted with them—exactly describe my case :

“ A grief without a pang, void, dark and drear,
A drowsy, stifled, unimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet or relief

In word, or sigh, or tear.” 'In vain I sought relief from my favourite books; those memorials of past nobleness and greatness from which I had always hitherto drawn strength and animation. I read them now without feeling, or with the accustomed feeling minus all its charm; and I became persuaded, that my love of mankind, and of excellence for its own sake, had worn itself out.'

No doubt a nice inquiry into the causes of this sort of crisis, not uncommon in the youth of either sex, might suggest a physiological explanation more in the style of Rousseau's • Confessions' than of Mill's ' Autobiography. But it is not the less true that the crisis brought Miil to a knowledge of the thorough incompleteness of his education, for though happiness was its sole avowed object, it had failed to give him the true conditions of happiness. The file and the acid of the analytic method were turned, in his mind, against analysis itself; and he arrived laboriously at the conclusion, that universal dissolution and disintegration would leave him, not only nothing to believe, but nothing to live for. 'I frequently asked myself * whether I was bound to go on living, when life must be passed in this manner. I generally answered to myself, that I did not think I could possibly bear it beyond a year.'

Mill's was not a nature to rest in such a predicament. As we have already intimated, there lay dormant within him faculties and sympathies of which his father never dreamed, and which, if he had suspected them, he would have destroyed. The time was come when some ray of a more generous and ideal philosophy could alone penetrate his darkness and save him from despair-perhaps from death. There is a real poetic beauty in the mode by which this transformation was effected, and the result was that John Stuart Mill became a man of far nobler character and more enlarged sympathies than could originally have been expected. His first step was to pursue some end other than happiness itself. The man who perpetually asks himself, am I in health ?' becomes a hypochondriac. The man who asks himself every morning whether he is happy, becomes miserable.

• The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life. Let your self-consciousness, your scrutiny, your self-interrogation, exhaust themselves on that; and if otherwise fortunately circumstanced you will inhale happiness with the air you breathe, without dwelling on it or thinking about it, without either forestalling it in imagination, or putting it to flight by fatal questioning. This theory now became the basis of my philosophy of life.

A theory it was, and a theory it remained, for Mill never learned by experience that a single kindly or generous action -a cup of cold water given to a sick child in the spirit of charity-was worth all the prating about happiness of all the philosophers. He had in truth no experience of the pleasures of practical benevolence.

"I ceased to attach almost exclusive importance to the ordering of outward circumstances, and the training of the human being for speculation and for action. I had now learnt by experience that the passive susceptibilities needed to be cultivated as well as the active capacities, and required to be nourished and enriched as well as guided.

The cultivation of the feelings became one of the cardinal points in my ethical and philosophical creed. And my thoughts and inclinations turned in an increasing degree towards whatever seemed capable of being instrumental to that object. I now began to find meaning in the things which I had read or heard about the importance of poetry and art as instruments of human culture. But it was some time longer before I began to know this by personal experience.'

A little thing will break a spell like that which hung over young Mill. He was reading a passage in Marmontel's : Mémoires' which touched him—a vivid conception of the scene came over him; he was moved to tears. From that moment,

he adds, the oppression of the thought that all feeling was dead within him, was gone. He was no longer hopeless. He was no longer a stock or stone. The only art of which he knew anything at all was music, in which he had some mechanical proficiency. Thenceforth the delicious melodies of Weber's *Oberon' spoke to him in a new language, and not long afterwards he turned for relief, and found it, in the poetry of Wordsworth and Scott.

"What made Wordsworth's poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connexion with struggle or imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence. There have certainly been, even in our own age, greater poets than Wordsworth; but poetry of deeper and loftier feeling could not have done for me at that time what his did. I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this, not only without turning away from, but with a greatly increased interest in, the common feelings and common destiny of human beings. And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis.'

The poetry of Wordsworth is the poetry of humility, of natural and simple beauty, and of love without its passion and its sting-of love, the tender mother of the world. It is no small triumph to the poet that he touched the heart of Mill. It is no small honour to Mill that his heart gave a response to the Orphic strain of the poet.

Here you stand,
Adore and worship, though you know it not;
Pious beyond the intention of your thought;

Devout above the meaning of your will.' But, indeed, we know of nothing in the literature of England more fitted to speak to one afflicted by a 'wilful disesteem of • life,' and correct the false conclusions of the reasoning power, which make the eye blind and close the passage through which the ear converses with the heart, than the third book of The • Excursion.' It would seem with preternatural power to antiVOL. CXXXIX. NO. CCLXXXIII.


cipate the very frame of mind into which Mill had fallen, and to apply to it a transcendent remedy :

• The light of love
Not failing, perseverance from their steps
Departing not, for them shall be confirmed
The glorious habit by which sense is made
Subservient still to moral purposes,
Auxiliar to divine. That change shall clothe
The naked spirit, ceasing to deplore
The burden of existence.

So build me up the Being that we are.' But this light of love, which is the light of life and of the world, is the very genius of religion and Christianity. The poetry of Wordsworth was to Mill, not the direct light, but the reflected ray. It reached him in a form congenial to his tastes, congenial to his wants; but the source of it was not the less divine. Henceforth the natural world, which he always loved, had a fuller and deeper meaning; and he may have felt for a time that the all-pervading Spirit, upon whom our dark foundations rest, is itself the source and the object of knowledge and of duty. At that moment of his life Mill was nearer to a spiritual philosophy than at any other time. Wordsworth had opened to him an inner world by his poetry; Coleridge roused his curiosity by his exposition of a philosophy diametrically opposed to his own, but mighty in its effects on the last generation. And these newly awakened sympathies unlocked a door to the friendship of other hearts. A discussion took place at a debating society, frequented by these young men, on the comparative merits of Byron and Wordsworth. Roebuck spoke on the side of Byron, Mill on that of Wordsworth. Thus he found himself, in this argument, and in the sentiments it caused him to express, opposed to his old Benthamite associate, and on the same side as John Sterling and Frederic Maurice, to their mutual surprise, but not without lasting consequences.

With Sterling I soon became very intimate, and was more attached to him than I have ever been to any other man. He was indeed one of the most loveable of men. His frank, cordial, affectionate, and expansive character; a love of truth alike conspicuous in the highest things and the humblest; a generous and ardent nature which threw itself with impetuosity into the opinions it adopted, but was as eager to do justice to the doctrines and the men it was opposed to, as to make war on what it thought their errors; and an equal devotion to the two cardinal points of Liberty and Duty, formed a combination of qualities as attractive to me, as to all others who knew him as well as I did. With his open mind and heart, he found no difficulty in joining hands with me across the gulf which as yet divided our opinions.

« ForrigeFortsæt »