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JANUARY, 18 6 3.
Art. I. — THE LATER WRITINGS OF JOHN STUART MILL.
1. On Liberty. By John STUART Mill. London. 1859. 2. Considerations on Representative Government. By J. S. Mill.
London. 1861. 3. Dissertations and Discussions. Reprinted chiefly from the Edin
burgh and Westminster Reviews. By J. S. Mill. 2 vols.
London. 1859. 4. The Contest in America. By J. S. Mill. Reprinted from Fraser's
Magazine. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co. 1862.
In a lecture read in Boston shortly after the appearance of the first two volumes of Mr. Carlyle's History of Frederick the Great, Mr. Emerson said, the book was so admirable that the Anglo-Saxon race ought to depute an ambassador to the author to thank him for writing so excellent and wonderful a book. If the compliment was somewhat extravagant, we could pardon it in view of the extraordinary freshness and interest with which Mr. Carlyle entered upon his great subject; but it would be still more easily pardonable if applied to the books whose names we have printed above, and which form together one of the most important and remarkable additions to English literature and philosophy which it has ever been the good fortune of a single man to contribute. It is mortifying to add, that these writings have been neglected, both in this country and in England, to an extent not at all creditable to the perception or the liberality of either people. And the neglect, as usual, has been in direct proportion to
VOL. LXXIV. — 5TH S. VOL. XII. NO. I.
the interest and value of the work. Thus, the two earlier works of Mr. Mill — the “ Essay on Logic” and the “ Principles of Political Economy” - received the attention which works of such eminent ability could not fail to command at the hands of those classes of readers and critics specially interested in the study of pure reason and its application to the abstract principles of government; but when the author advanced from these topics to speculations of which the tendency was seen to be clearly reformatory, and which, in their application to existing forms of administration and long-established habits of thought and life, threatened to lessen the dignity of the administrators and the prestige of the thinkers, those classes promptly took the alarm, and, when restrained from open opposition by a sense of the impossibility of refuting the obnoxious theories, contented themselves with quietly ignoring their existence. So when the essay “On Liberty ” was published, three years ago, the only leading organs of criticism in Great Britain which had any cordial word for it were the Westminster Review, of which Mr. Mill was the founder and for many years the chief conductor, and Fraser's Magazine, whose remarkable notice was written by Mr. Buckle, himself more odious to the conservatives than Mr. Mill, and who wrote that review scarcely more to express his admiration of the work, than from a desire to speak his mind on the cruel persecution of a Welsh laborer for blasphemy. It is still not unreasonable to predict of any philosophic work, that the warmth of its reception will be in inverse proportion to the dignity of its ideas and the boldness of its speculations. The unconquerable timidity of the world does not yet encourage - it is much that it can no longer forbid — what is highest and worthiest in the human mind to make itself known to others. But having once got beyond the possibility of prohibition, it is perhaps, in the long run, not harmful that the public are so slow to admit new truths. The opposition to a new theory develops its power, if it have any, more surely and rapidly than the heartiest encouragement could do, while it serves to prevent ideas which are really false, not from gaining the public ear, but from holding the public mind. And this is no small benefit in an age so inquiring as the present, and one in which so large a proportion of the results arrived at are spurious. The chief difficulty seems to be, that questions in social science, and problems in morals, politics, and religion, are not yet investigated with the same openness of mind, or with the same intellectual honesty, which are given to the discussion of questions in physical science. The bigotry which imprisoned Galileo for announcing a scientific discovery too far advanced for the acceptance of his age has disappeared, and in its place has arisen an eagerness for the discovery of new truths, and a liberality in their reception, which have made the present age one of unparalleled progress in all the arts of civilized and comfortable life ; but the spirit which sent Wickliffe and Huss to their martyrdom lives today, shorn indeed of its dangerous power, but still active in malignant denunciation, and visible only too clearly in the spiteful criticism which declares Buckle to be an atheist, in the face of the warmest recognition of the Divine power and goodness, and which denounces Temple and Jowett as men willing to trample on the most sacred obligations and to violate the most solemn pledges. If the same spirit has been exhibited in a much smaller degree in the case of Mr. Mill's works, it is perhaps due to something in the temper in which they are written, and in the long-established character of their author, which commands the respect even of those who fail to appreciate the loftiness of his views.
Of all Mr. Mill's writings, the work “On Liberty” is the most interesting and remarkable, and that by which he would probably choose, as it is certainly that by which he is most likely, to be remembered. Seldom indeed has so small a book contained so much of calm wisdom, of courage, of deep thought, of warm sympathy, and of a supreme regard for absolute justice. It was published in 1859, somewhat late in the life of its author, and may be taken as the fruit of all his most careful and earnest reflections on the great subject of which it treats. Its positions, and indeed its merit, might have been safely predicted from the previous writings of Mr. Mill, and especially from those reviews which he contributed from time to time to the leading quarterlies of his country, in which, through all the variety of subject and all the lapse
of years, the spirit is always the spirit of progress, and the temper is always the temper of honest and candid inquiry. If quarterly reviews could always maintain the same spirit and the same temper, they would indeed be a power for good among any people. Unhappily, that constitution of mind in which a lively interest on any important topic can coexist with perfect tolerance and fairness towards those whose interest is as lively on the opposite side, is among the rarest of mental phenomena, and we are forced to congratulate ourselves if in general we find the interest most active and thoughtful in the direction of the advance, and not of the decline.
Both in England and in the United States, people think they know very well what liberty means; they know it by sight, so to speak, hear it constantly talked about, constantly invoked, and are for the most part firmly convinced that all of liberty that is worth caring for is embodied in the institutions of the state and the moral habit of the people; and, furthermore, that any considerable advance in that direction is pretty sure to lead to license, rather than to any more complete realization of true liberty. The government is representative, the press is unfettered, speech is free, we go and come as we like without surveillance or passports, we have the trial by jury and the habeas corpus; what more is needed to constitute liberty ? Mr. Mill says, much; and, leaving these commonplaces of a free people behind him, advances through much bold speculation to conclusions which are likely to meet with as warm opposition in London or Boston as in Paris or Vienna. What Mr. Mill said of De Tocqueville, in reviewing the second part of the “Democracy in America,” may with equal truth be said of himself: “No one in the least entitled to an opinion will refuse to him the praise of having probed the subject to a depth which had never before been sounded, of having carried forward the controversy into a wider and a loftier region of thought, and pointed out many questions essential to the subject which had not before been attended to, - questions which he may or may not have solved, but of which, in any case, he has greatly facilitated the solution.” *
* Dissertations and Discussions, Vol. II. p. 6.