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JOHN STUART MILL:* A STUDY.
so loosely and illogically put toHIS RELIGION.
gether, that among other things, the 'HE most satisfactory way of positive truth cannot be drawn from treating his Autobiography is to elder Mill's religious ideas; and
it in regard to the stages of the string together selections from it
, there is much that requires exand with comments on these make them furnish an antidote to its mis- planation about him consenting to chievous tendencies, in the way that Church, and being licensed to preach
be educated by others for the a witness is made to prove
the worthlessness of the cause in fa
at the age of twenty-five, and then vour of which he is brought forward becoming a practical atheist. He is
“ One who never did anything negli
gently; never undertook any task, liteMy father, the son of a petty trades- rary or other, on which he did not conman and (I believe) small farmer, at scientiously bestow all the labour necesNorthwater Bridge, in the County of sary for performing it adequately” (p. Angus, was, when a boy, recommended
4). by his abilities to the notice of Sir John Stuart, of Fettercairn, one of the Barons
A man of his talents and energy, of the Exchequer in Scotland, and was, with a conscience to regulate them, in consequence, sent to the University could not surely have taken of Edinburgḥ, at the expense of a four years' study in literature and fund established by Lady Jane Stuart
philosophy, and then four (the wife of Sir John Stuart) and divinity, at the university, in addi
years some other ladies, for educating young tion to his school and home trainmen for the Scottish Church. He there went through the usual course of ing, and his “ own studies and restudy, and was licensed as a preacher, flections,” to make up his mind on but never followed the profession, hav- the subject of the first principles of ing satisfied himself that he could not religion (saying nothing of Chrisbelieve the doctrines of that or any tianity). However that may be, he other Church. For a few years he was
was received into the ranks of the a private tutor in various families in Scotland, among others that of the Mar- clergy, as a probationer, after a severe quis of Tweeddale, but ended by taking examination into his religious knowup his residence in London, and devot- ledge, learning, walk and conversaing himself to authorship. Nor had he tion, and giving specimens of his any other means of support until 1819, sermons and prayers; and it does when he obtained an appointment in the not appear from the Autobiography India House” (p. 3).
that he did not preach occasionally “I was brought up from the first for other clergymen, either before or without any religious belief, in the while he was a tutor in the families ordinary acceptation of the term. My father, educated in the creed of Scotch mentioned. No doubt he was enPresbyterianism, had by his own studies gaged in the latter capacity on the and reflections been early led to reject faith-implied or expressed-of his not only the belief in Revelation, but the being a clergyman of the Church, foundations of what is commonly called believing its doctrines; and he was Natural Religion " (p. 38).
most probably employed while tutor There is so much in the Autobi
* Born May 20th, 1806; died May 8th, ography that is so illy arranged, and 1873.
in teaching the children their reli-. circumstances and details between gious lessons, and reading the the first doubt and the final step, family prayers, or conducting the had he been able and willing to household worship. Notwithstand give them, would doubtless have ing that, his son says that he was been interesting. The questions
early led to reject not only the are, when did he first read Butler, belief in Revelation, but the founda- and when did he throw him off? tions of what is commonly called He doubtless read him not later Natural Religion,” merely on ac- than the first year of his attendance count of the moral and physical at the divinity hall, or while at the evil that is in the world, and the moral philosophy class, or as is the punishment that awaits the finally custom to-day. There is nothing impenitent. The early period here to show that James Mill ever bementioned was doubtless long believed in Christianity, when he came fore he was twenty-five, when to examine into it, except that Butlicensed to preach; a supposition ler-" the turning-point of his borne out when he says :
mind”-kept him in check for “ I have heard him say that the turn
some considerable time”; preing-point of his mind on the subject was vious to which he must, of course, reading Butler's 'Analogy.' That work, have been a sceptic, possibly, but of which he always continued to speak not probably, before he even went with respect, kept him, as he said, for to college. At the best, Butler only some considerable time, a believer in the kept him from going over to deism, divine authority of Christianity ” (p. 38). but did not prevent him becom
The “some considerable time ” ing an atheist. His belief in Chrishere mentioned is a very indefinite tianity, under the circumstances, phrase, that might mean some months, must have been only of a very so-so or weeks, as well as years. He was nature. And that is confirmed by a naturally supposed to have been a writer in the Edinburgh Review, for believer in Christianity, for the rea- January, when he says :-“ It seems, son that it was the religion of the from an inquiry which has been community in which he was reared, made in the University Library of as would be the case with a child, or a Edinburgh, that the books he was grown-up person whose mind might most given to read there were of a be called a sheet of blank paper; sceptical character.” * not as a matter of inquiry or evi At any stage of his instruction dence, but merely something at James Mill could have declined the ing in the air, like any popular idea. patronage of the ladies that beThere is, therefore, an absurdity in- friended him, without avowing his volved in the remark that it was infidelity or atheism, and betaken only by hanging Butler around his himself to many a calling in which neck he was kept, “ for some con- opinions on religion were not residerable time," a believer; when he quired, or expected to be expressed became an atheist, but not a dog- or entertained, and earned his bread matic one, whatever the difference like an honest man.
But he seems might be.“ These particulars are to have preferred acting the hypoimportant” (p. 39). Real particu- crite for the benefit of the educalars would have been important had tion and worldly advancement, ilhe given us them, in place of the lustrating, in some respects, a case “ slovenliness of thought that given by him to his son, throws no light on the religious his
* This was doubtless when he was tory of his father from the day he
studying literature and philosophy, dur went to college, or before he went ing the first four years he was at College there, till he left for London. The and before he entered the Divinity Hall.
In which frankness on these sub- , his convictions [excepting in the case of jects would either risk the loss of means India], but one who invariably threw of subsistence, or would amount to ex- | into everything he wrote as much of his clusion from some sphere of usefulness convictions as he thought the circumpeculiarly suitable to the capacities of stances would in any way permit” (p: the individual” (p. 45).
4) ; and than whom “no one prized
conscientiousness and rectitude of intenIt was after finally breaking with tion more highly, or was more incapathe Church, perhaps in consequence ble of valuing any person in whom he of disappointment of a benefice, did not feel assurance of it” (p. 50). and of the restraint on his godless
Shortly after his arrival in Lonopinions, that he gave vent to all don, he began to write his “ History his spitefulness against religion of of India," a work which has been every kind, natural as well as re- described as “an elaborate inculpavealed; although all his intellectual tion of the entire policy pursued by training was received, as a gift, under the East India Company. He bets auspices, with the view of mak- lieved that the ruling motives of the ing him a servant at its altar; and body, from almost the first hour of but for which training he might have its existence, were commercial cupassed through life an atheistical pidity, and a desire of territorial master-baker, a heartless West India aggrandizement ” (Atheneum). “A slave-driver, or something of that constant attempt to underrate the kind. It sounds odd to hear it said services and conceal the great that he was once “ among the pro-achievements of the East India phets.” Like a certain personage, Company (Blackwood). Offenhe “ went out from them because he sive as John Stuart Mill described was not of them.” It would have this work to be, as calculated, in been interesting had his son publish- short, to raise up against him nothed, among his writings, the written trial discourses which he preached most of those who had the ministry before the Presbytery when it in view could obtain the favour of a licensed him, and solemnly set him patron in no other way than by becoming apart, to defend that Christianity families. Few had the political influence which he spent his life in attempt- which made it unnecessary for me to seek ing to destroy, and perhaps swore access to the Church in that way. The his son to do it after him. Here consequence was, that almost all divinity was verily a "wolf in sheep's cloth- this capacity-entering the houses of
students were eager to get tutorships. In ing.” As it was, the Church nar- landed gentlemen, associating there with rowly escaped receiving into its fold, people of cultivated habits, and becomnot by climbing over the wall, but ing in a sense members of the family, boldly entering it by the door, like they, however humble their origin, ac
quired those courteous and genteel mana shepherd, one who was in reality ners which were more the characteristic "a thief and a robber.”* And yet of the ministers of my early days than he is described by his son as
they are of their successors ” (p. 56).
Did Mill become," for a few years," a Being not only a man whom noth
private tutor in various families in ing would have induced to write against Scotland, among others that of the Mar.
quis of Tweeddale,” for the purpose of * The following remarks, made by Dr. getting a church through their influence, Thomas Guthrie in his Autobiography, as Dr. Guthrie says that “most of those on the subject of ministers being ap- who had the ministry in view" did ? And pointed by patrons, are interesting as then the question would arise, when did bearing on the case of James Mill: he“ satisfy himself that he could not be
“ This system, so far as students were lieve the doctrines of that or any other concerned, had but one redeeming fea- Church"? View the subject in any way ture. Through it, boorish cubs were we may, little regard can be had for his licked into shape, and vulgarly-bred lads judgment or character under the circuinacquired the manners of gentlemen ; for
ing but enemies in powerful quar- sistance which the Company made to ters, and especially in the East India their own political extinction; and to Company, "" to whose commercial
the letters and petitions I wrote for privileges he was unqualifiedly hos- them, and the concluding chapter of tile, and on the acts of whose ment (everywhere but in India), I must
my treatise on Representative Governgovernment he had made so many refer for my opinions on the folly and severe comments,” but bearing testi- mischief of this ill-considered change mony to (what could not be denied) (p. 249). its “good intentions towards its subjects,” his father yet made a rush
A man like James Mill was sure to the Company, on hearing that it to impress on his son the same retwanted clerks, with an offer of his icence in regard to religion that he services, which were accepted. He
exercised himself, and with the folbecame one of its most devoted
lowing result:servants, and, in his hard struggle “ This point in my, early education for existence, had bread provided, had, however, incidentally one bad con
In giving and a nest feathered, for himself, sequence deserving notice. and his son after him. The Com- world, my father thought it necessary
me an opinion contrary to that of the pany had evidently sense enough to to give it as one which could not prureceive the smart adventurer as a dently be avowed to the world. This satellite, rather than allow him to lesson of keeping my thoughts to my, become a thorn in its side, by at- self
, at that early age, was attended tacking it through the press of the with some moral disadvantages; though country. Both father and son were my limited intercourse with strangers, the strongest defenders, as well as
especially such as were likely to speak the servants and advisers, of a cor being placed in the alternative of avowal
to me on religion, prevented me from poration of merchants which exer or hypocrisy. I remember two occacised a rule the most absolute that sions in my boyhood on which I felt perhaps ever existed, over a vast myself in this alternative, and in both territory and population that had no cases I avowed my disbelief and devoice in its government, in the face
fended it. My opponents were boys, of the published writings of both on considerably older than myself: one of the rights of man, and of their indi- but the subject was never renewed be
them I certainly staggered at the time, viduality in the choice of legislators. tween us : the other, who was surprised Well might a writer in the Edin- and somewhat shocked, did his best to burgh Review, for January, say:
convince me for some time, without
effect” (p. 44). “Had Mill not been a servant of the East India Company it is impossible to doubt that he would have denounced it his atheism, as if it had been that
He seems to have been proud of as one of the most odious of monopolies and close corporations, which held of an aristocratic distinction, for in subjection and bondage tens of mil- thus he writes :lions of the human race.
“I am thus one of the very few exAnd what Blackwood's Magazine, amples in this country of one who has for the same month, says, is equally not thrown off religious belief, but to the point :
never had it: I grew up in a negative
state with regard to it. I looked upon the “Mill never, during his whole thirty- modern exactly as I did upon the anfive years [service with the Company], cient religion, as something which in no opened his mouth against it, [but main- way concerned me.
It did not seem to tained to the last] that any change from me more strange that English people such a system would necessarily be a should believe what I did not, than that change for the worse.
the men I read of in Herodotus should
have done so ” (p 43). And Mill says of himself: “I was the chief manager of the re He had already said, as we have
seen, that he was brought up from his father, looking on him as “the the first without any religious be- apple of his eye,” the heir and suclief, in the ordinary acceptation of the cessor of himself and creed, or term (p. 38), which qualification rather want of a creed, let the rest of had evidently no meaning, as he the family “run in the matter of afterwards said he never had any (p. the important question of religion ; 43). This is supported by what he about which Mill, with apparent says when he speaks of
want of candour, says nothing. And “-A view of religion which I hold to yet we might have expected him to be profoundly immoral—that it is our
have informed us on that point, duty to bow down in worship before a Be- since he dwelt on the subject at ing whose moral attributes are affirmed such length, returning again and to be unknowable by us, and to be per- again to it. The conclusion to be haps extremely different from those drawn from his father so jealously which, when we are speaking of our
preventing him being taught anyfellow-creatures, we call by the same name" (p. 275).*
thing on the subject of religion by
others would be, that the rest of He was well drilled by his father, the family were brought up in the who seems to have made it a matter same way. The father“ rejected all of conscience to do so, for he says : that is called religious belief” (p.
“ It would have been wholly incon- 39). “He regarded it with the sistent with my father's ideas of duty feeling due not to a mere mental to allow me to acquire impressions delusion, but to a great moral evil. contrary to his convictions and feelings He looked upon it as the greatest respecting religion” (p. 42).
enemy to morality," and as "radiDoubtless he treated with “scornful cally vitiating the standard of disapprobation” and
morals" (p. 40); without saying
what that standard of morals is, or hension,” and positively prohibited, any attempt of the poor mother, where it is to be found, or how it whom he kept in absolute subjec- can be made binding on men. tion, to teach any of her large “He was supremely indifferent in family to even lisp a prayer. There opinion (though his indifference did not must be a reason for Mill not even
show itself in personal conduct) to all mentioning her, or any of his bro- those doctrines of the common morality thers or sisters, beyond the trouble but in asceticism and priestcraft” (p.
which he thought had no foundation he had in teaching them; and it 107). “And thus [says his son) morality would be interesting to know how continues a matter of blind tradition [!), they turned out in regard to reli- with no consistent principle, nor even gion. His own history shows that any consistent feeling, to guide it” (p. it is possible to “ breed and raise 42), [like Maurice's] “worthless heap practical atheists. It may be that of received opinions on the great sub
jects of thought” (p. 153).* * This is strange language to come wish that they rather were religious) but from a man who said that he “never had leave that question to the mother, or let any religious belief.” Of course, it would the children pick up a creed of any kind, have been out of the question to have or in any way acquired. Often, when asked him to give us a "view of religion" closely pressed, they will say that their that was
“profoundly moral,” or state soul is like the dove that could find no where he found his ideas of morality on rest for the sole of its foot. that or any other subject.
* The reader will feel it difficult, or + There was something horrible in rather impossible, to put a meaning on James Mill's course in this respect, if we the language quoted. --Take the last six judge him by his class, irrespective of its commandments in the Decalogue, for shades of unbelief; for such often, if not our negative morality, and the many in. generally, teach the children nothing in junctions, both negative and positive, regard to religion (and would sometimes scattered through the New Testament,