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The English Utilitarians Volume II von Stephen, Leslie (eBook)

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The English Utilitarians Volume II

Bentham's mantle fell upon James Mill. Mill expounded in the tersest form the doctrines which in Bentham's hands spread into endless ramifications and lost themselves in minute details. Mill became the leader of Bentham's bodyguard; or, rather, the mediator between the prophet in his 'hermitage' and the missionaries who were actively engaged on the hustings and in committee-rooms. The special characteristics of English Utilitarianism in the period of its greatest activity were thus more affected by Mill than by any other leader of opinion. James Mill was one of the countless Scots who, having been trained at home in strict frugality and stern Puritanic principles, have fought their way to success in England. He was born 6th April 1773 in the parish of Logie Pert, Forfarshire. His father, also named James Mill, was a village shoemaker, employing two or three journeymen when at the height of his prosperity. His mother, Isabel Fenton, daughter of a farmer, had been a servant in Edinburgh. Her family had some claims to superior gentility; she was fastidious, delicate in frame, and accused of pride by her neighbours. She resolved to bring up James, her eldest son, to be a gentleman, which practically meant to be a minister. He probably showed early promise of intellectual superiority. He received the usual training at the parish school, and was then sent to the Montrose Academy, where he was the school-fellow and friend of a younger lad, Joseph Hume (1777-1855), afterwards his political ally. He boarded with a Montrose shopkeeper for 2s. 6d. a week, and remained at the Academy till he was seventeen. He was never put to work in his father's shop, and devoted himself entirely to study. The usual age for beginning to attend a Scottish university was thirteen or fourteen; and it would have been the normal course for a lad in Mill's position to be sent at that age to Aberdeen. Mill's education was prolonged by a connection which was of great service to him. Sir John Stuart (previously Belches), of Fettercairn House, in Mill's neighbourhood, had married Lady Jane Leslie, and was by her father of an only child, Wilhelmina. Lady Jane was given to charity, and had set up a fund to educate promising lads for the ministry. Mill was probably recommended to her by the parish minister, as likely to do credit to her patronage. He also acted as tutor to Wilhelmina, who afterwards became the object of Scott's early passion. Mill spent much time at Fettercairn House, and appears to have won the warm regards both of the Stuarts and of their daughter, who spoke of him affectionately 'with almost her last breath.' The Stuarts passed their winters at Edinburgh, whither Mill accompanied them. He entered the university in 1790, and seems to have applied himself chiefly to Greek and to philosophy. He became so good a Greek scholar that long afterwards (1818) he had some thoughts of standing for the Greek chair at Glasgow. He was always a keen student of Plato. He read the ordinary Scottish authorities, and attended the lectures of Dugald Stewart. Besides reading Rousseau, he studied Massillon, probably with a view to his future performances in the pulpit. Massillon might be suggested to him by quotations in Adam Smith's Moral Sentiments . There are few records of acquaintanceship with any of his distinguished contemporaries, except the chemist Thomas Thomson, who became a lifelong friend. He probably made acquaintance with Brougham, and may have known Jeffrey; but he was not a member of the Speculative Society, joined by most young men of promise...


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    Sprache: Englisch
    ISBN: 6610000024872
    Verlag: Merkaba Press
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The English Utilitarians Volume II




The last years of Mill's life correspond to the period in which Utilitarianism reached, in certain respects, its highest pitch of influence. The little band who acknowledged him as their chief leader, and as the authorised lieutenant of Bentham, considered themselves to be in the van of progress. Though differing on many points from each other, and regarded with aversion or distrust by the recognised party leaders, they were in their most militant and confident state of mind. They were systematically reticent as to their religious views: they left to popular orators the public advocacy of their favourite political measures; and the credit of finally passing such of those measures as were adopted fell chiefly to the hands of the great political leaders. The Utilitarians are ignored in the orthodox Whig legend. In the preface to his collected works, Sydney Smith runs over the usual list of changes which had followed, and, as he seems to think, had in great part resulted from, the establishment of the Edinburgh Review . Smith himself, and Jeffrey and Horner and, above all, 'the gigantic Brougham,' had blown the blast which brought down the towers of Jericho. Sir G. O. Trevelyan, in his Life of Macaulay , describes the advent of the Whigs to office in a similar sense. 'Agitators and incendiaries,' he says, 'retired into the background, as will always be the case when the country is in earnest: and statesmen who had much to lose, and were not afraid to risk it, stepped quietly and firmly to the front. The men and the sons of the men who had so long endured exclusion from office, embittered by unpopularity, at length reaped their reward.' The Radical version of the history is different. The great men, it said, who had left the cause to be supported by agitators so long as the defence was dangerous and profitless, stepped forward now that it was clearly winning, and received both the reward and the credit. Mill and Place could not find words to express their contempt for the trimming, shuffling Whigs. They were probably unjust enough in detail; but they had a strong case in some respects. The Utilitarians represented that part of the reforming party which had a definite and a reasoned creed. They tried to give logic where the popular agitators were content with declamation, and represented absolute convictions when the Whig reformers were content with tentative and hesitating compromises. They had some grounds for considering themselves to be the 'steel of the lance'; the men who formulated and deliberately defended the principles which were beginning to conquer the world.

The Utilitarians, I have said, became a political force in the concluding years of the great war struggle. The catastrophe of the revolution had unchained a whole whirlwind of antagonisms. The original issues had passed out of sight; and great social, industrial, and political changes were in progress which made the nation that emerged from the war a very different body from the nation that had entered it nearly a generation before. It is not surprising that at first very erroneous estimates were made of the new position when peace at last returned.

The Radicals, who had watched on one side the growth of debt and pauperism, and, on the other hand, the profits made by stockjobbers, landlords, and manufacturers, ascribed all the terrible sufferings to the selfish designs of the upper classes. When the war ended they hoped that the evils would diminish, while the pretext for misgovernment would be removed. A bitter disappointment followed. The war was followed by widespread misery. Plenty meant ruin to agriculturists, and commercial 'gluts' resulting in manufacturers' warehouses crammed with unsaleable goods. The discontent caused by misery had been encountered during the war by patriotic fervour.

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