Much has been said as to the precise value of Mr. Mill’s philosophical principles, the more or less of his triumphs as a dialectician, his skill as a critic and an expositor. However this trial may go, we shall, at any rate, be sure that with his reputation will stand or fall the intellectual repute of a whole generation of his countrymen. The most eminent of them all bearing traces of his influence, whether they are avowed disciples or avowed opponents. If they did not accept his method of thinking, at least he determined the questions that they should think about.
For twenty years, no one at all open to serious intellectual impressions left Oxford without having undergone the influence of Mr. Mill’s teaching though it would be too much to say that in that gray temple where they are ever burnishing new idols, his throne is still unshaken. The professorial chairs there and elsewhere are more and more being filled with men whose minds have been trained in his principles. The universities only typify his influence on the less learned parts of the world. The better sort of journalists educated themselves on his books, and even the baser sort acquired a habit of quoting from them. He was the only writer in the world whose treatises on highly abstract subjects have been printed during his lifetime in editions for the people and sold at the price of everyday paperback novels. Foreigners from all countries read his books as attentively as his most eager English disciples even to this day and seek his opinion as to their own questions with as much reverence as if he had been a native Oracle. An eminent American who came over on an official mission that brought him into contact with most of the leading statesmen throughout Europe during Mill’s life said:—’The man who impressed me most of them all was Stuart Mill; when you placed before him the facts on which you sought his opinion. He took them, gave you the different ways in which they might fairly be looked at, balanced the opposing considerations, and then handed you a final judgment in which nothing was left out. His mind worked like a splendid piece of machinery; you supply it with raw material, and it turns you out a perfectly finished product.’ Of such a man England has good reason to be very proud.
He was stamped in many respects with especially English quality. He was the end of a long line of the distinctively English school of philosophy, in which, as has been said, the names of Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, and Bentham (and Mr. Mill would have added James Mill) mark the line of succession—the school whose method subordinates imagination to observation, and whose doctrine lays the foundations of knowledge in experience, and the tests of conduct in utility. Yet, for all this, one of his most remarkable characteristics was less English than French; his constant admission of an ideal and imaginative element in social speculation, and a glowing persuasion that the effort and wisdom and ingenuity of men are capable, if free opportunity be given by social arrangements, of raising human destiny to a pitch that is at present beyond our powers of conception.
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