John Stuart Mill
From the winter of
1821 I had what might truly be called an object in life: to be a reformer.
My conception of my own happiness was entirely identified with this
The personal sympathies I wished for were those of fellow
laborers in this enterprise.
I endeavored to pick as many flowers as I
could by the way but as a serious and permanent personal satisfaction to rest
upon, my whole reliance was placed on this; and I was accustomed to felicitate
myself on the certainty of a happy life which I enjoyed, through placing my
happiness in something durable and distant, in which some progress might be
always making, while it could never be exhausted by complete attainment.
This did very well for several years, during which the general
improvement going on the Earth
and the idea of myself as engaged with others in struggling to promote it,
seemed enough to fill up an interesting and animated existence.
the time came when I awakened from this as from a dream .
It was in
the autumn of 1826.
(1826: First railways begin construction. Internal
Combustion engine patented in US. Ottomans on the rampage.)
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
Methodism usually are, when smitten by their first 'conviction of
In this frame of mind it occurred to me to
put the question directly to myself:
"Suppose that all your objects in life were
realized; that all the changes in institutions 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 me: 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 any interest in the means?
I seemed to have nothing left
to live for.
For I now saw, or thought I saw, what I had always
before received with incredulity - that the habit of
analysis has a tendency
to wear away the feelings: as indeed it has, when no other mental habit is
cultivated, and the analyzing
spirit remains without its natural complements and correctives.
The very excellence of
analysis is that it tends to weaken and undermine whatever is the result of
enables us mentally to separate ideas which have only casually clung
together and no associations could ultimately resist this dissolving
We owe to analysis
our clearest knowledge of the permanent sequences in nature;
the real connections between things,
not dependent on our will and feelings.
Natural law, in most cases,
finds one thing is inseparable from another; which causes our ideas of things
joined together in Nature,
to cohere more and more closely in our
Analytic habits may thus even
strengthen the associations between causes and effects, means and ends, but
tend altogether to weaken those which are, to speak familiarly, a mere matter
They are therefore favorable to prudence and clear
sightedness, but a perpetual worm
at the root both of
the passions and of
the virtues; and, above all,
fearfully undermine all
desires, and all pleasures, which are
the effects of association according to
the theory I held , all except the purely physical and organic; of the
entire insufficiency of which to make life desirable, no one had a stronger
conviction than I had.
These were the laws
of human nature, by which, as it seemed to
me, I had been brought to my present state.
All those to whom I looked
up were of opinion that the pleasure
of empathy with human beings, and the feelings which made the good of
others, and especially of mankind on a large scale, the object of existence,
were the greatest and surest sources of happiness.
Of the truth of this
I was convinced, but to know that a feeling would make me happy if I had it,
did not give me the feeling.
education, I thought, had failed to create these feelings in sufficient
strength to resist the dissolving influence of analysis, while the whole course
of my intellectual cultivation had made precocious and pre-mature analysis the
inveterate habit of my mind.
The fountains of
vanity and motivation seemed to have
dried up within me, as completely as those of
neither selfish nor
unselfish pleasures were
pleasures to me.
And there seemed no power in nature sufficient to begin
the formation of my character anew, and create in
a mind now irretrievably
analytic, fresh associations of pleasure with any of
the objects of human
frequently asked myself, if
I could, or if
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.
In all probability my case was by no
means so peculiar as I fancied.
A vivid conception of the scene and its
feelings came over me, and I was moved to tears.
From this moment
my burden grew lighter.
The oppression of the thought that all feeling
was dead within me, was gone.
no longer hopeless.
Relieved from my ever present sense of
irremediable wretchedness, I gradually found that the ordinary incidents of
life could again give me some pleasure; that I could again find enjoyment, not
intense, but sufficient for cheerfulness, in sunshine and sky, in
books, in conversation, in public
affairs; and that there was, once more,
excitement, though of a moderate
category, in exerting myself for my opinions, and for the public good.
Thus the cloud gradually
drew off, and I never again was as miserable as I had been.
experiences of this period led me to adopt a theory of life, very unlike that
on which I had before acted, and having much in common with what at that time I
certainly had never heard of, the anti-self-consciousness theory of
I never, indeed, wavered in the conviction that happiness
is the test of all rules of conduct, and the end of life.
But I now
understood that this end was only to be attained by not making it the direct
Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object
other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement
of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself
an ideal end.
thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.
whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.
The only chance is to
treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life.
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.
I still hold to it as the best theory for all those
who have but a moderate degree of sensibility
and of capacity for enjoyment, that is, for the great majority of mankind.
I ceased to attach almost exclusive importance to the ordering of
The maintenance of a due balance
among the faculties, now seemed to me of primary importance.
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
I now began to find meaning
in the importance of poetry and
art as instruments of human culture.
The only one of the
imaginative arts in which I had from childhood taken great pleasure, was
music; the best effect of which consists
in exciting enthusiasm;
in winding up to a high pitch those feelings of an elevated category which are
already in the character, but to which this
excitement gives a glow and a
fervor, which, though transitory at its utmost height, is precious for
sustaining them at other times.
This effect of
music I had often experienced; but like
all my pleasurable susceptibilities it was suspended during
the gloomy period.
sought relief again and again from this quarter, but found none.
the tide had turned, and I was in process of recovery, I had been helped
forward by music, but in a much less
at this time first became acquainted with Weber's Oberon, and the extreme
pleasure which I drew from its delicious melodies did me good, by showing me a
source of pleasure to which I was as susceptible as ever.
The good, however, was much impaired by the thought, that
the pleasure of music fades with
familiarity, and requires either to be
intermittence, or fed by
It is very characteristic both of my then state,
and of the general tone of my mind at this period of my life, that I was
seriously tormented by the thought of the exhaustibility of
This source of
anxiety may, perhaps, be
thought to resemble that of the
philosophers of Laputa, who feared lest the sun should be burnt
In this power of rural beauty over me, there was a foundation laid
for taking pleasure in Wordsworth's poetry; the more so, as his scenery
lies mostly among mountains, which, owing to my early Pyrenean excursion, were
my ideal of natural beauty.
What made Wordsworth's poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that
not mere outward beauty, but
states of feeling, and
of thought colored 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 connection 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
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.
aim, therefore, of patriots,
was to set limits to the power which the ruler should exercise over the
community; and this
limitation was what they meant by
protection from the tyranny of
It was attempted in two ways.
First, by obtaining a recognition of certain
immunities, called political liberties or rights, which it was to be regarded
as a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe, and which, if he did infringe,
specific resistance, or general rebellion, was held to be justifiable.
A second, and generally a later
the establishment of constitutional
checks; by which the consent of the community, or of
a body of some sort supposed to
represent its interests, was made a necessary condition to some of the more
important acts of the governing power.
A time, however, came in the
progress of human affairs, when men ceased to think it a necessity of nature
that their governors should be an
independent power, opposed in
interest to themselves.
appeared to them much better that the various magistrates of the State should
be their tenants or delegates, revocable at their pleasure.
that way alone, it seemed, could they have complete security that the powers of
government would never be abused to their disadvantage.
If all mankind minus one were of one
opinion and only one individual were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be
no more justified in silencing that individual than, if he had the power, would
be in silencing mankind.
If the opinion is right, they are
deprived of the opportunity of exchanging
error for truth; if wrong, they lose,
what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer
perception and livelier
impression of truth,
produced by its collision with error.
If any opinion be compelled to
silence, that opinion may, for
aught we can certainly know, be true.
To deny this is to assume our own
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