John Stuart Mill
From the winter of 1821 I had what might truly be called an object in
life: to be a Reformer.
conception of my own happiness was entirely identified with this object.
The personal sympathies I wished for were those of fellow laborers in
to pick as many flowers as I
could by the way but as a serious and
satisfaction to rest upon, my whole reliance was placed on this; and
I was accustomed to 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
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.
But the time came when I awakened
from this as from a dream.
It was in the autumn of
(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 converts to 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
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 prejudice.
It enables us mentally to
separate ideas which have only casually clung together and
no associations could
ultimately resist this dissolving force.
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
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 of feeling.
They are therefore favorable to
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.
These were the laws of
human nature, by which, as it seemed to
me, I had been brought to my present state.
Those whom I admired were
of opinion that companionship
and feelings of
compassion, especially toward
mankind on a large scale as 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
My education, I thought, had failed to create these
feelings in sufficient strength to resist
influence of analysis, while the
whole course of my intellectual cultivation had made
pre-mature analysis the inveterate habit of my
The fountains of
motivation seemed to have
dried up within me, as completely as those of
neither selfish nor
were pleasures to me.
There seemed no
power in nature sufficient to
begin the formation of my character anew, and recreate in
a mind now irretrievably
analytic, fresh associations of
pleasure with objects of human
I frequently asked
myself, if I could, or if I was bound to go on living, when life must be passed
in this manner.
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.
I was 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
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
Thus the cloud
gradually drew off, and I never again was as miserable as I had been.
The 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.
I now understood that this end was
only to be attained by not making it the direct end.
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.
Aiming thus at something else, they find
happiness by the Way.
Ask yourself 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
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.
cultivation of the feelings became one of the cardinal points in my ethical and
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
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 elevated manner.
I 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 revived by intermittence, or
fed by continual novelty.
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 musical
This source of
anxiety may, perhaps, be
thought to resemble that of
the philosophers of
Laputa, who feared lest the sun
should be burnt out.
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
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
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
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.
The 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 liberty;
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 résistance, or general rebellion, was held to be
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
appeared to them much better that the various magistrates of the State should
be their tenants or delegates, revocable at their pleasure.
In that way alone, it seemed, could they
have complete security that the powers of government would never be abused to
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
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 is
the clearer perception and livelier
impression of truth produced by its collision with error.
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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