James Mill

Stephen Conway (ed.), The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 8: January 1809 to December 1816

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Editor’s Note2291From James Mill19 September 1814

My dear Sir

I think it is necessary that we should come to some little explanation—and that, according to your most excellent rule, not with a view to the past but the future, that we may agree about what is?pg 417 best to be hereafter done. I have made some attempts to join you for the purpose of explaining to you, but as you plainly declined, I have chosen this method, as what may be less disagreeable to you.

I see that you have extracted umbrage from some part of my behaviour; and have expressed it by deportment so strongly, that I have seriously debated with myself whether propriety permitted that I should remain any longer in your house. I considered, however, that I could not suddenly depart, without proclaiming to the world, that there was a quarrel between us; and this, I think, for the sake of both of us, and more especially of the cause which has been the great bond of connection between us, we should carefully endeavour to avoid. The number of those is not small who wait for our halting. The infirmities in the temper of philosophers have always been a handle to deny their principles; and the infirmities in ours will be represented as by no means small, if in the relation in which we stand, we do not avoid shewing to the world that we cannot agree. Where two people disagree, each tells his own story, as much to his own advantage, as much to the disadvantage of the other, at least as he conceives the circumstances to be, that is in general as much as the circumstances will permit. The rule of the world, I observe, on these occasions is, to believe much of the evil which each says of the other, and very little of the good which each says of himself. Both therefore suffer.

In reflecting upon the restraint which the duty we owe to our principles, to that system of important truths of which you have the immortal honour to be the author, but of which I am a most faithful and fervent disciple, hitherto I have fancied, the master's favourite disciple—in reflecting, I say, upon the restraint which regard for the interest of our system should lay upon both of us, I have considered that 〈…〉 was no body at all so likely to be your real successor as myself. Of talents it would be easy to find many superior. But, in the first place, I hardly know of any body who has so compleately taken up the principles, and is so thoroughly of the same way of thinking with yourself. In the next place, there are very few who have so much of the necessary previous discipline, my antecedent years having been wholly occupied in acquiring it. And in the last place, I am pretty sure that you cannot think of any other person whose whole life will be devoted to the propagation of the system. It so rarely happens, or can happen, in the present state of society, that a man qualified for its propagation, should not have some other occupation, some call or another, to prevent his employing for that purpose much of his time, that without any overweaning conceit of myself, I have often reflected upon it as a verypg 418 fortunate coincidence, that any man with views and propensities of such rare occurrence as mine, should happen to come in toward the close of your career, to carry on the work without any intermission. No one is more aware than yourself of the obstacles which retard the propagation of your principles. And the occurrence of an interval without any successor whose labours might press them upon the public attention, after you are gone, and permit no period of oblivion, might add, no one can foresee how much, to the causes of retardation. It is this relation then in which we stand to the grand cause, to your own cause, which makes it one of the strongest wishes of my heart that nothing should occur which may make other people believe there is any interruption of our friendship.

For this purpose, I am of opinion, that it will be necessary not to live so much together. I cannot help perceiving, either that you are growing more and more difficult to please; or that I am losing of my power of pleasing; or perhaps there is something in being too much in one anothers company, which makes people stale to one another and is often fatal, without any other cause, to the happiness of the most indissoluble connections. I should contemplate, therefore, with great dread, the passing another summer with you. I think that we ought by no means to put our friendship to so severe a test. I am desirous of staying with you this season, as long as you yourself remain in the country, both for the sake of appearance, and because you have had not time to make any other arrangement for society; and I shall remain with so much the deeper an interest, that it is a pleasure not to be renewed; for I can most truly assure you that at no moment was you ever more an object to me of reverence, and also of affection, than at the present; and nothing on my part shall be left undone while I here remain to render my presence agreeable to you, perhaps I ought rather to say as little disagreeable as possible.

There is another circumstance which is of a nature that is always painful to me to speak of it. My experience has led me to observe that there are two things which are peculiarly fatal to friendship, and these are, great intimacy, and pecuniary obligations. It has been one of the great purposes of my life, to avoid pecuniary obligations, even in the solicitation or acceptance of ordinary advantages— hence the penury in which I live. To receive obligations of any sort from you, was not a matter of humiliation to me, but of pride. And I only dreaded it from the danger to which I saw that it exposed our friendship. The only instances of this sort which have occurred are,—first that a part of my family, while with you in the country, have lived for a small part of the year at your expence, this year thepg 419 whole of them were destined to live a considerable part of it,—and secondly that at your solicitation, that I might be near to you, I came to live in a house, of which, as the expence of it was decidedly too great for my very small income, part of the expence was to be borne by you. The former of these obligations of course will now cease; and I reckon it still more necessary that the other should. And as it would be ruinous for me to bear the whole expence of the house, of course I must leave it. I shall explain to you the course which I have planned in my own mind, and hope that you will approve of it. Next summer I shall go to Scotland with my family, on a visit to my relations and friends, which for the sake of being with you, I have deferred till I have offended them all; and as my friends have long been apprised of an intention I had formed, of residing, as soon as peace should permit, for some time in France, I shall go there before the winter, which will not be a matter of surprise to any body, both as I long ago declared the intention, and because the growth of my family and the smallness of my means, render a cheap place of residence more and more desirable for me, and even indispensible. I shall, therefore, propose, if it is agreeable to you, that I should keep the house in Queen Square for the next half year after Xtmass,2 which will both afford you time to dispose of it, and me to make my arrangements.

As I propose all this most sincerely with a view of preserving our friendship, and as the only means, in my opinion of doing so—the explanation being thus made—I think we should begin to act towards one another, without any allusion whatsoever towards the past; talk together, and walk together looking forward solely, never back; and as if this arrangement had been the effect of the most amicable consultation. We can talk about our studies, and about every thing else, as if no umbrage had ever existed; 〈…〉 thus we shall not only add to the comfort of each other during the limited time we shall be together, we shall also avoid the unpleasant observations which will be made upon us by other people. For my part I have been at pains to conceal, even from my wife, that there is any coldness between us. I am strongly in hopes, that the idea of the limitation will give an additional interest to our society, and overbalance the effects of a too long, and uninterrupted intimacy, which I believe to be the great cause—for there is such a disparity between the apparent cause, my riding out a few times in the morning with Mr. Hume, to take advantage of his horses in seeing a little of the country, instead of walking with you, and the greatpg 420 umbrage which you have extracted; that the disposition must have been prepared by other causes, and only happened first to manifest itself upon that occasion.

I remain, with an esteem which can hardly be added to, and which I am sure will never be diminished.

                              My dear Friend and Master

                                 Most affectionately Yours

                                     J Mill

Ford Abbey 19th, Sept, 1814

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Editor’s Note
2291. 1 Mill Collection, Keynes MS 172, King's College Library, Cambridge. Autograph. Docketed: '1814 Sept 19 / J. M. Ford Abbey / to / J.B.' Printed in Bain, pp. 136–40, and with omissions in Bowring, x. 481–2.
Editor’s Note
2 i.e. Christmas.
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