The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.
§ 33. John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill’s Inaugural Address to the university of St. Andrews on being installed lord rector in February, 1867, while not neglecting the controversies of the hour, raises the discussion about education to a level which controversies seldom reach. He agrees with Newman that British universities discharge, among other functions, that of advanced schools; but, he thinks this is owing to the absence of schools to which general education could be fully entrusted. Yet, the Scots universities have long since so organised their studies as to make an all-round education possible for their students; and “the old English universities … are now the foci of free and manly enquiry to the higher and professional classes south of the Tweed.” The assumed opposition between literature and science is an absurdity; anything deserving the name of a good education must include both. If classics were better taught, there would be sufficient time for the teaching of science and of “everything else needed”; but the greater part of English classical schools are shams which fail to teach what they profess. He would not have modern languages, history or geography taught in secondary schools; the first should be learned abroad, and the other two by desultory reading. Here, he altogether fails to see the part which, by the systematic instruction of the school, these studies may be made to play in a child’s development; all through the address there is ever present the recollection of his own arduous discipline (as described in his Autobiography) and forgetfulness of the limits to the ordinary boy’s industry and power. In reference to another heated quarrel of the time, Mill roundly declares it beyond the power of schools and universities to educate morally or religiously, and then goes on to show that the home and “society” can do this, omitting to note that schools and universities are societies, and that, from the standpoint of education, religion is not so much a philosophy or set of intellectual ideas to be taught as a life to be lived. The Autobiography supplies the source of the error. But Mill does not confine himself to the place of schools and universities; he passes in review the branches of culture which should be followed when education has, ostensibly, been completed. The “aesthetic branch” of human culture is barely inferior to the other branches, the intellectual and moral; yet, the British middle class neglects it for “commercial, money-getting business and religious puritanism,” the condition of things which, two years later, Matthew Arnold sharply flagellated in Culture and Anarchy. Mill’s Inaugural Address and Newman’s Idea of a University, when made mutually corrective, portray ideals of individual attainment which it is hard to imagine irrelevant at any stage of human civilisation.