Some forty years ago two comments on Mill used often to be cited, made by the two men who were then the most prominent figures in the English world of politics. Mr. Gladstone spoke of him (and, I think, also wrote of him) as the “saint of Rationalism.” Mr. Disraeli, whose attention was called to Mill by his somewhat unexpected apparition in later life in the House of Commons as member for Westminster, when asked after a session’s experience of the new member what he thought of him, replied with a shrug of the shoulders, “A political finishing governess.” […]
Mill had the educating mania, and it was largely inspired by that religious zeal for the improvement of mankind which formed part of his “saintship.” From his father he had early learnt to think that if only people were thoroughly well educated and freed from the dead hand of outworn institutions all would be well with the world. And greatly though his views eventually changed, this early way of looking at things left its stamp on him through life. His cult of education issued in a certain priggishness and preciseness, and a detestation of anything vague and not clearly communicable to those whom he would instruct and help. It is to this side of his intellectual character that we may set down his admiration for the French intellect and his extraordinary undervaluing of such German metaphysicians as Hegel and Fichte. To this again must be ascribed his intense joy in distinct classification which made Dumont’s redaction of Bentham (of which I shall speak later on) as inspiring and satisfying to him as Fichte and Hegel were almost physically distressing. It is the “finishing governess” element again which made his own unique and precocious early education for years the sole matter of interest to him, and led him afterwards to analyze its results with such painful care. Like a Jesuit confessor he regarded recreation only as a means to the accomplishment of his main purpose. In his autobiography he refers to frequent holidays as a boy of seven, eight, nine, and ten spent at the old baronial hall (Ford Abbey) rented by Mr. Bentham, as “an important circumstance in my education,” and as contributing “to nourish elevation of sentiment.” He saw the Pyrenees at the age of fourteen. This is interesting to him because it “gave a colour to my tastes through life.” The interest of nearly every event in his life is determined by its effect on his mind and character.
The priggishness and preciseness which called forth Disraeli’s saying were in part caused by those peculiarities of Mill’s own early education. He had the ways of one who learnt in the first instance from books and in the schoolroom rather than, as Charles Dickens did, from the vivid impressions made by actual life on a boy’s imagination. Mr. Bain tells us that to the end his hold on abstract principles was far closer than on the concrete on the facts of life and the world. His extraordinary precocity was a hot-house growth, and he never quite recovered the fulness of human nature. There was in Mill to the end a certain thinness of sympathy and a deficiency in geniality, though his sympathies were very intense in their own narrow groove. There was a lack of full humanity. He had little sense of the ludicrous. He did not enter into or understand the varieties of human character, and he was wanting in virility.
(Wilfrid Ward, Men and Matters. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914, pp. 146–148).
Charles Dickens, numa nota que agora está à minha frente, aludindo a uma análise que fiz, certa vez, do mecanismo do “Barnaby Rudge”, diz: “De passagem, sabe que Godwin escreveu seu “Caleb Williams” de trás para diante? Envolveu primeiramente seu herói numa teia de dificuldades, que formava o segundo volume, e depois, para fazer o primeiro, ficou procurando um modo de explicar o que havia sido feito.”
Não posso pensar que esse seja o modo preciso de proceder de Godwin, e, de fato, o que ele próprio confessa não está completamente de acordo com a idéia do Sr. Dickens. Mas o autor de “Caleb Williams” era muito bom artista para deixar de perceber a vantagem procedente de um processo, pelo menos um tanto semelhante. Nada é mais claro do que deverem todas as intrigas, dignas desse nome, ser elaboradas em relação ao epílogo, antes que se tente qualquer coisa com a pena. Só tendo o epílogo, constantemente em vista, poderemos dar a um enredo seu aspecto indispensável de consequência, ou causalidade, fazendo com que os incidentes e, especialmente, o tom da obra tendam para o desenvolvimento de sua intenção.
(Edgar Allan Poe, “A Filosofia da Composição.” In: Poesia e Prosa. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Globo, 1960, p. 501).
He was a far more voracious reader than I, but he made it a rule never to touch a book by any author who had not been dead at least thirty years. “That’s the only kind of book I can trust,” he said.
“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature,” he added, “but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.”
“What kind of authors do you like?” I asked, speaking in respectful tones to this man two years my senior. “Balzac, Dante, Joseph Conrad, Dickens,” he answered without hesitation.
“Not exactly fashionable.”
“That’s why I read them. If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That’s the world of hicks and slobs.
(Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood. New York: Vintage Books, 2000, pp. 30–31).
The mark of genuine charity is (in Greek) storge, or loving-kindness, and while such love may be bestowed upon objects that seem utterly alien to the giver, it is not the strangeness that attracts but the recognition of some common bond, whether it is common humanity or, in the case of lower animals, some resemblance of human qualities.
Charity does begin at home, and the burden of charity is most easily discharged toward those with whom we are already connected by bonds of blood and experience. Charity toward strangers requires effort, and the more foreign the stranger, the greater the effort required. I am speaking now of the natural charity that grows and expands with the maturing conscience of the individual, as distinguished from what is generally meant in politics by “compassion,” which is the artificial sense of benevolence we are taught to feel in doing good deeds by long distance. In the latter case, the reverse is true: Americans who will not take a bowl of soup to a sick neighbor will weep over the fate of starving Albanians whose pictures they see on television, and even in their own country their concern with poverty and family dissolution is inevitably limited to inner-city blacks or to the poor of the Appalachians, their desire to propagate the Gospel confined to Asians and Hispanics; their zeal to improve public education directed primarily at minority advancement.
All these goals are laudable in themselves, and whorty men and women may well chose to devote themselves to pursuing the welfare of foreigners as a sort of special vocation, but what seems to be far more common is the “telescopic philanthropy” of Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House, whose eyes — so farsighted that “they could see nothing nearer than Africa” — overlook the needs of her own children, friends, and neighbors.
(Thomas Fleming, The Morality of Everyday Life. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2004, pp. 86–87).