The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism

By Elie Halévy; Mary Morris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
BENTHAM, JAMES MILL AND THE BENTHAMITES

THE ten years receding 1815 were marked in England by a general revival of liberal and democratic opinions, after the eclipse which William Godwin's Utopian, anti-governmental and communist Utilitarianism had suffered. In 1807, Cobbett, the famous journalist, who had been a demagogue all his life, though not always a democrat, deserted the camp of the anti-jacobins to go over to the party of peace and reform: he used his influence towards the triumphant election of Sir Francis Burdett at Westminster. In the same year, Romilly devoted himself to the study of the reforms which were required by the condition of English law, particularly penal law. After Wordsworth, Southey and Coleridge, who had all turned Tory, there arose a new generation of revolutionary poets -- Byron, to begin with, and a little later Shelley and Keats -- who scandalised and at the same time struck the imagination of their contemporaries. Moreover, in 1808, after the invasion of Spain by Napoleon, the whole Iberian peninsula rose against the French occupation, and England helped the Spaniards by military expeditions and financial aid. As in the time of Louis XIV, England, though under a Tory Government, once more began to play the part of the nation with liberal traditions, in the face of despotism 'à la turque', the tradition of which was being renewed by Napoleon on the Continent.

In 1808, Bentham made the acquaintance of James Mill.1 James Mill was one of those hard-headed Scotsmen whose energy achieved the intellectual conquest of England towards the end of the eighteenth century. He was born in 1773, at the time when Bentham was first beginning to write, in that part of Great Britain which prides itself

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1
For all biographical details of James Mill, see James Mill: a Biography, by Alexander Bain. 1882.

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