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James Mill in Leadenhall Street



HAT the publication of his History of British India was followed by his appointment to a lucrative post in the East India House is of course a well-known fact in the life of the elder Mill. Yet none of his biographers gives a clear and connected account of his official career; while the chief of themProfessor Bain-is not always accurate in his scanty references to the subject. In the following examination of this important aspect of Mill's life, the Company's records, now in the India Office at Westminster, have been utilized.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the responsibility of digesting practically the whole of the despatches received from India, and of drafting the Directors' replies, rested on the shoulders of one man, who was officially designated the Examiner of Indian Correspondence; and this individual, Samuel Johnson by name, was supposed to be qualified to advise his employers on all questions-political, revenue, judicial, or military-that were brought to their notice. Naturally, this system came near to breaking down. Although Johnson had a number of assistants, it was found impossible to deal promptly with the rapidly growing correspondence; and it became not unusual for an India letter to remain unanswered for three or four years, or even longer. At last an effort was made to lighten the labours of the Examiner, and in 1804 the duty of dealing with military correspondence was handed over, by a curious arrangement, to the Auditor of Indian Accounts, who was already responsible for correspondence on financial topics. Apparently this change was not found satisfactory; for a few years later the military work was transferred to a secretary specially appointed for that purpose. In 1809 two Assistant Secretaries were introduced, to whom was entrusted the control, under Johnson's supervision, of the judicial and revenue correspondence respectively, while an Assistant Examiner took

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charge of the miscellaneous subjects grouped under the head of Public. Political matters, as being the most important, remained under the direct care of the Examiner. Thus matters stood for several years, except that in 1817 Samuel Johnson retired and his place was taken by William M'Culloch, who had been for some time his principal assistant.

In 1819 came a great change. Rundall, the chief Assistant Examiner, and Halhed, one of the Assistant Secretaries appointed ten years before, retired simultaneously; and as the other Assistant Secretaryship had been vacant for some time, the Directors had three appointments to fill up at once in this important department. The matter was carefully considered by the Committee of Correspondence, who on May 12, 1819, made a special report on the subject. In this they pointed out that the work had been for some time falling seriously into arrear; that the business of the department had much increased, and was likely to increase still further; many questions, they said, connected with the internal administration of India had acquired additional importance of late years, and the necessity was apparent for a higher than ordinary standard of qualifications for a satisfactory and even a tolerable discharge of that duty.' They had reluctantly come to the conclusion that none of the clerks in the department possessed the requisite attainments, and they recommended therefore the provisional appointment of three gentlemen from outside as Assistants to the Examiner. As some compensation to the clerks who were thus passed over, the creation of a fourth Assistantship was suggested, for which one of their number, Mr. J. J. Harcourt, was proposed, with consequent promotion for each of his juniors.

The three new names submitted by the Committee were those of Mr. Edward Strachey, Mr. James Mill, and Mr. Thomas Love Peacock. The first of these was a retired member of the Bengal Civil Service, who had gone out in 1793, and after serving, mostly in a judicial capacity, at various stations in the NorthWestern Provinces and Bengal, had returned to England in 1811.1 Of James Mill the Committee remarked: "This gentle

1 He was the second son of Sir Henry Strachey, Bart., M.P., Clive's former secretary. Carlyle, in his Reminiscences, describes him as a genially abrupt man; "Utilitarian" and Democrat by creed, yet beyond all things he loved Chaucer and kept reading him. A man rather tacit than discursive; but willing to speak, and doing it well, in a fine, tinkling, mellow-toned voice, in an ingenious aphoristic way; had withal a pretty vein of quiz, which he seldom indulged in. A man sharply impatient of pretence, of sham and untruth in all forms; especially

man's character is before the public as the author of a History of India, and from the research displayed in the course of that work, as also from private testimony, the Committee have every reason to believe that his talents will prove beneficial to the Company's interests.' Thomas Love Peacock had recently sprung into notice by the publication, in rapid succession, of Headlong Hall, Melincourt, and Nightmare Abbey; but city men do not, as a rule, look for business ability in a novelist, and it may be surmised that his appointment was largely due to the influence of his friend, Peter Auber, the Company's Secretary. The canvass for these appointments had been going on for some months; and Auber had done his best to further Peacock's interests by procuring him temporary employment in the Examiner's Department from the preceding Christmas. Mill had made formal application by a letter dated March 22, 1819; but as early as February he had hinted to a correspondent that friends of mine among the East India Directors have views in my favour of considerable importance in the East India House,' and by April his supporters, prominent among whom were Ricardo, Hume, and Place, were making every effort to secure his appointment. The 'Chairs' were favourable to him, solely on the ground of his ability and knowledge; and George Canning, then President of the Board of Control, is said to have lent his powerful influence.1


The Committee's report was considered by the Directors on May 18, 1819, when the recommendations it contained were discussed and approved. To Strachey was allotted a salary of £1000 per annum; to Mill, £800; and to Peacock, £600.

contemptuous of "quality" pretensions and affectations, which he scattered grinningly to the winds. Dressed in the simplest form; walked daily to the India House and back, though there were fine carriages in store for the women part; scorned cheerfully "the general humbug of the world," and honestly strove to do his own bit of duty, spiced by Chaucer and what else of inward harmony or condiment he had. . . . A man of many qualities: comfortable to be near.' Many of his traits are reflected in the character of the Squire in his son's Talks at a Country House; and we are probably not wrong in identifying him with the "retired Bengal judge' mentioned in that work, of whom it is said that such is the force of habit that, when he had occasion to take notes of an important trial at the Somersetshire assizes, he actually wrote them in Persian rather than in the English words in which the evidence was given, just as he had done, many years before, when trying dakoits at Jessore.'

It is scarcely necessary to recall that two of Edward Strachey's sons-Sir John and Sir Richard-added fresh lustre to the family name by their splendid services to India.

1 Bain's Life of James Mill, pp. 167, 185.

Harcourt, the fourth Assistant, was given £800 a year, his previous services being taken into account. All four appointments were to be regarded as probationary, and the arrangement was to be reconsidered at the end of two years. Their specific duties are not mentioned; but it would seem that Strachey took the judicial branch, Mill the revenue, and Harcourt the public, while M'Culloch himself looked after political matters. Peacock probably attended to the miscellaneous subjects which did not come under any of those four heads.


It was a bold measure to entrust important duties of this nature to three men of mature years,1 of whom two were entirely destitute of the customary training, and the third had had but a few months. One can fancy the general shaking of bewildered heads, and the loudly expressed disgust of the men who had been for years engaged in producing drafts on the pattern sanctioned by the usage of generations-assenting here, carping there, referring to forgotten orders of twenty years previous, or postponing a decision until the receipt of further information. The style as we like is the Humdrum,' a Director is reported to have replied to a youthful aspirant who inquired what was the best method to adopt in composing official despatches. Harcourt and his juniors had no doubt cultivated with care the style of the Humdrum; yet here, by a bouleversement not to be expected from so eminently conservative a body as the Directors, they were pushed aside for newcomers who probably would not care a straw for tradition or precedent. However, the experiment was fully justified by its success. On April 10, 1821, the Correspondence Committee brought up another report, which stated that the services of the three new Assistants have been strongly recommended by the gentlemen who have filled the Chairs since that period, and have been approved by the Committee in various instances wherein they have had an opportunity of witnessing the result of their labors.' They submitted, therefore, that those gentlemen be admitted permanently on the establishment of the Examiner's Office.' This the Court approved; and at the same time added £200 to the salary of each, the increase to take effect from the preceding Lady Day.

James Mill was now fairly in the saddle, and quickly made his powers felt. The favourable impression produced by his ability and assiduity was shown by the resolution come to by the Court on April 9, 1823, to raise his salary to £1200 from Lady Day,

1 Strachey was 45, Mill 46, and Peacock 34 at the time of appointment.


W. Foster

and to grant him the title of Assistant Examiner, his former colleagues (of whom Peacock also received an increase of £200) being subtly distinguished as Assistants under the Examiner. This meant of course that he was placed above Strachey, who thereupon handed in his resignation. The Court accepted it, but with such expressions of regret that the way was left open to him to reconsider the matter; and a few weeks later he asked and obtained leave to withdraw his letter and resume his place.

At the same meeting which decided Mill's promotion, it was resolved to add another clerk to the Examiner's department; and the nomination having been placed at the disposal of the Chairman, Mr. James Pattison, he gave it to John Stuart Mill, who thus got his foot on the official ladder which his father was climbing with so much success.1 The actual date of appointment was May 21, 1823, when John Mill had just turned seventeen. The first three years of his service, which ranked as a kind of apprenticeship, were rewarded, as usual, with a gratuity of £30 only; but once past this stage his rise was almost as rapid as his father's had been. In March, 1827, he was given a special gratuity of £200 for his 'zeal and assiduity'; and a year later the Court 'resolved by the ballot that Mr. John Mill, the eleventh clerk in the office of the Examiner of Indian Correspondence, who has been employed in the corresponding department since his first appointment and who has been reported well qualified for that duty, and to whose application, industry, and general good conduct the Examiner has borne the strongest testimony, be removed from his present situation and appointed an Assistant to the Examiner next under Mr. Harcourt, with an addition of £200 to his present salary, making his total allowance £310 per annum.' He thus jumped over the heads of the ten clerks above him, though his salary remained a comparatively small one. This, however, was partially remedied by a special gratuity of £200, which was given to him each year from 1829 up to 1834, when the allowance

1 Since 1814 the Mill family had been residing at No. 1 Queen's Square, Westminster (now 40 Queen Anne's Gate), and thence father and son would walk daily to the office, probably with many a discussion on the way. In 1831 a move was made to a large detached villa in Vicarage Place, Kensington, afterwards called Maitland House. From about 1822 James Mill was in the habit of taking a summer residence in Surrey, his chosen headquarters in later years being the village of Mickleham, between Leatherhead and Dorking. There the family would remain for six months in each year, and there Mill spent the six weeks of his annual holiday. The rest of the time he went thither from Friday to Monday, while John, who (not being the head of a department) had to make the usual Saturday attendance, would come down on the Saturday afternoon.

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