This passage appears in the author's "The Liberal Triumvirate of England" in Modern Leaders: Beings a Series of Biographical Sketches, which Sheldon & Company (N.Y.) published in 1872. Scanning, HTML conversion, and proofreading were carried out by GPL, who added links to materials in VW, added the subtitles, and changed titles of books from McCarthy's quotation marks to text with emphasis.
r. Mill seems cut out by nature not to be a parliamentary success. He has a thin, fragile, awkward frame; he has a nervous, incessant twitching of the lips and eyes; he has a weak voice and a sort of stammer; he is over sixty years of age; he had never, so far as I know, addressed a political meeting of any kind up to the time of the Westminster contest. Yet with all these disadvantages, Mill has, as a political leader and speaker, been an undoubted success with the country, and a sort of success in the House. An orator of any kind he never could be. One might call him a wretchedly bad speaker, if his speaking were not so utterly unlike anybody else's, as to refuse to be classified with any other speaking, good or bad. But, so far as the best selection of words, the clearest style, the most coherent and convincing argument can constitute eloquence, Mill's speeches are eloquent. They are, of course, only spoken essays. They differ in no wise from the speaker's writings ; and I need hardly say that a speech, to be effective, must never be just what the speaker would have written if it were to be consigned at once to print as a letter or an essay.
As speeches, therefore, Mr. Mill's utterances in the House have little or no effect. Indeed, they are only listened to by a very few men of real intelligence and judgment on both sides. Some of the more boisterous of the Tories made many attempts to cough and laugh Mill into silence; indeed, there was obviously a deliberate plan of this kind in operation at one time. But Mill is a man whom nothing can deter from saying or doing what he thinks right. A more absolutely fearless being does not exist. He is even free from that fear which has sometimes paralyzed the boldest spirits, the fear of becoming ridiculous. So the Tory trick failed. Mill went on with patient, imperturbable, proud good-humor, despite all interruption — now and then paying off his Tory enemies by some keen contemptuous epigram or sarcasm, made all the more pungent by the thin, bland tone in which it was uttered. So the Tories gave up shouting, groaning and laughing; the more quickly because one at least of their chiefs, the Marquis of Salisbury (then in the House of Commons as Lord Cranbourne) had the spirit and sense to express openly and loudly his anger and disgust at the vulgar and brutal behaviour of some of his followers. Therefore Mr. Mill ceased to be interrupted; but he is not much listened to, That supreme, irrefutable evidence that a man fails to interest the House — the fact that a hum and buzz of conversation, may be heard all the time he is speaking — is always fatally manifest when Mr. Mill addresses the Commons. But the House, after all, is only a platform from which a man endeavors to speak to the country, and if Mill does not always get the ear of the House, he never fails to be heard by the nation. I have no doubt that even the Tory members of the House read Mill's speeches when they appear in print; assuredly all intelligent Tories do. These speeches, in any case, are never lost on the country.... They always excite controversy of some kind — not even the great orations of Bright and Gladstone are more talked of. [pp. 113-14]
- John Stuart Mill, Reluctant Politician
- Mill as Member of the Triumvirate of the English Liberal Party
McCarthy, Justin. "The Liberal Triumvirate of England." Modern Leaders: Being a Series of Biographical Sketches. N. Y.: Sheldon & Company, 1872. pp. 106-15.
Last modified 30 March 2006