convalescence set in he was seized by so profound a melancholy at the disaster which had thus overtaken him, that he threw himself into the Seine. Fortunately he was rescued, and the shock did not stay his return to Serious
Illness.mental soundness. One incident of this painful episode is worth mentioning. Lamennais, then in the height of his Catholic exaltation, persuaded Comte’s mother to insist on her son being married with the religious ceremony, and as the younger Madame Comte apparently did not resist, the rite was duly performed, in spite of the fact that Comte was at the time raving mad. Philosophic assailants of Comtism have not always resisted the temptation to recall the circumstance that its founder was once out of his mind. As has been justly said, if Newton once suffered a cerebral attack without forfeiting our veneration for the Principia, Comte may have suffered in the same way, and still not have forfeited our respect for Positive Philosophy and Positive Polity.
In 1828 the lectures were renewed, and in 1830 was published the first volume of the Course of Positive Philosophy. The sketch and ground plan of this great undertaking had appeared in 1826. The sixth and last volume was Official
work.published in 1842. The twelve years covering the publication of the first of Comte’s two elaborate works were years of indefatigable toil, and they were the only portion of his life in which he enjoyed a certain measure, and that a very modest measure, of material prosperity. In 1833 he was appointed examiner of the boys who in the various provincial schools aspired to enter the École Polytechnique at Paris. This and two other engagements as a teacher of mathematics secured him an income of some £400 a year. He made M. Guizot, then Louis Philippe’s minister, the important proposal to establish a chair of general history of the sciences. If there are four chairs, he argued, devoted to the history of philosophy, that is to say, the minute study of all sorts of dreams and aberrations through the ages, surely there ought to be at least one to explain the formation and progress of our real knowledge? This wise suggestion, still unfulfilled, was at first welcomed, according to Comte’s own account, by Guizot’s philosophic instinct, and then repulsed by his “metaphysical rancour.”
Meanwhile Comte did his official work conscientiously, sorely as he grudged the time which it took from the execution of the great object of his thoughts. “I hardly know if even to you,” he writes to his wife, “I dare disclose the sweet and softened feeling that comes over me when I find a young man whose examination is thoroughly satisfactory. Yes, though you may smile, the emotion would easily stir me to tears if I were not carefully on my guard.” Such sympathy with youthful hope, in union with industry and intelligence, shows that Comte’s dry and austere manner veiled the fires of a generous social emotion. It was this which made him add to his labours the burden of delivering every year from 1831 to 1848 a course of gratuitous lectures on astronomy for a popular audience. The social feeling that inspired this disinterested act showed itself in other ways. He suffered imprisonment rather than serve in the national guard; his position was that though he would not take arms against the new monarchy of July, yet being a republican he would take no oath to defend it. The only amusement that Comte permitted himself was a visit to the opera. In his youth he had been a playgoer, but he shortly came to the conclusion that tragedy is a stilted and bombastic art, and after a time comedy interested him no more than tragedy. For the opera he had a genuine passion, which he gratified as often as he could, until his means became too narrow to afford even that single relaxation.
Of his manner and personal appearance we have the following account from one who was his pupil:—“Daily as the clock struck eight on the horologe of the Luxembourg, while the ringing hammer on the bell was yet audible, the door of my room opened, and there entered a man, short, rather stout, almost what one might call sleek, freshly shaven, without vestige of whisker or moustache. He was invariably dressed in a suit of the most spotless black, as if going to a dinner party; his white neck-cloth was fresh from the laundress’s hands, and his hat shining like a racer’s coat. He advanced to the arm-chair prepared for him in the centre of the writing-table, laid his hat on the left-hand corner; his snuff-box was deposited on the same side beside the quire of paper placed in readiness for his use, and dipping the pen twice into the ink-bottle, then bringing it to within an inch of his nose to make sure it was properly filled, he broke silence: ‘We have said that the chord AB,’ &c. For three-quarters of an hour he continued his demonstration, making short notes as he went on, to guide the listener in repeating the problem alone; then, taking up another cahier which lay beside him, he went over the written repetition of the former lesson. He explained, corrected or commented till the clock struck nine; then, with the little finger of the right hand brushing from his coat and waistcoat the shower of superfluous snuff which had fallen on them, he pocketed his snuff-box, and resuming his hat, he as silently as when he came in made his exit by the door which I rushed to open for him.”
In 1842, as we have said, the last volume of the Positive Philosophy was given to the public. Instead of that contentment which we like to picture as the reward of twelve years of meritorious toil devoted to the erection of a Completion
of “Positive Philosophy.”high philosophic edifice, Comte found himself in the midst of a very sea of small troubles, of that uncompensated kind that harass without elevating, and waste a man’s spirit without softening or enlarging it. First, the jar of temperament between Comte and his wife had become so unbearable that they separated (1842). We know too little of the facts to allot blame to either of them. In spite of one or two disadvantageous facts in her career, Madame Comte seems to have uniformly comported herself towards her husband with an honourable solicitude for his well-being. Comte made her an annual allowance, and for some years after the separation they corresponded on friendly terms. Next in the list of the vexations was a lawsuit with his publisher. The publisher had inserted in the sixth volume a protest against a certain footnote, in which Comte had used some hard words about Arago. Comte threw himself into the suit with an energy worthy of Voltaire and won it. Third, and worst of all, he had prefixed a preface to the sixth volume, in which he went out of his way to rouse the enmity of the men on whom depended his annual re-election to the post of examiner for the Polytechnic school. The result was that he lost the appointment, and with it one-half of his very modest income. This was the occasion of an episode, which is of more than merely personal interest.
Before 1842 Comte had been in correspondence with J. S. Mill, who had been greatly impressed by Comte’s philosophic ideas; Mill admits that his own System of Logic owes many valuable thoughts to Comte, and that, in the portion of that J. S. Mill.work which treats of the logic of the moral sciences, a radical improvement in the conceptions of logical method was derived from the Positive Philosophy. Their correspondence, which was full and copious, turned principally upon the two great questions of the equality between men and women, and of the expediency and constitution of a sacerdotal or spiritual order. When Comte found himself straitened, he confided the entire circumstances to Mill. As might be supposed by those who know the affectionate anxiety with which Mill regarded the welfare of any one whom he believed to be doing good work in the world, he at once took pains to have Comte’s loss of income made up to him, until Comte should have had time to repair that loss by his own endeavour. Mill persuaded Grote, Molesworth, and Raikes Currie to advance the sum of £240. At the end of the year (1845) Comte had taken no steps to enable himself to dispense with the aid of the three Englishmen. Mill applied to them again, but with the exception of Grote, who sent a small sum, they gave Comte to understand that they expected him to earn his own living. Mill had suggested to Comte that he should write articles for the English periodicals, and expressed his own willingness to translate any such articles from the French. Comte at first fell in with the plan, but he speedily surprised and disconcerted Mill by boldly taking up the position of “high moral