magistrate,” and accusing the three defaulting contributors of a scandalous falling away from righteousness and a high mind. Mill was chilled by these pretensions; and the correspondence came to an end. There is something to be said for both sides. Comte, regarding himself as the promoter of a great scheme for the benefit of humanity, might reasonably look for the support of his friends in the fulfilment of his designs. But Mill and the others were fully justified in not aiding the propagation of a doctrine in which they might not wholly concur. Comte’s subsequent attitude of censorious condemnation put him entirely in the wrong.
From 1845 to 1848 Comte lived as best he could, as well as made his wife her allowance, on an income of £200 a year. His little account books of income and outlay, with every item entered down to a few hours before his death, are accurate and neat enough to have satisfied an ancient Roman householder. In 1848, through no fault of his own, his salary was reduced to £80. Littré and others, with Comte’s approval, published an appeal for subscriptions, and on the money thus contributed Comte subsisted for the remaining nine years of his life. By 1852 the subsidy produced as much as £200 a year. It is worth noticing that Mill was one of the subscribers, and that Littré continued his assistance after he had been driven from Comte’s society by his high pontifical airs. We are sorry not to be able to record any similar trait of magnanimity on Comte’s part. His character, admirable as it is for firmness, for intensity, for inexorable will, for iron devotion to what he thought the service of mankind, yet offers few of those softening qualities that make us love good men and pity bad ones.
It is best to think of him only as the intellectual worker, pursuing in uncomforted obscurity the laborious and absorbing task to which he had given up his whole life. His singularly conscientious fashion of elaborating his ideasLiterary
method. made the mental strain more intense than even so exhausting a work as the abstract exposition of the principles of positive science need have been. He did not write down a word until he had first composed the whole matter in his mind. When he had thoroughly meditated every sentence, he sat down to write, and then, such was the grip of his memory, the exact order of his thoughts came back to him as if without an effort, and he wrote down precisely what he had intended to write, without the aid of a note or a memorandum, and without check or pause. For example, he began and completed in about six weeks a chapter in the Positive Philosophy (vol. v. ch. 55) which would fill forty pages of this Encyclopaedia. When we reflect that the chapter is not narrative, but an abstract exposition of the guiding principles of the movements of several centuries, with many threads of complex thought running along side by side all through the speculation, then the circumstances under which it was reduced to literary form are really astonishing. It is hardly possible, however, to share the admiration expressed by some of Comte’s disciples for his style. We are not so unreasonable as to blame him for failing to make his pages picturesque or thrilling; we do not want sunsets and stars and roses and ecstasy; but there is a certain standard for the most serious and abstract subjects. When compared with such philosophic writing as Hume’s, Diderot’s, Berkeley’s, then Comte’s manner is heavy, laboured, monotonous, without relief and without light. There is now and then an energetic phrase, but as a whole the vocabulary is jejune; the sentences are overloaded; the pitch is flat. A scrupulous insistence on making his meaning clear led to an iteration of certain adjectives and adverbs, which at length deadened the effect beyond the endurance of all but the most resolute students. Only the interest of the matter prevents one from thinking of Rivarol’s ill-natured remark upon Condorcet, that he wrote with opium on a page of lead. The general effect is impressive, not by any virtues of style, for we do not discern one, but by reason of the magnitude and importance of the undertaking, and the visible conscientiousness and the grasp with which it is executed. It is by sheer strength of thought, by the vigorous perspicacity with which he strikes the lines of cleavage of his subject, that he makes his way into the mind of the reader; in the presence of gifts of this power we need not quarrel with an ungainly style.
Comte pursued one practice which ought to be mentioned in connexion with his personal history, the practice of what he style hygiène cérébrale. After he had acquired what he considered to be a sufficient stock of material, and Hygiène
cérébrale. this happened before he had completed the Positive Philosophy, he abstained from reading newspapers, reviews, scientific transactions and everything else, except two or three poets (notably Dante) and the Imitatio Christi. It is true that his friends kept him informed of what was going on in the scientific world. Still this partial divorce of himself from the record of the social and scientific activity of his time, though it may save a thinker from the deplorable evils of dispersion, moral and intellectual, accounts in no small measure for the exaggerated egoism, and the absence of all feeling for reality, which marked Comte’s later days.
In 1845 Comte made the acquaintance of Madame Clotilde de Vaux, a lady whose husband had been sent to the galleys for life. Very little is known about her qualities. She wrote a little piece which Comte rated so preposterously Madame de
Vaux. as to talk about George Sand in the same sentence; it is in truth a flimsy performance, though it contains one or two gracious thoughts. There is true beauty in the saying—“It is unworthy of a noble nature to diffuse its pain.” Madame de Vaux’s letters speak well for her good sense and good feeling, and it would have been better for Comte’s later work if she had survived to exert a wholesome restraint on his exaltation. Their friendship had only lasted a year when she died (1846), but the period was long enough to give her memory a supreme ascendancy in Comte’s mind. Condillac, Joubert, Mill and other eminent men have shown what the intellectual ascendancy of a woman can be. Comte was as inconsolable after Madame de Vaux’s death as D’Alembert after the death of Mademoiselle L’Espinasse. Every Wednesday afternoon he made a reverential pilgrimage to her tomb, and three times every day he invoked her memory in words of passionate expansion. His disciples believe that in time the world will reverence Comte’s sentiment about Clotilde de Vaux, as it reveres Dante’s adoration of Beatrice—a parallel that Comte himself was the first to hit upon. Yet we cannot help feeling that it is a grotesque and unseemly anachronism to apply in grave prose, addressed to the whole world, those terms of saint and angel which are touching and in their place amid the trouble and passion of the great mystic poet. Whatever other gifts Comte may have had—and he had many of the rarest kind,—poetic imagination was not among them, any more than poetic or emotional expression was among them. His was one of those natures whose faculty of deep feeling is unhappily doomed to be inarticulate, and to pass away without the magic power of transmitting itself.
Comte lost no time, after the completion of his Course of Positive Philosophy, in proceeding with the System of Positive Polity, for which the earlier work was designed to be a foundation. The first volume was published in Positive
Polity. 1851, and the fourth and last in 1854. In 1848, when the political air was charged with stimulating elements, he founded the Positive Society, with the expectation that it might grow into a reunion as powerful over the new revolution as the Jacobin Club had been in the revolution of 1789. The hope was not fulfilled, but a certain number of philosophic disciples gathered round Comte, and eventually formed themselves, under the guidance of the new ideas of the latter half of his life, into a kind of church, for whose use was drawn up the Positivist Calendar (1849), in which the names of those who had advanced civilization replaced the titles of the saints. Gutenberg and Shakespeare were among the patrons of the thirteen months in this calendar. In the years 1849, 1850 and 1851 Comte gave three courses of lectures at the Palais Royal. They were gratuitous and popular, and in them he boldly advanced the whole of his doctrine, as well as the direct and immediate pretensions of himself and his system. The third course ended