Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented bears one of the more interesting histories with respect to the text's clash with its publishers. Tess was first intended for publication by the newspaper syndicate Tillotson and Son, originally titled "Too Late Beloved." Owing to the perceived controversial status of scenes like the seduction and midnight baptism which occur at the beginning, Tillotson decided not to go forward with publication. Tess would be rejected again by Murray's Magazine and then Macmillan's Magazine.

Finally, Hardy undertook a bowdlerization of his own original text, and the official serialization of Tess of the d'Urbervilles in the Graphic began on July 4, 1891. (The American serial publication of Tess actually preceded this date, on 7 March 1890, by Harper's Magazine). Despite Hardy's omissions and changes in order that his work could be published, the omitted chapters on Alec's seduction of Tess and Tess's midnight baptism of her own baby were printed in the National Observer and the Fortnightly Review respectively (Though, these chapters were presented as separate stories with character and place names modified so that the stories bore no connection to Tess). The summary below is based on the 1912 Wessex edition, which is considered to be the most "complete" in that it contained Hardy's original text before bowdlerization. [Source: Richard Purdy "Tess as a Serial."]

The novel opens with John Durbeyfield, Tess's father, meeting an antiquary on the road and finding out that he held a kinship with an ancient rich family called the D'Urbervilles. Meanwhile, Tess and the other girls of her village (Marlott) engage in a lively dance called the "club revel," descended from May-Day dances of the past. At this dance, Tess is unintentionally slighted by a visiting student (later, this is revealed to be Angel Clare, whom she later marries) who dances with every girl except for Tess.

Quixotically and foolishly happy about the old connection to the D'Urbervilles, Tess's family sends Tess to the neighboring village Tantridge, in order for her to seek an alliance with a well-to-do old lady of the name D'Urberville. Unbeknownst to the Durbeyfields, this family was took the name D'Urbervilles only in order to pose as a family with old money, actually having acquired money more recently through less respected means of trade and commerce. Reluctantly, Tess obeys her family, largely because she felt responsible for the loss of their horse Prince who was impaled in an accident on an errand into town undertaken for her parents. At Tantridge, Tess meets Alec D'Urberville, the son of the above mentioned old lady.

Alec, who immediately desires Tess, contrives to make Tess manage the poultry-farm at Tantridge. During her time at Tantridge, Tess discovers that the old lady is blind and so is forced to rely more on Alec than she may have hoped. Tess makes repeated attempts to deters Alec's advances, but late one night, Alec on horseback rescues Tess from a tiff with some of the Trantridge villagers. Alec seems to genuinely get lost in the fog, but he takes the opportunity to seduce Tess and the narration shows her yielding in a moment of weakness and half-sleep.

Tess returns home to her father's cottage, and subsequently gives birth to a baby boy who dies soon after death. When the parson cannot baptize her child, Tess controversially baptizes him herself at midnight, employing her younger sibling's to help. She names her child "Sorrow" and buries him under a cross she makes herself.

About two years after retiring home, Tess sets out to work as a milkmaid at Talbothays Dairy, a place where she felt that people would not know her history. Angel Clare, the student that slighted her at the club revel happens to be also working at Talbothays, learning the ropes in order to eventually become a gentleman farmer. Despite Tess's promises to herself that she will not succumb to temptation, the two fall in love and Tess eventually agrees to marry him without having confessed her past to him. She does, however, tell him of her D'Urberville ancestry.

Before her marriage to Angel, Tess struggles with the secret. She writes to her mother who advises her to keep quiet. While the pair go shopping in town, a man from Trantridge recognizes Tess and makes some crude comments about her. Although Angel punches this man down and he relents, Tess, filled with anxiety, slips a letter detailing her past under Angel's door for him. Angel overlooks the letter, and when Tess retrieves it again, she destroys it. Tess goes ahead and marries Angel, but on their wedding night spent in an old D'Urberville mansion, she breaks down and confesses her indiscretion, but not before Angel also confesses a similar indiscretion in which (as the narrator describes it) he was "entrapped by a woman much older than himself."

Angel does not in fact forgive Tess, and Angel decides to leave for Brazil, concealing the separation from his own parents. Angel promises to send Tess money, but in his anger, Angel nearly goes through with taking one of Tess's milkmaid friends Izz Huett to Brazil. Meanwhile, Tess takes employment at a starve-acre farm called Flintcombe-Ash and it turns out that her new employer is the man who insulted her in town. She is, however, reunited with her former milkmaid friends at this farm. Tess is generally too proud to ask her family for charity or Angel's family for charity, but the one time she thinks to visit Angel's family she ends up encountering Alec again, who has somehow become a fiery, evangelical preacher who has supposedly been converted by Reverend Clare, Angel's father.

The reformed Alex asks Tess to swear not to tempt him again and they part. However, Alec soon returns to find Tess at Flitcombe-Ash to ask Tess to marry him. Tess refuses him and lets him know she is already married. Alec keeps returning nevertheless, finally saying that Tess has shaken his faith, and no longer wants to be a preacher. Meanwhile, Tess learns that her mother is dying. Upon rushing home, oddly, her father dies suddenly, and her mother recovers.

John Durbeyfield's death, unfortunately, means that the family will be evicted from their home. Tess and her mother and siblings try to find rooms in Kingsbere, the ancestral D'Urberville home, but are unsuccessful. They take shelter in the D'Urberville church vault temporarily. On behalf of her family, Tess finally bows down to Alec's offers for help, also thinking that Angel won't return. She is wrong, however, because in the meantime Angel has been repenting of his treatment of Tess and had decided to return.

When Angel finally returns, Tess is living with Alec at Sandbourne, a seaside resort. Tess says that he is too late, and he leaves, dejectedly. Instead of accepting her fate, however, Tess stabs Alec to death, and runs after Angel. Angel accepts her and the two of them spend a few happy days as man and wife at an empty mansion where they sneak in to find shelter.

The story ends tragically when they must move on from the mansion and walk to Stonehenge. Tess begs for rest, and falls asleep despites Angel's persuasions that they must move on. They are discovered by the police, and Angel tells them to let her finish her sleep. Tess awakes, and movingly remarks, "I am ready." Tess is taken to Winchester prison, where she is executed. The novel closes with Angel and Liza-Lu (Tess's younger sister) holding hands and watching the black flag of execution go up over the prison, and then going off on their way.

Hardy's novel seems to abound with sharp shifts in perspective: natural versus social, tragic versus comic, reason versus sentiment, suffering versus enjoyment. Nature's alternative perspective to social custom often comes in the form of "instinct," "inherent will," and "appetite"--and indeed the narrator describes the "inherent will for enjoyment" and the "appetite for joy" as driving Tess forward time and again in the novel, despite the many social obstacles which seek to pin her down. Though clearly one of the more bleakly tragic works of the era, shifts in perspective disorient the reader in such a way as to displace orthodox notions of tragedy and comedy. As Angel tells her after Tess has thought to commit suicide in order to "save" Angel from her shame, for example, "It is nonsense to have such thoughts in this kind of case, which is one rather for satirical laughter than for tragedy." A personal history of transgression is inevitably funny when narrated by gossip. Yet one can hardly think such a thing is comic when the novel closes with the somber black flag of Tess's execution.

Ultimately, these shifts in perspective tend to prevent anything from being truly seen or known "as it really is." Even the most idealistically Arnoldian character of the novel, Angel Clare, hopelessly fails at being "critical" enough of orthodoxies with which he grew up--despite his apostatical rejection of his father's Calvinist beliefs, he nevertheless fails to see Tess as she is, only accepting her when she seems to live up to some ideal perfection which he imagines. When he finds out that she is "fallen," what has hitherto seemed to him in Tess a beautiful, pagan naturalness now seems the ways of a coarse, uncultured peasant girl ("You almost make me say you are an unapprehending peasant woman," he says).

Perhaps then, such shifts in perspective are in part what has spurred such critical disagreement over Tess. As critic Oliver Lovejoy puts it, "the ideological unwieldiness of Tess of the D'Urbervilles can be explained...partly by the novel's blending of a cautionary tale of the fallen woman and a story about the late-Victorian confrontation with 'the ache of modernism'." Although arguably "modernity" begins far earlier in the Victorian era and its "ache" reflected in earlier novels, it does seem that life experience in Hardy's novel is much less readable, codifiable, and comprehensible than ever before. Characters seem alien to one another, and events of great consequence in the lives of individuals seem contingent largely on on momentary and temporary sentiments (e.g., Tess's "fall," Angel's departure to Brazil, or Alec's "conversion" and subsequent fall back into temptation). Beginning with Henry James, critics of Tess have often noted the "absences" or gaps in narration that control Tess's experiences and speech as aspects which tend to disallow readers from "getting at her," in a word, seeing her as she really is. She is as alien to the reader as she is to the men who are bewitched by her. At times she seems even alien to herself--she hardly knows what she will do at any given moment. For example, besides her "fall" which seems deliberately ambiguous as far as who is to blame and to what extent, other decisions Tess clearly makes herself, such as destroying the letter to Angel or her switch from a devoted to angry in the letters she sends to Brazil.

The remarks which Hardy makes in his preface to the fifth edition might offer a clue as to the logics of the more "modern" novel which he meant to write. Hardy professes that "the novel was intended to be neither didactic or aggressive, but in the scenic parts to be representative simply, and in the contemplative to be oftener charged with impressions than with convictions." Hardy's Tess isn't a work which sticks to anything other than these shifts of perspective, but nevertheless these shifts or "impressions" don't seem any less valid (and are actually more valid, I think) than argument and conviction. Tess yet strives for the Arnolidan "seeing things as they are" and has not given up the project of trying to do so but suggests that "things as they are" are in fact momentary and shifting. Man is far from being rational, reasoned, and consistent and there are many aspects of his sentiment and nature that seem yet to be understood. Still, as "modern" as the "momentary" or the "shifting" might seem, Hardy's novel does not quite resonate with the fragmentation of say, Woolf or Lawrence. I argue that even as the assumptions of reasoned coherence have been cast aside, Hardy's pursuit of impressions resonates with a hopefulness and purpose which renders Tess not simply a pessimistic, gratuitously tragic work as some have charged.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Function of Criticism at the Present Time by Matthew Arnold

Arnold's essay, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time" was published in his first collection of critical writings, Essays in Criticism, in 1865. Prior to the publication of these essays, Arnold had just completed some lectures on the translation of Homer--works which bear, in a less developed form, some of Arnold's ideas on the need for new, intelligent criticism in England.

"The Function of Criticism at the Present Time" thus seems a bit of a turning point in Arnold's career; by the time Arnold began writing Culture and Anarchy, he had turned away from his career as a poet to focus on social and theological writings. The project which Arnold began with this essay--to make the reading, middle-class public of England understand the need for a critical spirit in order to provide society with fresh, intelligent ideas--would occupy him fully and it is for this new direction which Arnold takes that would make Arnold interesting to generations after him.

The central argument of the essay responds to what Arnold felt to be the prevailing attitude that the constructive, creative capacity was much more important than the critical faculty. Arnold's expanded definition of criticism, however--"the endeavour, in all branches of knowledge, theology, philosophy, history, art, science, to see the object as in itself it really is"--renders criticism a necessary prerequisite for truly valuable creation. Specifically, criticism is what generates "fresh" and "intelligent" ideas during a specific time and place in history, and Arnold claim that since literature works with current ideas (literature is "synthesis and exposition"), great works can only be generated in a climate of great ideas. Thus, Arnold argues that criticism prepares the way for creation

Arnold pegs the work of the romantic poets after the French Revolution and in the earlier part of the century as creative, but without the quality of ideas necessary for truly great work. This is because, Arnold explains, the French Revolution devolved into an obsession with the political and practical, "quitting the intellectual sphere and rushing furiously into the political sphere." While Arnold praises the intellectual quality of the initial ideas, particularly Burke's, coming out of this "epoch of concentration," Arnold disparages the devolution of these ideas too manically into the political and practical.

In the present time, Arnold argues, criticism must maintain a position of "disinterestedness," keeping aloof from "the practical view of things" in order to "know the best that is known and thought in the world, and in its turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas." Its logic runs counter to that of self-satisfaction (what Arnold felt to be the problematic attitude of middle-class reformers) and thus leads men to desire greater perfection.

Arnold concedes, finally, that the work of the critic is "slow and obscure" and doesn't quite give an answer as to how the critic can make his work known to the so-called "practical" men. Arnold holds that the critic will be misunderstood, and English society is likely to be on the side of the likes of Bishop Colenso and Miss Cobbe, who offer "constructive" suggestions for living. Nevertheless, Arnold seems deeply hopeful that the recent commentary on the youth of today having less "zeal" means that they are in fact thinking more, and cultivating a more disinterested, critical life and in doing so, coming up with fresh, intelligent ideas.

One of the most interesting aspects of Arnold's ideas on criticism for me is his direct association between the need for criticism and what he perceived to be an increasingly complex, modern, world. As abstract as many of Arnold's phrases seem, and given the absence of any sense of specific historicity in terms like "epoch of concentration" or "epoch of expansion," somehow, Arnold yet maintains that he means criticism for the present time, which, as it turns out, means "modernity." In his own words, "the life and world being in modern times very complex things," it becomes necessary that an intellectual elite (transcending above all "practical" things--later, in Culture and Anarchy, "ordinary selves"--including class status, but problematically so as Hadley points out in her critique of Victorian liberalism) maintain clarity through determining what is true and what is socially constructed

The emphasis in this essay on "modernity" in all its hefty, complex associations with industrialization, capitalism, secularization, institutional organization, and relatedly, the destruction of the so-called "individual" makes it a particularly interesting one to look at if one is to offer students of Victorian literature a framework for understanding the major clash between humanity and "modernity" perceived by so many. Arnold's sweeping generalizations of the French Revolution and romanticism in this essay also offers an easy way into pointing out two rather different waves of historical anxiety: the first related to the violence of establishing new political orders, the second related to the mechanical complacency of the middle-class individual in the face of improved living conditions and general acceptance of "liberal" ideas.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Subjection of Women by J.S. Mill (1869)

While Mill's relationship with Harriet Taylor here seems to need foregrounding, Mill's belief in the equality of the sexes certainly preceded the relationship, and is consistent with his larger arguments on individual liberty. The Subjection of Women was written two years after Harriet's death in the winter of 1860-61, and Mill acknowledged the help of his step-daughter, Helen Taylor.

The work was not published, however, until 1869, a more favorable time, he felt, for the receipt of his ideas.

Chapter 1: The first chapter doesn't so much get into the argument against the subjection of women, but rather seems to clear a space for the argument. Mill begins by enumerating the difficulties of undertaking on such an argument, primarily because the subordination of women's interests is such a "universal custom." Mill goes on to argue that the basis for this "custom" is theory and certainly not experience, and its only source is the "law of the strongest"--a law, he points out, which modern society has generally repudiated in other cases like slavery. Additionally, modern society has generally accepted that a person's birth should not determine his station in life, but Mill points out that the subordination of women because of their gender is a sad exception. Finally, Mill refutes arguments that it is natural for women to prefer the station of wife/mother, since it's really impossible, at the present time, for men to "know" the truly natural differences between men and women: women have been socialized and educated in such a way as to subordinate their own interests to those of men. The only solution is to allow the "free play" of women's nature and extend to women the individual liberty to choose what they might think and do.

Chapter 2: In this chapter Mill argues that the legal subordination of women makes wives (in a legal sense) occupy a lower situation than slaves. Women's inability to control the fate of her own property or children, and lack of recourse when under a tyrannical husband practically mean they have no rights. Mill points out that while individual relations between men and women might "mitigate" the effects of such unfair legal subordination, wives under "bad men" must suffer under the absolute control of their husbands. At the end of the chapter, Mill expands the argument by saying that equality and "cultivated sympathy" in marriage would be beneficial to both parties, as well as for society's progress more generally.

Chapter 3: Here Mill makes the case for women as being fit for a number of professions traditionally reserved for men only including political roles, scientific pursuits, literary pursuits, and the arts and music beyond fulfilling the requirements of domestic grace. Mill concedes that at present, it is actually impossible to tell what differences there may be between men and women with respect to their natural abilities and propensities, because of the great disparity between the ways in which men and women are educated and socialized. Nevertheless, Mill writes that "doubt does not forbid conjecture," and ventures, in this chapter, many speculations about men and women's respective capacities and propensities. For example, Mill contends that women are better at a "rapid and correct insight into present fact," which he then links up with the pragmatic, the consideration of individuals, and depth of thinking, and men are better at speculation of a more theoretical nature, the consideration of the general, and breadth of thinking. Both of these tendencies are forces that ought to balance each other out. With respect to temperament, Mill seems to concede that women might be hereditarily more "nervous" but then he goes on to defend the "nervous temperament" as one which possesses much energy--energy that might be directed towards "the leadership of mankind." Near the end of the chapter, Mill again expands the notion of allowing women to partake equally in professional and public life as good for all of humanity, and concludes with the thought that the fight for female emancipation must be undertaken by both men and women.

Chapter 4: In the final chapter, Mill enumerates the many ways that the liberation of women would benefit both men and women, and hence society as a whole. He argues that men's own minds are perverted by pride when boys are falsely taught that they are superior merely because of their sex. Mill further argues that the education of women would also double "the mass of mental faculties available for the higher service of humanity." Additionally, even in the current time in which subjection of women continues to be practiced, Mill points to women's involvement in religion and charity as evidence that women would be a tempering moral force in society, though he is critical of philanthropic involvement which does not take into account the "bigger picture" and which tends to make individuals dependent--this, however, is not the fault of women who try to do good, but the fault of society for not allowing women to be educated about the ways of the world. Finally, Mill ends with some thoughts about the improved relations and specifically, marriages, that would result from more similar upbringings between men and women: in the ideal marriage, men and women would be partners in the higher service of humanity. 


One of the most interesting tensions in Mill's The Subjection of Women is between his strong conjectures over ostensibly natural differences between men and women, and his equally strong disavowal of men's capacity to know anything about women due to society disallowing women the liberty to express their true natures. Mill doesn't spend much time trying to resolve these tensions; except, perhaps with the several brief statements as to how "doubt does not forbid conjecture."As we know from On Liberty, however, feeling any degree of certainty (where absolute certainty is not possible) requires an extremely assiduous critical process of checking one's opinions against opposing ones. It seems that one must assume that Mill's claims have already gone through this vigorous process, but then one wonders, on the ground of Mill's own principles, as to how any kind of certainty can be arrived at when there is so little information at all--since the half of the population that might know best can't express themselves.

Of course, practically speaking, if this premise of Mill's were fully embraced, he would have very little to write about in The Subjection of Women. Unlike On Liberty, The Subjection of Women seems to be more "embroiled" in that it seems to insist upon the usefulness of taking a stand (even while knowing that the stand is based on very little information and might be wrong). In a way then, Mill (knowingly, and to a lesser degree) commits the same act as those who would base their stand on women's inferiority on little to no factual information, but perhaps only to provide the opposing opinion in a critical dialogue in order that society might come closer to the truth. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On Liberty by J.S. Mill


Mill's On Liberty (1859) is one of the cornerstone texts of liberalism in the modern world. Interestingly, On Liberty had a very personal significance to Mill. Specifically, it includes one of the most moving dedications to his wife, Harriet Taylor, who died in 1858. Mill met Taylor in 1830 who was then married to a wealthy businessman, and subsequently married her two years after her husband's death in 1851. In the dedication, Mill credits Taylor with being "part author," and expresses regret that the final work was not subject to the "inestimable advantage of her revision." Though scholars have not found any conclusive evidence as to the extent of Taylor's influence on the text, On Liberty's composition history reveals that the work was one which Mill held as particularly close to his heart.

The idea for the work probably originated as early as 1854, when it was included in a list of themes compiled by Mill and Taylor. In January 1855, Mill wrote to Harriet about his feeling that "almost all the projects of social reformers in these days are really liberticide" and hence he felt that a book discussing liberty was greatly needed. Later, Mill would describe this work as "a philosophic text-book of a single truth," a truth that he felt to be deeply lacking in Victorian society, namely the need for true individual freedom within the bounds of society.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, as Mill was speaking out vehemently against the reform measures and customs of his contemporaries, the initial public's reaction to On Liberty was rather hostile. One of the major critiques of Mill, both today and in the past, is the unworkability of his theory on disallowing an individual's action from harming others, as there is no private sphere of no influence. In the final chapters, Mill addresses this critique.

Chapter 1: Introductory
Here Mill sets the bounds of his argument, beginning with the qualification that he will not be discussing "Liberty of the Will" but specifically, "Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual." He goes through a history of the concept of civil liberty, from its origins as a defense against tyrannical rulers, to the enumeration of rights, and the concept of representative government, where the state is no longer assumed to be antagonistic to the people. Mill warns that although there are no longer tyrants, social tyranny and the tyranny of the majority exists, and in particular, customs tend to create the illusion of rules as somehow self-evident or natural. In order to protect individual freedoms, Mill advocates the principle that self-protection is the only justification for interfering with the liberty of body or mind of another person. He qualifies that this rule applies only to "human beings in the maturity of their faculties," thus exempting children, and those who lived in "barbaric" times or presently as "barbarians."Mill concludes the introductory with an expanded definition of liberty as liberty of conscience/thought/feeling, tastes and pursuits, and combination amongst individuals.

Chapter 2: Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion
This chapter explores the topic of liberty of thought, and relatedly, of discussion. Mill argues that truth is arrived at through the clash of contrary opinions, and so no one should be silenced. Any individual or party who silences another is assuming infallibility (which, Mill clarifies, does not mean that individuals can't be pretty certain -- "assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life"). Mill even goes so far as to argue that the "sole way" of arriving at the greatest certainty is by testing one's own opinions against contrary ones. To provide examples, Mill goes through the case of Socrates's sentencing, Christ's sentencing, and Marcus Aurelius's erroneous judgment of Christianity to illustrate how men with the best of intentions may think they are right but actually err. According to Mill, the avoidance of "dead dogma" and the acquisition of "living truth" can be achieved through contention, and that indeed, in times where people had to fight for a creed, their beliefs were much more vital and active, and therefore influential on people's "imagination, feelings, and understanding." Perhaps most controversially, Mill holds that Christian morality is incomplete as a truth, and was meant as such--it tends to emphasize only the negative side of things, in other words, it tells people what they should not do over and above what they should do. To have a complete "truth" of human existence, secular humanist values must also be incorporated.

Chapter 3: On Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being
This chapter extends the reasons as to why opinions should be free to apply also to why opinions in practice/action should also be free. Although the experience of others and generations before might be useful, each individual should be free to "interpret experience in his own way." Mill emphasizes the need to choose one's own plan for life, and holds that otherwise, humans might as well be machines, and hence, not fully human. According to Mill, current society (largely because of its Calvinist underpinnings) tends too much to de-value desire and impulse in favor of belief and restraint; indeed, "strong impulses" are just another name for "energy," and energy can be used for good or evil, depending on how it is directed. Mill goes on to define "genius" as "originality in thought and action," and argues against the collective mediocrity and uniformity which the public tends towards, as a result of better communication networks and commerce. In short, a diversity of tastes and pursuits are necessary for the healthy functioning of a society. The counterexample which Mill sets up is China, where he believes that political and educational systems have successfully compelled a people to live under uniform customs and doctrines. Mill, however, doesn't credit what he perceives to be greater plurality in Europe thus far to any sense of European superiority, but simply states that the circumstances of national diversity have been a boon for Europe.

Chapter 4: Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual
Mill returns to his principle of not injuring the interests of one another and offers some more concrete instances for when and how society might regulate human conduct. Mill holds that while it is okay for an individual to "act upon [an] unfavourable opinion of someone" it is not okay to encroach on their rights, deal falsely with them, or to bear a "cruelty of disposition" towards them. Pity and dislike are both allowed, while resentment and anger are not. In the case where an individual inflicts harm against someone, however, society has a right and duty to punish that person in the interests of everyone else. In answer to the major critique that it's impossible to distinguish practically exactly when a person's concerns encroach upon those of others, Mill answers that there is a difference between "definite/direct" injury and "contingent/constructive" injury and thus cases might be individually decided on these criteria. The chapter concludes with examples of unjust interference with individual tastes and pursuits such as the intemperance movement, Sabbatarian legislation which bans certain amusements, and the persecution of Mormonism (though he clarifies his own disagreement with Mormonism's precepts).

Chapter 5: Applications
In this chapter Mill offers some "specimens of applications" in the service of elucidating the two major maxims which he has thus far argued: 1) the individual is not accountable to society for his actions insofar as they just concern himself and 2) the individual is accountable for actions which are prejudicial to the interests of others and may be punished by society (legally, or socially) for such actions. Mill considers a number of cases and argues through their complexities according to these maxims (the sale of poisons, idleness, drunkenness, pimping, the erecting of gambling houses, taxation of stimulants, marriage, whether it is admissible to sell oneself as a slave, and education). The chapter concludes with three objections to the interference of the state - 1) when things are likely better done by individuals than by the government; 2) even when things are better accomplished by government, it is in the interest of the mental education of individuals for them to accomplish these things; 3) unecessarily adding to a government's power is to create ruling, stagnant bureacracies and an unthinking public. The government should always tend towards cultivating the mental and bodily activity of its people; if it takes on too much responsibility, there will only be "small men," cogs in a machine that hold no "vital power" of their own (and hence the "machine" itself will have no vital power).

See thoughts on Mill and Arnold under the Victorian liberalism page.