Mill’s Philosophy on Happiness and Wordsworth’s influence

“What made Wordsworth’s poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a Source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connexion with struggle of imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind.”

This section is worth noting specifically because of some of our discussions from our last class. We discussed how Wordsworth’s poem was not really about Tintern Abbey, even though it’s title says otherwise, but really is about the emotions that such natural beauties evoke in mankind. Wordsworth’s constantly self-referential and the majority of the poem is within his self-conscious mind. It is interesting that Mill finds solace in this kind of poetry when previously he stated that happiness is not possible for people who are constantly thinking about whether or not they are happy. Through Wordsworth’s poems, Mill realizes that some people in fact are capable of thinking deeply about life and their own emotions and still feeling happy. He says, “Ask yourself if you are happy and you cease to be so.” Despite eventually rejecting this initially philosophy about happiness he still maintains that people who find happiness in external sources are much happier than those who continually dwell on their own emotions and thoughts. Wordsworth finds happiness in one of these external sources that Mill admires: nature. Though it is an external source that the happiness is originally derived from, Mill also admires Wordsworth’s ability to depict deep and powerful emotion. Mill admits that he doesn’t think of Wordsworth as a very good poet, but his greatness lies in his ability to accurately reflect the human spirit and the emotions that individuals experience. This simple happiness derived from aesthetic beauty is one that Mill feels he can hold on to and will continue to bring him joy, just as it brings Wordsworth joy. Mill’s initial that any kind of happiness if reflected upon too much will cease to exist is proven wrong by Wordsworth’s poetry because through the reflection of this state of simple happiness, happiness does not only continue to exist, but in some ways it exists in a more real and tangible way than it did before it was reflected upon.


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