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Source: Editor's introduction to The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill,
Volume I - Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. John M. Robson and
Jack Stillinger, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981).
Copyright Statement: The online edition of the Collected
Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Introduction by Lord Robbins
john stuart mill’sAutobiography offers details of his life, a subjective judgment as to its significance, and lengthy expositions of his leading ideas. It is therefore fitting that it should occupy the first place in an edition of his collected works. Indeed Mill himself, thinking of a smaller collection of essays, suggested to his wife that “the Life” should appear “at their head.” The Autobiography’s comprehensiveness makes the choice of other materials to accompany it less obvious. Those gathered under the rubric of literary essays were decided upon because autobiography is a literary genre, because these essays cast light on some of the personal relations outlined in the memoir, and because they derive from and help us understand a period Mill saw as crucial to his development. Indeed they allow us, as does the Autobiography, to see aspects of his character that are obscured in the more magisterial works. In particular, one finds specific evidence of aesthetic enthusiasm and taste, and of friendships and allegiances, that proves him not to have been the chill pedant of caricature.
autobiographies are seldom explicit about their purposes, which can be widely diverse. Yet to ignore the author’s intentions is to run the risk of confusing, for example, confession with self-celebration, or diary with social anatomy. Mill helps us avoid this danger by presenting, in the first paragraph of his Autobiography, a warning that serves as an enticing framework for his overt statement of purpose. He cannot imagine that anything in a life “so uneventful” could be “interesting to the public as a narrative, or as being connected” with himself. But there are, he says, other reasons that justify the publication of the record: first, a description of his “unusual and remarkable” education should be useful in showing how much can effectively be taught to children; second, an account of the successive phases of a mind always eager and open will be “both of interest and of benefit” in “an age of transition in opinions”; and, finally, and to the author most significantly (though, as he does not point out, without direct public utility), an acknowledgment of his intellectual and moral debts is necessary to satisfy his sense of duty. Having thus established the terms of a contract with his potential audience. Mill closes the paragraph with an admonition that probably no one has ever heeded: “The reader whom these things do not interest, has only himself to blame if he reads farther, and I do not desire any other indulgence from him than that of bearing in mind, that for him these pages were not written” (p. 5).
Anyone reading this introduction (and we beg the same indulgence) presumably believes, malgré Mill, that his “uneventful” life is interesting, or accepts, with him, the validity of his stated goals. One can proceed, then, to use the opening paragraph as an avenue into comment on the Autobiography, confident that one is on the author’s chosen route. To do so is doubly important, for some critics have chosen to treat his evident omissions and underplaying of events and people as evidence of suppressed psychological states or distorting attitudes. And such inferences may be correct: but at least one should give Mill credit, with his quirks and biasses, for knowing what he was trying to do.
It is apparent, to begin with, that the narrative balance is affected by his notion of what his readers should properly take an interest in. As so often occurs in personal memoirs, there is a chronological imbalance: the first six chapters (about 70 per cent of the text) cover the period to 1840, when Mill was thirty-six years old, while the seventh and last chapter deals with the next thirty years. The title of that last chapter—“General View of the Remainder of My Life”—suggests summary and diminuendo, whereas the titles of the earlier chapters imply the rich detail that they in fact contain.
Although chronology is (in the main) the structural guide, the pace is irregular: ignoring some adumbration and very slight retrospection, one can say that Chapters i and ii cover roughly the same years (to aet. 15) from different points of view, intellectual and moral. Chapter iii, rather surprisingly, covers only about two years (to aet. 17). Chapters iv and v together deal with nine years (to 1830, aet. 24); they overlap in their accounts of the period from 1826 to 1829 (aet. 20 to 23). Chapter vi takes one through the next decade (to 1840, aet. 34), and Chapter vii brings the narrative to the point where Mill finally put down his pen, early in 1870 (aet. 63). Furthermore, the chapters vary considerably in length, so the average amount of space given per year in each period clarifies the emphasis:
||i & ii
||iv & v
| Percentages are used because the setting of the text in this edition (parallel passages with blank spaces) and the number of footnotes make page counting unreliable. For that reason, in both Table 1 and Table 2 below, the counts are based on Jack Stillinger’s editions of the Autobiography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969) and The Early Draft of John Stuart Mill’s “Autobiography” (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961).
|No. of years
|% of total pages
|% of pages per year
Explanatory light is thrown on the imbalance by Mill’s tripartite division of his life: the first stage being one of education and of propagandism for Philosophic Radicalism; the second stage one of new ideas, assimilation, and reconsideration; and the third stage one of mature and steady (but not rigid) views, recorded in his major works. This division, seen in conjunction with the three purposes Mill announces, makes it clearer why he structured the Autobiography as he did.
The account of his education (first purpose) occupies most of the first three chapters, while the explanation of the “successive phases” of his mind (second purpose) is the main matter of the next three chapters. The division between these phases, however, cannot be distinctly drawn, and the third purpose, acknowledgment of debts, as is to be expected, is served through most of the work. The reason is that education in its widest sense is a continuous process, during which one moves through “phases” and incurs repeated debts. For example, looking at the transition from Chapter iii to Chapter iv, one sees that the former ends with an account of what Mill, in its title, identifies as the “first” stage of his self-education, and the latter, with its mention of the strenuous activities of the fledgling Philosophic Radicals (discussions, debates, studies, editing, essays), obviously is the next phase. But, while the narrative of sectarian activities in Chapter iv provides an excellent foil for the rejection of one-sidedness in Chapter v, it also outlines a continuation of the young Mill’s education. Furthermore, his education of course continued in the exciting phase described in Chapter v, “A Crisis in My Mental History. One Stage Onward.” And in each of these chapters, as in Chapters i and ii, he mentions people who influenced him. The thematic intertwining, with the consequent need to cover crucial periods from different standpoints, explains why the period of greatest overlap, from about 1821 to the early 1830s, gets most attention. A glance at Table 1 above will show that Chapters iii-v occupy about 40 per cent of the whole work, and on an average each year in that period is given more than 3½ times as much space as each year after 1840.
So, if we accept the premises Mill himself advances, the concentration on his education and intellectual development until his mid-thirties is neither surprising nor exceptionable. Indeed, the anomalous element is the final chapter, with its account of his next thirty years, in which there should be little matter relevant to his stated purposes. There is, in fact, some: most obviously, Mill pays important tribute to his wife. Chapter vi, which covers the decade of their first acquaintance, has in its title the strong assertion, “Commencement of the Most Valuable Friendship of My Life,” but the continuation of the account into the final chapter results in almost one-fifth of it being dedicated to her part in his life and work. Indeed, he ties that account directly to his third purpose:
In resuming my pen some years after closing the preceding narrative, I am influenced by a desire not to leave incomplete the record, for the sake of which chiefly this biographical sketch was undertaken, of the obligations I owe to those who have either contributed essentially to my own mental developement or had a direct share in my writings and in whatever else of a public nature I have done.
It may be noticed that here he somewhat modifies his initial statement of purpose: rather than referring to aids to his intellectual and moral development, he refers to those who contributed to his mental development and to those who shared in his writings and public acts. This modification further justifies the final chapter, for in its pages appear substantial accounts of his writings in maturity, in the course of which he mentions other debts. It cannot be denied, however, that after the last tribute to his wife, the focus does alter: in actual as well as proportional length, Mill gives more space to his parliamentary career (1865-68) than to any other period in his life, even that of his “mental crisis.” The account of that career, the events of which were fresh in his mind only a year after his defeat, is not easily justified on Mill’s stated terms. Indeed, its main interest surely lies outside them, in his own character and fame, which are described if not in a boastful, at least in a self-satisfied way.
Apart from the concluding portion of Chapter vii (which, untypically for Mill, was not rewritten), one can, then, gain considerable insight by accepting his exordium as accurate. In that light, some comment on the way he fulfils his goals is appropriate.
First, the description of his extraordinary education, initially at the hands of his father, but later and indeed for most of the time on his own initiative, is copious and full of interest. The account is also dense, as may be seen by comparing the combined lengths of Appendices B and C below, which attempt to reconstruct his early reading and writing, with their primary source, the early pages of the Autobiography (cf. especially pp. 9-25 with App. B, pp. 552-68). The early start (Greek at the age of three) was not then so exceptional as it now would be: to choose relevant comparisons, Bentham (with not much encouragement) was quick off the infant blocks, as (with more encouragement) was Macaulay. Mill was unusual, but he appears unique because he left such a full record. His detailed memory of those early years is surprising; however, he almost certainly had at least one aide-mémoire, a copy of the letter he wrote to Sir Samuel Bentham in mid-1819, setting out his educational accomplishments of the preceding six years. That letter confirms and slightly expands the account in the Autobiography, and strengthens our appreciation of two aspects of his education—its continued and indeed increasing intensity, and the fact that it was intermingled with daily instruction of his younger siblings, especially of the two closest to him in age, Wilhelmina and Clara. In both these respects he was very unusual, especially when it is remembered that he had no formal education at all, his only teacher, in these early years, being his father, who was in truth using the child as a proving ground for his theories. (This wicked practice, it may be remarked, is found in all enlightened periods.) However, as Mill points out, his was not an education of cram; its great virtue, he believed, was that it enabled and encouraged him to think for himself, not only answering but questioning, not only getting but giving, not only remembering but discovering. This practice remained with him through life, and was connected with yet another distinguishing element: his curiosity and eagerness to learn. In the Autobiography this attribute is mentioned, although it surely tells against his assertion that anyone educated as he was could match his record. In the journal he kept while in France, his eagerness stands out as though in boldface, while one can read between the lines the efforts of his hosts, especially Lady Bentham, to prevent his doing lessons all the time.
Probably the most extraordinary aspect of Mill’s precocity was his ability from about twelve to fifteen years of age to comprehend and enunciate abstract ideas in economics, and some parts of philosophy and science. Many gifted children astonish with feats of memory, with ability to learn languages, and, perhaps most obviously, with great mathematical powers; Mill had these talents, but also showed astonishing maturity in his wide-ranging discussions with his father and others, in his self-directed studies, in his comments on his more formal studies, and in the major surviving piece of contemporary evidence, the “Traité de logique” he wrote while in France. And, without extending the case unduly, his editing, before his twentieth year, of Bentham’s Rationale of Judicial Evidence (see the understated account on pp. 117-19 below) was a genuinely amazing feat.
In his account, of course, Mill, in keeping with his third purpose, is celebrating not himself, but his father, and, despite the qualifications and explanations, it is a celebration, incorporating at least one memorable aphorism: “A pupil from whom nothing is ever demanded which he cannot do, never does all he can” (p. 35). Moving into the period of self-education, Mill, having learned his pedagogy, broadened his teaching to include others who were caught up in the Radicals’ increasing momentum, and one can be sure that at least the demand side of the aphorism was observed. We cannot now recapture all the detail—let alone the enthusiasm—of the activities he joined in with others, but what is known is remarkable.
The earliest joint venture was probably the “Mutual Improvement Society,” not mentioned in the Autobiography, which flowered at least briefly under Jeremy Bentham’s patronage. The date of Mill’s two surviving speeches for that Society, 1823 or 1824, suggests that in fact it may have melded with the “Utilitarian Society” that Mill says he founded in the winter of 1822-23 (p. 81); the latter also met in Bentham’s house, included Bentham’s amanuensis, Richard Doane, and convened once a fortnight to read essays and discuss questions of ethics and politics. This small group, which continued until 1826, included Mill’s most intimate friends, as did its successor, the “Society of Students of Mental Philosophy,” which met for detailed discussion of specific philosophic and economic texts in George Grote’s house from 1825 until early in 1828, and then again in 1829. In the mid-20s, emulating the philosophes, Mill kept a journal of his group’s activities, and wrote a few articles for a proposed Philosophical Dictionary to be edited by Charles Austin (see p. 110; the journal and articles seem not to have survived).
Another kind of mutual education, through propagation of the faith, was contemporaneous: public debate. First, in 1825, he and some friends debated against the Owenites of the Cooperative Society; then, from 1826 to 1829, they embarked on a more impressive scheme, the London Debating Society, in which the coming young men opened their minds and talents on major issues of the times. Less important were evening meetings to study elocution, and the formation of a class to learn German on the “Hamiltonian method.”
Of greater significance in a wider sphere was the work done by the young Philosophic Radicals with their elders and mentors on the Westminster Review, founded in 1824 (see pp. 93-101), and on the Parliamentary History and Review during its brief career from 1826 to 1828 (p. 121), the latter year also seeing the Mills withdraw from the Westminster Review stable (p. 135). Throughout this period Mill’s practical education, the value of which he acknowledges on p. 87, was going on in the Examiner’s Office of the East India Company, which he had joined in 1823 on his seventeenth birthday. Finally, though the details are vague, one should not overlook the broad educational benefits of his less formal but undoubtedly strenuous and wide-ranging discussions with his friends on his daily walks between Kensington and the City, and his weekend and holiday excursions into the countryside. Even without analysis of his writings, one can wholeheartedly support his judgment that from 1822 to 1828 his “own pursuits . . . were never carried on more vigorously” (p. 89).
Here one is moving to the second of Mill’s purposes, his desire to show “the successive phases” of a “mind which was always pressing forward, equally ready to learn and to unlearn either from its own thoughts or from those of others” (p. 5). The least precise of the three goals, it nonetheless gets very careful attention in the next few chapters of the Autobiography, those dealing with the period from the time of his mental crisis in 1826-27 until 1840, when the Logic was virtually completed. He says that in his account of “these years of transition” he has mentioned only those of his “new impressions” which appeared then and later “to be a kind of turning points, marking a definite progress” in his mode of thought (p. 175). And he goes on to indicate that he was considering much more in those years than the account indicates. The nature and intensity of some of these considerations are to be seen in the literary essays in the present volume.
Many of the changes, these essays also imply, came through personal contact of the kind already suggested, as his circle of acquaintance broadened. The record of “successive phases” of his mind is, therefore, again seen to be intertwined with that of his debts, and so the second and third purposes are served together. Often his desire to acknowledge his intellectual debts is greater than his desire to trace his development, with the result, quite intentional on Mill’s part, that emphasis falls on certain aspects of his development at the expense of others. For example, the brief period of near withdrawal from his customary activities from 1828 to 1830 is left in shade, and little evidence is available elsewhere to fill in the picture. And the years of active political sectarianism in the London and Westminster Review, years that have troubled many who otherwise admire Mill (after all, he says he had already forsworn at least overt sectarianism [see pp. 115-17]), are excused by the plea of circumstance, inadequately described. Again—and from the perspective of the editors of this volume, quite regrettably—Mill gives little space to his writings for journals in the 1830s, and much of that concerns his mainly political leaders in the Examiner.
As mentioned above, one important change, Mill’s new aesthetic interest, is seen in his literary essays. In particular, they indicate the shift in thought following his distress over the effects of purely analytic methods, and point to the existence of what was not quite a school, or even a coterie, but certainly was a group quick to respond and to interact. The relief Mill found in Wordsworth’s poetry (pp. 149-53), and his related discovery of Shelley (a favourite of Harriet Taylor’s), as well as his love of music (almost unmentioned in the Autobiography), and his growing appreciation of drama, painting, and architecture, all had a part in inducing the aesthetic speculations found in these essays. Though they do not amount to an important theory, elements of them are of considerable value, and helped clarify for Mill both the place of emotion in individual lives and in the human sciences, and what he took to be his proper role in the “Art and Science of Life,” as “Scientist” or “Logician,” and not as “Artist” or “Poet.”
Mill was markedly influenced by his new acquaintances, most significantly by W. J. Fox’s circle of Unitarians, including Harriet and John Taylor, by Thomas Carlyle, and by John Sterling. Through Sterling (and perhaps through Cambridge friends of Charles Austin) Mill became acquainted with other of the Cambridge “Apostles,” and it is of more than passing significance that his reaching out for “radicals” of different kinds brought into the net of the London and Westminster Review some of these apparently incompatible, but equally enthusiastic proponents of a new order. When one considers the subjects and provenances of Mill’s articles in the present volume, the network of relations is evident: of those articles published in the 1830s, four of the five that appeared before 1835 were in Fox’s journal, the Monthly Repository (which in these years was Mill’s main organ for non-literary essays as well); all those after that date were in the London and Westminster under his own editorship. Not all the articles are actually reviews, but of those that are, two deal with William Bridges Adams, a protégé of Fox’s, who married Sarah Flower, the sister of Harriet Taylor’s closest friend (and Fox’s lover), Eliza. Browning also was a member of Fox’s circle, and only accident (see pp. xxxiii-xxxiv) prevented Mill’s review of his Pauline from appearing. Tennyson, Helps, Milnes, and Bulwer (see App. F, p. 604) were all Cambridge men, the first three Apostles. This evidence does not justify an accusation of puffery, though the reviews are favourable, but Mill can at least be seen as showing bias in his selection of subjects. And there is other evidence of his raising a wind. Exhalations include his placing, in the Examiner, reviews of Eliza Flower’s musical compositions, and complimentary notices of the Monthly Repository. In return, the Repository blew some kisses, mentioning as a new publication the pamphlet reprint of Mill’s “Corporation and Church Property,” and commenting, “ ‘Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest’ this little pamphlet, which is full of the marrow of a sound philosophy and morality.” In “Characteristics of English Aristocracy,” a review of Bulwer’s England and the English, there is praise for the appendices Mill contributed anonymously on Bentham and James Mill that might well normally have gone unnoticed. And there is an unambiguous (to the informed) reference to Mill: “The most accomplished and perfect logician we ever knew, has the best appreciation of the beautiful and the poetical.”
In all ages, and even among the virtuous, manus manum lavat, and altruism may be a form of self-help. There were, in that age of excitement, when the old order (again) seemed to be passing away, many opportunities for the daring and enthusiastic young to air and share their views, and as Mill passed through his “successive phases” he joined in or was touched by the Philosophic Radicals of the 1820s, the Romantics, the Saint-Simonians, the Unitarians, the Cambridge Apostles, the new bureaucrats, the Philosophic Radicals of the 1830s; in some cases he was at or near the centre, in others on the periphery—but never was he to be ignored.
A change came, however. The last stage (on his account) was one in which he thought himself rejected by “society,” and in which, in any case, he rejected the society of most others. His relation with Harriet Taylor, a relation which they seem naïvely to have thought neither would nor should cause comment, resulted in their eventual isolation from all but a few, such as the Carlyles (and there was constant and increasing tension even with them). Mill’s account of his movement into maturity of opinion, then, ought to be seen also as a movement away from the influence of groups. He did not, it should be clear, go into intellectual solitude, for quite apart from the constant interchange of views with Harriet Taylor, he read and corresponded widely (for example with Auguste Comte). He was not, however, in an arena where the constant push-and-pull of allegiances, opinions, and events could initiate major fluctuations of belief. When, in the mid-1860s after his wife’s death and his retirement from the East India Company, the time did come for him to plunge into turbulent political waters, his general attitudes were indeed firm, though his expression of them in particular circumstances led some to believe him fickle. And at that time, as young men gathered round him—Bain, Cairnes, Fawcett, Morley, even Spencer—it was his influence on them that mattered, not theirs on him. And that tale he does not choose to tell.
The tale he does tell, right from the beginning of the Autobiography, as we have seen, is that of his third purpose: acknowledgment of his intellectual and moral debts, the importance of which justifies brief analysis. It is hard and indeed unwise to identify separately the elements that make up Mill’s accounts of his teachers and friends; there is some mention of their characters, some of their careers, and some of their writings, as well as of their relations with Mill, and all these matters bear on one another. Also, a few people of obvious importance are mentioned almost in passing, one may infer because the exigencies of narrative did not easily permit of a fuller account. As has been argued, the tributes and assessments are entwined with the accounts of his education and the movement of his mind; nonetheless, if we look simply at the main emphasis of passages, almost one-third of the final version is given generally to an account of his debts. (A considerably higher proportion is found in the Early Draft, which includes, inter alia, longer passages on Roebuck and Sarah Austin and necessarily excludes the narrative of the final years.) The relative weighting is interesting. Ignoring all those of less than one-half page in length, one finds:
|Tribute to and discussion of
||App. no. of pages
||Tribute to and discussion of
||App. no. of pages
| In the Early Draft; about three pages were removed in the final revision.
| In the Early Draft; the passage was removed in the final revision.
|Harriet Taylor Mill
Such computation (which ignores the strength as well as the kind of comment) does rough justice to Mill’s account; but he himself is not even-handed. Given other evidence, including Mill’s writings, no one is likely to challenge the placing of his father and his wife at the head of the list of those who influenced him. The kind of influence and its effect are perhaps moot, especially in the case of his wife, but one can easily accept his estimate of their weights. Mill says his conscience spoke to him in his father’s voice (p. 613); there can be no doubt that there was a literal transference of this function to Harriet Taylor after James Mill’s death in 1836, if not before, and only a little that Helen Taylor played a speaking role after her mother’s death in 1858. There is no room here for essays on these extraordinary relations; our comment is only that they were, certainly from a psychological point of view, as important as Mill indicates.
About others, though, some caveats concerning Mill’s judgment must be entered. His attitude to his mother has caused speculation: not mentioned in the Autobiography, she is given, in isolated comments of a derogatory kind, almost all of which were cancelled, only about one-half page in the Early Draft. When he began that draft, Mill was excessively, indeed petulantly, angry at his family because of what he (and/or Harriet) took to be their slighting response to his marriage; in revision, he at least moved from derogation to silence. It is likely that his mother and his siblings did not “influence” him, using the word as he intends it, but one may well regret the attitude and the omission. At the very least it is odd that a strong feminist, writing under the correcting eye of an equally strong feminist, should have given himself but a single parent in the opening narrative sentence of his autobiography: “I was born in London, on the 20th of May 1806, and was the eldest son of James Mill, the author of The History of British India” (p. 5).
Other questions can here only be asked: if John Austin gets (deservedly) three pages, surely Bentham deserves more than two, and George Grote more than one-half—and what of Harriet Grote? Wordsworth merits at least the treatment he receives, but where then is Coleridge? (The answer lies partly, but only partly, in the discussion of the “Coleridgeans,” Sterling and Maurice.) Does not Tocqueville, whose influence, curiously enough, is not acknowledged at all in the Early Draft, deserve as much space as Comte (even if we admit that much of the three pages devoted to the latter is given to denial of influence)? Surely Carlyle, whatever Mill’s later judgments, had more influence than Roebuck (who was on his own admission a pupil of Mill’s)—and, again, where is Jane Carlyle? Could he not have mentioned his colleagues in the East India House, such as Thomas Love Peacock? The questions pile up, and answers implying the deliberate downplaying of friendships, or the desire to avoid comment on those alive to read the account, do not seem adequate. Of greater relevance are Mill’s and his wife’s attitudes to the people discussed and the exigencies of narrative and of thesis: the case he is making does not require equal or absolute justice, and a story—even one the author claims to be devoid of interesting episode—militates against judgmental balance. One certainly may regret that Mill’s denigration of self led him to the purposes he thought proper, and so to exclude much that other autobiographers, many of them of narrower experience and less insight, delight us with. But his judgment should be respected. Although his mind, his life, and his career have an interest beyond the significance he attached to them, in developing his stated purposes Mill faithfully adheres to his contract with the reader for whom “these pages were . . . written.”
The Autobiography stands alone among Mill’s book-length works in the abundance of MS materials that have survived. We have no fewer than three complete MSS—Mill’s original draft, a revised MS also in his hand, and a transcript of the whole—as well as a four-page piece of holograph draft independent of the other MSS. The three complete MSS were among the collection of letters and papers owned after Mill’s death by Helen Taylor, bequeathed by her to her niece Mary Taylor, and sold at auction in 1922 by the executors of the latter’s estate. They are listed together, “a large parcel,” as lot 720 (third day) in Sotheby’s sale catalogue of 27-29 March, 1922: “Mill (John Stuart) Auto. MS. of his Autobiography upwards of 220 pp. 4to; with an earlier draft of the same in his hand, and a copy, mostly in the hand of Helen Taylor, with the suppressed passages.” The lot went for £5 5s. to Maggs Bros., who resold the MSS separately.
Early Draft. The “earlier draft” was purchased from Maggs in 1923 by Jacob H. Hollander, Professor of Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University, who kept it until his death in 1940, after which it was stored for nearly two decades in a Baltimore warehouse. In 1958 it was acquired with the rest of Hollander’s library by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. More than just “earlier,” it is in fact the original draft of the Autobiography, consisting of 169 leaves all told—139 leaves constituting the first finished version of the work plus thirty leaves of rejected text retained together at the end of the draft. Written in the late months of 1853 and the early months of 1854 (see below on this and other datings), the MS contains a complete account, as Mill then would have given it, of his life up to his marriage in 1851. The paper is apparently that used in the East India Company office where Mill worked, half-sheets of white laid foolscap measuring c. 33.6 × 20.8 cm., with either a Britannia watermark (on about half the leaves, irregularly throughout) or one of three countermarks: “Stacey Wise 1849,” “C Ansell 1851,” and “C Ansell 1852.” Mill wrote in ink, generally on both sides. Before beginning a leaf, he folded it once lengthwise, to divide each page into two long halves c. 10.4 cm. wide; he originally composed only in the right-hand half, saving the space at left for his revisions and for corrections, comments, and other markings by his wife.
Columbia MS. The second of the complete MSS (to take them in the order in which they were written), the “Auto. MS.” of the description in Sotheby’s catalogue, was bought from Maggs by Professor John Jacob Coss, acting for members of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia who presented it to the Columbia University Library in April, 1923. This MS consists of 210 leaves (not counting those left blank by Mill or used as wrappers) measuring c. 26 × 21.5 cm. The first 162 leaves, medium blue paper sewn in twenty-leaf gatherings marked A through I (with the initial leaf of A and the last seventeen leaves of I left blank) and containing either a fleur-de-lis watermark or the countermark “Weatherley 1856,” constitute a revised version of the Early Draft text plus a three-page continuation, the text of 247.35-251.9 below. This part of the MS was written in 1861. The remaining forty-eight leaves, a gathering marked K and made up of twenty-four sheets of darker blue (unwatermarked) paper folded separately and unsewn, represent—except for text taken over from the Yale fragment (see below)—the first and only draft of the rest of the Autobiography, written in the winter of 1869-70.
Rylands transcript. The third of the MSS sold at Sotheby’s, the “copy, mostly in the hand of Helen Taylor, with the suppressed passages,” went to an unknown English buyer, and was lost sight of until July, 1959, when it was discovered in the London salerooms of Messrs. Hodgson and acquired by the John Rylands Library, Manchester. Consisting of 282 leaves of various kinds and sizes of paper, the transcript was made mainly or entirely in the months just after Mill’s death by three writers—Helen Taylor, Mill’s youngest sister Mary Elizabeth Colman, and an unidentified French copyist. It is from this MS that the first edition of the work (1873) was printed, and the “descent” of the text is thus simple and straightforward: Mill revised, recopied, and continued his original version (Early Draft) in the Columbia MS; Helen Taylor and her helpers copied the Columbia text in the Rylands transcript; and the work was set in type from the Rylands transcript.
Yale fragment. In addition to these complete MSS, Mill’s first draft of the present 251.18-259.21, the “Note . . . concerning the participation of my wife in my writings” given below beginning on p. 250, is extant at Yale. This is written on the four pages of a folded sheet of bluish-gray wove paper, page size c. 25.8 × 20.2 cm. The MS bears the pencil date “” in the hand of a twentieth-century scholar or archivist, but the basis for this dating is not clear. Mill could have drafted the note any time between the completion of the Early Draft, in 1854, and the writing of the last part of the work in 1869-70. The tenses, the tone, and the mention of On Liberty as a “book” (pp. 256-8) strongly suggest that it was composed no earlier than 1859, after his wife’s death and the publication of On Liberty, and probably after 1861, because it was not included in the continuation of the Early Draft written at that time.
In his surviving letters Mill first mentions the Early Draft on 23 January, 1854, four days after recording in a diary entry his bitterness at having “procrastinated in the sacred duty of fixing in writing, so that it may not die with me, everything that I have in my mind which is capable of assisting the destruction of error and prejudice and the growth of just feelings and true opinions.” Replying to a letter now lost, he writes to his wife:
I too have thought very often lately about the life & am most anxious that we should complete it the soonest possible. What there is of it is in a perfectly publishable state—as far as writing goes it could be printed tomorrow—& it contains a full writing out as far as anything can write out, what you are, as far as I am competent to describe you, & what I owe to you—but, besides that until revised by you it is little better than unwritten, it contains nothing about our private circumstances, further than shewing that there was intimate friendship for many years, & you only can decide what more it is necessary or desirable to say in order to stop the mouths of enemies hereafter. The fact is there is about as much written as I can write without your help & we must go through this together & add the rest to it at the very first opportunity—I have not forgotten what she said about bringing it with me to Paris.
Folio 1r of the Early Draft MS
University of Illinois
He discusses the subject at length again on 10 February:
I . . . have read through all that is written of the Life—I find it wants revision, which I shall give it—but I do not well know what to do with some of the passages which we marked for alteration in the early part of it which we read together. They were mostly passages in which I had written, you thought, too much of the truth or what I believe to be the truth about my own defects. I certainly do not desire to say more about them than integrity requires, but the difficult matter is to decide how much that is. Of course one does not, in writing a life, either one’s own or another’s, undertake to tell everything—& it will be right to put something into this which shall prevent any one from being able to suppose or to pretend, that we undertake to keep nothing back. Still it va sans dire that it ought to be on the whole a fair representation. Some things appear to me on looking at them now to be said very crudely, which does not surprise me in a first draft, in which the essential was to say everything, somehow, sauf to omit or revise afterwards. As to matters of opinion & feeling on general subjects, I find there is a great deal of good matter written down in the Life which we have not written anywhere else, & which will make it as valuable in that respect (apart from its main object) as the best things we have published. But of what particularly concerns our life there is nothing yet written, except the descriptions of you, & of your effect on me; which are at all events a permanent memorial of what I know you to be, & (so far as it can be shewn by generalities) of what I owe to you intellectually. That, though it is the smallest part of what you are to me, is the most important to commemorate, as people are comparatively willing to suppose all the rest. But we have to consider, which we can only do together, how much of our story it is advisable to tell, in order to make head against the representations of enemies when we shall not be alive to add anything to it. If it was not to be published for 100 years I should say, tell all, simply & without reserve. As it is there must be care taken not to put arms into the hands of the enemy.
Taken together, the two letters show (1) that an early form of the draft, including at least the first eight leaves of the original Part II, largely unrevised since it was first written but nevertheless “in a perfectly publishable state,” was finished by 23 January, 1854; (2) that Mill and his wife had read an “early part of it” together, marking passages for alteration (those extracted in App. G from R23-5, and possibly Mill’s subsequent revisions of them—in R242-252 and R19/20, also marked by her—are more or less specifically mentioned in the second letter); but (3) that she had not yet read any portion of the original Part II, in which she and their relationship are described. Up to this point, therefore, there were at least two periods of composition—one in which he wrote the early part that they read and marked together, the other in which he continued writing in her absence.
We have, unfortunately, virtually no biographical documents for the first two years of their marriage, after they had returned from the Continent and settled at Blackheath Park in September, 1851. In August, 1853, Mill took his wife to Sidmouth, Devonshire, returning to London alone on the 23rd—the first time since the marriage that they had been separated. He remained in London through much of September, and then, on the advice of their physicians, accompanied his wife to Nice. When his three-month leave of absence from the India House had expired, he left her at Hyères, on 27 or 28 December, and arrived back in London on 5 January.
It is unlikely that he worked on the draft between 5 and 23 January (the date of the first letter quoted above). On his return he was occupied with official correspondence that had accumulated in his absence, and of his own work he was primarily concerned with the essay on “Nature.” He told his wife on 14 January:
I am working hard at getting up the arrear of India house business & have taken some of it home to work at tomorrow (Sunday). I hardly feel well or vigorous enough to set about any work of our own yet on Sundays & in the evenings—when I do the first thing shall be to finish the rewriting of the paper on Nature, which I began before we left.
Moreover, the tone of his letter of 23 January (“I too have thought very often lately about the life”) does not suggest that he has been writing. What seems most probable, if we assume that he began the draft in London, perhaps even (as he did with other works) during office hours at the India House when correspondence lagged, is that he commenced writing earlier than August, 1853; that he and his wife read and marked the early part (at least the first twenty-five leaves, through the first extract given in App. G) before going to Devonshire in that month; and that he continued writing, through at least the first eight leaves of the original Part II, in the August-September interval of separation, before joining her for their sojourn in France. A large part of the draft, the “publishable” version described in the letter of 23 January, 1854, should therefore be dated earlier than 24 September, 1853, the date on which they left England together.
On 13 February, 1854, still planning to join his wife in Paris, Mill again mentions bringing the draft with him, and adds:
But if we are not to be together this summer it is doubly important to have as much of the life written as can be written before we meet—therefore will you my own love in one of your sweetest letters give me your general notion of what we should say or imply respecting our private concerns. As it is, it shews confidential friendship & strong attachment ending in marriage when you were free & ignores there having ever been any scandalous suspicions about us.
To his earlier letter of the 10th she replied on 14-15 February:
I feel sure dear that the Life is not half written and that half that is written will not do. Should there not be a summary of our relationship from its commencement in 1830—I mean given in a dozen lines. . . . This ought to be done in its genuine truth and simplicity—strong affection, intimacy of friendship, and no impropriety. It seems to me an edifying picture for those poor wretches who cannot conceive friendship but in sex—nor believe that expediency and the consideration for feelings of others can conquer sensuality.
While her letter was en route Mill wrote to her again on the 18th that he was “most anxious at present about the Life, but . . . can do little in the way of addition to it till I hear from her,” and a diary entry of 19 February implies further concern with the life: “Goethe . . . [called] his autobiography, which tells just as much about himself as he liked to be known, ‘Aus meinem Leben Dichtung und Wahrheit.’ The Aus even without the Dichtung saves his veracity.” Finally on the 20th, having received her letter, he was able to report some progress in the work:
As to the Life—which I have been revising & correcting—the greater part, in bulk, of what is written consists of the history of my mind up to the time when your influence over it began—& I do not think there can be much objectionable in that part, even including as it does, sketches of the character of most of the people I was intimate with—if I could be said to be so with any one. I quite agree in the sort of résumé of our relationship which you suggest—but if it is to be only as you say a dozen lines, or even three or four dozen, could you not my own love write it out your darling self & send it in one of your precious letters—It is one of the many things of which the fond would be much better laid by you & we can add to it afterwards if we see occasion.
On 5 February Mill had finished rewriting “Nature”; on 5 March, having caught up with India House correspondence, he began writing “Utility of Religion.” Between those dates, and especially around 20 February, when we have seen him “revising & correcting,” he read over and revised the whole of the draft he had written in 1853, and it was probably then also that he finished writing the original Part II. Professor Levi is surely right in suggesting that a passage from Harriet Mill’s letter of 14-15 February (“strong affection, intimacy of friendship . . . an edifying picture for those poor wretches who cannot conceive friendship but in sex—nor believe that expediency and the consideration for feelings of others can conquer sensuality”) is echoed in Mill’s account of their relationship in the twentieth leaf of Part II:
our relation to each other was one of strong affection and confidential intimacy, entirely apart from sensuality. . . . we disdained, as every person not a slave of his animal appetites must do, the abject notion that the strongest and tenderest friendship cannot exist between a man and a woman without a sensual tie; or that sensuality cannot be put aside when regard for the feelings of others, or even when only prudence and personal dignity require it.
She did not otherwise send him the account he requested, for of the numbered series of Mill’s letters to her all but one—a short letter addressed to Marseilles on 13 March—are extant between 20 February and the middle of April, and there are but two subsequent references to the work during the period. On 24 February he writes: “we must do what we can while we are alive—the Life being the first thing—which independent of the personal matters which it will set right when we have made it what we intend, is even now an unreserved proclamation of our opinions on religion, nature, & much else.” The gist of the first part of this statement is repeated in a letter of 20 March: “above all I am anxious about the Life, which must be the first thing we go over when we are together.”
Harriet Mill returned to London in the middle of April, and it must have been either then or shortly afterward—“the Life being the first thing”—that she read and “improved” the remainder of the draft. Though no useful terminal date for Mill’s subsequent corrections can be assigned with certainty, it seems most reasonable to suppose that he revised and rewrote the leaves of Part II before departing for a six-week tour of Brittany in June-July, 1854, and certainly before setting out on his extended tour of France, Italy, and Greece, 8 December, 1854-late June, 1855, during which he was separated from his wife for nearly seven months.
The Early Draft is a heavily worked over MS, with cancellations and interlined revisions on nearly every page, and a great many additional passages written and rewritten at left. Mill foliated the MS in pencil, and most of the leaves show evidence of having been renumbered one or more times as additional leaves were inserted, passages reordered, and revised leaves substituted for earlier ones. The principal additions and rearrangements are reported in notes to the Early Draft text and in headnotes to the extracts given in Appendix G. The most interesting of Mill’s large-scale changes has to do with his early intention to divide the work into two parts, the first covering his life before he met Harriet Taylor, and “Part II,” beginning with his “first introduction to the lady whose friendship has been the honour and blessing of my existence.” Possibly because he wished to bring her in at an earlier point in his account (after his writings of 1832, rather than, as originally, after his writings of 1834 and Molesworth’s proposal in that year to establish the London and Westminster Review), perhaps also because the two parts were of considerably disproportionate lengths (121 vs. 24 leaves). Mill rearranged several paragraphs, condensed the first eight leaves of Part II to three and a half, and discarded the two-part division altogether (see pp. 616-17 below).
Except possibly for the revised leaves that replaced the rejected leaves of the original Part II and the ending of Part I, Harriet Mill read the entire MS, marking passages with lines, X’s, and question marks beside the text, deleting and sometimes rewriting Mill’s sentences, here and there commenting in the space at left; and Mill followed many of her suggestions and accepted most of her pencilled alterations by rewriting them in ink. A sizable proportion of her markings are editorial in character, calling attention to wordiness, vagueness, inaccuracy of expression, repetition of word or phrase, and the like “minuter matters of composition” (see p. 255); but she was also the originator of some major changes in the texture and tone of the work. In response to her markings Mill suppressed personal and family details that, had they been retained, would have made the Autobiography a warmer, if often more critical document, and she exerted extensive influence on the several versions in which he attempted to describe his practical deficiencies (see pp. 608-11) and on the account he wrote of their relations in the original Part II. While “HTM” appears frequently in the textual apparatus, the notes report only the most significant of her markings and alterations, and do not adequately convey the pervasiveness of her pencil in the MS.
Mill returned to the work sometime in 1861, two or three years after the death of his wife, and on this occasion wrote the first 162 leaves of the Columbia MS, the text from the beginning through the present 251.9. Most of this, of course, was revision rather than initial composition—the “second writing” that Mill refers to in describing the “double redaction” method by which “all my books have been composed” (see pp. 229-31)—but, although the Early Draft on which it was based is itself, in its final stage, a highly finished piece of writing, the new version is substantially different. Between the Early Draft and the corresponding text of the Columbia MS there are some 2,600 substantive differences, large and small (the figure is offered simply as a rough indication of the frequency of revision; the alteration of a single word counts as one substantive change, and the omission or addition of an entire paragraph or more also counts as one). The number and nature of the differences make impracticable the usual method of recording variants in this edition. We have, therefore, chosen to present the Early Draft and the Columbia MS as parallel texts on facing pages, with spacing adjusted to bring corresponding passages, as much as possible, opposite one another. As a result, blank spaces (and even whole blank pages) on one side or the other immediately call attention to the most extensive of the revisions. Some of the less obvious may be mentioned briefly.
With the distance gained by the passing of seven or more years since his writing of the Early Draft, Mill viewed the events of his life with increased detachment. He could now, for example, add a mitigating comparison to his description of heavy dejection during his mental crisis, by seeing it as like “the state . . . in which converts to Methodism usually are, when smitten by their first ‘conviction of sin,’ ” and go on, less dramatically. “In all probability my case was by no means so peculiar as I fancied it, and I doubt not that many others have passed through a similar state” (pp. 137, 145). This new objectivity dictated a number of changes by which earlier outbursts of egotism, contrasting strikingly with the characteristic self-effacement that marks much of the work, were deflated or restrained. Occasionally, for passages first written specifically about himself, Mill substituted generalization (compare the two versions of the concluding statement about Plato’s influence, pp. 24, 25); and many particulars of biographical detail were omitted in the revised account: his meeting with the Frenchmen Ternaux, Destutt de Tracy, Dunoyer, and others (p. 62), “emulation of a little manuscript essay of Mr. Grote” in attempting his first argumentative composition (p. 72), writing an early essay replying to Paley’s Natural Theology (p. 74), keeping a journal “on the model of Grimm’s Correspondence” and contributing three or four articles to a projected “Philosophical Dictionary, suggested by Voltaire’s” (p. 110), weekly evening meetings to study elocution (p. 126), his elaborate speech in reply to Thirlwall (p. 128), his enthusiastic admiration in response to Carlyle’s article on Johnson (p. 182), and so on. The revised life is less full, less varied in texture, than that of the Early Draft.
Here and there Mill toned down his recollections of family relationships and especially of his father. Indirect references to his mother, in speaking of his father’s “ill assorted marriage,” “to which he had not, and never could have supposed that he had, the inducements of kindred intellect, tastes, or pursuits” (pp. 52, 6), are charitably omitted. James Mill’s “authority and indignation” is rewritten as “displeasure” (pp. 14, 15); and the fact that he “often mockingly caricatured” his son’s bad reading aloud is discarded (p. 26), along with a number of other sentences and phrases of similar tendency (compare the summary comments on the severity of his upbringing at 52.19-21 and 53.28-9). By changes of this sort, and the addition of several sentences comparing James Mill with Bentham (p. 213), the revised version comes considerably closer than the earlier to being, in the passages describing his father, a eulogy. The same access of charity is evident in recollections of associates outside his family. He cut out the greater part of his “character” of Roebuck (pp. 154-8), softened his critique of Maurice (pp. 160-1), rewrote his account of Sterling (pp. 162, 161), dropped a nasty paragraph on Sarah Austin (p. 186), and resorted to anonymity (“My father and I had hoped that some competent leader might arise; some man of philosophic attainments and popular talents”) in place of several sentences of harsh commentary on George Grote’s lack of courage, energy, and activity (pp. 202, 204-5).
The more formal and generalized character of the later version is continued in the last part that Mill wrote, the forty-eight leaves of the K gathering in the Columbia MS, containing the text of the work from the present 251.10 to the end. This was drafted in the winter of 1869-70. Mill presumably also gave the earlier part of the MS a final polish at this time (there are in this part a few interlineations and other alterations in darker ink than the rest); there is no evidence of any authoritative changes in the work after this date. At this point other hands take over, and the text deteriorates.
In a codicil to his will dated 14 February, 1872, Mill names Helen Taylor as his literary executor “with full and absolute power and license . . . to edit all or any of my literary works and to publish all or any of my manuscripts as she in her sole discretion may think fit.” He then specifically mentions the Autobiography:
And whereas in these days no one is secure against attempts to make money out of his memory by means of pretended biographies I therefore think it necessary to state that I have written a short account of my life which I leave to the absolute charge and controul of my said stepdaughter Miss Helen Taylor to be published or not at her will and discretion and in the event of her death in my lifetime to the charge and controul of William Thomas Thornton [a longtime colleague of Mill’s at the India House] of No. 23 Queens Gardens Hyde Park Square on condition that he publishes the same within two years of my decease.
Mill died at Avignon on 7 May, 1873, and the will was proved in London on 5 September. By the latter date the Autobiography was already set in type and about to be printed.
Though Helen Taylor may have begun copying the Columbia MS in France before Mill’s death, the greater part of the Rylands transcript was made afterward, in the summer of 1873, when she was in England “pressing on as quickly as I am able” with the publication of the work, “having come to England for that purpose only.” In the last 236 leaves of the Rylands MS, which constitute about five-sixths of the whole, Helen Taylor and Mary Colman copied discontinuous sections of the Columbia MS simultaneously (the former doing Columbia MS gatherings B, E, G, H, I, and K, the latter doing C, D, and F), and there is further evidence of haste in the great number of errors in these leaves, and in the fact that although Helen Taylor here and there corrected and punctuated Mary Colman’s parts of the transcript, she clearly did not read them over entirely or attempt to prepare them in any thorough way for the press. Mary Colman’s pages of the transcript went to the printer with more than 1,200 variants from Mill’s text unaltered, including some 170 substantive variants—all of them errors, and many quite obvious. Altogether, when we add the considerably longer stretches copied by Helen Taylor and the twenty-three leaves at the beginning in the hand of the unidentified French copyist, the transcript has over 2,650 variants, including more than 450 substantives, from the MS that was its immediate source.
The Autobiography was published by Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, “8vo. price 7s. 6d.,” on 17 October, 1873. The most significant of the differences between the first printed text and that of the Columbia MS are (1) the omission of the first paragraph that Mill wrote when he took up the work again in 1869-70 (the present 251.10-17); (2) the rearrangement of the remaining nine paragraphs of transition between the 1861 and 1869-70 parts of the MS (247.35-251.9, 251.18-261.12) into the order 4-5, 1-3, 9, 6-8 (so that 1873 has, in succession, 251.18-257.32, 247.35-251.9, 261.8-12, 257.33-261.7); and (3) the excision of ten mostly short passages (563 words altogether) referring to Helen Taylor. In addition to these, there are some eighty other substantive differences of varying length and importance, and, as one would expect in comparing any MS text with a printed version, hundreds of differences in the accidentals of punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and word-division.
The evidence of rearranged and partly rewritten leaves in the Rylands MS shows that Helen Taylor originally copied all ten of Mill’s paragraphs beginning at 247.35 in their original order, and that she dropped 251.10-17 and rearranged the others as a revision in the transcript. The cancellation of the ten passages referring to herself, on the other hand, as the spaced asterisks replacing them in 1873 make clear, was done at proof stage. The rest of the substantive differences between the Columbia MS and the printed text represent errors and alterations originating in the Rylands transcript and then further changes made by the 1873 compositor and/or the proof-correctors. It is remarkable that only sixty of the more than 450 substantive errors in the Rylands transcript got into print. Someone—most likely Helen Taylor, but perhaps also Alexander Bain, who we know had a text of the work in hand in the weeks just before it was published—read proofs fairly carefully against the Columbia MS, and restored Mill’s wording in some 390 places. The first printed text could have been much worse.
The 1873 edition (reprinted many times in London and New York) remained the sole source of text until September, 1924, when the Columbia University Press issued Autobiography of John Stuart Mill Published for the First Time without Alterations or Omissions from the Original Manuscript in the Possession of Columbia University, with a Preface by John Jacob Coss (and, as the Preface explains, the “editorial work . . . undertaken by Mr. Roger Howson”). Considerably more faithful than the text of 1873, this nevertheless departs from readings of Mill’s MS in more than nine hundred particulars, including some seventy errors of wording and paragraphing, many of which originated in the Rylands transcript and 1873, on the latter of which Howson relied too much in his attempts to decipher Mill’s hand. It was, however (as it should have been), the standard edition for the next forty-five years, although, until the textual puzzles were untangled in the early 1960s, scholars and critics sometimes used another text also published in 1924, Harold J. Laski’s Oxford World’s Classics edition, which is an imperfect and unedited reprint of the first edition. The second twentieth-century text based on the Columbia MS is that in the Riverside paperback edited by Jack Stillinger (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969). This improves on the accuracy of the 1924 Columbia edition in the nine hundred particulars just mentioned, and has been the most reliable text for the past decade. The third editing from the Columbia MS is that in the present volume. It corrects “their contraries” to “the contraries” at 53.1 (Mill wrote “their” but then deleted “ir”) and restores “given to the world” to Mill’s note at 253n.22 (words deleted by Helen Taylor’s pencil in the MS); otherwise it is substantively identical with the text published in 1969. In the present edition the reader can, as mentioned, compare at a glance this text with that of the Early Draft in various stages, aided by the editorial apparatus described later in this introduction.
this volume includes, in addition to the Autobiography, fourteen of Mill’s essays and reviews, and nine appendices. Only two of these articles were republished in Dissertations and Discussions (1859) in more or less complete form, “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties” (the two-part essay in the Monthly Repository) and “Writings of Alfred de Vigny” (from the London and Westminster), but two more, “Aphorisms: Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd” and “Ware’s Letters from Palmyra” (both from the London and Westminster), are represented by extracts in Dissertations and Discussions. It might be argued that Mill did not, at least in 1859 when Dissertations and Discussions first appeared, believe many of these essays to be of major importance, and indeed by any standards some of them are slight; however, a case can be made for each of those he chose to leave buried in periodicals, and a fortiori for the importance of his literary essays as a whole.
It would be perverse to argue, on the other hand, that Mill in middle life or later believed his literary articles to have the importance of those on economics, history, and politics (though a great many of the last were not reprinted by Mill); in this connection one should note that the essays in this volume span only the years 1824 to 1844, with all but four appearing in the 1830s, the period when he was most concerned to examine literary works and, as editor of the London and Westminster, was able to review them at will. They thus illustrate (without in themselves establishing) Mill’s movement from orthodox Philosophic Radicalism through a period of eclectic search to settled maturity.
“Periodical Literature: Edinburgh Review” represents the initial period, being in fact his first article in the newly-founded organ of the Philosophic Radicals, and indicating both in manner and content that the designated successor to Bentham and James Mill was coming out in the expected and proper fashion. The assurance, contempt, irony (particularly in the attacks on Brougham’s articles—anonymous, of course, but not to the initiate), and characteristic language (e.g., the demand for “securities”) all mark the author as a committed sectarian as surely as the argument that the governors must be accountable to the governed, and the insistence that the aristocracy and its organs are motivated by special (and therefore sinister) interests. That Mill later recognized these as signs of narrow sectarianism is indicated by his comment in the Autobiography: “The continuation of this article in the second number of the review was written by me under my father’s eye, and (except as practice in composition, in which respect it was, to me, more useful than anything else I ever wrote) was of little or no value” (p. 95n; see also p. 96k). It also, of course, was a continuation of his practised diligence (soon to be taxed in his editing of Bentham’s Rationale), especially when one notes that he had done the extensive research for his father’s impressive article as well as for his own. Though there are hints in the article of his individual views, it is not surprising that he chose not to republish it (in fact he republished none of his thirteen articles from the first dynasty of the Westminster, all of which have considerable interest and value). Alexander Bain’s comment is fair: most of the opinions in the article “were his father redivivus; yet, we may see the beginnings of his own independent start, more especially in the opinions with regard to women, and the morality of sex.”
The next four essays, “On Genius,” “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” and the two reviews of Junius Redivivus, all date from 1832 and 1833. They show Mill in the midst of his period of search, examining and enjoying the new perspectives and insights afforded by W. J. Fox and his circle, including Harriet Taylor, and by Thomas Carlyle, who, though certainly not a member of that group, knew them and discussed their ways and works in his extensive correspondence with Mill. The first three of these essays appeared in Fox’s Monthly Repository, where Harriet Taylor was publishing poetry, and to which William Bridges Adams (“Junius Redivivus”) was contributing. Probably in response to a suggestion in conversation, Mill wrote to Fox on 3 April, 1832, to say that he would send along anything of his appropriate to the “design” of the Monthly Repository; “On Genius,” a response to an article in the Repository, was the first to appear, some six months later. Of it, and the three following pieces, Mill might equally well have noted that he was gaining practice in composition, though he had changed his model from James Mill to Carlyle. To the latter he commented on 17 September, 1832:
. . . I have written a rambling kind of article, in which many, I will not say great, but big things are said on a small occasion, namely in the form of strictures on a well-meaning but flimsy article which recently appeared in the Monthly Repository. . . . As for this article of mine, those who best know me will see more character in it than in anything I have ever published; other people will never guess it to be mine. You, I hope, will find all the three articles true, the only praise I covet, & certainly rarer than any other in our times. But in this last you will find many things which I never saw, or never saw clearly till they were shewn to me by you, nor even for some time after.
The italicized words, “You” and “true,” match the article’s intensity, which clearly relates to his excitement over Carlyle’s rhetoric, as does the expression of emotional response, and also the Delphic evasiveness of such comments as that in the same letter: “You see I adhere to my system, which is to be as particular in the choice of my vehicles, as you are indiscriminate, & I think we are both right.” All of this mannerism he later repudiated (and he did not reprint “On Genius”), informing George Henry Lewes (probably late in 1840):
The “Genius” paper is no favorite with me, especially in its boyish stile. It was written in the height of my Carlylism, a vice of style which I have since carefully striven to correct & as I think you should do—there is too much of it in the Shelley. I think Carlyle’s costume should be left to Carlyle whom alone it becomes & in whom it would soon become unpleasant if it were made common—& I have seen as you must have done, grievous symptoms of its being taken up by the lowest of the low.
The next item, “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” is the republished form of two essays in the Monthly Repository (January and October, 1833), which show less hectically the same characteristics. (The version in Dissertations and Discussions, it may be interjected, reveals Mill’s awareness of the over-enthusiasm in the originals by removing italics in sixty-four places.) The first, “What Is Poetry?” was evidently written without thought of a sequel, in a rather tentative spirit, as befitted a venture into strange new lands. He sought guidance and reassurance from Carlyle on 27 December, 1832, saying he had written an essay for “Fox’s January number” that
attempts something much higher, and intrinsically more valuable, than all these writings on politics, but with far less success: it is not nearly so good of its kind, because I am not so well versed in the subject. It embodies some loose thoughts, which had long been floating in my mind, about Poetry and Art, but the result is not satisfactory to me and will probably be far less so to you—but you will tell me to what extent you think me wrong, or shallow. I wrote the paper from conviction (else it had never been written) but not from that strong conviction which forces to write: rather because I wished to write something for Fox, and thought there was a clearer field open for him in that direction than in the political one.
And his doubts continued, as is evident in a letter to Carlyle (11 and 12 Apr., 1833) after the article appeared:
That last [“What Is Poetry?”] you promised me a careful examination and criticism of: I need it much; for I have a growing feeling that I have not got quite into the heart of that mystery, and I want you to shew me how. If you do not teach me you will do what is better, put me in the way of finding out. But I begin to see a not very far distant boundary to all I am qualified to accomplish in this particular line of speculation.
During the course of the year, and in large measure because of actual and anticipated responses from Carlyle, Mill pushed his investigations further into the relation between Art and Philosophy (a question that was to resolve itself for him a decade later in Book VI of his Logic), into the value of his intellectual inheritance, and into examinations of new poets. The products were, in part, the comments on his father included in Bulwer’s England and the English (App. D below), the ill-fated review of Robert Browning’s Pauline (the surviving note for which is given in App. E below), and the beginnings of a review of Alfred Tennyson’s poems which resulted in both “The Two Kinds of Poetry” (the second part of “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties”) and “Tennyson’s Poems.” The remarks on his father, which Mill repudiated as having been “cut and mangled and coxcombified” by Bulwer (see p. 589 below), should be seen in conjunction with the comments on Bentham that he also contributed to England and the English. In both he is respectful; the voice, however, is that of a broadening critic, not that of a narrow disciple. The independence is more obvious in the “review” of Pauline, which has received much comment from Browning scholars. One need only summarize briefly what is known: Pauline was published in March, and Mill, given a copy by W. J. Fox, wrote a review for the Examiner before the middle of May. It was judged too long for the Examiner, so Mill proposed to revise it for Tait’s. His summer months being busy, however, he had not made his revisions by August, when Tait’s published a dismissive review of the poem, and Mill withdrew his offer. The only surviving evidence of his views is found in the copy of Pauline which he returned to Fox. He, going against Mill’s suggestion, gave it to Browning, whose revisions of the poem reflect in part a reaction to Mill’s marginal comments. The fullest recording of these, with the note printed below as Appendix E, and Browning’s revisions, is in an article by William S. Peterson and Fred L. Standley. Some of the marginalia give evidence of Mill’s subjective reading of this highly subjective poem; for example, against
- But then to know nothing—to hope for nothing—
- To seize on life’s dull joys from a strange fear,
- Lest, losing them, all’s lost, and nought remains
he wrote, “deeply true.”
When these other articles of 1833 are read with “The Two Kinds of Poetry,” one can see the “weaving anew” process mentioned in the Autobiography (p. 163), as Mill intertwines the warp of his learned associationism with the woof of new ideas about the use and value of emotion. The new insight he owed, in this case, to James Martineau’s “On the Life, Character, and Works of Dr. Priestley,” as he acknowledges on 26 May, 1835:
The last two pages of the concluding paper made an impression upon me which will never be effaced. In a subsequent paper of my own in the “Repository” headed “The Two Kinds of Poetry” (October, 1833) I attempted to carry out your speculation into some of those ulterior consequences which you had rather indicated than stated.
And he goes on to assert his continued acceptance of at least part of his intellectual inheritance, in a way that was to become increasingly sure as he gained confidence in his new proceedings; he had, he told Carlyle, two articles in the Monthly Repository for October, 1833, one on Blakey, and the other
the little paper I told you I was writing in further prosecution of, or rather improvement on, the thoughts I published before on Poetry and Art. You will not find much in the first to please you; perhaps rather more in the second, but I fear you will think both of them too much infected by mechanical theories of the mind: yet you will probably in this as in many other cases be glad to see that out of my mechanical premisses I elicit dynamical conclusions. . . .
It is not known what Mill thought of these speculations later—he merely refers to them as “the most considerable” of his contributions to the Monthly Repository (p. 205)—but it is unquestionably significant that he included a carefully revised version in Dissertations and Discussions, the only such inclusions from his Repository articles (apart from a section of his review of Alison’s History).
Using the latest version from Mill’s lifetime as copy-text (the normal practice in this edition), we indicate the variants in earlier versions in footnotes. A study of these shows that the revisions can be seen to fall into four types: (1) alterations in opinion or fact, including major omissions, amplifications, or corrections of information; (2) alterations resulting from the time between writings, including changes in statement of fact consequent upon the passage of time and new publications; (3) alterations which qualify, emphasize, or give technical clarity; and (4) alterations which are purely verbal, or give semantic clarity, or result from shifts in word usage, and alterations in italicization. The changes here reveal several similarities to Mill’s practice in other reprinted essays: first, there is a large number, some 209 in all (or 6.5 per page of Dissertations and Discussions), as is common in the early essays reprinted by Mill; when less time intervened between the original form and the first revised form in 1859, fewer changes seemed necessary. Second, using the categories just described, one finds the order of frequency to be 4 (128 changes), 3 (58 changes), 1 (20 changes), and 2 (3 changes); by far the largest number (more than half) are of type 4. Third, very few of the changes (16 in all) were made for the 2nd ed. of Vols. I and II of Dissertations and Discussions (1867), and of these almost all were relatively trivial (12 involved the removal of italics that had survived the apparently thorough reduction of shrillness in 1859). It should be noted that while what, to modern taste, might seem to be excessive italicization appears in articles by others in the Monthly Repository, Mill’s usage in these articles went far beyond that journal’s norm. Finally, the non-substantive changes, like those in Mill’s other writings, generally parallel those of the substantives.
Any selection of significant or even merely interesting variants will reflect subjective judgments, but, especially when seen in conjunction with the Autobiography and the other literary essays, it seems likely that most readers would attach importance to the long type 1 variants (p. 353s-s and p. 365a) that originally closed the separate essays. The former contains a comparison of French and Grecian (Modern and Ancient) artists (capped by a quotation from Carlyle), an account of beauty in painting, illustrated by Claude Lorraine and Salvator Rosa, and a passage on the weakness of modern architecture compared to the Classical and Gothic “tongues” which it “parrots” (here a quotation from Milton is used). The latter (with a quotation from Wordsworth) has a different kind of interest, explaining as it does (if again somewhat mysteriously) Mill’s use of the signature “Antiquus,” and by inference its successor, the simple “A” that he normally used in the London and Westminster Review.
An example of the few and slight type 2 changes may be seen in the deletion of “last summer” from the account of Mme Schröder-Devrient’s performance in Fidelio at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, in 1832 (p. 351q).
Probably the most easily identified characteristic of Mill’s revisions is the search for the properly weighted judgment, resulting in the qualifications that we count as type 3 changes. Most common are substitutions of a less extreme modifier: in 1859 “rarely” replaced “never” at p. 344j-j, and “commonly” replaced “always” at p. 364t-t. (See also the string of changes, pp. 359-60b-b tof.) A troublesome instance of scholarly obfuscation may be instanced: a description of poetry (in quotation marks) as “man’s thoughts tinged by his feelings” is ascribed by Mill to “a writer in Blackwood’s Magazine”; in 1859 he says, bluntly, “He defines” it as such; but in 1833 he had said, “We forget his exact words, but in substance he defined” (p. 348i-i)—he almost certainly refers to John Wilson, who used similar phrases (especially after Mill wrote these words), but no such definition has been located by us. Perhaps Mill was simply seeking a more positive persona, as in a similar change where “We believe that whenever” is strengthened to just “Whenever” (p. 362j-j). There are also some that remind one of the circumstances relating to the composition: at p. 364w-w Mill in 1833 placed the “logician-poet” above the “mere poet”; “logician” was the term he used at the time in contrasting himself with Carlyle the “poet”; in 1859 the higher talent was assigned to the “philosopher-poet”—not, it should be said, with any self-reference.
While the type 4 changes are most trivial as well as most common, they have a cumulative effect (as in the removal of italics already cited, with which may be compared the removal of exclamation marks at, e.g., p. 363o-o). Also some have special or typical interest, not infrequently of a slightly puzzling kind. For instance, at p. 347b-b, when Mill, referring to the powers of the imagination, altered “arranged in the colours and seen through the medium” to “seen through the medium and arrayed in the colours,” had his attention been caught by what may well be a printer’s misreading of his hand (“arranged” for “arrayed”) which led him to reconsider the temporal or logical priority of the two clauses?
The final two essays in this group, the parallel reviews in 1833 of The ProducingMan’s Companion by W. B. Adams, were published in April (Monthly Repository) and June (Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine)—that is, in the period between the two essays on poetry. The one in Tait’s, though it appeared later, was written and submitted before the one in the Monthly Repository, being proposed by Mill in a letter to William Tait of 23 January, 1833:
I shall probably send you, in time for your March number, a short review of an excellent book, the Producing Man’s Companion, by Junius Redivivus—whom I think the very best popular writer whom the enlightened radicals count in their ranks—though I like his personal articles in the Examiner less than the many admirable papers he has written in the True Sun, Mechanics Magazine & various other periodicals.
The article went to Tait on 28 February, with Mill’s comment: “I send you a paper on Junius Redivivus, for your Magazine, in case you think it worthy of insertion.” He also mentioned it to Carlyle in a letter of 3 March, saying that he was forwarding a copy of the book to him. Some implications in the review evidently gave Tait doubts, which Mill attempted to assuage on 30 March:
With respect to the article on Junius Redivivus, I myself have not made up my mind on the question whether the situation of the working classes is on the whole better or worse than it was: I worded the article so as if possible not to commit the Magazine to a decided opinion, but I thought the testimony of a writer who evidently knows much of the working people, an article of evidence very fit to be received, though not sufficient to decide the question. Could not you let the article stand as it is, and express your dissent from the opinion of J. R. in an editorial note? If not, I should like to see the article again before it is printed; not from any fear that you should “spoil” the article, but because when anything is to be left out, a writer almost always thinks it necessary that something else should be put in.
As to the matter of fact in dispute I feel convinced from the great diversity of opinion among equally good observers, & from the result of the enquiries of the Poor Law Commission, that the truth varies very much in different parts of the kingdom & among different classes of workmen.
Are there any other parts of the article which you object to?
Tait’s reservations may have delayed publication, but in any case almost a month earlier, indeed on 1 March, the day after he had sent his review to Tait, Mill said to W. J. Fox: “I will write a short paper for the next M.R. on Junius Redivivus.” This he produced with his usual dispatch, commenting to Carlyle in a letter of 11-12 April:
Tait has not yet published that paper on Junius Redivivus, but in the meantime I have written another on the same subject for Fox, (a much better one as I think), which has appeared in the April number, and . . . you shall have it by the first opportunity.
Before the “first opportunity” had arrived, Carlyle had seen a quoted passage that prompted him to think that, just as he had detected a new mystic (that is, a promising disciple) in Mill’s anonymous articles on the Spirit of the Age in the Examiner, so here he had found another. Mill, saying on 18 May that he has finally sent a copy, adds: “The passage you saw quoted about Books and Men, was from that; so there is not evidence therein of ‘another mystic’; so much the worse.”
The brief notice of Views in the Pyrenees, which is not mentioned by Mill in extant correspondence or in the Autobiography, also appeared in 1833 in the Monthly Repository. Though slight, it shows his continued enthusiasm for mountain views; one recalls his remark that the powerful effect of Wordsworth on him was in part the result of Wordsworth’s setting much of his poetry in mountains, which, says Mill, “owing to my early Pyrenean excursion, were my ideal of natural beauty” (p. 151). Though we have no evidence to support the assertion, it seems not unlikely that Mill chose to notice the book, rather than having it given to him for review merely by accident.
The next five essays have a common source: all appeared in the journal edited by Mill, the London Review (later the London and Westminster Review). As might be expected when he was his own editor, they are more assured and independent. This tone is also seen, even when mixed with apology, in Mill’s editorial notes for the review, printed in Appendix F below. These help us see Mill in his editorial role, though it seems that Alexander Bain overstates the case in saying that the review “abounds in editorial caveats, attached to the articles: [Mill’s] principle of seeing partial truth on opposite sides was carried out in this form.” There can be no question, however, about their casting more light on his friendships with Sterling and Carlyle, and on his running battle with Abraham Hayward.
Mill’s first major literary essay in his own journal was the review of Tennyson (1835), which has links with the preceding years: as we have already mentioned, “The Two Kinds of Poetry” was first conceived as the prelude to a notice of Tennyson. Had such a notice appeared in 1833, what has been recognized as Mill’s early appreciation of Tennyson’s poems would have been even more remarkable. His view was enthusiastic: in a letter to J. P. Nichol he ranked them as “the best poems . . . which have appeared since the best days of Coleridge.” As is typical of him, impressions were retained: a particular view, he wrote to his wife twenty years later, is “as one fancies the valley in Tennyson’s Oenone, only that there is no forest or turf here”; Francis Mineka notes that Mill had quoted in his review the lines from “Oenone” beginning, “There is a vale in Ida.”
Though Mill chose, regrettably and for unknown reasons, not to include his review of Tennyson in Dissertations and Discussions, the next three items from the London and Westminster were represented there, though, in one case, only by the opening and, in another, by the closing paragraphs. That is, the “review” parts were deleted, leaving the generalized comments appropriate to an exordium and a peroration. The subject of the first of these reviews, Arthur Helps’s Thoughts inthe Cloister and the Crowd, was another book that Mill held in more than a reviewer’s regard. According to Alexander Bain,
This [review] was another occasion when [Mill] displayed his passion for discerning and encouraging the first indications of talent and genius. I remember when I first came to London, this was one of the books he lent me; and we agreed that, in point of thinking power, Helps had not fulfilled the promise of that little work.
Mill seems to have pondered the subject for almost a year, for he told Nichol just after the article appeared that it “was all prepared last spring, though I had not put any of it on paper.” As usual, when he put pen to paper, the ink flowed easily and quickly: “I have stolen in the last two days, time to begin a little article for the review & a day or two more will finish it.” Helps gave Mill one of those fine moments of gratification for reviewers when he let Mill know, over thirty years later, that his had been a word in season. Mill replied:
If, as you intimate, my review of your first publication had any share in procuring for the world the series of works which I & so many others have since read with so much pleasure & instruction; far from regarding this exploit of mine as a sin to be repented of, I should look upon it as a fair set off against a good many sins.
No detailed comment is needed on the revisions Mill made in the reprinted paragraphs, the discussion on pp. xxxv-xxxvi above being intended to cover the general issues and types. It may be noted, however, that there are comparatively few changes, only 12, or 2.4 per page of Dissertations and Discussions, all of them type 3 or type 4, and all but 2 made in 1859.
“Ware’s Letters from Palmyra” is not mentioned in any of Mill’s extant correspondence or in the Autobiography. The novel, published in the United States, was probably first brought to his attention by its mention (which he quotes to open his review) in Harriet Martineau’s Society in America. Here again there are few variants (7, or 2.3 per page of Dissertations and Discussions, each made in 1859), all of which are minor.
Mill’s review of Alfred de Vigny’s Œuvres, which appears in Dissertations and Discussions, less only the summary and running comment on Cinq Mars (p. 474c), is his last major attempt, in Bain’s words, “to philosophize upon Literature and Poetry.” Though we have only two comments on it by Mill, they indicate why he thought it was worth reprinting, and also show how he saw it in relation to his earlier essays. In the Early Draft he remarks that of his literary essays, “the one which contained most thought” was that on Vigny (p. 224). And in a letter of February, 1841, to George Henry Lewes, he says:
You have not however yet convinced me that the line between poetry, & passionate writing of any kind, is best drawn where metre ends & prose begins. The distinction between the artistic expression of feeling for feeling’s sake & the artistic expression of feeling for the sake of compassing an end, or as I have phrased it between poetry & eloquence, appears to me to run through all art; & I am averse to saying that nothing is poetry which is not in words, as well as to saying that all passionate writing in verse is poetry. At the same time I allow that there is a natural, not an arbitrary relation between metre & what I call poetry. This is one of the truths I had not arrived at when I wrote those papers in the Repository but what afterwards occurred to me on the matter I put (in a very condensed form) into the concluding part of an article in the L. & W. on Alfred de Vigny. I wish you would look at that same when you have time, (I will shew it to you) & tell me whether what I have said there exhausts the meaning of what you say about the organic character of metre, or whether there is still something further which I have to take into my theory.
A glance at the revisions in this article helps establish the generalization offered above, that the later the date of an essay (this appeared in 1838), the less rewriting was needed: here there are 132 substantive changes, or 3.1 per page of Dissertations and Discussions (as against 6.5 per page for “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties” of 1833). Once again no extensive treatment of the variants is called for. As usual, the order of frequency is type 4, type 3, type 1, type 2, with more than half being type 4, and more than a third type 3; and very few changes were made in 1867 (7 of 132).
The last essay in this group from the London and Westminster is Mill’s first review (Aug., 1838) of Richard Monckton Milnes. It would appear again that he was searching out good material for the Review, for the first issues of Milnes’s two books (later in the year published as Milnes’s Poems, Vols. I and II) were rather elusive. In the review, it will be noted, Mill says one of the volumes “was not designed for publication, and the other is not yet published” (p. 505). Editorial consultation led him to write to Leigh Hunt on 11 November, 1838:
Robertson tells me you have a copy of Mr. Milnes’ volume of poems: if you are not needing it for a day or two, would it be too much to beg the favour of a sight of it? Something relating to the next number of the Review may depend upon the opinion we form of it—if left at Hooper’s or sent by omnibus or parcel company to the I[ndia] H[ouse] I should receive it.
Despite the cautious tone (“Something . . . may depend”), Mill probably already intended to review the volumes, as the search and the praise in the review suggest prior knowledge.
After giving up the editorship and proprietorship of the London and Westminster, Mill wrote only a little for the Westminster, as it then once more became. The next two essays in this volume, appreciative notices of Milnes’s Poetry for the People and of Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, come from that small group, and it is at least moderately ironical that one of the remnant from the early, ferocious, and anti-poetical days of the Westminster should appear in it, almost for the last time, as the author of favourable reviews of poetry by non-Radicals. Nothing, it should be said, is known of the composition of these articles, nor do their texts present any challenges. And the same is true of the final item in the volume, Mill’s letter of January, 1844, in defence of his father, which appeared in the Edinburgh Review, the journal to which, in 1840, he began to contribute many of his best essays, as James Mill had in the years preceding the founding of the Westminster. (Concerning the main issue in this letter, James Mill’s financial obligations to Bentham, one should look at the revision of the Early Draft at p. 56a-a below.) So a cycle, which this volume illustrates, comes to a close: the young sectarian Benthamite, now assured and, with the publication of the Logic, widely acclaimed, whose first periodical article was an attack on the Edinburgh, has become a contributor to it. The Autobiography tells us, of course, that the story does not end here, but the record of Mill’s further career as an author must be sought in other volumes of the Collected Works.
This is not the appropriate place to enter into detailed exposition of Mill’s critical ideas or their relation to his ethical or political thought, and in any case one would be hard pressed to maintain that the essays in this volume—so various in occasion, scope, and seriousness of purpose—represent a coherent body of theory. A few of the pieces are not really “literary” at all (in the stricter sense of treating imaginative literature imaginatively), while others suggest that, as a practical critic, Mill had, by our standards, less than excellent taste. (His lengthy quotations in the two reviews of Milnes amount to a small anthology of the world’s worst poetry.) Even so, there are in the essays some statements that have, to modify Keats’s phrase, put Mill “among the English critics,” and these deserve to be noticed.
The best known of Mill’s critical ideas are contained in “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” and most of them more specifically in the first section (originally published separately as “What Is Poetry?”), where, after setting down the object of poetry (“to act upon the emotions”) and distinguishing between poetry and eloquence (“eloquence is heard, poetry is overheard”), Mill arrives at this summary definition: “Poetry is feeling, confessing itself to itself in moments of solitude, and embodying itself in symbols, which are the nearest possible representations of the feeling in the exact shape in which it exists in the poet’s mind” (p. 348). The three elements of this definition—the strong (almost exclusive) emphasis on feeling, the idea of the poet as self-confessor in solitude, and the description of symbols as vehicles of the poet’s emotion—are distinctive, and these are the points that have been of most interest to historians of modern criticism.
Near the beginning of the essay, in a preliminary attempt to pin down exactly where poetry resides, Mill says that “poetry is not in the object itself, nor in the scientific truth itself, but in the state of mind in which the one and the other may be contemplated,” and he then invents an example, often quoted, of object as representation of feeling:
If a poet describes a lion, he does not describe him as a naturalist would, nor even as a traveller would, who was intent upon stating the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He describes him by imagery, that is, by suggesting the most striking likenesses and contrasts which might occur to a mind contemplating the lion, in the state of awe, wonder, or terror, which the spectacle naturally excites, or is, on the occasion, supposed to excite. Now this is describing the lion professedly, but the state of excitement of the spectator really.
In the later twentieth century, on the hither side of T. S. Eliot’s famous definition of “objective correlative” (which is certainly what Mill, in his simpler way, intended the lion to exemplify) and several decades of New Critical elaboration of the concept, we can appreciate Mill’s intelligence, even precocity, at this point in the essay. But in the course of developing the notion of self-confession—“All poetry is of the nature of soliloquy,” “no trace of consciousness that any eyes are upon us must be visible in the work itself,” “Poetry . . . is the natural fruit of solitude and meditation” (p. 349)—he strips poetry of nearly all its traditional elements (story, incident, description, moral truth, above all an audience to interact with), and in place of the poet as, in Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads (para. 15), “a man speaking to men,” we are presented with the much narrower concept of a man speaking to himself about himself.
Mill was himself soliloquizing, of course, and his essay has the rhetorical character of the greater Romantic lyric, taking shape according to the movement of the speaker’s mind. In the second section (originally published separately as “The Two Kinds of Poetry”), Mill restores some of what he had taken away by defining two categories, the poetry of the “poet by nature” (represented by Shelley) and the “poetry of culture” (Wordsworth—some would today reverse the examples), and then, perhaps upon realizing that he has produced two halves of something rather than two discrete entities, ends up with the ideal union of the two in the concept “philosopher-poet” (p. 364). And this is the position that he begins with when he enters into the theoretical section of his review of Tennyson: “There are in the character of every true poet, two elements, for one of which he is indebted to nature, for the other to cultivation” (p. 413).
The Tennyson essay contains an eloquent statement on the relative value of feeling and thought in achieving “the noblest end of poetry”:
Every great poet, every poet who has extensively or permanently influenced mankind, has been a great thinker;—has had a philosophy, though perhaps he did not call it by that name;—has had his mind full of thoughts, derived not merely from passive sensibility, but from trains of reflection, from observation, analysis, and generalization. . . . Where the poetic temperament exists in its greatest degree, while the systematic culture of the intellect has been neglected, we may expect to find, what we do find in the best poems of Shelley—vivid representations of states of passive and dreamy emotion, fitted to give extreme pleasure to persons of similar organization to the poet, but not likely to be sympathized in, because not understood, by any other persons; and scarcely conducing at all to the noblest end of poetry as an intellectual pursuit, that of acting upon the desires and characters of mankind through their emotions, to raise them towards the perfection of their nature. This, like every other adaptation of means to ends, is the work of cultivated reason; and the poet’s success in it will be in proportion to the intrinsic value of his thoughts, and to the command which he has acquired over the materials of his imagination, for placing those thoughts in a strong light before the intellect, and impressing them on the feelings.
This is a much more generous and reasonable view of poetry than that of the first section of “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” and it much better represents Mill’s considered ideas on the subject. From the Tennyson essay on, and most prominently in the reviews of Vigny, Milnes, and Macaulay, his emphasis is where readers of the Autobiography would expect it to be—on the importance of feeling and thought, and on the educational, social, and cultural functions of poetry (“to raise [men and women] towards the perfection of their nature”). These later ideas, unlike those of “Thoughts on Poetry,” are not distinctive; they were long in the public domain before Mill arrived. But this is not the first instance in which Mill sacrificed distinctive originality for the sake of more substantial and more comprehensive truth.
There is little evidence that Mill read poetry later in life, and it is probably best, in the over-all view, to say that where, before the mental crisis, he had been “theoretically indifferent” to poetry (see p. 115), ever afterward he was theoretically in favour of it—still, however, almost entirely at the level of theory. But though he wrote no more articles or reviews that would qualify for inclusion as “literary essays,” we nevertheless have, from his middle years, the fine paragraphs about discovering Wordsworth and the importance of poetry and “culture of the feelings” in the Autobiography (pp. 149-53), and from his last decade the powerful defence of poetry and art at the conclusion of his Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St. Andrews (1867). What is most significant, finally, is not any specific idea about the nature of poetry or the role of the poet, but instead the spectacle of Mill’s “strange confusion . . . endeavouring to unite poetry and philosophy.” This “confusion” and endeavour made him a broader, deeper, and more complex thinker and writer than he had been before, and they continue to make him interesting and valuable. His more orderly predecessors and contemporaries now figure mainly in footnotes; he, on the other hand, as the works collected in these volumes amply testify, remains alive in text and in context.
the appended materials, arranged chronologically, fall into four categories: first, items that, though they contain text by Mill, for one reason or another are not in a form intended by him for publication (Appendices A, D, E, and G); second, lists that are provided as additional information for the understanding of the main texts (Appendices B, C, and I); third, matter of which the authorship is, in general, not certain, though most of it is probably by Mill (Appendix F); and fourth, a pertinent text by Helen Taylor (Appendix H). These are mentioned above, and are described in the headnotes that introduce each item; therefore a cursory description is here sufficient.
Appendix A consists of the only surviving juvenilia from Mill’s pen: the opening pages of his first history of Rome, and his “Ode to Diana,” the former written when he was 6½ years old, the latter probably about a year or so later.
Appendices B and C, in an attempt to bring together evidence of Mill’s precocity, provide lists of his early reading and writing; neither is, nor can be, complete, but even in this form they make up, at least for our less strenuous times, an impressive record.
Appendix D gives the version by Bulwer, repudiated by Mill, of comments (now lost) that he had written on his father’s place in English life and letters.
Appendix E gives the text of the comment on Browning’s Pauline that probably formed the basis of the review which, by a combination of circumstances, never was printed.
Appendix F is made up of the editorial notes in the London and Westminster Review; these help elucidate the history of the periodical, and Mill’s attitudes towards authors and subjects.
Appendix G gives a selection of extracts from the “Rejected Leaves” of the Early Draft of the Autobiography; it was not feasible to print these as variants, but they should be read in connection with the corresponding passages in the two main texts as evidence of Mill’s earliest intentions and of his and his wife’s sense of the appropriate and the proper.
Appendix H is a continuation by Helen Taylor of the Autobiography, which summarizes the period between the last section by Mill (1869-70) and his death in May, 1873.
Appendix I, the Bibliographic Index, lists all persons and works cited in the Autobiography, the essays, and the relevant appendices. These references are, consequently, omitted from the index proper. Because Mill saw his autobiographical memoir as a record of his writing career, this appendix incidentally includes references to most of his writings.
TEXTUAL PRINCIPLES AND METHODS
as throughout this edition, the copy-text for each item is the final version produced under Mill’s personal supervision, the latest over which he had significant authorial control. For the Autobiography this means the Columbia MS, since Mill never saw the Rylands transcript of it, or of course the first printed edition. (The Early Draft text presented here on facing pages may, in this view, be considered a single long variant, though it also has claims to independent status as a once complete and wholly authoritative version.) For the rest of the items (except for material given in Appendices A, E, G, and H) there are no extant MSS, and the source of text in each case is a printed version.
Silent emendations. The following procedures apply to all the texts alike. Typographical peculiarities of titles, chapter headings, first lines, and some other features that similarly are matters of printing design are not strictly preserved. While as a rule the copy-text’s punctuation and spelling are retained, certain elements of style have been made uniform: for example, periods have regularly been inserted, where they are missing, after abbreviations, but have been deleted after references to monarchs (e.g., “Louis XIV,”); and dashes have been deleted where they are combined with other punctuation before a quotation or a reference. Italic punctuation following italic letters (in a printed version) has been regularized to roman. Indications of ellipsis have been normalized to three dots plus, where necessary, terminal punctuation. The positioning of footnote indicators has been normalized so that they always follow adjacent punctuation marks; in some cases, for consistency of appearance, references have been moved from the beginning to the end of quotations.
Also in accordance with modern practice, all long quotations have been set off from the text, in reduced type, with opening and closing quotation marks removed. In consequence, it has occasionally been necessary to add square brackets around Mill’s own editorial interpolations; but there will be little likelihood of confusion, because our own editorial insertions in the texts are strictly confined to page references (we have deleted Mill’s square brackets in the one place—p. 474n—that would have caused trouble). Double quotation marks replace single as the standard. Titles of works referred to in the text have been italicized or enclosed in quotation marks according to a uniform style, and occasionally a lower-cased word in a title has been silently capitalized. Mill’s references to sources, and additional page references supplied editorially (in square brackets), have been normalized. Erroneous references have regularly been corrected; a list of corrections and other alterations is given in the note below.
Treatment of MS texts. In the texts edited from MSS—the Autobiography and the Early Draft (as well as in the textual notes to those items and the MS materials printed in Appendices A, E, G, and H)—these further silent procedures apply. Superscript letters in “20th,” “McCrie’s,” “Mr,” and the like have been regularly lowered to the line. Initial capitals of words that originally began a sentence but in revision were rearranged into some other position within a sentence have been reduced to lower case. Periods have been added, where they are missing, at the ends of sentences. Commas and in a few instances other marks of punctuation have been added, where necessary or especially desirable, mainly to complete Mill’s intended revision—as before or after an interlined phrase or clause, and before a deleted conjunction—but also in combination with other devices (the end of the line in the MS, or a closing parenthesis or quotation mark) that Mill characteristically used as a substitute for more conventional punctuation. Very occasionally, as when an opening parenthesis appears intended to cancel a mark, punctuation has been dropped. The ampersand has regularly been changed to “and,” and we have spelled out most arabic numbers (and added conventional hyphens in some that were already spelled out). Editorial emendations to the texts of the Autobiography and Early Draft that are not covered by these general procedures are listed in the note below. In the headnotes to the essays, the quotations from Mill’s personal bibliography, which survives in a scribal copy in the Mill-Taylor Collection, British Library of Political and Economic Science, have regularly been corrected; again, a note below lists the corrections.
Textual notes to the MSS. The textual apparatus to the Early Draft provides a selection of the most significant earlier and cancelled readings that illuminate Mill’s education, his reading and writing, and his relationships with his father, mother, siblings, and wife. Sometimes, especially in conjunction with Appendix G, which should be considered an extension of this apparatus, several successive versions may be reconstructed (e.g., the five accounts of Mill’s practical deficiencies, three of them extracted or described at pp. 608-11 below, the other two in the Early Draft and Columbia MS texts at pp. 32-3, 37, 39): and the influence of Mill’s wife, in alterations, queries, and other markings pencilled in the MS, is given special attention. The simplified methodology used in these textual notes is explained in the headnote on p. 2. It should be understood that the descriptions “deleted first by HTM” and “altered to final reading first by HTM” mean that the deletion or revision at hand originated with her, and that Mill accepted it by going over the pencilled alteration in ink (no change by her, if Mill himself did not subsequently alter the words, has been incorporated into the text). Only two cancelled passages are given from the Columbia MS (on pp. 272, 287). For the most part, the cancelled readings in the first 162 leaves of this later version are identical, or nearly so, with the Early Draft text that we print on facing pages; and in the final section of the MS, which is first draft, Mill was no longer writing intimately about his father or his wife, or any other matter where ambiguous personal feelings were involved, and his deletions and revisions here are routinely stylistic, and not of sufficient interest to deserve recording.
Emendation of printed sources. In the items based on printed sources, typographical errors have been regularly corrected in the text. The note below lists these along with other readings that have been emended.
Textual apparatus for the essays. As indicated in an earlier section of this Introduction, only four of the essays were reprinted by Mill (in two cases only a brief passage is involved), and so there are relatively few variants to record. The ensuing paragraphs explain the methods of indicating variants in these instances and more generally throughout this edition.
We are concerned primarily with substantive variants, which may be taken to mean any differences among comparable texts except those in punctuation, spelling, capitalization, word-division, demonstrable typographical errors, and such printing-house concerns as type size and style. All substantive variants are reported, save for the substitution of “on” for “upon” (in five places), “an” for “a” (twice before “historical” and once before “heroic”), and “though” for “although” (twice). The variants are of three kinds: addition of a word or words, substitution of a word or words, and deletion of a word or words. The illustrative examples that follow are drawn, except as indicated, from “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” for which our copy-text is the version printed in 1867.
Addition of a word or words: see p. 356g-g. In the present text the passage “Whatever be the thing which they are contemplating, if it be capable of connecting itself with their emotions, the aspect” appears as “Whatever be the thing which they are contemplating, gif it be capable of connecting itself with their emotions,g the aspect”; and the variant note reads “g-g+59,67”. The plus sign shows that the passage enclosed by the superscripts in the text is an addition, and the numbers after the plus sign specify the editions in which the passage is included. The editions are indicated by the last two digits of the year of publication: here 59 = 1859 and 67 = 1867 (respectively, the 1st and 2nd editions of Volumes I and II of Dissertations and Discussions). Information explaining the use of these abbreviations is given in the headnotes, as required. Any editorial comment in the variant notes is enclosed in square brackets and italicized.
When this example is placed in context, the interpretation is that the first published text (1833) had “Whatever be the thing which they are contemplating, the aspect”; in 1859 this was altered to “Whatever be the thing which they are contemplating, if it be capable of connecting itself with their emotions, the aspect”; and (as is evident in the present text) the new reading was retained in 1867.
Substitution of a word or words: see p. 356f-f. In the text the passage “which is a natural though not an universal consequence of” appears as “which is fa natural though not an universal consequencef of”; the variant note reads “f-f33 one of the natural consequences”. Here the words following the edition indicator are those for which “a natural though not an universal consequence” was substituted. When the same rules are applied and the variant is placed in context, the interpretation is that the first published text had “which is one of the natural consequences of”; in 1859 this was altered to “which is a natural though not an universal consequence of”; and the reading of 1859 (as is evident in the text) was retained in 1867.
In this volume there are only rare and trivial instances where passages were altered more than once: at p. 343b-b, the first published text has “ ‘poetry’ does import”; in 1859 Mill changed this to “ ‘poetry’ imports”; and in 1867 he removed the quotation marks from “poetry” to give the final reading, “poetry imports”, which appears in this edition as “bpoetry importsb”. To indicate this sequence, the note reads “b-b33 ‘poetry’ does import] 59 ‘poetry’ imports” (the closing square bracket separates variants in a sequence). In the other cases, the variant represents a return to the original reading, as at p. 473z-z, where in 1838 “these” appeared; in 1859, “those”; and in 1867, “these” again. Here the note indicates, as well as the sequence, the possibility of a typographical error: “z-z59 those [printer’s error?]”.
Deletion of a word or words: see p. 356b and p. 422f-f. The first of these is typical, representing a convenient way of indicating deletions in a later version. In the text at p. 356b a single superscript b appears centred between “in” and “a”; the variant note reads “b33 the table of contents of”. Here the words following the edition indicator are the ones subsequently deleted. The interpretation is that the first published text had “in the table of contents of a”; in 1859 the words “the table of contents of” were deleted; and the reading of 1859 (as is evident in the text) was retained in 1867.
The second example (p. 422f-f) illustrates the method used to cover deletions when only portions of the text were later reprinted, as in the case of “Aphorisms: Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd,” part of which was republished as “Aphorisms. A Fragment,” in Dissertations and Discussions, Vol. I, pp. 206-10. (That is, there is here, exceptionally, a later version of only part of the text originally published in the London and Westminster Review , which, being the only complete version, we adopt as our copy-text; normally the copy-text would be the latest version.) In the text the words “appears to us to be” are printed “appears fto usf to be”; the variant note reads “f-f-59,67”. The minus sign indicates that in the editions specified the words enclosed were deleted. The interpretation is that the first published version had (as is evident in the text) “appears to us to be”; in 1859 this was altered to “appears to be”; and the latter reading was retained in 1867.
Differences between italic and roman type are treated as substantive variants and therefore are regularly recorded, except when they occur in foreign phrases and titles of works. Although variations in punctuation and spelling are generally ignored, when they occur as part of a substantive variant they are included in the record of the variant. The superscript letters used to indicate variants to the text are placed exactly with reference to their position before or after punctuation.
Variants in Mill’s footnotes are treated in the same manner as those in his text. In the essays in this volume no footnotes were added or deleted in the reprinted versions.
for permission to publish manuscript material, we are indebted to the Columbia University Library and the Columbia University Press, the University of Illinois Library and the University of Illinois Press, the Yale University Library, the British Library, the British Library of Political and Economic Science, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Provincial Bank (literary executors and residual legatees of Mary Taylor, Mill’s step-grand-daughter). Our gratitude goes in full measure to the staffs of the libraries just mentioned, and also to those of the Archives Départementales (Tarn-et-Garonne), Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire, Montpellier, Bibliothèques Municipales de Bagnères-de-Bigorre, Montauban, Pau, Tarbes, Toulouse, the Liverpool Public Library, the London Library, the Somerville College Library, the University of London Library, the University of Toronto Library, and the Victoria University Library. Instrumental in our work has been the cheerful and ready co-operation of the editorial, production, design, and printing staff of the University of Toronto Press, most particularly that of Rosemary Shipton, the copy-editor. Among others to whom thanks are due are the members of the Editorial Board of the edition, and T. D. Barnes, Robert Fenn, John Grant, Walter Houghton, J. R. de J. Jackson, Renée Kahane, F. E. Sparshott, and Bart Winer.
A Major Editorial Project Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada has generously supported the preparation and production of this volume; perhaps we may be allowed to say, for all those who have benefited from this programme, how much the Council is to be congratulated for its contributions to scholarship in what are, for too many, very lean times. This grant has enabled us to work with an editorial team whose members have insisted on labouring far beyond reason and request: Marion Filipiuk (whose command of French has been particularly valuable), Bruce Kinzer (who has, in addition to his other labours, compiled the Index), Martin Kreiswirth, Mary O’Connor, and Rea Wilmshurst. Where better than in what is truly a joint production could we acknowledge our immense indebtedness to our colleague-wives, Ann Robson and Nina Baym, who (to paraphrase Mill) have both taught and learnt that a scholar from whom nothing is ever demanded which he or she cannot do, never does all she or he can.