Mill’s Later Letters: Collected Works vol. XIV
- Works by J.S. Mill
- School of Thought: 19thC Utilitarians
Source: Editor's introduction to The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIV - The Later Letters of John Stuart Mill 1849-1873 Part I, ed. Francis E. Mineka and Dwight N. Lindley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972).
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Introduction by Francis E. Mineka and Dwight N. Lindley
It seems to me that there is a very great significance in letter-writing, and that it differs from daily intercourse as the dramatic differs from the epic or the narrative. It is the life of man, and above all the chief part of his life, his inner life, not gradually unfolded without break or sudden transition, those changes which take place insensibly being also manifested insensibly; but exhibited in a series of detached scenes, taken at considerable intervals from one another, shewing the completed change of position or feeling, without the process by which it was effected; affording a glimpse or partial view of the mighty river of life at some few points, and leaving the imagination to trace to itself such figure or scheme as it can of the course of the stream in that far larger portion of space where it winds its way through thickets or impenetrable forests and is invisible: this alone being known to us, that whatever may have been its course through the wilderness, it has had some course, & that a continuous one, & which might by human opportunity have been watched and discovered, though to us, too probably, destined to be for ever unknown. . . .
Mill to John Sterling, May 24, 1832
the present four volumes and the two volumes of Earlier Letters, published in 1963, constitute a collected edition of all the letters of John Stuart Mill available at this time. The separate publication of earlier and later letters, instead of the more usual multi-volume single publication of a whole collection all in one sequence and provided with one index, was dictated more by circumstances than by any inherent distinction between Mill’s earlier and later letters. The whole correspondence is the life of the man, “and above all the chief part of his life, his inner life.”
When, thirty years ago, Professor Friedrich von Hayek first turned his attention to Mill’s correspondence, however, a major reason for collecting and separately publishing his earlier letters was the inadequate representation of them in the only collected edition of Mill’s correspondence—the two volumes edited and published by Hugh S. R. Elliot in 1910. That collection of 368 letters contained only 52 for the years ending with 1848, somewhat less than one in ten of those it proved possible to assemble. It seemed reasonable to infer that Mill’s later correspondence was much more adequately represented in the Elliot edition, but that inference has proved not wholly sound. It is true that Elliot includes a larger proportion of the extant later letters than of the earlier: about one in six of the more than 1800 post-1848 letters, as against one in ten of the earlier letters. That larger proportion turns out, however, to be misleading. Elliot’s collection is no more fully representative of the substance of the later correspondence than it is of the earlier.
That this is so is not to be charged to Elliot’s defects as an editor, but rather to be the circumstances under which he worked. Professor von Hayek in his Introduction to Earlier Letters has recounted in some detail the history of Mill’s papers after 1873, and the story need not be repeated here. Suffice it to recall that Mill had evidently intended that a selection of his letters should eventually be published; at least as early as 1849 he preserved drafts of some of them and at some point, presumably late in his life, carefully labelled a good many, “For publication.” His intention was long frustrated, not purposely it is clear, by his stepdaughter, Helen Taylor, who inherited his property, his copyrights, and his papers. She admired her stepfather deeply and sought to honour his name and extend his reputation; she promptly prepared for publication and edited his posthumously published books, the Autobiography (1873), Three Essays on Religion (1874), the fourth volume of Dissertations and Discussions (1875), and “Chapters on Socialism” (1879), and planned to edit his letters. Professor von Hayek (Earlier Letters, p. xviii) cites a passage written by Helen about three months after Mill’s death:
I have all my dear stepfather’s letters, preserved, looked through from time to time by himself, arranged in order by myself, and left by him in my hands with directions, verbal and written, to deal with them according to my judgement. When the more pressing task of the publication of his MSS. is completed, I shall, if I live, occupy myself with his correspondence, if I do not live it will be for my literary Executors to decide what to do with it.
The statement, as will presently be seen, contains at least one exaggeration: she did not have in her possession all Mill’s letters. Those she did have she guarded jealously for over thirty years; she never got around to publishing them herself, and repeatedly refused to permit others to publish even excerpts from them. At her death in 1907, her niece, Mary Taylor, younger daughter of Helen’s brother Algernon, inherited her property, including the Mill letters in her possession. Soon thereafter, Mary Taylor decided to execute the long-deferred project to publish them. She arranged for a little known writer, Hugh Elliot, to prepare the edition from the collection so long in the possession of Helen Taylor. He was not permitted to publish family papers, the most important of which were many letters to Harriet Mill and Helen Taylor; Mary Taylor proposed to publish separately a selection of these herself. Elliot apparently was under no obligation, and apparently felt none, to look farther afield for letters not in the collection turned over to him; after all, it contained some hundreds of letters, both to and by Mill. By the rather loose standards still prevailing in 1910 for the editing of letters, Elliot prepared an adequate edition that was widely and favourably reviewed.
Only in recent years has it become evident how meagrely the edition represented the range and variety of Mill’s correspondence. In selecting his letters for possible publication Mill had sought to advance the spread of his opinions on a number of subjects rather than to preserve details of his personal life in his later years; the selected letters were not to serve as an autobiography but as a kind of anthology of those of his opinions that he felt might be helpful to an audience wider than that to which they had been originally addressed. A kindred motivation is noticeable in the last chapter of his Autobiography, which opens with this statement: “From this time [about 1840], what is worth relating of my life will come into very small compass; for I have no further mental changes to tell of, but only, as I hope, a continued mental progress; which does not admit of a consecutive history, and the results of which, if real, will best be found in my writings. I shall, therefore, greatly abridge the chronicle of my subsequent years.” As a result the final chapter, most readers seem to agree, is the least interesting part of the Autobiography, in that it is least self-revealing. The period of Mill’s life covered by it is also the one that stands most in need of the supplementary detail, the glimpses into his personal life, his marriage, his friendships, his enthusiasms, and his disappointments, which now, nearly one hundred years after his death, only his letters can supply.
That kind of supplementary detail, Elliot, limited as he was by Mary Taylor’s restrictions and by Mill’s selection of his own correspondence, could hardly have been expected to provide. It is even a question, working when he did, whether he could have located many of the letters of which Mill had not kept copies. Elliot had access to seven of Mill’s earlier correspondences, those with John Sterling, Thomas Carlyle, W. J. Fox, John Robertson, Gustave d’Eichthal, Robert Barclay Fox, and Auguste Comte (the latter four had each been separately published before 1910), but he presented only a small number of the letters to Sterling and Carlyle, accepting almost wholly the limits of Mill’s selection. In all likelihood, Elliot probably did not even see the long sequences of letters Mill wrote to his closest friends during his later years. The past twenty-five or thirty years have brought to light a number of extensive series of Mill’s letters that had been preserved by their recipients but either had not been written in draft or had not been kept in that form by Mill.
As a consequence, Elliot’s edition gives neither a balanced conspectus of Mill’s correspondence as a whole nor a lifelike portrait of the man. What the edition does give is a good sampling of what might be called his “public” or “non-personal” correspondence. Increasingly, after the success of his Logic (1843) and his Political Economy (1848), Mill received many letters, often from complete strangers, asking his opinion, or even advice, on a wide range of questions raised by his writings—among others, questions on religion, philosophy, ethics, logic, economics, political reform, labour relations, and women’s rights. The letter writers included students, clergymen, working men as well as titled lords, aspiring writers, amateur political economists, wouldbe philosophers, and practising politicians. They were not all British; letters came with increasing frequency from Frenchmen, Italians, Germans, and Americans. As early as 1850 he wrote Frederick J. Furnivall, “My whole time would hardly suffice to give satisfactory answers to all the questions I am asked by correspondents previously unknown to me” (p. 53). Nevertheless, Mill, always seeking to promote the improvement of mankind by doing what he could to advance sound thinking and opinion, felt an obligation to such earnest readers and correspondents and conscientiously tried to write them helpful answers. Of such letters he frequently kept MS drafts, but of letters to his friends and regular correspondents he seldom kept copies. As a consequence, Elliot’s edition, dependent almost wholly on Mill’s selection, has a higher proportion of such impersonal letters than is characteristic of the larger body of his correspondence. The present edition with its much larger number of personal letters should enable students of Mill to gain a clearer picture and a greater understanding of the man.
The following comparisons are not presented in a spirit of denigration; the Elliot edition has served a useful purpose for over sixty years, but in view of the increased interest in and knowledge of Mill it is no longer sufficient. The search begun by Professor von Hayek during World War II for a more adequate collection has been carried on by others and while it is likely, indeed certain, that more letters will come to light in the years that lie ahead, the present editors hope that this edition will meet the needs of students of Mill for some years to come.
To resort to a numerical comparison has its limitations but it can also be revealing. Of 124 letters located to Mill’s lifelong friend and fellow reformer, Edwin Chadwick, for instance, Elliot prints nine in whole or part. Of 92 extant letters to John Elliot Cairnes, Mill’s friend and disciple, Elliot has five. Of 60 to John Chapman, the publisher for many years of the Westminster Review, Elliot has two, and a like number to William E. Hickson, Mill’s successor as Editor of the London and Westminster, while we have been able to include 32. Elliot has five letters to Henry Fawcett, the blind politician and political economist—this edition, 43; Elliot, three to Thomas Hare, the advocate of proportional representation—this edition, 41; Elliot, five to George Grote, the historian of Greece and friend of Mill since his boyhood, and five to Sir Charles Dilke—this edition, 22 and 26, respectively. Elliot has one letter to Louis Blanc, out of 25 now available, and one to Gustave d’Eichthal (in a renewal of an earlier correspondence) as compared with 54. Elliot includes two letters to George Croom Robertson, this edition 29. Elliot has no letters to John Plummer, a working-class journalist; to George J. Holyoake, the radical secularist and proponent of co-operatives; to Augustus De Morgan, the mathematician; to Herbert Spencer, the philosopher; or to William Dougal Christie, an active opponent of electoral corruption, who after Mill’s death rose to the defence of his reputation against the slanderous attacks of Abraham Hayward; the letters to these men now published total 162. We have been unable to improve much on Elliot’s fifteen letters to Alexander Bain, the Scottish logician and psychologist, for we have failed to locate the autograph letters to him. We have, however, succeeded in locating more originals of the letters to the Italian historian Pasquale Villari than were available to Elliot in drafts, but there are undoubtedly more yet to be found. We have been able to add only two to Elliot’s ten to T. E. Cliffe Leslie, the political economist, and only six to Elliot’s nine to William Thomas Thornton, Mill’s friend and long-time colleague at the East India House.
These additional letters have been assembled from widely separated collections: the letters to Chadwick, De Morgan, and Robertson in the library of University College, London; to Cairnes and Fawcett at the London School of Economics, as the result of the efforts of Professor von Hayek when he was on the faculty there; to John Chapman, chiefly in the libraries of the National University of Australia at Canberra, of Indiana University, and the London School of Economics; to Hickson, at the Huntington Library in California; to Louis Blanc, at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris; both earlier and later letters to Gustave d’Eichthal at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, also in Paris; and to Charles Dupont-White, in the possession of M. Pierre Sadi-Carnot of Paris; to Hare, a private collection in the possession in 1943 of Mrs. K. E. Roberts of London, and in the British Museum; to Grote and Dilke in the British Museum; to Plummer at the University of Melbourne, Australia; to Holyoake at the Manchester Co-operative Union, Ltd.; to Spencer, at Northwestern University; to Christie, at Cornell University; and to Villari, in the library of the Vatican in Rome. Both earlier and later letters to Henry S. Chapman are in the possession of W. Rosenberg of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and all the letters to Thomas Carlyle are in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Of the series of letters to American correspondents, those to Charles Eliot Norton are at Harvard, those to Rowland G. Hazard at the Rhode Island Historical Society. Except for a small number at the London School of Economics, the many letters to Harriet are at Yale University. It should be noted that all these series, except the one to Spencer, are of the original autograph letters, not of MS drafts preserved by Mill.
Professor von Hayek, in his account of the first sale of 21 lots of Mill’s papers at Sotheby’s on March 29, 1922, notes that most of the miscellaneous letters now in various American libraries, notably those at the Johns Hopkins University (248 letters, mostly drafts), derive from that sale. A large part of the major collection at the London School of Economics derives from the same sale, as do the 61 letters at the Brotherton Library of the University of Leeds, and the 18 letters to John Sterling in the library of King’s College, Cambridge. The 368 letters in the Elliot edition seem to have been drawn almost wholly from the collection eventually disposed of at this first sale in 1922. Elliot was denied the use of the 132 manuscript letters to Harriet included among the 14 lots disposed of at the second sale at Sotheby’s on July 27, 1927; these letters form the largest part of the 230 letters now at Yale University, which also possesses a good many from the first sale. Family letters not included in either sale were eventually given to the London School of Economics by the National Provincial Bank, Ltd., the residuary legatees and literary executors of Mary Taylor.
Many important letters have been found in published versions for which no manuscripts have apparently survived. The most important of these are 31 letters in full or in part to Theodor Gomperz, a young German scholar who translated a number of Mill’s works and edited the first collected edition of his writings. These letters were first published by Heinrich Gomperz in his biography of his father (Vienna, 1936) and then in part by Lord Stamp, who had purchased the MSS, in The Times on December 29, 1938. The manuscripts were destroyed by the bombing raid of April 16, 1941, in which Lord Stamp was killed. Other letters, usually in excerpted form, the MSS of which disappeared in less spectacular fashion, have been found in Bain’s biography of Mill and in various biographies of Mill’s friends. Many have also been located in English and American newspapers, most of them published by the recipients without Mill’s permission. His reputation and his influence in the later years of his life were so great that letters from him were rightly judged newsworthy. Mill was often annoyed by such unauthorized publication. As he explained to Duncan McLaren in a letter of January 3, 1869,
As a rule . . . I prefer that my letters should not be made public unless they were written with a view to the contingency of their being so, & I have seen with regret several recent instances in which publicity has been given to them without my consent; not that I shrink from exposure to criticism, which any public man, even any writer, ought to welcome, from however hostile a quarter; but because, when writing confidentially to friends who feel as one does oneself, one takes many things for granted which would require explanation to general readers, & one does not guard one’s expressions as prudence & courtesy would require one to do in addressing oneself to those who differ with one.
We cannot approve of the discourtesy of correspondents who published personal letters, but, since the manuscripts of most of these have disappeared, students of Mill may feel some inclination to condone the discourtesy. On at least one occasion Mill granted permission to publish his letter, but requested the recipient to modify some of the wording (Letter 1258). Most of such letters, of course, were on topics of public interest at the time, and most of the correspondents who made them available for publication agreed with Mill’s opinions as expressed in the letters and wished to gain for their own causes his prestigious support.
Such letters are largely impersonal in tone and provide few insights into the nature of the man who wrote them. For more such insights we are now fortunate in having available, in addition to the Autobiography, a series of letters to friends in both the earlier and the later periods of his life. Of the earlier letters, most revealing and most interesting are the series to John Sterling, Thomas Carlyle, William Johnson Fox, Robert Barclay Fox, and Gustave d’Eichthal, largely concentrated in the 1830’s and early 1840’s when Mill after his mental crisis was still in reaction against the emotionally sterile education and philosophic creed of his adolescence and was still reshaping his personal life. Most of the later series lack something of the inherent interest of letters written during a period of crucial intellectual and emotional change. The friendships of one’s youth are likely to be the warmest of one’s life and the least subject to reserve. The earlier years of most autobiographies have an appeal for many readers greater than that of the later years. Nevertheless the series of Mill’s maturity have an attraction of their own, different in quality and intensity perhaps, but nonetheless interesting because of the revelations of the variety of his friendships, the breadth of his interests, the strength of his individuality, and the modernity of his approach to those problems of his age that continue into ours.
Did any Victorian have a wider range of more or less regular correspondents both at home and abroad? At home there were fellow economists like Cairnes and Leslie, the classical scholar George Grote, the philosopher Herbert Spencer, the logician and psychologist Alexander Bain, the writers John Sterling and Thomas Carlyle, the mathematician Augustus De Morgan, political and administrative reformers like Chadwick, Charles Wentworth Dilke, and W. D. Christie, the editors John Chapman and John Morley, W. G. Ward the Roman Catholic convert and apologist, the Unitarian W. J. Fox, and the atheist G. J. Holyoake. Mill’s foreign correspondence marks him as perhaps, in his generation of Englishmen, the most nearly a citizen of the world; it seems almost as though he had chosen correspondents in the United States, the antipodes, and the major European nations so that he might be kept informed of developments in their parts of the world. The writers included: in France, Gustave d’Eichthal, an early St. Simonian, later a classicist, ethnologist, and Biblical scholar, and Charles Dupont-White, political economist and translator of several of Mill’s books; from France, though for most of the years of his friendship an exile in England, the historian, journalist, and radical politician, Louis Blanc; in Vienna, the young classical scholar and historian, Gomperz; in Germany, late in Mill’s life, Franz Brentano, the philosopher; in Italy, Pasquale Villari, the historian; in New Zealand, his early friend Henry Chapman, who had emigrated and become an important officer of government; in America, John Lothrop Motley, historian and diplomatist, as well as Charles Eliot Norton, editor and biographer, later a Harvard professor, and Rowland G. Hazard, business man and philosopher. One notices that while Mill’s regular correspondents shared his interests and in the main agreed with his views—most of them might have been labelled liberals or even radicals—by no means all of them came from levels of society that proper mid-Victorians would have labelled “polite”. G. J. Holyoake, ex-Chartist, radical freethinker, and publicist, when various of the journals he published fell into financial difficulties, was rescued by Mill. Louis Blanc, who according to Mill was “associated in the vulgar English mind with everything that can be made a bugbear of” (p. 999), was a frequent dinner guest at Blackheath, both before and after the death of Harriet. William Wood was a worker in the potteries of north England; and John Plummer was a factory worker turned journalist, who with his wife was invited from time to time by Mill to dinner at his home in Blackheath Park. (John Morley once remarked that working men found easier access to Mill than did royalty.) For Mill the crucial test in the choice of both friends and correspondents was whether they could contribute to the advancement of the ideas and causes in which he believed; he was always eager to learn from them and welcomed their opinions even when they differed from him in details.
Some of the correspondences, notably those with Bain, Cairnes, and Spencer, were essentially philosophic discourses conducted by mail, sifting difficult questions in logic, philosophy, science, and political economy, often with a view to the ever-continuing revision and improvement of such major works as the Logic (8 editions) and the Political Economy (7 editions). On one occasion, in thanking Cairnes for his extensive notes for the revision of the Political Economy, Mill remarked the similarity to “the philosophic correspondences in which the thinkers of the 16th and 17th centuries used to compare notes and discuss each other’s opinions before or after publication—of which we have so many interesting specimens in the published works of Descartes” (p. 975). Such letters as that to Bain on the conservation of force (Letter 1554) probably have less interest for the modern reader than the letters that discuss practical questions of political and social reform and the strategies for the attainment of such reforms; still, they do contribute to our understanding of the close reasoning and the constant striving for perfection that always characterized Mill’s philosophic work.
In the letters dealing with reform, there is always a sense of rejoicing in the fellowship of allies, a feeling “of brotherhood in arms with those who are . . . fighting . . . the battles of advanced liberalism” (p. 1511).1 Mill’s need for fellowship was a long-standing one. As early as 1829 in his first extant letter to John Sterling, describing his sense of loneliness in the years following his mental crisis, Mill wrote: “By loneliness I mean the absence of that feeling which has accompanied me through the greater part of my life, that which one fellow traveller, or one fellow soldier has towards another—the feeling of being engaged in the pursuit of a common object, and of mutually cheering one another on, and helping one another in an arduous undertaking” (Earlier Letters, p. 30).
Mill’s life-long need for emotional support is probably the explanation of the riddle of his relationship with Mrs. John Taylor, who after twenty years of close friendship became his wife. Now, with the full publication of all his known extant letters to her, by far the most voluminous of his correspondences, some further clues to the riddle may be discerned.2 When his Autobiography was published within six months after his death, Mill’s extravagant tributes to his wife’s intellectual abilities and to her contributions to his thought and writing were greeted generally with amused scepticism.3 The reviewer in the British Quarterly Review remarked dryly: “Mill had no great faith in a God. He had unbounded confidence in a goddess.” Alexander Bain, reading the proofs of the Autobiography and fearful that Mill’s reputation would suffer seriously if his most extreme claims for his wife were not deleted, wrote to Helen Taylor, Mill’s literary executor, to urge that she should cancel “those sentences where he declares her to be a greater poet than Carlyle, and a greater thinker than himself—and again, a greater leader than his father (or at all events an equal).” Bain continued:
I venture to express the opinion that no such combination has ever been realised in the history of the human race, and I am sure that many will take the same view; and the whole of his statements will be treated as pure hyperbole, proving, indeed, the strength of his feelings, but not the reality of the case. I think that your mother, yourself, and Mr. Mill will all be placed in a false position before the world by such extreme statements.
(Sept. 6, 1873, MS at LSE)
Helen, whether out of loyalty to her mother or unwillingness to distort by omission Mill’s expression of his obsessive admiration of Harriet, refused to make the suggested deletions, though she did, with reluctance, remove praise of herself. Bain’s fears proved to be exaggerated, and over the years most readers of the Autobiography have been inclined to view charitably the extravagant praise of Harriet as the harmless aberration of a love-blinded widower.
A somewhat different perspective on the question, however, is now necessary. Ever since the publication of Professor Jack Stillinger’s edition of The Early Draft of John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography (Urbana, Ill., 1961) it has been clear that most of the praise of Harriet in the Autobiography had been written, not after her death, but during their married life, and indeed had been submitted to her for her approval, which apparently was given without protest. From the letters in the present volumes it is further evident that the defence and justification of Mill’s and Harriet’s unconventional friendship and eventual marriage constituted one of the main original purposes of writing the Autobiography. For Harriet, who participated actively in planning the book, it was probably the major purpose. Mill wrote to her on January 23, 1854, of the desirability of completing it as soon as possible:
What there is of it is in a perfectly publishable state . . . & it contains a full writing out as far as any thing 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
To his request of February 13 that she give him “a general notion of what we should say or imply respecting our private concerns” (p. 159), Harriet’s reply of February 14-15 (one of the very few of her letters to him still extant) was quite explicit:
Should there not be a summary of our relationship from its commencement in 1830—I mean given in a dozen lines—so as to preclude other and different versions of our lives at Ki[ngston] and Wal[ton]—our summer excursions, etc. This ought to be done in its genuine simplicity & truth—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. But of course this is not my reason for wishing it done. It is that every ground should be occupied by ourselves on our own subject
(p. 166 n.).
The early draft was written in 1853-54, at a time when the two were still smarting from the gossip that had pursued them for at least twenty years; it was also written at a time when Mill feared that his death was imminent. Evidently, his original intention was to divide the work into two parts, the pre- and the post-Harriet periods of his life. Such a division proved to be impracticable, partly because of the disproportionate lengths of the two periods, and a compromise revision was achieved which blurred the sharp distinction between the two sections. Nevertheless, if Mill had died in, say 1856, the work if published would have given the concluding emphasis to the justification and glorification of his wife. In that form it seems reasonable to doubt that it could have added as much to Mill’s reputation as did the final version achieved by the revision and extension completed about 1870.
One can understand that in the months following Harriet’s death on November 3, 1858, Mill in grief for his devastating loss should have eulogized her in his letters. The most extravagant evaluation occurs in a hitherto unpublished letter to Louis Blanc:
I do not speak from feeling but from long standing and sober conviction in saying that when she died this country lost the greatest mind it contained. You cannot know what she was privately, but you, more than most men, can sympathize in the nobleness of her public objects, which never stopped short of perfect distributive justice as the final aim, implying therefore a state of society entirely communist in practice and spirit, whether also in institutions or not. The entire faith in the ultimate possibilities of human nature was drawn from her own glorious character, while her keen perception of present difficulties and obstacles was derived from her wonderful practical discernment, and comprehension of life
Although the years after 1858 did not mitigate his extravagant estimate of Harriet, they did lead him to soften or omit a number of the asperities which had been clearly inspired by his relationship with her and which she had not sought to modify when she read the draft. It was not by her advice that he eliminated the severe criticism of his mother found in the early draft, or his belittling of his one-time friend John Roebuck, or his attack upon Sarah Austin, whom in earlier years he had addressed as “Dear Mutterlein” (see Earlier Letters).
Harriet’s grudge against the society that had excluded her from polite circles is understandable. As the pretty, striking young wife of a prosperous, not unintelligent though perhaps rather unimaginative, business man, John Taylor, her circle had been limited but not without interest. Although Unitarians may still have been “a sect every where spoken against,” they were intellectually, and to some extent socially, the aristocrats among the Dissenters. The Taylors entertained generously among those whom Carlyle scornfully labelled “friends of the species,” reformers, Benthamites, yet substantial citizens withal. But there was a flaw in the outwardly happy marriage. Mr. Taylor shared too little Harriet’s aesthetic and intellectual interests. Legend has it that she turned for advice to her pastor, the liberal Unitarian preacher and writer, the Reverend William Johnson Fox, and that he was responsible for calling to her attention the twenty-four-year-old John Stuart Mill, then unknown to the general public as a writer but regarded in liberal circles as a highly promising if somewhat manufactured genius. Mill and Mrs. Taylor first met in 1830 in the Taylor home at a dinner party also attended by Harriet Martineau and John Roebuck.
Just how rapidly the acquaintance ripened into love is not clear, but by the summer of 1832 Mill and Mrs. Taylor were exchanging agonized love letters, and by September, 1833, a crisis was reached in the Taylors’ marriage. She went off to Paris for a trial separation from her husband, and Mill soon followed. Members of her family intervened to patch up the threatened marriage and obviate scandal. Mrs. Taylor returned to her husband’s home and to a marriage henceforth only nominal. She had not, however, “renounced sight” of Mill, and their meetings were frequent, both at her home and elsewhere. From time to time they spent vacations together on the Continent, sometimes with her children and one or another of his younger brothers. Gossip thrived, of course, though the evidence seems fairly clear that there was no sexual relationship. Mrs. Taylor succeeded in holding both her husband and her lover at arm’s length. Some years after her marriage to Mill she told the young Gomperz that she was his Seelenfreundin.
Inevitably, Mill’s attachment to Mrs. Taylor restricted his contacts in English society, and for a time he worried that it would destroy his usefulness as a reformer. Some of his friends he cut because they had advised him against continuing the relationship or had participated in the gossip; others he cut because she disliked them. She herself seems to have had little capacity for friendship, especially with members of her own sex. Her only close woman friend was the somewhat elfin Eliza Flower, who herself came under a cloud because of her relationship with the Reverend W. J. Fox. Mill’s circle narrowed over the long years before the death of John Taylor in 1849 finally made possible the marriage with Harriet in 1851; thereafter the circle became even more circumscribed. He soon cut himself off from his sisters and preserved only a formal relationship with his mother, all because of fancied slights to his wife. An admittedly gauche letter by his brother George about the marriage provoked a savage, withering reply (pp. 73-75). Probably the greatest blot on Mill’s character was his treatment, apparently with Harriet’s encouragement, of his family after his marriage, as seen in other letters included in this edition. Even after his mother’s death when he proposed to Harriet that he should give up his share of his mother’s estate to his sisters, Harriet insisted that he should not yield to his generous impulse (see pp. 220 and 223). Only some years after her death did he begin to treat his sisters more kindly and even to provide financial assistance for at least one of them, Mary Colman.
As for society, Henry Reeve, acquainted with Mill since their boyhood, writer of the Edinburgh’s hostile review of the Autobiography in 1874, spoke for Mrs. Grundy: “From the moment he devoted himself exclusively to what he calls ‘the most valuable friendship of my life,’ [his ties with talented women like Mrs. Buller, Mrs. Austin, and Mrs. Grote were broken.] Whatever may have been their regard for Mill, these ladies found it impossible to countenance or receive a woman who had placed herself in so equivocal a position.” (ER, CXXXIX (Jan., 1874), 122.) Enough is known of Mrs. Austin and Mrs. Grote, as well as of Mrs. Carlyle, and of their tolerance for unconventionality, to make one suspect that it was not their concern for Mrs. Grundy, but their not wholly unjustified dislike for Harriet that led them to ostracize her. She, deeply resenting her exclusion, of course attributed it to her breaking of convention in her long association with Mill during her first husband’s lifetime. And under her sway Mill made the justification of that association one of his major purposes in writing his autobiography.
Was he then simply deluded? Was he who was ordinarily so discerning in his analysis of men and motives blinded when it came to appraising her? There can be no question that from the first she filled an enormous need in his emotional life. Suffering from a too exclusively intellectual education that had starved the affections and led to his near nervous breakdown at twenty, he sought a friend with whom he could share his inmost thoughts and feelings and upon whom he could rely for comradeship in the causes he held most dear. For a time, as his letters reveal, it seemed that John Sterling might fulfil the role, and for a while, even after Mill had met Harriet, Carlyle appeared to be a possibility. But, for good or ill, the friend he found was Mrs. Taylor: for good, in that she provided a centre of stability for his emotional and, to some extent, his intellectual life; for ill, in that she fostered the isolation from his contemporaries that had characterized his earlier life. Loverlike, in his early relation with her, he engaged in lover’s flattery of her, not of her beauty but of her intellectual abilities and interests, on which she prided herself. She was intelligent, she shared his passion for social reform, and she was at times even more direct and unwavering than he in going to the heart of a social or political problem. She also had a much better sense than he did of management of everyday, practical affairs, and after their marriage he became dependent upon her judgment in such matters. She in turn seems to have become more and more dependent upon him in her need of praise. One can understand a woman’s acceptance of even extravagant flattery in a lover’s or even a husband’s letters; one finds it more difficult to comprehend a wife’s coolly approving for publication such extraordinary tributes as Mill paid Harriet in the Autobiography.
Although she seems not to have objected to overpraise of herself, on at least one occasion she objected to his too laudatory words in a review article. Mill acknowledged the fault: “I am always apt to get enthusiastic about those who do great things for progress & are immensely ahead of everybody else in their age . . . & I am not always sufficiently careful to explain that the praise is relative to the then state & not the now state of knowledge & of what ought to be improved feeling” (pp. 17-18). In this case his perhaps extravagant praise was for the ancient Athenians, but his reply gives a clue to his feelings about Harriet; in his view she was always for doing “great things for progress” and was “immensely ahead of everybody else in [her] age,” in “what ought to be improved feeling.”
In his marriage the sense of communion, of sharing in the advancement of common causes, gave Mill relief from his otherwise ever-present feeling of aloneness. Sympathizing with Frederick Denison Maurice’s expression of “mental loneliness” in 1865, he wrote:
In our age & country, every person with any mental power at all, who both thinks for himself & has a conscience, must feel himself, to a very great degree, alone. I shd think you have decidedly more people who are in real communion of thoughts, feelings & purposes with you than I have. I am in this supremely happy, that I have had, & even now have [with Helen Taylor], that communion in the fullest degree where it is most valuable, in my own home. But I have it nowhere else; & if people did but know how much more precious to me is the faintest approach to it, than all the noisy eulogiums in the world!
To the need for that continued communion through some long separations we owe the large number of Mill’s letters to Harriet. Several years after their marriage both were afflicted with critical ill health. First, in the fall of 1853, on the advice of their physicians, Mill and Harriet, accompanied by Helen, sought to restore their health by a three-month residence in the more favourable climate of Nice. There Harriet suffered a severe haemorrhage and nearly died. Mill’s own condition improved little if any, but after moving Harriet to Hyères, where she remained until spring, he returned to his work at the India House early in January. His 38 letters to her between December 28, 1853, and April 11, 1854, when she returned home, give the best picture available of their life at Blackheath Park, for in the two other series of his letters to her, he was travelling while she remained in England. Almost none of her letters to him during these separations survived, for he seems dutifully to have followed her instructions to destroy them (p. 146).
His letters to her are, of course, informal and miscellaneous, dealing more or less at random with matters of both private and public interest. The underlying concern in them all is the state of their health; he awaits eagerly her reports and gives her details of his visits to his physicians, describes sometimes almost clinically his symptoms, and specifies the medicines he is taking. Linked with the matter of their health are the questions of when to retire from the East India Company and where they should live thereafter. The prospect of reduced income in retirement was perhaps responsible for Mill’s concern about household expenses during his wife’s absence, but more likely it was his ineptitude in dealing with practical details usually attended to by Harriet. The supply of potatoes and bread seemed to diminish too rapidly, the butcher’s bills seemed too high, two tons of coals had lasted twelve weeks in the spring and summer of 1853 but a similar quantity had surprisingly lasted only nine weeks after November 12 (p. 136)! And then there were rats to be coped with; his neighbour at Blackheath had sent a note to the effect that rats dislodged from his own property had taken refuge in an outhouse on Mill’s side. Mill could find no key to the outhouse. What to do? Write Harriet, of course, who from France soon supplied the solution to the problem (pp. 180, 182, 188).
Mill’s dependence on her at this time extended well beyond the problems of domestic life. He seems seldom to have answered a letter without consulting her about the form of the reply. One can understand why he should have consulted her about replying to a complimentary note from Mrs. Grote about his review of her husband’s book, for Mrs. Grote was one of those they thought had gossiped about them. Harriet evidently recommended a dignified silence. Mill thought it rather strange that Grote, with whom he had been on close terms for years, did not perceive that Mill was now addressing him as Mr. Grote (pp. 123 and 133). Other replies to letters hardly requiring such delicacy of decorum nevertheless were not sent until Harriet had been consulted. When the legislature of South Carolina sent him a presentation copy of a book by John C. Calhoun (pp. 142-43), when the Christian Socialist Frederick Furnivall wanted to reprint from the Political Economy the chapter on the future of the labouring classes (p. 149), and when Sir Charles Trevelyan requested an opinion on a plan for the reform of the Civil Service (pp. 175, 178, 184), the replies all required Harriet’s advice and approval.
Harriet’s role in the early version of the Autobiography has been described; she was also consulted at almost every turn in his writings of this period. She contributed three “beautiful” sentences to the essay on Nature (p. 144). When that was completed, he asked her to tell him what to attempt next:
I will just copy the list of subjects we made out in the confused order in which we put them down. Differences of character (nation, race, age, sex, temperament). Love. Education of tastes. Religion de l’Avenir. Plato. Slander. Foundation of morals. Utility of religion. Socialism. Liberty. Doctrine that causation is will. To these I have now added from your letter: Family, & Conventional
Harriet in reply recommended “The Utility of Religion” in a sentence that revealed that the subject was one close to her heart (p. 165, n. 3). He consulted her about revisions of the Political Economy for a new edition (pp. 185-87, 195). There is no evidence that he ever asked her help for more than verbal changes in revising the Logic (a very “dry” book, she wrote her brother Arthur, which to her surprise continued to sell well). Mill accepted readily her suggestion that he decline John Chapman’s invitation to review Harriet Martineau’s abridged translation of Comte’s Philosophie Positive, for he had long disliked Miss Martineau (pp. 126 and 134). His wife’s dominance in the choice of topics to write upon in this period seems clear, and even after her death her influence continued to guide his choice of political and social subjects; only in his writings on philosophical and psychological questions does her influence as a motivating force seem to have been minimal.
Harriet was a rebel not without cause. In Mill she found a man whose extraordinary education had shaped him also for rebellion against the social, moral, and political conventions of his time. In him she found too a man almost desperately lonely, subject to recurring periods of depression. It is perhaps small wonder that in gratitude for her braving the censure of society, for her sharing in his devotion to liberal causes, and for her strengthening of his spiritual and emotional resources, he sought to induce the world to accept his estimate of her. Neither he nor some of his recent biographers have convinced us that she was the originating mind behind his work, but no one can doubt her importance in his inner life, the well-springs of which had been threatened by drought.
The other two series of Mill’s letters to Harriet, because they are essentially travel letters, are less revealing. The travel on both trips was undertaken in the hope of recovering his health. In the last letter (Letter 154) of the earlier series to Harriet he had confessed that his doctor had at last told him that he had an advanced case of consumption. He was too ill to go to Paris to accompany Harriet and Helen when they returned to England about the middle of April, 1854. Thereafter, his health deteriorated rapidly and he lost weight at an alarming rate. Yielding to the advice of his physicians, he left England on June 9, 1854, for a trip to Brittany by way of the Channel Islands. Fifteen of his letters to Harriet during his six-week absence have survived. Although, as he admitted a year later, he thought his death was imminent, he kept up a brave front for Harriet. He focused attention upon plans for retirement to the Continent: “I suppose we shall never again live in England permanently” (p. 223). Everywhere he went he made inquiries about the cost of living and reported the prices of food in the various towns. He took his cod liver oil regularly, but his favourite remedy for his health was walking: “I am always out of doors, & walking when not travelling” (p. 218). A walk of twenty or more miles a day even in his weakened condition was not uncommon. Gradually he began to take on some weight and when he returned home in late July his condition seemed improved.
With the approach of winter, however, more travel seemed necessary. Leaving Harriet at Torquay with her mother and sister as guests, Mill left England on December 8 for a trip of over six months to southern France, Italy, Sicily, and Greece, not rejoining Harriet until he met her in Paris in mid-June. The 49 letters he wrote her during his travels can be read with interest in themselves, apart from their contributions to any further understanding of their relationship. They are the letters of a highly intelligent observer, and those written from Sicily and Greece in particular are valuable for their pictures of wild country not often visited in the mid-nineteenth century by Englishmen. The railroads had not yet reached those areas, and the difficulties of travel by the public diligences, by mule, and on foot were great enough to deter many a healthier traveller than Mill, who had been almost at the point of death only six months earlier. Since the letters are written to his wife, they of course recount in some detail the progress of his health, his gains or losses in weight whenever he finds available scales, his persistent bouts with indigestion, and the gradually improving condition of his lungs. Addicted to long walks since boyhood, he now almost literally walked himself back to health, travelling often through wild country in Sicily and Greece, climbing mountains and fording streams, often in pelting rain, and always botanizing as he went along, collecting loads of specimens which he dried and sorted in the evenings. Many of the inns were primitive, and infested with fleas. Writing from Greece on May 26, he wryly described one of his bouts with the pests:
I never saw so many fleas in the whole of my precious life, as I found on my clothes & body on undressing last night. After chasing them one by one I laid the palm of my hand over six or seven at once. During the night they danced a saraband on my face, & I fancied I could hear the sounds of myriads of them jumping on the floor: but perhaps it was only the droppings of the swallows, for there are always swallows in these places; the people think them lucky; & they often fly about in the night, as these did. In the morning while I was sponging myself nearly a dozen of the enemy gathered on my legs & feet. What is worse, I have brought a colony of them with me to this comparatively clean place, & they are tormenting me worse than ever. One little rascal had the impudence to bite my hand to my very face
Away from the cities he recounts the breathtaking beauty of the natural scenery: near Vaucluse in Southern France (p. 267); near Chiaramonte in Sicily (pp. 381-82), where the view from the hills and mountains is such that “one feels lifted out of all the littleness of it & conscious of a beauty which seems lent to it by something grander”; near Mount Pentelicus in Greece, where “The more than earthly beauty of this country quite takes away from me all care or feeling about the historical associations, which I had so strongly in Syracuse. That I shall have when I read Greek history again after becoming acquainted with the localities” (p. 429). Despite this statement he is almost always eager to associate literature and history with the places he visits; in Bordeaux, in preparation for Italy, he buys a volume which contains the poetry of Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso (p. 251); in Sicily he reads the native poets Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus (p. 401), as well as Goethe’s Italian travels (p. 339), and he saves Sophocles for Greece (p. 401).
In Rome and the cities of northern Italy he performs zestfully “the first duty of man when in Italy, that of seeing pictures” (p. 270). He had never before been so “immersed in pictures” (p. 312). He is modest about his pretension in venturing to give his opinions on the paintings, sculpture, and architecture he sees, but “as all I say about them is the expression of real feelings which they give or which they fail to give me, what I say though superficial is genuine & may go for what it is worth—it does not come from books or from other people . . .” (p. 312). He protests against prudery: “the precious King of Naples has shut up the Venus Callipyge & the other Venuses on pretext of public decency—the Pope has done the same to the Venus of the Capitol. If these things are done in Italy what shall we come to next?” (p. 317). Although Mill’s education had been defective with respect to art (as had the education of most Englishmen of his time), he now began to gain confidence in his judgments. “I find the pleasure which pictures & statues give me increases with every new experience, & I am acquiring strong preferences & discriminations which with me I think is a sign of progress” (p. 295).
In the midst of his new-found pleasures in art and of the renewal of his joy in natural beauty, Mill nonetheless never strayed very far from the consciousness of his duty to write for the betterment of mankind. “We have got a power of which we must try to make a good use during the few years of life we have left” (p. 332). In Rome he was moved to recall a paper he had written for his volume of essays he had projected with Harriet:
I came back to an idea we have talked about & thought that the best thing to write & publish at present would be a volume on Liberty. So many things might be brought into it & nothing seems to me more needed—it is a growing need too, for opinion tends to encroach more & more on liberty, & almost all the projects of social reformers in these days are really liberticide—Comte, particularly so. I wish I had brought with me here the paper on liberty that I wrote for our volume of Essays—perhaps my dearest will kindly read it through & tell me whether it will do as the foundation of one part of the volume in question—If she thinks so I will try to write & publish it in 1856 if my health permits as I hope it will
He revived also a plan he had thought of as early as 1839 (see Earlier Letters, p. 411) to publish a collection of his periodical essays.
It seems desirable to do it in our lifetime, for I fancy we cannot prevent other people from doing it when we are dead . . . : now if we do it, we can exclude what we should not choose to republish, & nobody would think of reprinting what the writer had purposely rejected. Then the chance of the name selling them is as great as it is ever likely to be—the collection would probably be a good deal reviewed, for anybody thinks he can review a miscellaneous collection but few a treatise on logic or political economy. . . . I hope to publish some volume almost annually for the next few years if I live as long—& I should like to get this reprint, if it is to be done at all, off my hands during the next few months after I return in which India House business being in arrear will prevent me from settling properly to the new book. Will my dearest one think about this & tell me what her judgment & also what her feeling is
As it turned out, however, Mill did not publish another book until the year after Harriet’s death in November, 1858. It was not merely the arrears of India House business that delayed the fulfilment of his plans; on him was placed the burden of the defence of the Company against the takeover of the administration of India by the British government in 1858. After his retirement and the death of his wife, he published in close succession in 1859 the essay On Liberty, his pamphlet on Parliamentary Reform, and the first two volumes of his review articles, Dissertations and Discussions.
Again during his 1855 trip he was concerned about his approaching retirement. Almost every place he went he noted its cost of living and its suitability as a home for them. Corfu and the nearby islands, curiously enough, seemed most attractive, especially when the possibility developed that he might be able to secure an appointment as Resident of one of the Ionian islands then under British protection (p. 412).
I do not believe there is a more beautiful place in the world & few more agreeable—the burthen of it to us would be that we could not (with the Residentship) have the perfectly quiet life, with ourselves & our own thoughts, which we prefer to any other, but if we have tolerable health there is not more of societyzing than would be endurable & if we have not, that would excuse us
Isolation from English society, so long as it was shared with Harriet, would be no deprivation for him. To lose her would be the unthinkable calamity. That he might do something that would alienate her from him seems to have been a deeply rooted fear, a fear that once near the end of his long absence from her gained expression in a letter.
. . . I had a horrible dream lately—I had come back to her & she was sweet & loving like herself at first, but presently she took a complete dislike to me saying that I was changed much for the worse—I am terribly afraid sometimes lest she should think so, not that I see any cause for it, but because I know how deficient I am in self consciousness & self observation, & how often when she sees me again after I have been even a short time absent she is disappointed—but she shall not be, she will not be so I think this time—bless my own darling, she has been all the while without intermission present to my thoughts & I have been all the while mentally talking with her when I have not been doing so on paper
The three years following Mill’s return to Harriet in June, 1855, seem to have been happy. Their health was somewhat improved and no further prolonged separations occurred. As a result, of course, we have little record in letters of their life together for this period. Only occasionally in these years were letters necessary, ordinarily brief ones. In the summer of 1856, accompanied by Helen and Algernon Taylor, they spent much of July and August in Switzerland and were apart only for a week while Mill took a walking tour of the French Jura. In September, 1857, and July, 1858, he made several botanizing expeditions, each of about a week’s duration. The longest separation during these years occurred in February, 1857, when Harriet went to Scotland to be near her daughter Helen, who in the preceding November had won her mother’s very reluctant consent to her undertaking a career as an actress. She was permitted to do so only on the understanding that the Taylor name should be concealed; she billed herself as Miss Trevor. To conceal Helen’s whereabouts, Harriet went to great pains; for all her protests against social convention, she wanted to avoid the stigma still attached to the theatrical profession and to preserve appearances for herself and her daughter.
The last years of Mill’s marriage continued the isolation that had characterized his life with Harriet. One notices the paucity of his correspondence in these years as well as of publication. Old friends, like the Grotes, were still kept at a distance; there is no record of the Mills’ entertaining any friends except Louis Blanc, who, as a radical French journalist, was outside the pale of respectable society. It seems more than likely that if Mill’s and Harriet’s plans for their retirement had been carried out, his isolation from English life would have continued. Not that he would have minded, for to the end Harriet was the all-sufficient centre of his existence. If Harriet could have lived, he would gladly have foregone the public fame he was later to achieve.
When she died in Avignon on November 3, 1858, the blow to him was all but overwhelming. To his friend and former colleague at the India House, W. T. Thornton, he wrote:
It is doubtful if I shall ever be fit for anything public or private, again. The spring of my life is broken. But I shall best fulfil her wishes by not giving up the attempt to do something useful, and I am not quite alone. I have with me her daughter, the one person besides myself who most loved her & whom she most loved, & we help each other to bear what is inevitable
By the end of the month, before he and Helen returned to England, he had purchased a cottage at St. Véran near the Avignon cemetery in which Harriet was buried. The cottage was henceforth to be his and Helen’s real home, although they usually spent about half of each year in England in the house in Blackheath Park, which they retained until 1872. The tie that bound them to Avignon was, of course, the nearby grave of Harriet, which became virtually a shrine. For the rest of his life, whenever he was at Avignon, Mill visited the site for an hour each day.
The shared loss of Harriet brought Mill and Helen into an association that was to strengthen over the remaining years of his life. In many ways he became heavily dependent upon her. She seems to have accepted the burden willingly and without regret at giving up her hoped-for career in the theatre. From the first she devoted herself to Mill’s comforts, interests, and causes.
He soon became as dependent upon her as he had been upon Harriet. This is best seen in the series of his letters to Helen of January and February, 1860, apparently his only extended separation from her in his last fifteen years, occasioned by his return to Blackheath to consult his physicians and settle some business affairs, while she remained in Avignon. As in his letters to Harriet, he keeps Helen informed about the medical advice he has received (p. 660). He forwards certain letters to her (as formerly to Harriet) to consult her on the replies to be made (p. 661). In practical matters—for instance, when the walls in their Blackheath house begin to threaten collapse—he still depends on the woman of the house for instructions (pp. 662, 666). It is Helen who is responsible for the home at Avignon, at one point supervising the building of an addition. Under her skilful ministrations, the cottage at Avignon became not only a comfortable refuge from the society in which he had been in the past seldom at ease but also the place where he was henceforth to carry on most of his study and his writing.
In November, 1861, he wrote his friend Thornton:
Life here is uneventful, and feels like a perpetual holiday. It is one of the great privileges of advanced civilization, that while keeping out of the turmoil and depressing wear of life, one can have brought to one’s doors all that is agreeable or stimulating in the activities of the outward world, by newspapers, new books, periodicals, &c. It is, in truth, too self-indulgent a life for any one to allow himself whose duties lie among his fellow-beings, unless, as is fortunately the case with me, they are mostly such as can better be fulfilled at a distance from their society, than in the midst of it
Mill was aware of the dangers to Helen in his virtual monopoly of her attention. Once when she had evidently complained of being depressed by the company of some women at Avignon, he wrote her:
It is a great happiness to me to be a support to you under depression, but it would be very painful to me to think that I should always continue to be the only one, as I must necessarily fail you some day & I can never be at ease unless, either by means of persons or of pursuits you have some other resource besides me, and I am sure my own darling [Harriet] would feel as I do
Helen continued, however, to devote herself almost exclusively to Mill’s interests. By 1865, as has been pointed out in the Preface, she became so identified with him as to be able to write a good many of his letters for him. Of a letter on women’s suffrage to Mary Carpenter, he wrote:
. . . I should not like to be a party to its being printed with my name, because it was written (as is the case with no inconsiderable portion of my correspondence) by my step-daughter Miss Helen Taylor. Without this help it would be impossible for me to carry on so very voluminous a correspondence as I am at present able to do: and we are so completely one in our opinions and feelings, that it makes hardly any difference which of us puts them into words
By her own admission, Helen was, like her mother before her, a severe critic of Mill’s writing. In turn, she reproached him for not criticizing her own writing severely enough. Mill thought her a good editor and trusted her judgment in the revision of his work. She worked zealously, “putting in words here, stops there; scratching through whole paragraphs; asking him to write whole new pages in particular places” where she thought the meaning unclear.4 Her relationship with Mill was such that there was “no amour propre to be hurt in his case or [hers].”
On at least one occasion she gave him a thorough dressing down for careless thinking and writing. When in a public letter to his election committee in the 1868 campaign for Parliament, Mill wrote effusively and somewhat evasively in defence of his support of the atheist Charles Bradlaugh, Helen, in a letter of November 12, 1868 (MS at LSE), sternly warned Mill that his “future power of usefulness on religious liberty” was being jeopardized by such letters, and that henceforth she would take charge of any correspondence about Bradlaugh: “Copy as literally as you can the letter I dictated (which I enclose) about Bradlaugh; and what you yourself said at the former election, about yourself.”5
Helen’s judgment in this instance was probably sound, but in other instances she seems to have brought Mill too much under her domination. When in 1869 the identity of the London Committee for Women’s Suffrage (originally Helen’s project) was threatened with a takeover by a Manchester group, Helen through Mill directed countermoves for the London Committee. In a series of letters to George Croom Robertson, Mill was led to advocate measures designed to eliminate dissident members from the Committee and to ensure that new members should be on the right side. This series of letters to Robertson is the only one in all his correspondence that reflects discredit upon Mill the advocate of freedom of opinion. Helen was so convinced of the rightness of her views that she became almost ruthless in her support of them.
Her evident domination of Mill in matters connected with the women’s suffrage movement did not escape the observation of one of Mill’s friends, Charles Eliot Norton, who wrote to Chauncey Wright on September 13, 1870:
I doubt whether Mill’s interest in the cause of woman is serviceable to him as a thinker. It has a tendency to develop the sentimental part of his intelligence, which is of immense force, and has only been kept in due subjection by his respect for his own reason. This respect diminishes under the powerful influence of his daughter, Miss Taylor, who is an admirable person doubtless, but is what, were she of the sex that she regards as inferior, would be called decidedly priggish. Her self-confidence, which embraces her confidence in Mill, is tremendous, and Mill is overpowered by it. Her words have an oracular value to him—something more than their just weight; and her unconscious flattery, joined with the very direct flattery of many other prominent leaders of the great female army, have a not unnatural effect on his tender, susceptible and sympathetic nature. . . .6
However dominant Helen may have become over Mill in his last years, her help to him in restoring his will to live and in developing new interests in the years immediately after Harriet’s death was of great importance. She encouraged him to make new friends, held frequent intimate dinner parties when they were at Blackheath, and shared his enthusiasm for new causes which he found he could advance better by ending the isolation he had enjoyed with Harriet. The first steps were taken somewhat reluctantly. He wrote to Helen in February, 1860, after meeting with Thomas Hare and Henry Fawcett:
The truth is that though I detest society for society’s sake yet when I can do anything for the public objects I care about by seeing & talking with people I do not dislike it. At the moment of going to do it, I feel it a bore, just as I do taking a walk or anything else that I must & ought to do when not wishing to do it. But I believe the little additional activity & change of excitement does me good, & that it is better for me to try to serve my opinions in other ways as well as with a pen in my hand
The products of his pen, especially the shorter works published in 1859—On Liberty, Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, and the first two volumes of his Dissertations and Discussions—were beginning to have evident effect upon public opinion. He noted that an article in the conservative Quarterly Review had borrowed from his pamphlet on parliamentary reform (p. 667), and he wrote Helen in February, 1860, that his influence could be detected in the likewise conservative Saturday Review, “for besides that they are continually referring to me by name, I continually detect the influence of some idea that they have lately got from the Dissertations. They must also get me plenty of readers, for they are always treating me & my influence as something of very great importance” (pp. 673-74). Early in 1863 he corrected an American reviewer who thought that his shorter works had been neglected in England in comparison with his treatises. The more recent works “have been much more widely read than ever those were & have given me what I had not before, popular influence” (p. 843). That influence had also markedly increased in America and was reenforced by his wholehearted support of the Northern cause during the Civil War.
His active participation in political and social movements revived in the early 1860’s and is reflected both in the addition of new friendships and correspondences and in the renewing of old. Only seven letters to Edwin Chadwick, his early friend, are extant for the years between 1849 and November, 1858; there are nearly a hundred in the years to 1873. The friendship with Grote, broken off during the years of Mill’s marriage, was renewed, as well as their correspondence. The exchange of letters with Gustave d’Eichthal, interrupted in 1842, began again in 1863. Although evidence is incomplete, it seems likely that the correspondence with Alexander Bain had also been almost wholly suspended during Mill’s marriage.
Among the new correspondents, John Elliot Cairnes became perhaps the one most highly valued by Mill. In the earlier years of their correspondence, they had little opportunity for personal contact, since Cairnes resided in Ireland until 1866, when he became Professor of Political Economy at University College, London; he eventually made his home in Blackheath. Reference has been made earlier here to Mill’s awareness that their exchanges constituted a “philosophic correspondence” between two who shared a “brotherhood in arms.” Cairnes is sometimes thought of as a disciple of Mill, but while he was in basic agreement with Mill on many of their doctrines in political economy, he often disagreed with the older man in details. His criticism was often of great help to Mill in the revision of his Political Economy, and on some questions, notably on those relating to Ireland, Cairnes supplied invaluable information. Mill, in turn, was often of similar assistance to Cairnes (see, for instance, his analytical letter on the French political economists, pp. 1664-65). It was Mill who first encouraged Cairnes to expand some lectures he had delivered in Dublin into his book The Slave Power, which became perhaps the most influential force in shaping British opinion in favour of the North in the American Civil War. The letters of the two men on the course of that war reveal their mutual concern for the antislavery cause; said Mill, “the battle against the devil could not be fought on a more advantageous field than that of slavery” (p. 835). Other interests the two shared were proportional representation, women’s rights, and the reform of education and land tenure in Ireland. More than any other of Mill’s correspondence, except perhaps that with Carlyle—the other side of which is largely available—both sides of the Cairnes-Mill series deserve publication together; for reasons of space, we have been able to publish only pertinent excerpts of Cairnes’s letters in footnotes.
Of the other new friends, Thomas Hare supplied Mill with a new cause—the representation of minorities or, as we now phrase it, proportional representation. Mill responded enthusiastically when Hare sent him a copy of his book on the subject: “You appear to me to have exactly, and for the first time, solved the difficulty of popular representation; and by doing so, to have raised up the cloud of gloom and uncertainty which hung over the futurity of representative government and therefore of civilization” (pp. 598-99). Mill’s long-standing fear of the tyranny of the majority in a democratic society was now allayed by the possibility of the representation of minorities set forth in Hare’s plan. It became at once a favourite cause for Mill, since he regarded the plan “as the sheet anchor of the democracy of the future” (p. 765). Within a month after studying Hare’s book he reviewed it enthusiastically in Fraser’s Magazine, and he quickly revised his pamphlet on parliamentary reform to endorse the plan. Hare became one of Mill’s valued friends and a dependable ally in another favourite cause, women’s suffrage.
It was through Hare that Mill gained another friend, disciple, and correspondent—the blind political economist and politician Henry Fawcett, who was Mill’s junior by twenty-three years. He and Mill were united in their support of Hare’s plan, co-operation, conservation, women’s suffrage, and a number of other liberal causes. When Fawcett and Mill were both elected to Parliament in 1865, they continued their relationship as political allies. As a political economist, however, Fawcett remained more orthodox than Mill, who in his later years moved nearer to socialist views.
Less close was the relationship with Herbert Spencer, the extant correspondence with whom dates from November, 1858, after Spencer had written Mill for assistance in securing a position in the India civil service. Prior to that, the two had engaged in amicable controversy in their writings on the ultimate test of truth and Spencer’s “Universal Postulate.” Mill’s answers to Spencer were largely expressed in successive revisions of the Logic, beginning with the fourth edition. Mill wrote Spencer that his First Principles was “a striking exposition of a consistent and imposing system of thought; of which though I dissent from much, I agree in more” (p. 846). Mill at times expressed regret at having to criticize so often one whom he regarded as “a friend and ally” (p. 1061). To Bain he wrote, “He is a considerable thinker though anything but a safe one” (p. 901), certainly, in psychology, less sound than Bain (p. 540). Nevertheless Mill readily supported Spencer’s plans for a periodical, The Reader (pp. 974-75), and when Spencer announced that he was planning to suspend the publication of his Principles of Biology, Mill offered to guarantee a publisher against loss in carrying on with it (p. 1145). At first, they differed in degree rather than in principle on laissez-faire: Spencer opposed town ownership of public parks, but Mill thought they should be the property of the town (p. 609). Later, Mill’s increasing sympathy with socialism must have widened the differences between the two, but their extant correspondence supplies no evidence. Spencer, though early in favour of women’s rights, changed his mind and refused to join Mill’s campaign for women’s suffrage (p. 1299). Mill protested Spencer’s view that women often tyrannize over men by remarking that here as in a great many other cases “two negatives do not make an affirmative, or at all events two affirmatives do not make a negative and two contradictory tyrannies do not make liberty” (p. 1614). Despite their differences, however, the two philosophers remained on friendly terms, and Spencer was invited from time to time to Mill’s home for dinner. Spencer after Mill’s death wrote an appreciative memorial article for the Examiner (reprinted as an Appendix in Spencer’s Autobiography).
A rare difficulty with a friend, arising out of a misunderstanding, is illustrated in the letters to the young classical scholar Theodor Gomperz, who had corresponded with Mill since 1854 about translating his works into German. When Mill and Helen Taylor had visited Gomperz in Vienna in the summer of 1862, the young man had fallen in love with Helen. Mill’s friendly letters inviting him to visit them in England were encouraging; he came to London the following winter, intending to propose to Helen. She and Mill, apparently not aware of Gomperz’s intentions, returned to Avignon before Gomperz made his hopes clear to either one. His request to be allowed to visit them was answered by Mill, apparently unconscious of Gomperz’s real purpose, on April 26, 1863 (Letter 607), in a rather ambiguous, cool manner. Gomperz took the letter to be a rejection not only by Helen as a suitor but also by the two of them as friends. His despair set off an incipient nervous breakdown, in which he conjured up enemies who must be maligning him. In succeeding letters Mill protested the sincerity of his great esteem and respect for Gomperz, and after returning with Helen to London early in June invited him to dinner. Mill was apparently slow to understand the real desire of Gomperz; in guarded but kindly terms (Letter 618), Mill advised him that he would “never willingly be the smallest obstacle” to his wishes but clearly doubted that there was any hope.
If you think fit to carry the matter farther, either by speech or writing,—even if only for the relief of your own feelings—, you will have my truest sympathy, as you have my sincere friendship and esteem.—We hope to see you and your friend to-morrow, and I hope, nothing that has passed will make any difference in your feelings towards us, who remain unchanged to you, and that you will not allow it to affect in any degree our future intercourse
Gomperz for some time after leaving England still suffered from delusions of persecution, which Mill tried to dispel (see Letter 633). By fall, Gomperz was calmer and he eventually recovered fully. The correspondence with Mill was renewed; it continued on a friendly basis until Mill’s death.
In the 1860’s with the growth of Mill’s reputation came a marked increase in his influence among young men. His treatises on logic and political economy had become textbooks in the universities, helping to shape the thought as well as the methods of thinking of the younger generation. Among his shorter works, On Liberty became, as Frederic Harrison remarked, “a sort of gospel.” On perhaps none was his influence greater than on John Morley, whose acquaintance Mill first made in 1865, when Morley at the age of twenty-seven was a writer for various periodicals. An anonymous article of his entitled “New Ideas” in the October 21, 1865, number of the Saturday Review attracted Mill’s attention, and when a friend identified the author of the piece, Mill wrote Morley: “Wherever I might have seen that article, I should have felt a strong wish to know who was its author, as it shows an unusual amount of qualities which go towards making the most valuable kind of writer for the general public” (p. 1113). Their friendship developed quickly and by the fall of 1867 when Morley travelled to America, Mill wrote to Emerson a letter of introduction for him (Letter 1137), praising his great capacity and promise as a writer. It is not possible to gauge from the letters to Morley here published the full extent of Mill’s influence on him, for we have succeeded in locating only eleven, some of them brief extracts. Morley himself, however, in his memorial article, “The Death of Mr. Mill” (FR, June, 1873) and in his Recollections (2 vols., New York, 1917), has recorded in generous terms his indebtedness to Mill as his intellectual father. D. A. Hamer in his John Morley (Oxford, 1968, pp. 16-32) has delineated skilfully Mill’s role in winning Morley over from Positivism. What we do have of Mill’s letters to him show Mill as an adviser on questions of public policy, particularly with reference to the Fortnightly Review, of which Morley became the editor in 1867. At one point in 1870, fearful that Morley’s health was in danger from overwork, Mill offered to take over temporarily the editorship of the Review. Their personal contacts were frequent: Morley was always welcomed to Blackheath. On March 5, 1873, Mill visited Morley for a day at his home, shortly before Mill was to leave England for the last time. Morley’s description of that day, reprinted in his Recollections (I, 66-67) from his memorial article of June, 1873, is the finest account available of Mill’s wide-ranging, stimulating conversation.
Of his influence on another promising young man, Lord Amberley, son of Lord John Russell, we again have little evidence in Mill’s letters. Only seven have been located for inclusion here. Fortunately, they can be supplemented by a number of Helen’s letters to Lady Amberley, preserved at LSE and in the Russell Archive at McMaster University. Mill and Helen first met Amberley at a dinner party at the Grotes’ on March 22, 1864, and Amberley called on them at Avignon the following June. The acquaintance ripened into friendship after Amberley’s marriage to Kate Stanley in 1865. Helen and Kate Amberley became close friends. The young couple visited Mill and Helen at Avignon and at Blackheath, and they in turn visited the Amberleys at their home near Tintern Abbey in England. Mill even agreed to become godfather for their second son, Bertrand Russell. Mill served as an adviser to Amberley both on his writings and on his political activities. Amberley, who was frequently attacked in The Times and other newspapers for his extreme radical opinions, won Mill’s sympathetic support, as is seen in his letter of November 30, 1868 (pp. 1494-95), discussing both his and Amberley’s defeat in the 1868 elections for Parliament.
In those same elections, the third of the young men who became one of Mill’s close friends, Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, won a seat for Chelsea. Mill was not then acquainted with Dilke. Their acquaintance began in 1869 with Mill’s writing Dilke a friendly but detailed criticism of his new book, Greater Britain, based on travels in many parts of the Empire (Letter 1693). Years later, Dilke himself wrote an account of their subsequent friendship and published excerpts from Mill’s letters to him.7 In this instance we presumably have most if not all of Mill’s letters, preserved in Dilke’s papers at the British Museum. The letters reveal Mill after his defeat in 1868 quite as deeply interested in current political questions as when he was in the House. Still a public figure, he found that his widened knowledge of the working classes contributed to his understanding of their problems. In the last four years of his life he increasingly took positions farther to the left than those he had occupied in his Parliamentary years. Long interested in land reform, he now moved to organize the Land Tenure Reform Association. His sympathies with the trades unions deepened, and his confidence in their leaders increased. He met regularly in 1869 with a committee organized to promote working-class representation in Parliament. He became an ardent advocate of universal free education, despite his earlier fears about state-maintained education. At Dilke’s invitation he and Helen became members of the Radical Club, a dining and discussion group started by Henry Fawcett, which met every other Sunday during the Parliamentary session. About half of the Club were radical or ultra-liberal members of Parliament. On occasion Mill advised Dilke on strategy to be followed in supporting the liberal causes they both advocated, including women’s rights. The two entertained each other at dinner from time to time, and it was to this intimate friendship that we owe the existence of the Watts portrait of Mill (see Letter 1780). Dilke persuaded Mill to sit for the portrait, paid the artist, and eventually bequeathed it to the City of Westminster.
Although Mill in his last years added such young men as Morley, Amberley, and Dilke to the roster of his friends and correspondents, he still maintained his correspondence with a number of his longtime friends. The oldest of these friendships was with Edwin Chadwick, dating back to their Benthamite days. Mill’s earliest extant letter to Chadwick is dated February 19, 1827; the last, December 27, 1872. Over those forty-five years the two were apparently in close touch, for many of the letters, especially in the earlier years, are brief notes concerning matters previously discussed in person. Chadwick relied upon Mill as a reader of his many reports as a reformer of the poor laws, sanitation, education—sometimes it seems as a reformer of almost everything. Mill always admired the matter of Chadwick’s reports and usually supported the proposed reforms; the writing of the reports, however, Mill time after time found in need of reorganization and even of grammatical correction. In the 1860’s when Chadwick published a cheap paper for the working classes, The Penny Newsman, Mill and Helen Taylor contributed articles. The best testimony to Mill’s admiration and respect for Chadwick’s abilities is to be found in the unremitting efforts he made to fulfil Chadwick’s ambition to be elected to Parliament. Mill thought him admirably equipped for service there. In 1868 he characterized Chadwick as
one of the organizing & contriving minds of the age; a class of minds of which there are very few, & still fewer who apply those qualities to the practical business of government. He is, moreover, one of the few persons who have a passion for the public good; and nearly the whole of his time is devoted to it, in one form or another
When Mill himself was being considered for the representation of Westminster, he constantly put forth the case for Chadwick, in preference to himself, and later, when in Parliament, Mill was always looking for possible openings for him. What appeared to be the best chance for Chadwick came in the 1868 campaign when it appeared possible that he might unseat Edward Bouverie, an Adullamite Liberal who for twenty-five years had represented the Scottish constituency of Kilmarnock. Because Bouverie had openly attacked Gladstone and the Liberal party the preceding spring, Mill thought him not entitled to Liberal support and instead warmly endorsed Chadwick. Bouverie charged Mill with sowing dissension in the party, and turned over to The Times for publication his exchange of letters with Mill (see Letters 1299 and 1306). In the event, Chadwick, who had campaigned vigorously and at considerable expense to himself, lost badly to Bouverie. Mill had to answer a bitter letter from Mrs. Chadwick protesting his encouraging her husband to run (Letter 1335). Neither her protest nor his own defeat deterred Mill, as his later letters to Chadwick reveal, from continuing to support his friend.
We have dwelt at some length on the foregoing correspondences with both earlier and later friends because they are among the most revealing of Mill’s character and personality. Other series, however, deserve at least brief mention here. Readers who wish to pursue any of the various series will find convenient the separate Index of Correspondents in Vol. XVII. Mill’s continuing, widely ranging interest in developments outside England is demonstrated in such series as those to his friends Gustave d’Eichthal and Charles Dupont-White on developments in France, both before and after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870; to Pasquale Villari, on the long struggle for Italian independence; to Henry S. Chapman in New Zealand, on affairs in that remote portion of the Empire; and to Charles Eliot Norton in America on post-Civil War problems. The two series of his letters to working-class correspondents, John Plummer and William Wood, reveal his essential kindness; without any trace of condescension he lent them books, gave them advice, and sought their support for his favourite causes, especially that of women’s rights. The letters to Alexander Bain and to Rowland G. Hazard provide valuable supplements to Mill’s philosophical and metaphysical writings. The letters to W. T. Thornton, his long-time colleague at the India House, display not only their warm friendship but also their continuing debates on such economic questions as the wage-fund doctrine and trades unions and such philosophic questions as utilitarianism. Letters to William E. Hickson and John Chapman, successively editors of the Westminster Review, reveal not only his continuing interest in the radical review with which he had been closely associated in its earlier years, but also his readiness to contribute to its financial support. Letters to his publishers, John W. Parker and his successor William Longman, show Mill the author fully aware of the value of his publications and determined to obtain a fair return for them, but also willing to sacrifice to the public good his own profits by making available inexpensive People’s editions of his works.
We have chosen in this Introduction to emphasize the value of the many series of Mill’s letters in gaining an understanding of his life and personality, rather than to attempt to provide an analysis of his views on the many questions he explored in both letters and published works. The latter have been subjected, and are still being subjected, to searching analysis in many books and articles, for Mill continues to be one of the most significant of Victorian writers for the twentieth century. Some of his letters express views not to be found in his published writings, views that often seem surprisingly modern. Well known, of course, is his dedicated support of women’s rights. Less well known are his concern for the environment (see Letter 909), his eventual acceptance of universal education provided by the State (see Letter 1534), and his foresighted opinions on the Negro problem in America (see Letter 871). For the reader who wishes to pursue these and other topics in the letters, we have provided a detailed subject index. It is our hope that readers will share the pleasure that the editors have had not only in observing Mill engage with ideas but also in obtaining new insights into the nature of the man himself. The whole correspondence is the life of the man, “and above all the chief part of his life, his inner life.”
[1. ]For a similar expression to Cairnes, cf. p. 785.
[2. ]Professor von Hayek in his John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor (Chicago and London, 1951) published much, but by no means all, of the correspondence.
[3. ]In what follows the present writer has drawn freely on his own article, “The Autobiography and The Lady,” University of Toronto Quarterly, XXXII (April, 1963), 301-306.
[4. ]Helen to Lady Amberley, Sept. 11, 1869, published in The Amberley Papers, ed. Bertrand and Patricia Russell (2 vols., London, 1937), II, 311-12.
[5. ]Most of her letter is published in Packe, p. 474.
[6. ]Letters of Charles Eliot Norton, ed. Sara Norton and M. A. DeWolfe Howe (2 vols., London, 1913), I, 400-401.
[7. ]C. W. Dilke, “John Stuart Mill, 1869-1873,” Cosmopolis, V (March, 1897), 629-41.
John Stuart Mill
- A Guide to JS Mill Online
- Ashley’s Introduction to Mill’s Principles of Political Economy
- Hayek on Mill’s early letters: Collected Works vol. XII
- Mill and Liberty as the Cardinal Moral Virtue
- Mill and Taylor
- Mill and Taylor on Women
- Mill on England, Ireland, Empire: Collected Works vol. VI
- Mill on Equality, Law, Education: Collected Works vol. XXI
- Mill on Ethics & Religion: Collected Works vol. X
- Mill on French History: Collected Works vol. XX
- Mill on Hamilton’s Philosophy: Collected Works vol. IX
- Mill on India: Collected Works vol. XXX
- Mill on Philosophy & Classics: Collected Works vol. XI
- Mill on Political Economy: Collected Works vol. II
- Mill on Politics & Society: Collected Works vol. XVIII
- Mill’s Additional Letters: Collected Works vol. XXXII
- Mill’s Autobiography, Literary Essays: Collected Works vol. I
- Mill’s Essays on Economics: Collected Works vol. IV
- Mill’s Journals & Debating Speeches: Collected Works vol. XXVIII
- Mill’s Later Letters: Collected Works vol. XIV
- Mill’s Newspaper Articles: Collected Works vol. XXII
- Mill’s Parliamentary Speeches: Collected Works vol. XXVIII
- Mill’s System of Logic: Selected Works vol. VII
- Mill’s The Spirit of the Age (1831)
- Mill’s Utilitarianism: Collected Works vol. X
- Mill, Collected Works, Table of Contents
- Mill: A Bibliographical Essay by John Gray
- Stephen’s Critique of Mill’s Idea of Liberty