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John Stuart Mill letters

 Collection
Identifier: MS-HUT-004
Collection of English philosopher and economist, John Stuart Mill, consists of over 300 holographic letters written to him by noted economists, philosophers, theologians, and political figures of the nineteenth century. Drafts of Mill's replies are included along with 43 holographic letters written by Mill to Auguste Comte, 1841-1847. Most of the correspondence is published.

Dates

  • 1819-1873

Creator

General Physical Description note

5 boxes (2.1 linear feet)

Use Restrictions

Access to this collection is unrestricted.

Permission to publish material from this collection must be requested in writing from the Manuscripts Librarian, Milton S. Eisenhower Library, The Johns Hopkins University, 3400 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Md. 21218.

Extent

2.35 Cubic Feet (5 legal size document boxes)

Biographical Note

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) hardly needs an introductory note. He is well-known to the liberal humanist tradition as one of the great proponents of individual liberty, working class improvement and women's enfranchisement, as well as an influential moral philosopher, political economist and author of a classic, if controversial, autobiography.

Mill was taught at home by his father, James Mill, from an extremely early age in an educational program inspired by Benthamite rationalist utilitarianism. Versed in the politics of philosophical radicalism, the economics of Ricardo, the associationalist psychology of Hartley and the population doctrines of Malthus, by the age of 20 Mill was a central figure in the London utilitarian societies of the 1820s and a contributor to Bentham's new Westminster Review. But in 1826, in a pattern that makes sense to our century though it did not to his Radical friends, Mill suffered a mental breakdown. Questioning the utilitarian criteria of rational happiness and inspired by Wordsworth's poetry, Mill began to look to the imagination for a "culture of feeling" which would include inward and imaginative experiences in a "new utilitarianism of the whole of human nature".

In the 1830s he was active in the Reform Movement, while reading Coleridge, Comte and Saint-Simon. Flirting with Carlyle and transcendentalism, Mill began to emphasize the individual as the basis of moral and political philosophy. These were also the early years of his controversial relationship with Harriet Taylor, who influenced his thinking about the viability of socialism and the urgency of redressing the injustices suffered by the working classes.

From 1837-40, Mill was owner and director of what was now called the London and Westminster Review, in which capacity he could neither satisfy the older Radicals nor attract new adherents with broader perspectives. Essays on Bentham (1838) and Coleridge (1840) signalled to his former allies that his thinking and philosophical sympathies had grown away from theirs.

With the publication of the System of Logic (1843) Mill became famous. Followed by Principles of Political Economy (1848), On Liberty (1859) and Utilitarianism (1863), Mill achieved a position as a central figure in British moral philosophy and political economy. While the particular contributions of his chief works are contested in terms of their influence, originality and ideological commitments, Mill's ouevre does exhibit an attempt to combine utilitarian rationalism and political economy with romanticism, to articulate a political ethics grounded in the individual's inner life of feeling, and so exists at the center of some of the nineteenth century's thorniest theoretical issues.

In 1865, Mill was elected to parliament. As MP for Westminster, he argued for women's suffrage, colonial self-rule and proportional representation. He was a leader of the effort to bring Governor Eyre to trial for his brutal suppression of the Jamaica mutiny and supported Radical and working class interests. Defeated in the election of 1868, Mill retired to Avignon, where he wrote The Subjection of Women (1869), The Irish Land Question (1870), as well as minor papers on scientific thinking, socialism and theism. His Autobiography was published in 1873.

Scope and Contents

The letters are divided into two series. The largest series consists of letters to Mill from approximately 150 different correspondents with drafts of his replies. Many of these drafts are initialled by Helen Taylor, Mill's step-daughter, or Mill or have a notation upon them in Mill's hand. The replies have apparently all been published again in the Collected Works of John Stuart Mill (Toronto, 1963-72). In this series there are 317 letters (1828-1873) received by Mill and 257 draft replies (1819-1873).

The second series of letters consists of 43 original letters (1841-1847) written by Mill to Auguste Comte. These are the letters actually received by Comte, so they must have been returned to Mill at some time. These letters were published by L. Levy-Bruhl (Paris, 1899).

The letters were arranged alphabetically by the correspondent, with Mill's draft replies filed with the incoming letters. They were bound, with Volumes I-V labelled "Letters to Mill " and Volume VI, "Letters from Mill". These titles were inaccurate and the letters have been disbound to preserve them. The arrangement remains alphabetical.

While several letters, including the Comte correspondence and 20 letters to Mill from Alexis de Tocqueville (1835-1859), predate the 1860s, the majority are from the final decade of Mill's life, 1863-1873.

Mill's activities were extensive. His position as the most renowned political economist of his time is exemplified by his correspondence with such important nineteenth century economists as J. E. Cairnes, Louis Blanc, Henry Fawcett, T. E. C. Leslie, Henry George and Herbert Spencer. His reputation as the preeminent utilitarian philosopher is evident in correspondence from many of the century's most significant psychologists, philosophers and theologians: Alexander Bain, G. Croom Robertson, Richard Congreve, Henry Sidgwick, James Martineau and F. D. Maurice. Well-known scientists, aestheticians, historians and educators are also represented in the collection: T. H. Huxley, Georg Brandes, F. A. M. Mignet, Theodore Gomprez, Charles Elliot Norton, George Grote and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Mill was also involved in politics, as an MP, as an activist for social and educational reform, as well as an advocate of women's suffrage and working class improvement. The collection includes correspondence with leading political figures of the day (Thomas Cowper, H. J. S. Maine, William Molesworth, Lord Amberly, John Morley, Lord John Russell, C. E. Trevelyan and Georges Clemenceau) and significant Victorian social and educational reformers (Frances P. Cobbe, Edwin Chadwick, Mary Carpenter, Millicent Fawcett) as well as a number of reformist, suffrage and working class organizations.

Many of the letters contain critical comments on the latest theories and publications in the fields in which Mill was involved, as well as remarks on the political and social issues of the day, such as the Irish question, parliamentary reform, women's suffrage and working class improvement. Other letters reflect Mill's eminence as a leading intellectual figure and contain philosophical inquiries, requests for comments on articles or suggestions for reading lists, invitations to speak, solicitations for support of reformist groups, and one a question from a schoolboy (W. O. Adams), "Is flogging good or bad for boys?"

Provenance

The John Stuart Mill letters in the Abram G. Hutzler Collection were purchased in 1921 or 1922. The following description of the letters was included in the Report of the President of the university for 1921-22:

The most interesting purchase of the year was two series of John Stuart Mill letters. The one consisted of 43 autograph letters signed from Mill to Comte, running from Nov. 8, 1841, to May 17, 1847, and all were written in French. (Lettres inedites de John Stuart Mill a Auguste Comte, publiees avec les reponses de Comte et une introduction par L. Levy-Bruhl, Paris, Felix Alcan, 1899.) [The letter of July 18, 1845 is missing from our file.]

The other consists of a collection of letters written to Mill by some 125 to 150 different correspondents. These letters are contained in envelopes as they were originally preserved by Mill and most of them have rough copies, in Mill's autograph, of his replies. In a few cases the original letters to him have been removed, presumably by a former owner because of the value of the autograph. Mill's replies, running from 1829 to 1873, have been published. (The Letters of John Stuart Mill. Edited, with an introduction, by Hugh S. R. Elliot. 2 volumes. London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1910).

These manuscripts were secured by an American firm this year during an auction sale at Sotheby's in London, where they were advertised as being sold by the executor of the estate of Miss Mary Taylor, grand-daughter of Mrs. Mill. How the letters to Comte came back into the possession of the family is not known, though the transfer was doubtless for the purpose of publication.

General Physical Description note

5 boxes (2.1 linear feet)

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

Contact:
The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA