March by the Numbers

I just concluded a highly productive visit to the always hospitable Somerville College (special thanks to Anne, Sue, Matthew, Kate, Jane, and Beth), with the following quantitative results:

1 Tea with John Stuart Mill, at which there were . . .

4 presenters: Andrew Dalkin, speaking on Mill’s often downplayed commitment to his day job at the British East India Company; Bethany Slater, reporting on the state of the marginalia census, 42,000 items and counting, as well some surprisingly well-preserved botanical specimens stored within books that otherwise received very little attention from Mill; David Howell, showing early analyses of the over one terabyte of hyperspectral imaging data amassed so far; and myself, surveying the multitude of media recently featuring John Stuart Mill, as well as enumerating updates already made to and planned for Mill Marginalia Online – the latter one day to include the future processing of . . .

9819 photos, of pages from . . .

220 volumes, which together accounted for . . .

105 separate book titles, and featured between . . .

7216 and 7321 individual examples of marginalia (the precise number will depend on the final transcriptions).

Qualitatively, there were also myriad exciting finds.  In addition to those featured in my previous posting (A Fortnight in Oxford), I offer, first, what may be the most eloquent nonverbal mark discovered so far, in Thomas Arnold’s three-volume History of Rome:


James Mill had been gone for over seven years by the time volume three of Arnold’s History was published, but even so it seems his “natural love” had not been forgotten.

Second, the 1844 English translation of German historian B. G. Niebuhr’s own History of Rome yielded a rare, because precisely dated, annotation on page 130 of volume 1:


This comparative observation on the progress of civilization in Sicily provides both an example of Mill’s hand from 1855, and an unusually specific record of what he was reading in his 49 year.

–Albert Pionke, Project Director

A Fortnight in Oxford

My most recent data-gathering trip to Oxford has seen Burgersdijk’s Institutionum Logicorum dethroned as the single volume with the greatest number of individual examples of marginalia. Appropriately, the neo-Aristotelian has been supplanted by Aristotle himself, specifically a 1621 Frankfurt edition of Aristotelis de Anima Libri Tres, Graece et Latine, with slightly more than 1800 total marks and annotations. These include some at-this-point inscrutable date and number combinations, like this one from p. 7:

Whether September 29th was the date Mill read this work while studying with his father, or whether its significance lies elsewhere is difficult to determine. Even more unclear is the significance of the number that follows, which cannot correspond to one of the only slightly more than 400 pages in the volume. Moreover, there are no marks or annotations on p. 705 of any other edition of Aristotle’s work held in Somerville’s Mill Library. And every one of the date and number pairings in the bilingual Aristotelis de Anima Libri Tres adheres to this format and includes a similarly large number.

Also discovered on this trip is what promises to be the volume with the largest proportion of verbal annotations to nonverbal marks, George Grote’s twelve-volume History of Greece. Mill reviewed Grote’s History in 1846 and 1853, but he appears to have read the volume with the additional purpose of helping Grote to revise for a second edition. Hundreds of pages include meticulous commentary, including corrections to Grote’s Greek quotations, detailed observations on Greek topography, suggestions for clarifying Grote’s prose through the elimination of overly-vague words and phrases, and, of course, close engagement with Grote’s historical narrative and ideological implications. My rough estimate, based upon the five volumes I have already photographed, is that annotations outnumber marks roughly four to one; and each volume features well over one hundred annotations, many quite lengthy. The following close up on the outer margin of p. 417 of volume 3 provides a glimpse of the care with which Mill approached his reading:

Anyone who has written even a single volume would be grateful for this level of close attention, and Mill keeps up the pace for twelve volumes!  This despite Grote’s rather embarrassing slip in the handwritten dedications to volumes three and four (that from the title page of volume four is below):

Note the spelling of Mill’s middle name. Hardly a strategy for endearing oneself to a reviewer, even when accompanied by “faithful regard and friendship,” but Mill seems not to have let it bother him. He didn’t even note the mistake in an annotation.

–Albert Pionke, Project Director