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

Mill Gets Some Love

Two pieces of good news, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

First, Talking History, hosted by Patrick Geoghegan and produced by Susan Cahill on Newstalk (Irish radio 106-108fm), recently devoted an hour-long show to “John Stuart Mill: A Life.”  Among the experts recruited for the really stimulating conversation were Graham Finlay, Mark Philp, Richard Reeves, and yours truly.  Many thanks to my fellow panelists and to Patrick for making it more of an intellectual love-in than a massacre, with special appreciation to Richard for his shout out to Mill Marginalia Online.  Those interested in listening for themselves should follow this link to the podcast:

Second, Anne Manuel and I just received word that our joint application to the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for support for hyperspectral imaging was approved. Having previously identified 163 pages from seven titles across ten individual volumes that have marginalia that is currently unreadable, even with the aid of photographic enhancement, we plan to submit them to David Howell, Head of Heritage Science at the Bodleian Libraries, for spectroscopic analysis.  For more on this fascinatingly technical side of library science, follow this link to the Heritage Science home page:

We strongly suspect that significant marginalia by John Stuart Mill resides in John Locke’s Works(1823) and Richard Cobden’s Speeches on Questions of Public Policy(1870), by James Mill in Henry Thornton’s Enquiry into the Nature and Effect of the Paper Credit of Great Britain(1802) and William Spence’s Britain Independent of Commerce(1807), and by David Ricardo in William Blake’s Observations on the Effects Produced by the Expenditure of Government(1823).  Time will tell whether we were right.  We are grateful to the Delmas Foundation for making this line of inquiry possible.


—Albert D. Pionke, Project Director

Visible Still

As mentioned in my previous posting (Evidence of Mill’s Reading and of Reading Mill), among the books held in section D of the Mill Library are four bound volumes of article offprints.  Nearly all operating at a loss, nineteenth-century periodicals tended to economize on paper by allowing no dead space between articles, which means that Mill’s offprints sometimes start in the middle of a page with the final paragraphs of the preceding article above, or end with enough room for the following article to commence at the bottom of the final page.  If they begin on the even-numbered verso side of a given sheet, then the recto side of the first page of the offprint features the last full page of the earlier article; and, if they end on the odd-numbered recto side of a sheet, then the verso side of the last page of the offprint usually includes the first full page of the next article.

All of which can add up to a substantial amount of other writers’ text attached to the beginning, ending, or both of a review essay written by Mill.  At some point, much of this extraneous verbiage was struck through in heavy black ink and then papered over for good measure, leaving Mill’s printed words in sole possession of the field represented by the bound volumes in section D.  The question of who did this and when remains open, and is sometimes complicated by what remains visible still underneath the pasted-in sheet.

Often, it is possible to discern Mill’s hand-written record of the original publication details of his article through the covering paper, as with the following annotation at the top of the printed page immediately prior to an article written by Mill for the Monthly Repository in February 1833, and found in the JSM 1832-4 bound volume:

The presence of Mill’s hand at the top of the recto face of the first sheet of the article suggests that he was not particularly bothered by the layout consequences of early Victorian periodical publication.  Unless he came to believe that having the page to himself was more important than accurately recollecting the original publication details, then, it seems unlikely that he papered over his own annotation.

An even more problematic instance of the desire for printed order appears in the London and Westminster Review bound volume at the end of Mill’s “Radical Party and Canada,” which because it ends on p. 533, features a back side with another author’s typescript.  Predictably, this final verso face has been struck through and papered over:

Once lit from behind, however, it becomes clear than this decision was more than just an aesthetic one.  In fact, the entire verso side of the essay’s final sheet is covered in the most legible version of Mill’s own script:

Thus, whoever covered the back side of the final page of “Radical Party and Canada” thought the printed text more important than the handwriting, which, when fully transcribed (thank you RLP!), turns out to be the fair copy of the beginning of Mill’s next LWR article, a review of William Ware’s Letters from Palmyra (1838):

Art. V. Letters of Lucius Manlius Piso from
Palmyra to his Friend Marcus Curtius at Rome
Now first translated and published 2 vols 12mo
New York: 1837
Speaking of the difficulties which in
America retard the formation of a vigorous
and original National Literature and
of the copies and imitation mere echoes of
the inspired voices of the Old World, which
must in the mean time be accepted as great
things until a greater appear. Miss
Martineau says:*
“I met with one gem in American literature
where I should have least expected it in
the ‘Knickerbocker’ a New York Monthly
Last spring a set of papers
began to appear, called ‘Letters from
Palmyra,’ six numbers of which had been
issued when I left the country. I have
been hitherto unable to obtain the rest
but if they answer to the early portions
there can be no doubt of their being
shortly in everybody’s hands in both countries
Society in America vol iii p 216

To most modern scholars, it will probably seem extraordinary, even outrageous, to privilege reusable and much reproduced type over unique and previously unknown script.

Less shocking, but perhaps equally interesting, is what the presence of Mill’s fair copy for one article on the verso side of the final page of another article suggests about his valuation of his own offprints. Far from the sacred record of previous publication (how many of us have a shelf/box/drawer devoted to our own in-print acceptances), at least the back side of Mill’s LWR piece on the complex social and political circumstances of British Canada was valuable only as scratch paper, as a surface on which to work out what was not even an original system of logic or updated theory of political economy or impassioned apology for individual liberty, but instead a laudatory review of an American writer’s imitation of epistolary correspondence in Antiquity.

One might well wonder what Mill would have thought of the decision to bind his assorted offprints into book form in the first place, much less to attempt – happily unsuccessfully – to excise all signs of their original periodical context and attendant hand-written text.

—Albert D. Pionke, Project Director

Evidence of Mill’s Reading and of Reading Mill

Now nearing the end of my sixth data-gathering trip to Oxford, I have just completed photographing one third of the John Stuart Mill Library.  Which is to say that I have finished section D (of L), in which are shelved the numerous editions – American, English, French, German, Greek, and Italian – of Mill’s published works.  Also in D are select runs of the London Review, the Westminster Review, and the Examiner, as well as four bound volumes of article offprints, three arranged by year of publication and one devoted exclusively to pieces from the London and Westminster Review during the period (1836-1840) in which Mill was a prolific contributor as well as the de facto editor.

As one might imagine, many of these books and articles testify to Mill’s meticulousness as an editor of his own works.  The first edition of his System of Logic (1843), for instance, features a number of the editorial corrections and sentence-level revisions that appear in later editions, and that were subsequently documented by John Robson and his team at Toronto.  This is also the case for the first edition of Mill’s Principles of Political Economy (1848), and for many of the essays that he would go to feature in Dissertations and Discussions (1859 and later).

Much to the benefit of those who would become his later scholarly editors, Mill was impressively assiduous when it came to documenting his early newspaper writings.  Four of the five volumes of the Examiner held at Somerville contain painstaking lists like this one, handwritten onto the front flyleaf of the 1831 volume by Mill himself:

Similarly, in four of the five volumes, Mill has indicated the printed limits of the articles, themselves, by means of square brackets, as with this brief summary of “Foreign Intelligence” from p. 55 of this same volume:

He was quite obviously proud of his numerous contributions, which ranged from his series on “The Spirit of the Age” (which elicited Thomas Carlyle’s appreciation and became the basis for their friendship) to leading articles on French affairs to brief paragraph-length summaries of stories from other newspapers.

Once donated to Somerville, however, not all of these works were read with the same attention or intellectual priorities.  Rather than favoring early editions of Mill’s major works, students appear to have read the last published editions, provided, of course, that they were printed in Britain.  American editions of Mill’s books are virtually devoid of marginalia, even when printed more recently than their British counterparts.  And rather than marking and annotating with an eye toward revision and later republication, students seem to have sought out Mill’s pronouncements on induction or free-market capitalism in order to acquire the basic ideas and/or dispute the major premises.

The posthumous one-volume cheap editions of both System and Principles show signs of especially significant student use, despite the fact that their two-column format, smaller typeface, and flimsier paper make them less easy to read than previous versions.  For instance, dominated by scores of scores and a small army of marginal question marks, Principles moved one student to wonder about the text’s advice concerning taxation and the field of economics:

Whether this query was made in the era of Edward VII when the book was first donated or of George VI would be interesting to know, as “Economics?” would have meant rather different things before and after two world wars.

Mill’s periodical contributions, including his carefully documented newspaper articles, bear no obvious signs of being read by students at all.  Which makes my work easier, of course, but which also makes me wonder whether and how contemporary scholars’ considerable output of articles, essays, occasional writing, and reviews (to say nothing of blog posts) might be read by students of the future.

— Albert D. Pionke, Project Director