Lighting the TORCH for Mill at Oxford

Sandwiched between presentations on Thomas Carlyle’s connections to Robert Owen and Orestes Brownson, respectively, Albert’s “Influence as Palimpsest: Carlyle, Mill, Sterling” met with a warm reception at “The Oak and Acorns: Recovering the Hidden Carlyle,” hosted at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities.  Speaking just steps outside the north gate of Somerville College, Albert placed the marginalia in Mill’s personal copies of John Sterling’s Essays and Tales (1848) and Carlyle’s Life of John Sterling (1851) in the context of Mill’s complex relationship with both men and reviewers’ reactions to both of their books, grounding his presentation in first-ever photos from the Mill Collection.

Mill's annotated copies of Sterling and Carlyle's Life of Sterling
Mill’s annotated copies of Sterling and Carlyle’s Life of Sterling

Mill and Sterling first encountered one another in 1828 at the London Debating Society, whereas Mill first met Carlyle during the latter’s second visit to London in 1831.  Mill subsequently introduced his two friends to one another in his London office in 1835, and then elicited contributions from both men to appear alongside his own in the London and Westminster Review.  This period of mutual intimacy and influence lasted through the second half of the 1830s, resulting in, among other things, “Carlyle’s Works,” commissioned from Sterling by Mill for the October 1839 issue of the LWR.

Although this essay was generally recognized as Sterling’s best work by reviewers of the posthumous Essays and Tales, most found the rest of the book largely underwhelming.  In this they were not alone, as Mill’s private annotations include judgments like “nonsense; of the ‘enlightened self interest’ sort,” “Clear because Shallow,” and, most relevant for a conference on Carlyle, “absurd copy of Carlyle’s manner.”

Mill's Annotations on Sterling
Mill’s Annotations on Sterling

Mill also resisted the pious apologetics in the biographical memoir added to Essays and Tales by Charles Julius Hare, archdeacon in the Church of England and one of Sterling’s two literary executors.

The other of these two executors, Thomas Carlyle, was so dissatisfied with Hare’s efforts, that he published his Life of John Sterling three years later.  Reviewers overwhelmingly recognized the superiority of Carlyle’s efforts, and even Mill could find little fault, confining himself mainly to supplying missing and correcting erroneous biographical details in the margins.

Mill's Annotations on Carlyle's Life of Sterling
Mill’s Annotations on Carlyle’s Life of Sterling

Judging from the absence of summative judgments in the front or back pages, Mill appears to have read through the Life once and set it aside without further thought.  The relative paucity of his engagement might, itself, be a sign of the state of his deteriorated friendship with Carlyle, as much as evidence for the satisfactions of his newly married life.  Either way, Mill’s marginal relations with his ex-friends, the one deceased and the other dyspeptic, helped to provoke an especially robust Q&A session and subsequent conversation, all eminently sensible and enlightened, even when partaking of self-interest.

– Albert D. Pionke, Project Director

A Pleasant Smell of Leather Bindings and Marginal Results

Another week of research at Oxford has yielded photos of, in round numbers, 3300 more examples of marginalia on 1500 more pages in 31 more individual volumes. Work this time around was greatly abetted by the ongoing work of Hazel Tubman, Somerville’s Delmas Foundation-funded research assistant.

Albert Pionke and Hazel Tubman working with Mill's annotated texts in Somerville College
Albert Pionke and Hazel Tubman working with Mill’s annotated texts in Somerville College

Hazel has begun the first serious effort to identify, collate, and enter into metadata spreadsheets suitable for use with the under-development Mill Marginalia database every single example of marginalia in the John Stuart Mill Collection. We’re all hopeful that Hazel will see her way to writing about her experience in one or more future postings on this site.

In the meantime, the marginalia from Mill’s copy of the 14-volume Works of Francis Bacon, to cite a singular example, looks promising on at least three fronts.

Mill's Annotated Works of Francis Bacon
Mill’s Annotated Works of Francis Bacon

First, it reveals Mill annotating in a new way. Rather than reading as a friend anxious to safeguard the reputation of someone whom he knew personally, as he does in Thomas Carlyle’s Life of John Sterling (about which more in a future post); or reading as a critic quick to point out, if only to himself, the argumentative shortcomings of another writer, as he does in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays (for which see Frank Prochaska’s 2014 article in History Today); Mill evidently turned to Bacon’s Works as a researcher eager to find passages suitable for his own future reference. The result was hundreds of marginal scores, double scores, “NB”s, and “HS”s (presumably shorthand for “Holy Scripture,” since it appears beside biblical references). Mill occupies the margins of Bacon’s Works both literally and figurative, noting his predecessor’s experience and opinions without evaluating them as he does in other, more recent authors’ works.

Mill annotates Bacon's works
Mill annotates Bacon’s works

Second, these brief but numerous marks and annotations begin to appear with startling frequency in the tenth volume, which contains a portion of Bacon’s Life and Letters focused in particular on the inner workings of England’s government. This volume was published in 1868, also the final year of Mill’s service in Parliament, and the coincidence of subject matter and date suggests that Mill may have been seeking passages to use in his own late parliamentary speeches. A search for marked and annotated passages from Bacon in the facsimile online edition of Mill’s Collected Works may yield some surprising and previously unknown connections in the future.

Third, Mill’s marginalia in Bacon’s Works suggests the need for, at the least, revision to and expansion of the listing for Bacon in the Bibliographic Index of Persons and Works Cited of Mill’s Collected Works. In Volume XI: Essays on Philosophy and the Classics, for instance, the editors acknowledge the presence of Bacon’s Works in Somerville’s John Stuart Mill Collection, but go on to assert that Mill’s references to Bacon all antedate the edition. However, for all publications after 1857, the year that the first volume of the Bacon appeared, Mill may in fact be quoting from his own edition and may be doing so with much greater breadth and frequency than is presently identified in the Index.

It almost goes without saying, although it should be said, that Somerville was, once again, an incredibly welcoming and comfortable place in which to do research. If only all archives were as pleasant and productive to visit.

– Albert D. Pionke, Project Director

An Advisory Board Advisory

A warm welcome to our inaugural advisory board members:

  • Anna Gibson is Assistant Professor of English at Duquesne University and Principal Investigator for the Dickens Working Notes Project.
  • Meredith Martin is Associate Professor of English at Princeton University, author of The Rise and Fall of Meter, Poetry and English National Culture, 1860-1930, Principal Investigator for the Princeton Prosody Archive, and Faculty Director of the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton.
  • Georgios Varouxakis is Professor of the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary, University of London, author of Liberty Abroad: J. S. Mill on International Relations, Mill on Nationality, and Victorian Political Thought on France and the French, and Co-Director of the QMUL Centre for the Study of the History of Political Thought.
  • Phyllis Weliver is Associate Professor of English at Saint Louis University, author of The Musical Crowd in English Fiction, 1840-1910: Class, Culture and Nation and Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860-1900: Representations of Music, Science and Gender in the Leisured Home, and Principal Investigator for Sounding Tennyson.
  • Alex Zakaras is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont, author of Individuality and Mass Democracy: Mill, Emerson, and the Burdens of Citizenship, and co-editor of J. S. Mill’s Political Thought: A Bicentennial Retrospective.

In addition to providing general advice about all things Mill- and DH-related, they will be beta-testing our database and web search interface prototypes (once we have them) and serving as a peer review board of all prospective content for our final website (including both general introductory materials and critical introductions to the marginalia found in selected books).

– Albert D. Pionke, Project Director

Post-Spreadsheet Spreadsheets

After I filled the spreadsheets, I went back through the 1,906 photos. To ensure quality, Dr. Pionke had taken two photos of each marked page, and occasionally a zoomed-in picture of text blocks. This was helpful while working through the marginalia, but users of the final project wouldn’t really need the duplicates. So my next task was going through the photo sets and paring them down as well as filing them for the database.

I compared each set of duplicates and chose the better photo, rotated it to the appropriate alignment, and renamed the file based on our agreed-upon naming convention (Author Title Volume.Page.OtherInfo). The zoomed-in files we kept, in case users had trouble reading text in the full-page photos.

I then added two columns to the spreadsheet to include these file names—one for full-page photos and another for zoomed-in pages. That second column also came in handy for notes in which Mill referenced other pages; the referenced pages went into the same column as the zoomed-in photos.

Post Spreadsheet Spreadsheets

The inclusion of file names directly in the spreadsheet will make it easier for Tyler (our web design expert) to tie the photos to the information in the final website. I also added rows for unmarked title pages, which we had decided to include in the database.

Moving forward, I won’t be doing much with the project. The next step for this section of the project involves choosing the best example of each type of marginalia for a potential reference section of the site, which has already begun.

The process was definitely satisfying in a lot of ways. I started with 1,906 photos and ended with 7 comprehensive sheets of marginalia. I can’t wait to see the future of the project, and I’m very excited about this information being available to the public on a large scale. I’m very glad I got the opportunity to work with this team and learn more about the inner workings of J.S. Mill!

– Carissa Schreiber, former Research Assistant to Professor Albert Pionke at the University of Alabama.

How Mill Makes Work Fun

Sometimes, transcribing these marks was fairly tedious. There were sets of pages where each had one small score, and entering the information for those over and over again was not the most fun part of the project. But there were several moments that made up for it.

Mill Marginalia Spreadsheets

One thing that kept the transcriptions interesting was decrypting Mill’s handwriting. His longer comments, especially ones at the ends of chapters, were generally written very neatly. However, when he was in the midst of reading and presumably not paying too much attention to his writing, the scribbles could be difficult to decipher. The photos below provide some examples.

Mill on LDP.HS.9LDP.HS.20.ot no one ought to have money without work – / – no money without ordinary work – / – other extraordinary work each *? **

LDP.HS.20.ot: Nonsense! It failed / perhaps / because it / did not express / itself by / supply + demand?

The best part, though, was when Mill jumped in with his opinions. In his essays and reviews, Mill was very cordial and polite. In his personal notes, however, his sass and superior attitude rival Neil Degrasse Tyson’s. He was particularly passionate about two texts. The first was Carlyle’s Latter-Day Pamphlets (Hudson’s Statue in particular), which was interesting because they had at one time been good friends.

Poetical Falsehood: Mill on Carlyle
Poetical Falsehood: Mill on Carlyle

TC LDP.HS.21: “Proof? Proof? Proof?”

28: “Poetical falsehood” and “Creed of timid flattery of the Powers that be”

The second was Emerson’s essays, and although Mill was privately skeptical of Emerson (in his letters to Carlyle, for instance), many subsequent scholars believed that Mill had never actually read his essays.  They were, obviously, mistaken:

Mill on The Title Page of Emerson's Essays
Mill on The Title Page of Emerson’s Essays

Emerson title page: “Philosophy Bourgeois, / being /Sentimental Essays: in the art of / Intimately blending / Sense and Nonsense: / by / R. W. Emerson, / of Concord, Massachusetts. / A clever + well organised youthᶧ brought up / in the old traditions. / Motto / In thought “all’s fish that comes to net.” / With Fog  Preface / By Thomas Carlyle. / “Patent Divine-light Self-acting Foggometer” / To the Court of / Her mAJESTy Queen Vic.”

RWE E2.18: “Trash. He spoils every speculation by completing it.”

'Trash': Mill on Emerson, RWE E2.18
‘Trash’: Mill on Emerson, RWE E2.18

And my personal favorite, RWE E2.19: “Stupid. Very stupid.”

'Stupid': Mill on Emerson, RWE E2.19.
‘Stupid’: Mill on Emerson, RWE E2.19.

Carissa Schreiber, former Research Assistant to Professor Pionke at the University of Alabama.