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.