Progress in/and a Pandemic

There is nothing quite like personnel changes followed immediately by a global pandemic to upend one’s original plans for project updates, whether of the technical or narrative variety. However, with a new upload of data drawing ever closer, I am pleased to welcome Riley Hines and Patrick Motley to Mill Marginalia Online. Riley replaces the intrepid and invaluable Kaitlin Wright, who has graduated from UA, as the project’s newest research assistant. She has been eyeballs deep in Mill’s Classics collection since August 2020, deciphering marginalia in English, Latin, and Greek, while also discovering a new form of underlining, which we hope to feature in a future upload and metadata upgrade. Patrick replaces James as the Alabama Digital Humanities Center’s IT Technical Specialist; although, James has generously remained only a consult away as Patrick settles into his new role.

Unfortunately, travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic have prevented me from planned visits to the friendly confines of Somerville College and the John Stuart Mill Collection for the collection of fresh photographic data. Not altogether idle, however, I have produced a number of articles about Mill and his marginalia that are beginning to make their way into print.

Appearing first, at the beginning of 2020, was “Mill, Comte, and the Literature of Sociological Critique,” the first chapter of The Socio-Literary Imaginary in 19th and 20th Century Britain: Victorian and Edwardian Inflections (Routledge). This essay seeks to place the 917 marks and annotations found on 685 pages of Mill’s copies of nine different titles by French positivist and inventor of the term “sociology,” Auguste Comte, in the context of both their decades’ long relationship and Mill’s statements about the complementary functions of Art and Science in his System of Logic (1843). In a nutshell, although Mill was initially impressed by Comte’s scientific achievements—in fact, the first edition of the System of Logic was primarily responsible for introducing those achievements to the English-speaking world—he became progressively more suspicious about Comte’s social prescriptions and more impatient over the Frenchman’s bizarre obsessions, with the number thirteen for example, finally offering a devastating critique of both on the basis of both Science and Art in Auguste Comte and Positivism (1865).

The marginalia scattered unevenly throughout Comte’s works, over 95% of which are nonverbal marks, record Mill’s research for this later published work. They also suggest, indirectly, that the only very lightly marked and annotated copy of Comte’s Cours de Philosophie Positive (1830-42) may not be the original edition that Mill recorded reading with great assiduity in his letters from 1837, 1838, and 1841. Perhaps the London Library holds this unrecognized treasure of marginal proportions!

Subsequent posts shall feature additional recent publications.

—Albert Pionke, Project Director