12 Pages


“I WAS BORN in London on the 20th of May, 1806,” John Stuart Mill begins his Autobiography, “and was the eldest son of James Mill, the author of the History of British India.” Most readers, and this includes most scholars, have not noticed what an extraordinary statement this is. It invokes a new version of an immaculate conception, in which the mother is entirely missing; indeed, John Stuart Mill never mentions her throughout the published version of his work. Instead, we have “book and boy” both produced by James Mill, seemingly acting alone. The rest of the Autobiography appears to bear out this conception. It is as much about James Mill, the father, as it is about the son. Taken together, the relations of the two make up one of the great father and son stories of the nineteenth century. It is in these terms that we shall deal with the case of James and John Stuart Mill; for us, however, the unnamed mother, epitomizing all women of the period, will also figure largely in the matter, haunting us, so to speak, throughout this book.