The John Stuart Mill Collection (above) in the Somerville College Library is the subject of Marginal Mills (paywall), an article in the January 3 edition of the Times Literary Supplement by Dr Frank Prochaska, the husband of Dr Alice Prochaska, Somerville College Principal.

The article explores the often revealing marginal comments written by John Stuart Mill and by his father, the economist and philosopher James Mill, in the collection of books once owned by the Mill family. The collection numbers around 2,000 volumes and was given to the College by Helen Taylor, JS Mill’s stepdaughter in 1905, the year after the College Library was formally opened.

JS Mill, who was a strong supporter of the higher education of women, was a friend of Mary Somerville, after whom the College is named, and who signed his petition to the British Parliament calling for women to be given the vote.

The Mill Collection was formerly integrated with the main lending library collection and thus fully accessible to Somerville students. A few copies were even sold off. But in the late 1960s a Pilgrim Trust grant enabled the Mill Collection to be brought together—and thus better preserved—in its own room on the Library’s first floor.

The annotations in the Mill Collection are extensive but have attracted little attention. ‘Fudge’, ‘nonsense’ and ‘trash’, for example, are among the severe marginal comments the younger Mill marked beside the Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. James Mill, the article relates, was typically more generous in his annotations on the authors he had studied, which included Adam Smith and Voltaire.

Somerville College is now seeking to establish a programme to preserve the Collection and to foster research into the annotations. All those interested in the project can contact Anne Manuel, the College Librarian.

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