Inaugural Address: Delivered to the University of St. Andrews, Feb. 1st, 1867

Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer
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Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer
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Published on
Dec 31, 1867
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Pages
99
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English
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John Stuart Mill was born on 20th May 1806. He was a delicate child, and the extraordinary education designed by his father was not calculated to develop and improve his physical powers. "I never was a boy," he says; "never played cricket." His exercise was taken in the form of walks with his father, during which the elder Mill lectured his son and examined him on his work. It is idle to speculate on the possible results of a different treatment. Mill remained delicate throughout his life, but was endowed with that intense mental energy which is so often combined with physical weakness. His youth was sacrificed to an idea; he was designed by his father to carry on his work; the individuality of the boy was unimportant. A visit to the south of France at the age of fourteen, in company with the family of General Sir Samuel Bentham, was not without its influence. It was a glimpse of another atmosphere, though the studious habits of his home life were maintained. Moreover, he derived from it his interest in foreign politics, which remained one of his characteristics to the end of his life. In 1823 he was appointed junior clerk in the Examiners' Office at the India House.

Mill's first essays were written in the Traveller about a year before he entered the India House. From that time forward his literary work was uninterrupted save by attacks of illness. His industry was stupendous. He wrote articles on an infinite variety of subjects, political, metaphysical, philosophic, religious, poetical. He discovered Tennyson for his generation, he influenced the writing of Carlyle'sFrench Revolution as well as its success. And all the while he was engaged in studying and preparing for his more ambitious works, while he rose step by step at the India Office. His Essays on Unsettled Questions in Political Economy were written in 1831, although they did not appear until thirteen years later. His System of Logic, the design of which was even then fashioning itself in his brain, took thirteen years to complete, and was actually published before the Political Economy. In 1844 appeared the article on Michelet, which its author anticipated would cause some discussion, but which did not create the sensation he expected. Next year there were the "Claims of Labour" and "Guizot," and in 1847 his articles on Irish affairs in the Morning Chronicle. These years were very much influenced by his friendship and correspondence with Comte, a curious comradeship between men of such different temperament. In 1848 Mill published his Political Economy, to which he had given his serious study since the completion of hisLogic. His articles and reviews, though they involved a good deal of work—as, for instance, the re-perusal of the Iliad and the Odyssey in the original before reviewing Grote's Greece—were recreation to the student. The year 1856 saw him head of the Examiners' Office in the India House, and another two years brought the end of his official work, owing to the transfer of India to the Crown. In the same year his wife died. Liberty was published shortly after, as well as the Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, and no year passed without Mill making important contributions on the political, philosophical, and ethical questions of the day.
The Subject of Women, which Mill wrote in 1861 but did not publish until 1869, is one of the seminal texts of feminism and aroused more antagonism than anything Mill ever wrote. Conservatives predicted it would do to the English family what socialism would do to England's economy. Liberals believed that women would vote conservative. Many prominent Englishwomen, such as Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and George Eliot, opposed women's suffrage. Even such advanced thinkers as Sigmund Freud were hostile to the book.

In The Subjection of Women Mill argues with lucidity, force and more than usual metaphorical eloquence that "the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes-the legal subordination of one sex to the other-is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality..." Mill does battle on two fronts, that of intrinsic justice and that of utility. He sees the subjection of women as not only inherently wrong, but intertwined with all the evils of existing society. In support of his central principle, Mill argues that there is no basis in nature for the inferior status of women. He likens the position of the Victorian wife to that of a domestic slave and discourses on the debasing nature of all master-slave relations. He provides historical evidence of what women are capable of achieving and he speculates upon the benefits that will accrue to society as well as individuals from female emancipation, most especially from equality in marriage, which Mill describes as the only remaining legal form of slavery.

This new critical edition shows that Mill's classic work has lost none of its relevance. The cross-disciplinary approach of the book can be useful in literature, history, or sociology courses as well as womens studies.

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