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Mystifying the Mystic: Mill and Carlyle in the 1830s

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Abstract

The intimate relations Mill developed with Harriet Taylor in the early 1830s produced a growth in both the intensity and complexity of his emotional life. Intensity and complexity of a different sort tinged Mill’s friendship with Thomas Carlyle in these same years. This friendship encapsulated important elements in Mill’s evolving self-definition, and in subtle ways showed the travails attendant upon his pursuit of self-understanding. James Mill, Harriet Taylor, Thomas Carlyle—the force of character exhibited by each of these individuals bespoke a self-confidence that John Mill lacked. He had great powers of mind and a fine and sympathetic spirit, and these qualities made him a person worth knowing. But what did it mean “to know” John Mill? In the early 1830s James Mill would not have presumed to answer this question. Although exasperated at times, Harriet Taylor handled the issue by asserting that she knew John Mill better than he knew himself; what he might have believed he knew about himself counted for less than what she certainly knew about him. Both James Mill and Harriet Taylor had a lot more at stake in their connection with John Mill than did Thomas Carlyle. Yet what Carlyle learned about John Mill in the early 1830s made him want to know more. This desire tested Mill’s trust, not of Carlyle but of himself.

Keywords

French Revolution Moral Conviction German Literature Moral Improvement Creative Genius 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    See D.A. Haury, The Origins of the Liberal Party and Liberal Imperialism: The Career of Charles Buller, 1806–1848 ( New York: Garland, 1987 ).Google Scholar

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© Bruce L. Kinzer 2007

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