Autobiography of John Stuart Mill

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 1243
  • Dates of Creation
      19th century
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      various sizes. 289 folios;

Scope and Content

The material comprises the press copy of John Stuart Mill's Autobiography and a separate copy, in the hand of Helen Taylor, of most of the first chapter of the Autobiography:

I, folios 1-265, the press-copy of the Autobiography of the philosopher John Stuart Mill (d 1873), in three hands, namely

  • (a) folios 1-23, Autobiography, 1813 edition, p. 1 to p. 36, line 16 (when it was applied, or); written in an unidentified continental hand;
  • (b) folios 24 (ought to, ibid. p. 36, line 16) to 38 (Godstone &, ibid. p. 55, line 6); folios 124 (biographies, above all by Condorcet's life, ibid. p. 113, line 21) to 142 (speculation and for action, ibid. p. 143, line 13); folios 185 (I have already mentioned, ibid. p. 174, line 16) to 265 (end); in the hand of Mill's stepdaughter, Helen Taylor, who is also responsible for corrections and emendations in other portions of the manuscript;
  • (c) folios 39 (there I each summer, ibid. p. 55, line 6) to 123 (& by some modern, ibid, p. 113, line 21); folios 143 (I had now learnt, ibid. p. 143, line 14) to 184 (personally acquainted, ibid. p. 174, line 5); in the hand of Mill's sister, Mary Elizabeth Colman.

II, folios 1-25, a separate copy in the hand of Helen Taylor, of the bulk of Chapter I of the Autobiography (ending with the words applied, or, i.e. 1873 edition, p. 36, 1.16).

Helen Taylor began the copying of the manuscript and wrote the first 30 folios on blue paper; of these, folios 26 (ought to, 1873 edition, p.36, line 6) to 30 (older than myself, ibid. p. 44, line 11) were retained in the press-copy [I above] but folios 1-25 [II above] were not. The section they contain was recopied by the continental hand [I (a) above], the writer of which compressed Helen Taylor's 25 folios into 23; to allow for this, her next folio (26) was re-numbered 24, 25, 26 [sic]. As a result and because, by a slip, Mary Colman numbered two folios 150, the press-copy, although foliated 1-265, contains in fact only 264 folios. Apart from other press markings, these are divided by pencil strokes into various sections with, at the side of each, the names of the particular compositors to whom the various parts of the work were assigned.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), philosopher and economist, was educated privately by his father, James Mill. In 1823, abandoning the study of law, he became a clerk in the East India Company, where he rose to become head of the examiner's office by the time of the company's dissolution in 1858. During this period he contributed to various periodicals and met with discussion groups, one of which included Thomas Macaulay, to explore the problems of political theory. His A System of Logic (1843) was followed in 1848 by the Principles of Political Economy, which influenced English radical thought.

In 1851 Mill married Harriet Taylor, whom he had known for twenty years. She died in 1858, and Mill, profoundly affected, dedicated to her the famous On Liberty (1859), on which they had worked together. In 1863 Utilitarianism was published, and his Auguste Comte and Positivism appeared in 1865. From 1865 to 1868 he served as a Member of Parliament, after which he retired, spending much of his time at Avignon, France, where his wife was buried and where he died in 1873. In the year of his death his celebrated Autobiography was published.

Mill's philosophy followed the doctrines of his father and Jeremy Bentham, but he sought to temper them with humanitarianism, and at times he came close to socialism. In logic, he formulated rules for the inductive process and stressed the method of empiricism as the source of all knowledge. In his ethics he pointed out the possibility of a sentiment of unity and solidarity that may even develop a religious character, as in Comte's religion of humanity. He constantly advocated political and social reforms, such as proportional representation, the emancipation of women, and the development of labour organizations and farm co-operatives.

Source: Jose Harris, 'Mill, John Stuart (1806-1873)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Helen Taylor (1831-1907), was the daughter of Harriet Taylor, who married John Stuart Mill in 1851. In 1858, on the death of her mother, she became companion to Mill, and assisted him in his work. She campaigned for women's suffrage, and for improving the social position and education of women. She was a member of the Moral Reform Union and a leading light in the fight to abolish school fees and provide school meals.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by the John Rylands Library at auction at Hodgson's on 30 July 1959 (Lot 244).


Description compiled by Jo Humpleby, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on John Stuart Mill.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1952-1970 (English MS 1243).

Custodial History

Former owners: Helen Taylor (d 1907); her niece Mary Taylor (d 1918); Maggs Bros, booksellers, who acquired it on 29 March 1922, when manuscripts etc. of Mary Taylor were sold by order of her executors at Sotheby's (Lot 720).

Related Material

The papers of John Stuart Mill are widely dispersed: see the National Register of Archives at


See Jack Stillinger, 'The text of John Stuart Mill's autobiography', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 43, no. 1 (1960), pp. 220-42, and the same author's edition of The early draft of John Stuart Mill's autobiography (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961).