Matthew Kerr on John Stuart Mill’s Library

 Ricardo title-page

In a talk for the group on 19 February, Matt discussed his new research concerning John Stuart Mill’s private library and the Victorian reader. He focused most of his paper on annotations made by Mill’s father James in the copy of David Ricardo’s Essay on the Influence of a Low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock (1815) in the library. (The library, which has been little discussed, is held by Somerville College, Oxford.) These annotations represent an interesting resource for the book historian because, while early notes show James Mill trying to make sense of Ricardo’s argument, the tone of the marginalia shifts as Mill reads. The voice in the margins changes from one that is self-directed, to one that is directed at Ricardo with public understanding in view. Matt connected this to the concern shared by John Stuart Mill, James Mill, Ricardo, and other nineteenth-century thinkers as to the manner in which economic theory should be brought to market. Moreover, he argued that the library itself, by incarnating the sharing of ideas and multiple readerships, provides a fitting metaphor for this endeavour.

Matt is a lecturer in English at Magdalen College, Oxford; he also currently teaches on the Georgian literature and ‘Dis-Locations’ modules here at Lincoln. Look out for his essay on Dombey and Son in the 2014 Dickens Studies Annual.

At top: the title-page to the second edition of Ricardo’s Essay (Bodleian Library copy).