Thursday, June 23, 2011

James Mill

Scottish economist James Mill, the father of philosopher John Stuart Mill, died this day, June 23, 1836.  His life spanned roughly the same time frame as Sir Walter Scott.  Mill also wrote for the Edinburgh Review at one point in his life.  An interesting connection to Scott comes not through his writing, but through his tutoring of one Williamina Belches, with whom Scott became famously enamored.  Ms. Belches charm apparently impacted Mill as well.  William Henry Hudson in his "Sir Walter Scott" includes a note concerning Mill's affection for Belches:

'It was about 1790 that, according to the testimony of his friend, William Clerk, Scott "was observed to lay aside that carelessness, not to say slovenliness, as to dress," which had theretofore furnished matter for no little jesting among his companions, and to pay some attention to the details of the toilette. At eighteen, such a change may be commonly taken to indicate that the unsophisticated boy, who regarded girls as bores, has now blossomed out into a highly self conscious youth with a marked fondness for female society. With Scott it meant something more than this. If from this time on, his powerful yet comely figure was familiar in Edinburgh drawing-rooms and assemblies, it was not because of any special desire to shine in the new part of squire of dames, but on account of one particular magnet which drew him thither with a force that he neither could nor would resist.

The lady who had taken his heart by assault was Williamina, only child of Sir John and Lady Jane Belches, afterwards Stuart, of Fettercairn.2 He had first met her—so the pretty story runs—one Sunday morning, when the congregation of Greyfriars Church was dispersing; a sudden shower had come on, and Scott proffered his umbrella, and with it his escort home. It was presently discovered that Mrs Scott and Lady Jane had been companions in girlhood, a circumstance that naturally made it easier for the infatuated youth to improve the acquaintance which his courtesy and address had so auspiciously commenced. For some years after this, Scott lived in the full enjoyment of love's young dream. In winter he met his charmer frequently in Edinburgh society; in summer, when she was away with her parents in the Highlands, the relationship was maintained by correspondence, and by his occasional visits to her country home. Yet his wooing must have been carried on with astonishing discretion, for we do not find that the girl's parents were at all concerned about the issue. The mother, indeed, may have realised the drift of affairs and been willing at least to put no obstacle in the way. But Sir John was so little suspicious that anything unusual was happening, that even when the elder Scott presently felt in duty bound to warn him of the existence of an intimacy which "might involve the parties in future pain and disappointment," he thanked him graciously enough, but added that he saw no cause for alarm.

2 It may be interesting to note that James Mill, then a student at the University of Edinburgh, was for a time the tutor of Williamina, and "spoke of her in later years with some warmth." See Alexander Bain's fames Mill, p. 24. "Some warmth" in the case of a man like Mill, not given to bursts of feeling, may be taken to mean a good deal. '

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