Help Save Mill’s Library


There are efforts afoot to preserve John Stuart Mill’s personal library, currently housed at Somerville Library at Oxford University. It is “an extraordinary collection of about 2,000 volumes, many of which record irreplaceable annotations that are currently a hidden treasure largely unknown to academics.” Somerville College acquired the library in 1905 as a gift from Mill’s stepdaughter Helen Taylor.

Much of the Library was formed by J. S. Mill’s father James Mill, the economist and political philosopher, and it covers a broad range of topics from poetry and the classics to economics and political thought.  Notable among the volumes are Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, inscribed by the author to J.S. Mill, and an inscribed copy of Darwin’s The Descent of Man.  Annotations by both J.S. Mill and his father pepper many of the books, including Voltaire’s Oeuvres, Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and Emerson’s Essays, and offer valuable insight into their thoughts and analysis of the texts. 

Now Somerville needs help maintaining its collection:

The Library is in desperate need of conservation.  Easily identifiable on the shelves by loops of ribbon which both warn visitors of their condition and help secure weakened bindings, about 130 volumes are in a state of serious decay and require restoration.  The priceless Tocqueville volumes, for example, have begun to fall apart, as have the Essays of Emerson.  We are also very concerned that many of the annotations, typically written in pencil, are very faint and they are at risk of further deterioration without conservation. We have enlisted the Bodleian’s guidance and professional advice and with the support of Somerville students, alumni and Mill’s admirers around the world, we hope to preserve this unique Library for future generations. 

The costs of restoration and preservation will be substantial; they are currently estimated at approximately £50k. Our priority for this project is the conservation of some of the most delicate volumes, which we can address with £10,000 and your help!  A very generous benefactor has offered to match every gift pound for pound up to £5,000, so any donations to our cause will double in value.  Alongside our conservation efforts, we are also planning a larger project that will include some digitisation of the annotations to preserve them for further research.  If you have any questions about the overall project, or would like more information, please do get in touch.

You can learn more about the restoration project, as well as donate to the cause, here.

(via Dale Miller)

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