John Stuart Mill Liked Butter

From the current LRB letters page:

‘A life history in which the stomach is wholly absent,’ Bee Wilson writes, ‘does not seem quite human’ (LRB, 25 June). She is understandably charmed by Rousseau’s spilling his guts in public, but says of John Stuart Mill: ‘you would never know whether [he] ever yearned for sweets or felt his tummy rumble.’ Mill’s Autobiography, despite its title, is not and does not purport to be a life history. Still, his stomach seems to have made noises – especially for butter, the availability and quality of which Mill assiduously reports in a string of letters to Harriet Mill from France, Italy and Greece. Some butter is ‘tolerable & intensely yellow’, whereas in Brittany he ‘never once met with any but very good butter even in the smallest places’. In Vendée ‘it is seldom good & I have never yet found it very good.’ He also had to put up with ‘commonplace’ honey which ‘had not the peculiar flavour of Syracusan’ (Syracusan butter too was apparently excellent).

Åsa Söderman

Dead Conservative-Liberal-Socialist Watch

Leszek Kolakowski, born in Radom, Poland, 23 October, 1927; died in Oxford, England, 17 July, 2009. Highlights include “My correct views on everything” in the 1974 Socialist Register (a reply to E. P. Thompson’s “Open Letter to Leszek Kolakowski” from the previous year), the second volume of Main Currents of Marxism, and his study of the Jansenists, God Owes Us Nothing.