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

5 thoughts on “John Stuart Mill Liked Butter”

  1. Just stumbled on your letter while looking for something about Finisterre Lighthouse!

    I’m researching butter roads in Cork and Kerry at the moment so your letter slotted in nicely. Will have to check if JSM ever tasted irish butter.

  2. This could be the hidden link between Plato and Mill! (And therefore, beteween utilitarian liberalism and Straussianism! Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.) In a word, Syracuse. One tried to counsel a Syracusan tyrannos, the other, was fond of syracusan butter. ( Which I have to try, especilly as a my coumadine diet forbids any kind of margarine, but allows butter.)
    BTW, is it merely a coincidence that the 23rd paragraph of the “restatement’ by Strauss in On Tyranny contains a veiled allusion to the Athenian commander of the doomed Syracusan expedition, Nicias, while it is in Ezra Pound’s 23rd canto that ole Ez’ refers to Gemisthos Plethon, the fifteennth century Byzantine philosopher /polymath who tried to revive Greek paganism, thus making him a hero for some of the more radical Straussians?
    23 Skidoo!
    Joe Harder, Kinght of the woeful countence, coffee drinking Papist, and Hillbilly Thomist wit the blues.

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