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Save John Stuart Mill's personal library!

Help conserve John Stuart Mill's personal library and stop Somerville's treasure from disintegrating

Save John Stuart Mill's personal library!
  • £13,641

    pledged of £13,000

    • 84


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This project received pledges on Tue 07 Jul 2015

What exactly is The John Stuart Mill Library?

Somerville is home to the Library of the great Victorian liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill: an extraordinary collection of about 2,000 volumes, many of which record irreplaceable annotations that are currently a hidden treasure largely unknown to academics. The collection was a gift to the College in 1905 by Mill's stepdaughter Helen Taylor, as Mill had asked the scientist Mary Somerville to be the first signatory on his petition to Parliament regarding women's suffrage in 1867.  J.S. Mill holds a very important place in world history, and is considered by many to be 'the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century.'


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.  

What needs saving and why?

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.  

Who are we?

We are a team comprised of an undergraduate historian (Oliver Johnston-Watt), a graduate student researching sustainable development at Somerville (Shriman Narayan), our excellent Somerville Librarian (Anne Manuel) and the College's resident Mill expert (Frank Prochaska).  We share a passion for J.S. Mill's writings and Somerville's treasure, and with your help we want to halt the decay of this priceless Library.

Help us succeed!

We hope you will join us and make a gift.  Please also help us spread the word by sharing this project with anyone who will think it's a great idea.  Let's bring our hidden treasure out into the spotlight and give everyone a chance to learn more about it and offer help and support.  

If you would like to make a gift, but are unable to do so via PayPal, you can visit Somerville's online giving page on our website. You will then need to select the 'Annual Fund' and note that your kind gift is to be designated towards the Mill Library project. Alternatively, we are able to take credit and debit card payments over the phone on 01865 280626.