Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Autobiography is a unique and fascinating book, one of a handful likely to be read as long as nineteenth century Britain is remembered. It bears witness to the intellectual ferment that was part of the industrial and democratic revolutions of the time. Wider suffrage led to state-supported education in Britain and debate about its proper content. These circumstances supplied Mill’s chief motives for recording his life. He wished to recount his own intellectual development and mission in a period of cultural transition and to describe his remarkable education.
Mill, better than anyone, articulated the outlook of nineteenth century liberalism, and so, more than any other intellectual, shaped thinking about politics and society in English-speaking countries in the twentieth century. His interests included political philosophy, ethics, economics, psychology, logic, the scientific method, religion, liberty, the prejudice suffered by women. His ordered, lucid prose helped guarantee that his books would long be read. Generous by nature and fair-minded in considering the views of others, he was, as British Prime Minister William Gladstone declared, a “saint of rationalism.”
The book recounts in detail a truly remarkable instance of home schooling, through which Mill acquired by his middle teens knowledge and analytical skills far superior to those of most university graduates—to say nothing of a phenomenal capacity for work. Mill...
(The entire section is 1806 words.)
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