The oldest of nine children, John Stuart Mill was born on May 20, 1806; he died in France, where he spent many of his later years, on May 7, 1873.
Mill had a very extraordinary, strenuous education, overseen by his ambitious father James, who believed that one becomes improved via education and, once educated, that is the end of the matter. John Mill was reading Greek at age three and Latin at the age of eight. He was at heart always reform-minded, however, and his more mature views allowed that people might come to realize how best to reform, remake, and improve themselves. In fact, reform-mindedness is a major theme in Mill’s life. Among the many liberal causes associated with him are the defense of the abolition of slavery, repeal of the Corn Laws, extension of the franchise and property rights to women, reform of Irish property arrangements, and the question of birth control.
In the summer of 1830, Mill met and fell headlong in love with the already married Harriet Taylor and began an intense and prolonged relationship with her. The repercussions of his friendship with and eventual marriage to Harriet were profound—and costly—and included isolation from family and friends. The experience formed the backdrop to his strong denunciation in On Liberty of the oppression associated with public opinion.
Harriet’s influence on Mill’s work was significant. Beginning in 1846 in a newspaper article and then recurring frequently thereafter, Mill attributed much of his work as a “joint production” with Taylor. In 1861, Mill completed one of his and Harriet’s most influential works, The Subjection of Women, on which he had collaborated closely with Harriet until her sudden death in 1858. Published in 1869, it was filled with many ideas ahead of their time.
In 1865, well after Harriet’s death, Mill became a member of Parliament. By that point, he had gained a great deal of fame as a logician, philosopher, and political economist. Mill’s time in Parliament was relatively brief but his influence did not dwindle in retirement. He spent many of his remaining years in France, living in Avignon until his death in 1873.