Turns Out Emerson Wrote Some “Very Stupid” “Trash”

I love John Stuart Mill. However, it is probably a good thing he never read anything I ever wrote, because he was rather brutal and harsh.

Historian Frank Prochaska has discovered Mill’s comments of the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson in letters by from Mill and in Mill’s notes on a copy Emerson’s Essays.

History Today reports the following:

The words ‘fudge’, ‘nonsense’, ‘oh’, ‘pooh’, ‘sentimental’, ‘superficial’, ‘stupid’, ‘very stupid’, ‘trash’ are among the many pencilled annotations dotting the pages of John Stuart Mill’s personal copies of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays. They constitute something of a revelation. Imagine finding Kant’s marginalia on Hume’s philosophical writings, or George Eliot’s annotations on Jane Austen’s novels. There is an assumption among scholars that little can be said about the opinion Mill, the preeminent English thinker of his age, held of Emerson, equally preeminent in American thought. In a recent book on the political ideas of the two men, Alex Zakaras remarks that ‘it seems that Mill never read any of Emerson’s writing, so we can only speculate as to what he would have thought of it’. We now know that he at least read the Essays – which are largely responsible for Emerson’s standing as a philosopher – and had something intriguing to say about them. As might be expected, the annotations tell us more about Mill than they do about Emerson.

So, in addition to having a persuasive writing style, Mill was rather snarky. What isn’t there to love about that? Right?

Check out the full article in History Today.

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