BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Nicholas Capaldi, author of "John Stuart Mill: A Biography," who was he?
NICHOLAS CAPALDI, AUTHOR, "JOHN STUART MILL: A BIOGRAPHY": That`s a very good question. There are lots of different answers that can be given. One way of putting it is that he was perhaps the most famous British philosopher of the 19th century. He was the conscience of his time, of Victorian society. He`s a man that had a long and very famous love affair and to this day continues to divide people on every conceivable public policy issue.
LAMB: When did he live?
CAPALDI: He was born in 1806 and died in 1873. In fact, it`s easy for me to remember those dates because his father was born in 1773 and Mill died in 1873. And it`s almost impossible to separate the life of the son from the life of the father.
LAMB: In his lifetime, what are the major things that happened in the world and in Britain?
CAPALDI: Oh, Britain went through a very important change. It had to absorb the Industrial Revolution, which led to changes in every other institution in British society -- political, cultural, aesthetic. Britain also assumed a position of world leadership not unlike the kind of influential position that the United States occupied since the last half of the 20th century.
LAMB: When was the last time a full biography was written on John Stuart Mill?
CAPALDI: The last major biography was by John Pack (ph), which was in 1954. And it`s somewhat dated, although it`s a very good book, because there`s been an enormous amount of Mill scholarship produced since then. We also have the collected works of Mill, including seven volumes of correspondence. And that has made a tremendous difference in our understanding of what John Stuart Mill was all about.
LAMB: You probably don`t remember, but it`s not the easiest reading in the world. You`ve been dealing -- how long have you been dealing with John Stuart Mill?
CAPALDI: Probably 25 years, started reading John Stuart Mill when I was in graduate school, made a tremendous impression on me. In fact, it was the first time in my life that a philosophical book actually spoke to me, rather than simply impressing me with its profundity. And I worked off and on on a variety of scholarly issues of Mill, but was continually drawn to his life because I found after reading his autobiography that I began to understand the man and the ideas much better once I understood his life and the way in which his thought was evolving and what he was trying to do. And so I just continued to work on it off and on until the opportunity came up to produce a new, now important biography simply because one hasn`t been done for quite some time and certainly not with the advantage of all the scholarly work that we have in the meantime.
LAMB: These are always dangerous questions, but if he were here today and lived in this country, what politics would he follow?
CAPALDI: Oh! I can answer that question in several ways. I mean, if we brought him back from the dead and we didn`t tell him anything that happened in the meantime, or if we brought him back and filled him in on everything which took place. I think, on one hand, held not be surprised because he had a certain vision of where Western civilization was going and its responsibility for somehow transforming the world. So I think his perception, on the one hand, would be the kind of position that the United States occupies and the sort of responsibilities that are thrust upon it, whether it wants them or not, are quite comparable to the sort of situation in which Britain found itself in the 19th century.
I think he would be pleased by some of the developments that took place in the meantime. I think he would also be displeased by the general moral tenor of society, the lack of a kind of moral consensus that he had hoped to see formed somehow as a result of his own work.
LAMB: What would he call moral, though?
CAPALDI: Moral would be people who had strong convictions, that truly respected the views of each other, that were intent upon trying to find out what the element of truth was and the view of people with whom they disagree. I think his perception of politics today would be that it`s become too partisan and shrill. To use a kind of cliche, it`s no longer the practice of gentlemen, which is presumably what he thought it was, to a very large extent, in Victorian Britain.
There was a kind of culture to which all these people belonged, and there was a certain sort of understanding about what you could do and could not do, what areas should be discussed, what areas should not be discussed, what the permissible limits of discussion were. All that seems to be gone now, and I think he would somehow be disappointed by that.
LAMB: You really didn`t answer my question.
LAMB: Would he be a Republican or Democrat or neither?
CAPALDI: I think his position would be that Republicans and Democrats both embody the kind of world view that he held, that technological progress is absolutely essential, that market economies are the only way which a technological project can proceed, that you need something like democratic government with all kinds of constitutional guarantees and the rule of law, that beyond that, you need a larger culture which promotes personal autonomy.
So from that point of view, the major political parties pretty much adhere to the position that Mill has staked out. The differences between parties of personality and questions of judgment about how to proceed in one area rather than another would all be really rather trivial, from his point of view, because the general outline that they adhere to is the sort of thing that he himself advocated in his own time.
LAMB: Well, you say in the book he didn`t believe in direct democracy.
CAPALDI: He didn`t believe in direct democracy, but we don`t really have direct democracy in the U.S. We obviously have a constitutional government, a republic, if you like, with all the guarantees built in to protect minorities and to promote the notion of individual rights. I think he would continue to be concerned about the kinds of problems that direct democracy creates, namely, if you have a large mass of people who are relatively uneducated and only recently given political rights and economic opportunities, there`s a tendency to want to abuse that -- in other words, to use government not to protect rights but to simply extend privileges. That I think would concern him a great deal.
On the other hand, it does seem to be the case that even though we argue about these things, nevertheless, the limits within which we argue them, I think everybody pretty much agrees what the limits are, although where we want to be on the spectrum might vary from person to person or party to party. But I would say the spectrum within which we argue is the spectrum that he pretty much laid out. Europeans tend, I think, to see this. They tend to kind of dismiss the differences between Republicans and Democrats. And certainly, from their point of view, those differences are insignificant compared to the kind of political differences you find on the continent of Europe.
LAMB: Are there any particular groups in this country that follow him as, like, a patron saint?
CAPALDI: Not really, not in politics. I think he has a number of followings. This is one of the fascinating things about him. There are people in economics who still take his economic views seriously. There are people in political theory who read his political works rather carefully but they don`t actually pay much attention to his economic works. I think lots of people in languages and literature would read his biography, his autobiography, and his writings on poetry and the arts, et cetera, and would take that seriously. So I think you have a kind of multiplicity of Mill publics now, rather than -- rather than one Mill public or a particular group that would identify itself as Millians. In a matter of speaking, we`re all Millians now.
LAMB: So if you`re in the general public and you`re not an intellectual, what difference does it make to know all this stuff?
CAPALDI: It makes this kind of difference. One of the things that Mill was vitally concerned with was whether ordinary people would come, in the long run, to support the kind of liberal culture that he was promoting. To put it another way, the ideal he had of what it meant to be a decent human being at one time would -- it would have been thought that only members of the aristocracy or an elite could possibly adhere to that. Mill saw democracy as a threat, and his response to that threat was to promote the idea that the average person could, in fact, become a kind of aristocrat, in the best sense of the term. And you did that not so much by being original but by thinking your own thoughts and creating a life for yourself. It is in that sense that Mill speaks to every single person.
If I can give what might seen a rather trite example, not from Mill`s life but from our own? If you were to ask most people what is their favorite Frank Sinatra song, assuming they still listen to Frank Sinatra, the answer would be "My Way." And I think what that song captured, and it`s sort of an analogy with Mill, is the notion that, I want to be the master of my own life. I want to define who I am. I want to pursue my own ideals and not be pressured by other people.
That`s what Mill advocated. And to a very large extent, he thought that it was possible for every single human being to achieve that, no matter what their intellect or economic capacity was. And he thought it was important that they did that because the kind of civilization we`ve constructed very much requires everybody to achieve that sort of level. And all of us kind of work for that, in one way or another, however we disagree about which policies are going to best hasten the process, in terms of which everybody will be able to participate.
LAMB: What do you do now on a full-time basis?
CAPALDI: I used to teach philosophy, and I still do, to some extent. But my main occupation at the moment is to teach business ethics. And as I tell my former colleagues in philosophy, having solved all the problems in philosophy, I`ve moved on to the application of what I`ve learned to public policy issues. And certainly, the world of commerce today strikes me as being where all of the action is, where all of the major moral and political issues of the day come up, and the social issues. Commerce has completely transformed our life. Commerce requires a certain set of values in order for it to work properly. It`s changed the way workers, employers and employees interact with each other.
And all of those were vital concerns to Mills. So in a sense, I`m getting an opportunity at present to apply to a specific area of the world a lot of what I think I`ve learned and understood from studying the history of ideas and the sort of ideas that Mill was interested in promoting.
LAMB: Where do you do this?
CAPALDI: I do it at Loyola University in New Orleans.
LAMB: How long have you been there?
CAPALDI: Two years. And like Mill, I fell in love with a very wonderful person and commuted for a number of years to the University of Tulsa, until I was able to get a position at Loyola. So on a very personal level, I can identify with some of the kinds of conflicts he had to go through in getting his life together.
LAMB: Did you marry this person?
CAPALDI: Yes, I did.
CAPALDI: Eight years ago, although I had to be reminded that it was eight years because it seems like yesterday.
LAMB: Where are you from originally?
CAPALDI: I grew up in Philly but spent most of my adult life in New York, at the City University of New York. Then I spent part of the `90s in Tulsa, at the University of Tulsa. But I had done some visiting in the meantime, a visiting professor at the University of Singapore, spent a year as a visiting professor at West Point, and various foundations and things of that sort. So I`ve had an opportunity to travel.
LAMB: I saw you got some money for this book from the Earhart Foundation?
CAPALDI: Yes, I did.
LAMB: What`s that?
CAPALDI: That`s a private foundation that supports scholars who are working on various projects. But perhaps the most important thing they do is try to provide grants for people who are going into college teaching. It`s become very expensive to go to school, even graduate education these days, and if you don`t have, you know, full scholarship and some money to live on, it`s not likely that you`ll be able to pursue graduate work.
So a number of people have been identified as Earhart professors, myself included, and we`re at 50 different institutions in the United States. We find promising young men and women that we think would be ideal, not only from an intellectual but also from a character point of view, to be teachers and academic leaders in the future. And when we so identify them, we recommend them to the Earhart Foundation. They provide grants, and we continue to mentor these students as they go through graduate school.
LAMB: Who was Earhart?
CAPALDI: That particular Earhart, I am embarrassed to say, I don`t know. But I know there`s no relationship to Amelia Earhart.
LAMB: Or Ludwig Earhart from Germany?
CAPALDI: I don`t think so.
LAMB: The Liberty Fund also was involved in this in some way.
CAPALDI: Yes, the Liberty Fund is another private operating foundation founded by Pierre Goodrich -- again, no relationship to Goodrich Tire. Goodrich was a remarkably successful businessman. His father had been a former governor of the state of Indiana. And the most interesting thing about the Goodriches is that they managed to see that the market was oversold in 1929, sold all their stocks and then bought it back at a much lower price. And they were into every conceivable thing, mining, banks, whatever.
He was also a man interested in ideas, and he thought the idea of liberty was, in fact, the most important idea in the history of the world and literally donated all of his money -- he had no children -- to set up an operating foundation where people can get together and have conversations about everything under the sun, whether it`s literature or politics or economics or whatever, as long as at some point or other in the conversation, they try to relate it to liberty.
And as I try to explain to my students on occasion, it`s one of those remarkable examples of philanthropy that one finds in America, to which there really is no counterpart in foreign countries, people who amass a fortune and donate it for all of these, you know, philanthropic purposes. But to donate it for the study of an idea indicates to some extent that Goodrich was not only a generous man but also an eccentric at times.
LAMB: Again, 1806?
LAMB: To 1870...
CAPALDI: To 1873.
LAMB: He was what, 66 when he died?
CAPALDI: Correct -- 67.
LAMB: Where`s he buried today?
CAPALDI: He`s buried in Avignon, in the south of France, along with his wife, Harriet Taylor. Mill spent a great deal of time in France. In fact, at one point, he was possibly the person in England most knowledgeable about French affairs. And he and his wife would occasionally vacation there. And she died, in fact, on their way to spend some time in the south of France, in Italy. And she -- he had to bury her in Avignon.
She was perhaps the most important person in his life. He was so moved by her death that he literally bought the furniture from the hotel where she had died, bought a house overlooking the cemetery where she`s buried, furnished the house with that furniture, and then spent half of every year living in Avignon, where he would visit the grave several times a day. And the rest of the year, of course, he`d spend back in England, you know, taking care of the various responsibilities he accumulated in the meantime.
LAMB: What was her name?
CAPALDI: Harriet Hardy Taylor when he met her. She was married to someone else and was already the mother of three children.
LAMB: You say that he was 25, though, and she was 23.
CAPALDI: Exactly. Yes. She had been married at the age of 18 to a Mr. Taylor, who was a prosperous businessman. They were members of the Unitarian community in England at the time, had very close association with utilitarians. You might say these were the rising middle classes -- professional, commercial people -- who couldn`t identify with the Church of England, and so they would join the non-conformist sects. So that would be things like Methodism, Unitarianism. They had rather advanced views for their time.
Mill was introduced to her at a dinner gathering, immediately captivated by her, and it was apparent to everybody else that the feeling was mutual. And the question then was, in what direction this relationship was going to go. They started out as friends. They worked together on a magazine. She was very interested in the same kinds of ideas that Mill held. And at one point, they began to discuss what ideal marriage was because it was something very much discussed at the time. And that led inevitably to questions of, What about your marriage? And before they knew it, they had to reveal to each other that they had fallen very much in love.
And the question now was how to maneuver in a world where that was far more difficult to do than it is today. Keep in mind that in Victorian Britain, children were actually considered property of their father. And in the case of divorce, which was absolutely devastating socially for women, the children were retained by the father. And of course, as you know, there`s a vast literature written in the 19th century about women who run off with their lovers. "Anna Karenina" comes to mind, and others. So there was a strong presumption against their having any kind of serious relationship.
Mill`s family and his friends were all against it. In a sense, the entire world, it seemed at times, with one exception, his friend Thomas Carlyle (ph), conspired to convince him that he should break off the relationship. And of course, Harriet Taylor was under the same kind of pressure from her husband. She was quite honest with him and expressed to him what her feelings were for Mill.
They tried to handle it in a variety of ways. And in the end, the problem was solved by Harriet herself. She made it clear to her husband and to John Stuart Mill that she was going to maintain both relationships but without any kind of sexual conduct. So for approximately the next 15 years, Mill and Harriet were allowed to have a public life together. They went to museums and public lectures. Her husband -- that is, Mrs. Taylor`s husband -- provided her with a cottage in the country where they could meet. He even conveniently went to his club for dinner two nights a week so that Mill could join Harriet for dinner at the house at which they were now living. So it was a kind of remarkable relationship amongst the three.
Both men, no doubt, thought that this was a temporary phenomenon and would soon be terminated. And then, of course, it went on and on and they found that it couldn`t be terminated until Mr. Taylor himself died. So this became a kind of scandal to Victorian society because it was clear what the relationship was between Mill and Harriet, that they very much loved each other. They worked together on projects. She became a central part of his life. But they went out of their way to try to maintain the appearance of -- not only just the appearance but the substance of propriety. To the best of my knowledge and despite all the gossip that existed at the time, I`m convinced that they never consummated their relationship sexually until after they were married.
And this, by the way, is not an unusual theme in the 19th century. I know that most people would be skeptical about something if you mentioned that to them today. But there were a number of very famous people who had relationships of this kind or were willing to contemplate relationships of this kind. And so it was something that had to do also with the way in which men and which will evolving and how we were coming to understand how they interacted with each other.
And in that sense, the relationship between Mill and Harriet is a sort of microcosm of all the evolving changes, and to some extent, I would argue maybe to a very large extent, the paradigm of what a romantic relationship is. And I`m not using the word "romantic" in a sort of trite sense. It had a very, very specific meaning in the 19th century. And you see this in the novels of Jane Austin -- I think that`s probably the best example to give -- and in all of the subsequent literature. And it`s the notion that men and women can be equals, that they can be friends, as equals, that they can bring out the best in each other, that they can literally share their lives and have the kind of intimacy that was literally inconceivable in any previous period in the history of the world.
Now, I think that`s true. I think that Mill and Harriet exemplified that relationship. I think that the kinds of changes that were sort of introduced by changes in the economy and politics and culture continue to go on. And I would maintain that we`re still in the process of trying to define the relationship between men and women, but this is an early example of the attempt to do that, against a backdrop that was incredibly oppressive and difficult for them. They exhibited a lot of courage, and I think, to some extent, that reflected how much they really loved each other and how valuable that relationship was to both of them.
LAMB: You talk a lot about Harriet, his wife, in the book. But you also talk and quote a lot from the autobiography, so I went out trying to find it in the book stores, couldn`t. Then I went on the Internet, Googled in John Stuart Mill.
LAMB: Within a minute, had the entire autobiography on line that I could read. Why is it so easy?
CAPALDI: You mean to get things on the Internet or read the autobiography?
LAMB: Well, I mean, I was just surprised. Certainly, it`s out of copyright and all that. But can you buy the autobiography?
CAPALDI: Oh, sure. Sure. It`s available. And it`s usually -- it`s not particularly long, so it`s usually included in lots of collections of Mill`s work. So someone will put together an anthology of a few of his famous essays, and they`ll also include the autobiography.
It`s really a classic. And people who have never read anything else that Mill has written have actually read the autobiography and get a kind of sense of what his life was. I must say, as someone trying to write a biography of Mill, it`s somewhat daunting to realize that he`s already written the classic on his life, and all you can do is attempt to capture a few things and provide a larger context.
But the autobiography is important for several other reasons. Autobiographies quite literally didn`t exist prior to the beginning the 19th century. I mean, there are some works that are occasionally classified as autobiography, but they`re not really. And autobiography comes into existence pretty much the same time the novel does. And it serves the same purpose.
I mean, if we read a novel from the end of the 18th century to the present, or if we read an autobiography, we not only want to know the details about somebody`s life -- it`s not sort of as if we`re gossiping or engaging in a kind of voyeurism. What we want to see is how that person comes to understand who he or she is, how they begin to define themselves and become the people that they are.
And that`s what Mill`s autobiography was intended to do. It`s not an exercise in egotism. It`s not as if he decided that somehow he was a great man and that people would want know all the details of his life. He`s very careful about what he includes and what he doesn`t. It`s primarily a story of how he comes to think the way he does and who the people are who help him to make the various transitions in his life.
And in that respect, he is kind of mirroring in his own life what is actually going on in the 19th century because the 19th century is also the age when we begin to get museums. There are no museums prior to the 19th century. It`s the 19th century that takes history and time seriously. It`s when we come to understand ourselves as historical beings -- I am who I am through time. I make my life -- I make my life through time.
And he began it see the whole of the history of ideas from that point of view. To think is not merely to have some insight into an objective reality that exists outside of us, that you can give a kind of final and definitive formulation of the truth. You have to see yourself as inheriting problems from the past, trying to understand what you`ve inherited, how that applies to the world in which you live, to add to it, if you can, to some extent, and then pass this on to others without any presumption that it`s necessarily going to go in one direction or another.
LAMB: By the way, you mentioned the autobiography started in the early 1800s. What was the date, do you remember? And do you know who the first...
CAPALDI: Somebody -- I don`t know who -- I think mentions of the term "autobiography" I think around 1809. And I don`t know which particular -- I can`t recall which particular book he had in mind as the first example.
LAMB: How about the first novel?
CAPALDI: That`s always something that people argue about. My choice is a work by Benjamin Constant called "Adolphe" -- A-D-O-L-P-H-E -- which happens to be a love story. So it`s not unusual that -- if you want to single out a work as an example of the first modern novel, that comes to mind because it`s the story of how someone finds out who he is in his relationship -- a man, in his relationship with women. He comes to understand himself as a result of his interaction with that.
LAMB: I want to ask you about his start in life. But very quickly...
LAMB: ... the major works that people would recognize that he wrote that are still out there and...
CAPALDI: OK. Perhaps the most important and I think the most enduring thing he ever wrote is the essay "On Liberty." And I mention that because that was...
LAMB: The name of it`s "On Liberty?"
CAPALDI: Yes, "On Liberty." Exactly. And it`s really a defense of the idea of the importance of individual autonomy and that we should have a culture that respects and promotes everybody`s opportunity to become who they want to be, regardless of whether they`re geniuses or the most kind of ordinary folk.
LAMB: A second one.
CAPALDI: A second one would be, to my mind, "The Principles of Political Economy." That`s the work he wrote on economics, which became the standard textbook for the last half of the 19th century, until it was succeeded, at least in the field of economics, by far more technical works. So if one was interested in technical economics, one wouldn`t go back and read Mill`s "Principles of political economy." But I think it`s worth reading because all of the problems that we still deal with, in terms of commerce and business and economics and how this impacts the lives of people, those issues, I think, get a -- still get a very fresh treatment in Mill.
LAMB: A third one.
CAPALDI: A third one. I`d say the autobiography because, again, you get some notion of how a person lives through a particular period of time, how they try to understand themselves, how they try to understand the time they live in.
LAMB: Did he disguise his relationship with Harriet Taylor during this?
CAPALDI: Oh, sure. The autobiography has a kind of official discussion -- I say official because she helped him to edit it, as well. So anything that appears in the autobiography, except for the last section, which he wrote after she died, she agreed with what he said about their relationship. It`s quite laudatory. One would say there`s a great deal of hyperbole in there, but I`d say that reflects something of the depth of his feeling and also was the kind of style of the time.
LAMB: The book "Logic."
CAPALDI: Yes, the "Logic" has some technical things that are still of interest to specialists in the field, but I wouldn`t think that the ordinary person would have much of an interest in that, except maybe the last section of "Logic."
CAPALDI: "Utilitarianism," unfortunately, has become a kind of textbook, which, in my judgment, is so misunderstood because it`s turned into a sort of cardboard caricature of Mill`s views and is read independent of his other stuff. But I think it gives, to a very large extent, a distorted conception of what hue believed.
LAMB: You say that he was an early advocate of women`s suffrage. And there`s a book that he wrote about it.
LAMB: Where did that come from?
CAPALDI: Yes, "The Subjection of Women." That was a subject on which he wrote for many years, off and on. In the circles he moved, it was always thought that women should be emancipated, that the relationships between men and women would be radically transformed if women had full political and economic equality. And it is a classic of its time.
LAMB: What time did he write it?
CAPALDI: He finished writing it in 1861, but he didn`t publish until 1869 because he was always very wary of the kind of reception the book was going to get. So he was careful to time the publication to achieve what he thought was its maximal effect.
LAMB: What were women`s rights in Great Britain at that time?
CAPALDI: Next to nothing. Women could not own their own property. They could not have any kind of custody rights in their children. They were excluded from the universities, from pursuing advanced degrees. And there was still a very traditional view that the place of a woman was in a home as a homemaker.
LAMB: But the head of state was a woman.
CAPALDI: Yes. That was always one of the great ironies of the time. The other great irony is that Queen Victoria herself was opposed to extending the right to vote to women. But I guess, as the monarch who has all of those privileges, you might think differently about wanting to share those privileges with others.
LAMB: When did they abolish slavery in Britain?
CAPALDI: In 1835. And the utilitarians and the Unitarians were very much behind the anti-slavery movement in England. That was a very big point for them, the Unitarians for religious reasons. The utilitarians made a kind of economic argument that slavery, in fact, was counterproductive economically. And that also colored, to some extent, Mill`s view of the American Civil War because during the American Civil War, unlike most people in Britain, he took the side of the North. Most people of England at the time tended to identify with the South.
LAMB: When was he a member of Parliament?
CAPALDI: From 1865 -- or 1867 to 1869. He served one term.
LAMB: So he died right after that.
CAPALDI: Yes, he died shortly thereafter. He was not reelected to Parliament. And then he had just a few years after, and he spent that time primarily engaged in correspondence and cleaning up some works, which were eventually published posthumously, namely, his critique of socialism and a few other things.
LAMB: He met Harriet at age 25. What year -- how old was he when he married her?
CAPALDI: Ah. He married her in 1851, so he was 45 at the time.
LAMB: And how many years were they married before she died?
CAPALDI: They were married seven years before she died. So actually, they spent more time unmarried than they spent married.
LAMB: And then the health thing.
CAPALDI: Yes. Harriet Taylor died of consumption, or tuberculosis, which was the great scourge of the 19th century. In fact, it had a significant part to play in Mill`s life. His father died of tuberculosis. Two of his brothers died of tuberculosis. His best friend, Sterling (ph), died of tuberculosis. In fact, if you go through the list of all the people from tuberculosis in the 19th century, it`s a kind of "Who`s Who" of authors and famous people. They really did not know that it was a contagious disease at that time. Mill himself contracted tuberculosis. And during the 1850s, shortly after his marriage to Harriet, he and Harriet were convinced that they were both dying and didn`t have much time to live. And this sort of dictated their lifestyle at the time.
One of the things that Mill did was to search for a cure and found a doctor who promoted the idea that blowing into a trumpet would actually help you. It turned out that it did because the blowing into a trumpet strengthens your lungs, and therefore does help your lungs sort of fight off the tubercules that are connected with tuberculosis. So he managed to survive his bout with tuberculosis. Unfortunately, his wife didn`t.
LAMB: What`s the story of his back-wrenching that led to eyesight problems?
CAPALDI: Ah. There are a lot of myths associated with that. But he used -- unlike people today, he would walk to work, which meant a traversing of London`s parks as we know them. And while walking through one of those parks, he tripped over a brick and hurt...
LAMB: Hyde Park.
CAPALDI: In Hyde Park, right. Hurt his back, and they had to put some kind of plaster on the back, I guess in order to get heat to go there to help with the pain. And at one point, he removed it and touched his eye and was temporarily blind, as a result of it. But it didn`t last for very long.
LAMB: You said -- I think I remember it was belladonna plastic?
CAPALDI: Yes, it was...
CAPALDI: Plaster, right. And the belladonna was also used for other purposes, as well. Yes. But it was in the plaster, in the sort of salve that they put on something like a large bandage to wrap around people to bring heat to that particular part of the body.
LAMB: What did it do to his eyesight the rest of his life?
CAPALDI: Well, it didn`t really affect it all that badly. He did develop a tic in one of his eyes, but that was much earlier. That had nothing to do with this particular incident.
LAMB: What was the tic from, do you know?
CAPALDI: Well, people claimed that the tic had something to do with his relationship with his father, but the tic started long before that, and I don`t think it had anything to do with that. And I don`t think really we have any clear indication of what the origin of the tic was. He started complaining about eye problems in the early 1830s, so long before there were any events that could be connected with it.
LAMB: I`m mixing this up, but...
LAMB: ... did he develop a limp for the rest -- for his life?
CAPALDI: No, he didn`t, but Harriet did. In fact, starting in her early 30s -- Harriet had a carriage accident and developed a number of medical problems. She would have attacks of neuralgia, was temporarily crippled and unable to walk. And then she would come out of it. And one of the things she did to help herself during this period was to take laudanum, which is a kind of opium derivative. And of course, there`s all kinds of speculation about what effect this might have had on her and on her relationship with Mill. But I`ve not detected any influence of that.
LAMB: She was 43 when they got married. I assume -- did they ever have children?
CAPALDI: No, they did not. And I think that they didn`t -- well, for several reasons. One, I think it would have been impossible physically because of her condition at the time, her medical problems. And the other -- this is perhaps a bit speculative. Mill and Harriet were convinced that one of great problems of the members of the lower class is that they had too many children. We tend to see this, as countries move from agricultural economy to an industrial economy, families begin to grow smaller. But in the beginning, that`s not the case. And so you get workers with large numbers of children. And then they`re thrown out of work and are unable to support their families, and this creates all kinds of terrible social problems.
So Mill and Harriet thought that if they could encourage people to have fewer children, to engage either in abstinence or some form of birth control, natural or otherwise, that this would have a very positive effect. And I think that to some extent, they tried to mirror that in their lives or at least create the impression that sexual abstinence and sexual self-control was within the realm of the possible.
And they did this during a time when it was very, very difficult to defend that sort of -- that sort of view. In fact, Mill became the butt of a number of jokes. He was believed to be undersexed. So the presumption at the time was that a vigorous male would naturally want to engage in a great deal of sexual activity. The idea that you could actually control your body and exercise self-control would have been considered unnatural even by one of Mill`s early biographers.
LAMB: You paint a picture of them that when they got married, of living a quiet, reclusive life.
CAPALDI: Yes. They took a house in Blackheath, which is the northern part of London. Mill continued to work during the 1850s at India House, which was his primary occupation. They thought that when Mr. Taylor died and they were married, that this would be the end of all the social problems that they had experienced. But quite the contrary. Their marriage actually made things more complicated for them.
All the people who had gossiped about their relationship before Mr. Taylor died could now point to them and say, You see? They must have been doing something wrong because now they`re married. Mill`s family was not particularly receptive to his marrying Harriet. I think, to some extent, that reflected the fact that he would no longer be primarily responsible for taking care of them, so they were concerned about the loss of his interest and affection. He also made it rather difficult for people to come up and congratulate him on his marriage since he had been pretending for the previous I don`t know how many years that this was just an acquaintanceship, et cetera.
So all of a sudden, one day we`re supposed to stop pretending that the relationship was not going on, and now it`s OK for it to go on. So between the embarrassment they suffered and their inability to cope with that in Victorian society at the time and their concern that they were both dying -- and they thought they had a mission and their mission was somehow to pass along what they considered to be important truths -- they became quite reclusive in the 1850s. And when he was not working at India House, he was spending all of his time preparing a number of famous works that he would publish later. And Harriet was very much involved in that.
LAMB: You said that he wrote a draft of a work, and then would go back and write an entire draft again?
CAPALDI: Right. Yes. He wrote at least two versions, completely separate...
LAMB: Every work? Every work?
CAPALDI: ... of everything that he ever did. He did this for a strange sort of reason in the beginning. Very early in his life, he was asked to edit the works of Bentham, a very great 19th century British philosopher who played an important role in Mill`s early life.
LAMB: You`re saying Bentham?
CAPALDI: Yes, yes. Bentham. And -- Jeremy Bentham, the original, if you like, utilitarian, close friend of his father, a man vitally involved in the social reform of his time. Bentham was a terrible writer, and to this day, they`re still trying to straighten his writings. It`s called the Bentham Project, and people expect it to go on for centuries, or so it seems. And Mill had to put together what Bentham said in different works and try to make some kind of coherence out of it.
From that, he got the idea that he himself should write several drafts and then combine the two. So it`s as if he were rethinking what his views were and he didn`t want to be influenced about by his original formulation of it. And then he would bring those two things together. So for Mill, the editing of his work was very important. He was not only self-conscious of himself as stylist, but he was also very much concerned to get the argument right, to try to present it in the simple -- the most simple and the clearest fashion that he could.
LAMB: Who were just couple of his friends that we might know?
CAPALDI: Ah. OK. Well, probably the most important friend he had when he was forming his conception of himself as writer was Thomas Carlyle. And I would say that Mill and Carlyle were about as different as you could possibly be, in terms of personality and views. Mill learned a great deal from Carlyle. What they both aspired to be -- and this is the sense in which ultimately they became competitors. They both wanted to be the conscience of their time, except that what that meant was very different to each of them. Mill was the conscience of his time, but from a radical point of view. And Carlyle was the conscience of his time, but really from an ultraconservative, one might almost say, reactionary point of view.
LAMB: Have you been to the gravesite at Avignon or the house he lived in there?
CAPALDI: Oh, sure. Yes. In fact, I spend a good deal of my vacation time in France, and always I make a point of visiting the site. It would sort of be difficult to describe for people why repeat visits somehow inspire me, but I -- I can mention that in the 19th century, after the death of the Mills, visiting the grave became something that Victorians did when they did their sort of grand tour of the continent.
LAMB: Is the house still there?
CAPALDI: Yes. The house is still there.
LAMB: Is it open to the public?
CAPALDI: No, it`s not open to the public at the moment, but you can go to the -- you can go to the gravesite. Just walk in, and there`s a caretaker who will direct you to the grave. It`s beautiful. It`s peaceful, in a way in which I never would have understood as a young man, that a cemetery could actually be a peaceful and delightful place to be in.
LAMB: How about his home in London? Does that have a museum or anything?
CAPALDI: No. Some of the buildings exist, but they`re no longer places that would be considered museums. In fact, the British, at the end of the 19th century, after his death, weren`t quite sure what to make of Mill. There was going -- there was some talk of erecting a plaque in his honor in Westminster Abbey, which would have been the natural place to do it, But there was so much opposition because he had managed to step on the toes of a lot of people. What there is, is a statue in a small park along the Thames. It`s a little -- it`s a bit of a trouble to kind of find it, but it can be found. And it`s a beautiful statue.
LAMB: Did he know Tocqueville?
CAPALDI: He did not meet Tocqueville except for once, and this was after he had read Tocqueville, but he was very much influenced by Tocqueville. Tocqueville`s writings not only gave him an insight into America, which were very important -- it was very important for Mill because he switched his model of what the future was from France to America. But I think he considered Tocqueville the great historian of his time, the model of what it would mean to write or to understand the culture, to give some account of what the essence of a culture was and what the conflicts were in the culture and what the future of directions and possibilities were. It was the kind writing he had not previously come across.
LAMB: You say his parents had nine children this.
LAMB: Did he -- was he close to them at all?
CAPALDI: Yes, he was very close to several of his younger brothers.
LAMB: Where was he in the rundown?
CAPALDI: He was the oldest. In fact, his -- he had the benefit, if you want to call that, of his father`s undivided attention. His father was primarily responsible for educating him at home. And then Mill was responsible for educating the other members of the family. So into his early 30s, he literally had to spend several hours every day educating his younger sisters and brothers. They all, of course, admired him and looked up to him. None of them quite achieved the kind of fame that he did.
LAMB: When did his mother die? And what was his relationship with her?
CAPALDI: His mother died in the 1850s. He was never very close to his mother. In fact, the most remarkable thing about his autobiography, the published version of his autobiography, is that his mother is not mentioned. Now, it would seem rather strange write an autobiography and you don`t mention your mother. There was a passage in which he described his mother in an earlier draft of the autobiography, and it is not a beautiful picture that he paints. And Harriet Taylor, for the sake of propriety, had him remove that particular passage.
Essentially, he had the same view of his mother that his father did. He was somewhat contemptuous of his mother. He didn`t think that she was very smart. He didn`t think that she had much strength of character, and probably would have considered her one of those genteel, useless women that some people in the 18th and 19th century used to admire.
I think probably the root of it was he would have wanted a strong, loving mother to protect him from time to time from his overbearing father, and that wasn`t there. So he simply took over the care of his mother after his father died, and the other members of his family. And I think he resented the kind of time he had to spend on that. And later, he thought, when he was decided to marry Harriet, that his family was not positively responsive in the way that he would have wished, and he took great umbrage at that. And that just sort of made the split even worse. So he would be a dutiful son in all the things that he had to do, but it was a responsibility, rather than an act of love or charity on his part.
LAMB: How many years did he worked at India House? And what was it?
CAPALDI: Yes. He started working at India House when he was -- when he was 17. India House started out as commercial venture for the economic development of India. But by the time Mill went to work at India House, it was a sort of quasi-autonomous corporation, simply a bureaucratic enterprise that ruled India for the British empire. It gradually lost its commercial dimension.
His father had been employed by India House, and Mill ended up working there, as well, for a variety of reasons. There really was no other occupation for him to pursue, given his background. And he had to work under his father. And if you were to describe the work he did, you might perhaps analogize it to being a pretty high official, maybe an assistant secretary of state in charge of correspondence between British officials in India and British officials back home. And in those days, it took months for a letter actually to get from one place to the other.
So he earned his living doing that. Every day, he worked for them until the corporation finally came to an end and was dissolved in 1857, although he did defend the validity of the institution for quite some time and refused to serve on it when it simply became another government bureaucracy.
LAMB: You say he never went to India?
CAPALDI: That`s the amazing thing. His father and he -- his father, by the way, wrote a 10-volume history of India. And he and his father were primarily responsible for the correspondence and for making some important decisions affecting the government of India. Neither one of them ever set foot in India, and to the best of my knowledge, neither one of them ever knew anybody who was from India. But it says something about the time.
Nevertheless, Mill had a very enlightened view. He really thought it was the responsibility of the British to help India to become independent, just as he thought it was the responsibility of every institution to help people to become as independent as they possibly could. And he saw that as Britain`s responsibility.
LAMB: James Mill. Who was he?
CAPALDI: James Mill would have been considered one of most important philosophers of the 19th century if it hadn`t been for the fact that he was the father of John Stuart Mill, who later eclipsed him in reputation. He was a Scotsman who earned his living originally as a journalist, when he failed as a clergyman. Moved to London and ended up working for India House in order to support his large family.
But perhaps the most important thing to say about James Mill historically is that he was the leader of the radical movement. And what that means is that these were members of the middle class who realized that Britain could no longer be a feudal society, not in the light of the growth of technology, the Industrial Revolution, and that the -- and that the political institutions had to change. In retrospect, we would say that James Mill had a somewhat simplistic view of what kind of political changes would be necessary. But he had an enormous influence up until the 1830s, not as a member of Parliament -- he could never be a member of Parliament -- but to his connection with parliamentary members and as a man who held together all of these thinkers who were critical of British society at the time.
The other thing to say about him is that he was very much an 18th century man living in the 19th century. Most of his philosophical ideas were based on 18th century views. And to some extent, Mill had to spend most of his life getting over some of those 18th century views.
LAMB: Did his son believe in God?
CAPALDI: I think he did, but it`s a kind of God most people would have difficulty recognizing. I think for most of Mill`s life, he did not have a formal belief in God. He was very anti-religious in the sense of being opposed to religious establishments. And in his time, the Anglican church was largely defending the status quo. He had been brought up -- to some extent, brought up -- that has to be carefully qualified -- as a kind of Calvinist, and it was a Calvinism that promoted the idea of repression, rather than self-development. So given his background, he would have been hostile to it.
But I think over the years, he changed his views and ultimately came to believe in a kind of God. And I would describe it as unusual in this sense. He didn`t believe that God was omnipotent. He thought that God was here to -- maybe to lead the forces of good against the forces of evil, a kind of manichean view that the world is divided between good and evil. And somehow, it was our part to help this God to achieve these purposes. I think it`s absolutely essential to his view that -- in other words, if you work out the logic of Mill`s thinking, I don`t see how he could have avoided coming to believe something like that, and I`ve argued that in the book. I think it`s important. He`s also a very spiritual man, even though he had no official connection with a religious denomination.
LAMB: What year did his father die?
CAPALDI: In 1836.
LAMB: What impact did that have on him?
CAPALDI: Great relief. He had gone through a mental crisis from roughly 1826 to 1830, what we would call an identity crisis, and a large part of that crisis was, I want to get out from under my father`s control. I want to be my own person. At the same time, he found -- he began to find that there were all kinds of problems with his father`s philosophical views. So how is he going to achieve this?
What he did was he reconciled himself in the following way. Since he agreed with his father`s political program of reform but had a very different idea of how one was to understand that, he submerged all of his own views and largely pretended to agree with his father and tried in very indirect ways to present different perspectives.
When his father died, he did not attend his father`s funeral. He presumably was off recovering from one of his own illnesses, but I think it would have been too painful for him to have gone. He respected his father, but he didn`t really love him. And now he felt relieved that he actually could express his own views. And almost immediately after his father`s death, he published an essay on Bentham, a full essay that he had previously published under a pseudonym in order to keep his father from being angry with him, in which he literally wrote a devastating critique of Bentham, which in many ways is a veiled criticism of his own father.
But it`s an intellectual critique, not a personal critique. Had enormous respect for his father. He really believed in what his father was trying to do, but he couldn`t share the sort of intellectual vision or the larger vision of what it meant to be a human being, and that created enormous problems for him psychologically.
LAMB: Your own Ph.D. is from where?
CAPALDI: It`s in philosophy.
CAPALDI: Columbia University in New York. But I`m happy to say that as a result of my association with Liberty Fund, which we mentioned earlier, that I managed to get a liberal education after I achieved a Ph.D. And that is by attending conferences on subjects about which I knew very little at the time, whether it was economics or literature or political theory, and it`s the sort of education that everybody should have but one rarely achieves.
LAMB: What about your undergraduate degree?
CAPALDI: My undergraduate degree was also in philosophy. But I should mention in passing that philosophy has now become a kind of technical subject. So the sort of philosopher that Mill was, one who actually addressed the major issues of his day and somebody who could communicate with ordinary -- with the ordinary intelligent public, in a way, the kind of public that you reach through this program and the kind of books that you present, it would be difficult to find very many philosophers today who could write that kind of book.
LAMB: And your undergraduate agree was from where?
CAPALDI: Penn, university of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
LAMB: So we have you being born in Pennsylvania.
LAMB: Now teaching at Loyola in New Orleans.
CAPALDI: In New Orleans, right.
LAMB: And spent some time at City University of New York.
CAPALDI: Right. A large part of my adult life was spent in New York City, yes.
LAMB: This book is published by Cambridge.
LAMB: A British publisher.
LAMB: Who -- who do you think -- who did you write this for? What kind of a person?
CAPALDI: OK. I wrote this for the kind of public that Mill was trying to reach. This may seem strange. He believed that there were a large number of highly educated people who were not specialists, and that somehow or other, it was part of his job to remind them of what the fundamental values were in their civilization. And I`m, in a way, trying to revive that idea of what it means to be a public intellectual, the sort of thing that Mill practiced at the end of his life. And I was hoping that through the reading of this book, people would come to see what it meant to play that kind of role and why that`s important. And more important than playing the role is finding the public that can be responsive, that is interested in this sort of thing, and so to create a sort of intellectual public that is interested in ideas beyond the superficial level.
LAMB: How long did it take you to write it?
CAPALDI: The last five years were spent almost exclusively on this book. But I had been writing bits and pieces on Mill for 20 years prior to that.
LAMB: And a book like this, first printing would have been how many copies?
CAPALDI: I don`t know. I must tell you, I`m very impractical when it comes to those things. I let the publisher worry about all that. But I`m hoping -- well, I`m sure it is not enough copies, now that I`m on here.
LAMB: You have another book you`re planning to write?
CAPALDI: Yes. The next book I want to write is called "The Business of America." And what I hope it will be is an attempt to capture the American soul, I know this sounds very presumptuous, and what that means for America both domestically and internationally. So if you like, in a small way, I`m trying to emulate for our own culture what Mill did for the British culture.
LAMB: Here`s the cover of the book. In this picture, how old was he?
CAPALDI: He was in his mid-30s when that picture was taken.
LAMB: How tall was he?
LAMB: And what would he have sounded like?
CAPALDI: He had a rather high-pitched voice, not a very deep one. But people tended to describe him as a kind of thinking steam engine, a man always speaking very logically and carefully choosing his words.
LAMB: "John Stuart Mill" is the name of the book, a biography. Nicholas Capaldi our guest. Thank you very much for joining us.
CAPALDI: Thank you, Brian.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.