John Stuart Mill was one the earliest and most influential supporters of women’s rights. His essay, The Subjection of Women, one of the most important feminist works of the nineteenth century. He was the first member of British Parliament to ask that women be given the right to vote. He also believed in freedom of speech, refused to attend Oxford or Cambridge because of their alliance with religion, and was a huge supporter of civil rights for every person.
The reason I bring him up is that he was buried in Avignon, where I currently am until I head back to Paris on Saturday. I was asked to seek out his resting place for a research project while I was here. I had heard of Mill and respected his opinions and work but did not know much more about him. I was very surprised at what lay atop his grave. While there was a small inscription on the side informing you that this was indeed where John Stuart Mill was buried, the top was solely dedicated to honoring his partner in life, Harriet.
to the beloved memory
the dearly loved and deeply regretted
wife of John Stuart Mill
her great and loving heart
her noble soul
her clear powerful original and
made her the guide and support
the instructor in wisdom
and the example in goodness
as she was the soul earthly delight
of those who had the happiness to belong to her
as earnest for all public good
as she was generous and devoted
to all who surrounded her
her influence has been felt
in many of the greatest
improvements of the age
and will be in those still to come
were there even a few hearts and intellects
this earth would already become
the hoped for heaven
to the irreparable loss of those who survive her
at Avignon Nov 3 1858
Mill and his wife knew each other for less than thirty years and were controversially linked while Harriet was married to another man. They were socially outcast solely for being in love with each other. If this had happened in modern times, Harriet and her first husband would have divorced and she and Mill would have been free from judgment by (hopefully) most. The chance they took was immense, and so, it seems, was the reward they were given. We are very risk-averse as a culture now, preferring to be cautious so we can avoid the pain that comes from taking a risk and dealing with the fallout if it does not pan out.
I’m generalizing too much…
I’ve been hurt in the past. I prefer to be cautious instead of risking feeling deep and meaningful things for another person. I would rather avoid the pain that comes from taking a chance and failing. If this pattern remains, I will continue to be good, but never great.
John Stuart Mill died May 7, 1873 and fifteen years later he adorned his grave not with his great and many accomplishments, but with a dedication to the person who meant more to him than any other. Many of us probably don’t remember John Stuart Mill even though his works were extremely important in advancing nineteenth century thought. He is remembered for being one of the early feminists, advancing Utilitarian thought, and probably by a small town in Australia a couple hundred kilometers outside Melbourne named for him. Mill, however, decided that the one thing he wanted to be remembered for more than anything of his greatest accomplishments was his love for another. I know in order to feel that strongly for someone, I’ll eventually have to take that large of a risk again.