"I have published a small volume on Liberty..."

MILL John Stuart


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Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Stuart Mill") in French to Doctor Eduard Loewenthal (1836-1917), referring to the publication and translation of several of Mill's works, including On Liberty.

3½ pages. 8vo. Avignon, 24 January 1868.

In this unpublished letter, written from his house in Avignon five years before his death, John Stuart Mill responds in French, due to his self-confessed “lack of practice with German cursive script”, to an enquiry from the German philosopher and social reformer Doctor Eduard Loewenthal (1836-1917) regarding the publication of Mill’s speeches and the potential translation of Mill’s works into German.


Loewenthal is best remembered for his contributions to the European pacifist movement, for which he received six nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize between 1901-1913. He was an early supporter of the “Idea of Europe” and formed a series of organisations that aimed to promote international pacifism through the establishment of a European parliament. One of Loewenthal’s early organisations, the League for a European Alliance, maintained close contacts with the more renowned and reputable League of Peace and Freedom, a mostly liberal peace organisation with a prominent list of members that included John Stuart Mill himself, as well as Victor Hugo, Mikhail Bakunin, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, amongst others.


However, in the context of this letter, it is Loewenthal’s lesser-known philosophical thought that is more immediately pertinent. Loewenthal was an outspoken opponent of Darwinism and developed a metaphysical cosmology that he presented as an alternative to evolutionary theory, what would ultimately become the creation story of a new religion he called Cogitantism. Loewenthal proposed an origin of species whereby life as it exists came into to being simultaneously, the result of a primordial lightning storm that animated the formless matter of the universe. This was both the beginning and the end of the process of creation, producing an entire inventory of species at once, with a fully formed hierarchy from plants and animals to humans. 


In 1865, Cogitantism was officially recognised as an organised religion. It belongs to the tradition of late-nineteenth-century non-theistic religious humanist and secular humanist organisations and owes much to the influence of the positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte and his "Religion of Humanity". Complete with its own statutes and ceremonies, Cogitantism elevated reason and rationality to the status of the spiritual, focusing on the intellectual cultivation of its followers. In 1867, Loewenthal founded a short-lived Cogitant Academy that aimed to provide a space for individuals to teach and study without the religious and political censorship that characterised the German academy at the time. He also established a journal devoted to Cogitantism and its related intellectual endeavours.


This Cogitant journal forms the central content of the letter presented here. Evidently, Loewenthal had written to Mill regarding the potential translation and publication of Mill's works in the journal, expressing particular interest in the subject of "uber die Freiheit der Wissenschaft" [on the freedom of science]. In his reply, Mill refers to two of his published speeches, "one on the political suffrage of women, the other on personal representation", and notes that "I have published a small volume on Liberty, of which I believe there is a German translation, and which would probably discourage your Society from publishing another in your publication". Although Mill explains that he has not written explicitly on the freedom of science, he suggests that Loewenthal consults his Address as Honorary Rector of the University of St Andrews, "which deals solely with education".


Although there is no evidence to suggest that Loewenthal's correspondence with Mill bore any results, this letter speaks to Mill's reputation as a truly international public intellectual during his lifetime, evidencing the broad influence of Mill's works and its equally diverse reception across Europe. 


A full transcript of the letter is available upon request.


See Rees-Dessauer (2012) 'In the Beginning There Was Lightning: Fulguro-Genesis and Eduard Loewenthal’s Religion of Religions.'

Stock Code: 10320

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