Showbiz: Portrait of a Victorian Prodigy That Shattered My Illusions; Books RICHARD REEVES John Stuart Mill (Atlantic Books, Pounds 30)

Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England), November 18, 2007 | Go to article overview

Showbiz: Portrait of a Victorian Prodigy That Shattered My Illusions; Books RICHARD REEVES John Stuart Mill (Atlantic Books, Pounds 30)


Byline: by Lorne Jackson

I ALWAYS believed myself to be a bright kid.

I wore specs, for a start, clearly the sign of an intelligent chap.

Meanwhile, my hair was a mangled mop, just like Einstein's.

Then there were all those kids who bullied me on a regular basis.

No doubt Isaac Newton and Betrand Russell put up with similar behaviour when they were in short trousers.

Yup, I was a genius, all right.

Clearly the rest of the world was just too brattish and brutish to appreciate my special gifts.

However, having read the autobiography of John Stuart Mill, I have now come to the painful conclusion that I wasn't the princely prodigy I believed myself to be.

How so? Well, when I was three years old I enjoyed tuning into Bagpuss on the box.

Mill was learning the Greek alphabet, along with a long list of Greek words with their English equivalents.

By the age of eight I was pouring over comic books; Mill was focused on Xenophon's Anabasis and Herodotus (I still don't know who half those geezers are.

Scrub that. I still don't know who any of those geezers are.) Oh, and he also found gainful employment as a schoolmaster to the younger children in his family.

A child prodigy, indeed.

But this precocious pup - who was set to become one of the country's most influential liberal philosophers - did not take to his books on a whim.

His father, James, also a respected man of ideas, had planned on raising a genius.

To that effect, he deliberately shielded his son from any association with children his own age, other than his siblings.

Mill was then pumped with facts, theories and figures.

Unsurprisingly, he suffered a nervous breakdown in his early twenties. …

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