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Catherine Helen Spence
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Meeting With J. S. Mill And George Eliot
I leave to the last of my experiences in the old world in 1865-6 my interviews with John
Stuart Mill and George Eliot. Stuart Mill's wife was the sister of Arthur and of Alfred
Hardy, of Adelaide, and the former had given to me a copy of the first edition of Mill's
"Political Economy," with the original dedication to Mrs. John Taylor, who afterwards
became Mill's wife, which did not appear in subsequent editions; but, as he had two gift
copies of the same edition, Mr. Hardy sent it on to me with his almost illegible
handwriting:--"To Miss Spence from the author, not, indeed, directly, but in the
confidence felt by the presenter that in so doing he is fulfilling the wish of the author--
viz., circulating his opinions, more especially in such quarters as the present, where they
will be accurately considered and tested." I had also seen the dedication to Harriet Mill's
beloved memory of the noble book on "Liberty." Of her own individual work there was
only one specimen extant--an article on the "Enfranchisement of women," included in
Mill's collected essays--very good, certainly, but not so overpoweringly excellent as I
expected. Of course, it was an early advocacy of the rights of women, or rather a revival
of Mary Wollstoneeraft's grand vindication of the rights of the sex; and this was a reform
which Mill himself took up more warmly than proportional representation, and advocated
for years before Mr. Hare's revelation. For myself, I considered electoral reform on the
Hare system of more value than the enfranchisement of women, and was not eager for the
doubling of the electors in number, especially as the new voters would probably be more
ignorant and more apathetic than the old. I was accounted a weak-kneed sister by those
who worked primarily for woman suffrage, although I was as much convinced as they
were that I was entitled to a vote, and hoped that I might be able to exercise it before I
was too feeble to hobble to the poll. I have unfortunately lost the letter Mr. Mill wrote to
me about my letters to The Register, and my "Plea for Pure Democracy," but it gave him
great pleasure to see that a new idea both of the theory and practice of politics had been
taken up and expanded by a woman, and one from that Australian colony, of which he
had watched and aided the beginnings, as is seen by the name of Mill terrace, North
Adelaide, to-day. Indeed, both Hare and Mill told me their first converts were women;
and I felt that the absolute disinterestedness of my "Plea," which was not for myself, but
only that the men who were supposed to represent me at the polling booth should be
equitably represented themselves, lent weight to my arguments. I have no axe to grind--
no political party to serve; so that it was not until the movement for the enfranchisement
of women grew too strong to be neglected that I took hold of it at all; and I do not claim
any credit for its success in South Australia and the Commonwealth, further than this--
that by my writings and my spoken addresses I showed that one woman had a steady
grasp on politics and on sociology. In 1865, when I was in England, Mr. Mill. was
permanently resident at Avignon, where his wife died, but he had to come to England to
canvass for a seat in Parliament for Westminster as an Independent member, believed at
that time to be an advanced Radical, but known to be a philosopher, and an economist of
the highest rank in English literature. I had only one opportunity of seeing him
personally, and I did not get so much out of him as I expected--he was so eager to know
how the colony and colonial people were developing. He asked me about property in land
and taxation, and the relations between employers and employes, and I was a little