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Sterba, R. (1947). The 'Mental Crisis' of John Stuart Mill: A. W. Levi. Psa. Rev., XXXII, 1945, pp. 86–101.. Psychoanal Q., 16:271-272.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: The 'Mental Crisis' of John Stuart Mill: A. W. Levi. Psa. Rev., XXXII, 1945, pp. 86–101.

(1947). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 16:271-272

The 'Mental Crisis' of John Stuart Mill: A. W. Levi. Psa. Rev., XXXII, 1945, pp. 86–101.

Richard Sterba

John Stuart Mill (1773–1836), the English philosopher and economist, experienced a severe depression when twenty years old. He had been brought up by a very stern father, who professed the greatest contempt for passionate emotions of all sorts and for everything which had been said or written in exaltation of them. Mill's emotions were starved, his artistic instincts and æsthetic cravings thwarted, his feelings and sentiments ignored or thrust aside through his father's education. His mother, too, did not give the children any affection, warmth or love. Mill's attitude towards his father was ambivalent. Admiration and dislike, respect and the absence of warm affection, were curiously intermingled. In the first version of his autobiography he says, 'I thus grew up in the absence of love and in the presence of fear', a statement which he eliminated in the final edition of this autobiography.

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Levi finds the depression of Mill caused by 'those repressed death wishes against his father, the vague and unarticulated guilt feeling which he had in consequence, and the latent, though still present dread that never now should he be free of his father's domination'. As a proof of this hypothesis Levi quotes Mill's own description of the incident which brought the first relief from the depression, the 'small ray of light' which broke in upon his gloom. It was the accidental reading of a passage in the Memoires of Marmontel, an insignificant French author. Marmontel describes therein his reaction to his father's death, expressing it in these words: 'Mother, brothers, sisters, we experience … the greatest of afflictions; let it not overcome us. Children, you lose a father, and you find one; I am he, I will be a father to you; I adopt all his duties; you are no longer orphans.' Upon reading this passage, Mill stated: 'A vivid conception of the scene and its feelings came over me, and I was moved to tears. From this moment my burthen grew lighter'. Levi states that this incident had a cathartic effect upon Mill: through identification with Marmontel he experienced his own father's death, and in this way discharged his hostile feelings towards the father which had caused his depression.

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Article Citation

Sterba, R. (1947). The 'Mental Crisis' of John Stuart Mill. Psychoanal. Q., 16:271-272

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