10 Child Prodigies


John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill, cartoon
In this 'Punch' satirical cartoon from 1867, John Stuart Mill asks an indignant John Bull [England] to make way for women to cast their vote. Mill was a strong supporter of women's suffrage. Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images

Born in London in 1806, John Stuart Mill was exposed to an intensive experiment in early childhood education that might have broken weaker minds, but instead laid the foundation for one of the foremost economic, philosophical and political thinkers of the Victorian Age.

Mill's father, James Mill, was a Scottish writer and an ardent follower of Jeremy Bentham, the infamous utilitarian philosopher and former child prodigy [source: Mastin]. With Bentham's help, James Mill embarked on an ambitious (some say abusive) course of education for his bright young boy, cramming his mind with Latin, Greek, physics, economics and ancient history. There were no holiday breaks, as the father feared these would lead to laziness of mind [source: Etinson].

John thrived, reading Plato in the original Greek and writing a history of Rome by age 6 [source: Gopnik]. By 12, he was schooled enough in the classics, math and science that he could have sat for the entrance examinations to Oxford. And by the ripe old age of 18, he was arguably the greatest economist in the world at the time, having read just about everything on the subject [source: Garcia].

At 20, however, John suffered a nervous breakdown, but eventually recovered after supplanting the purely mechanistic training of Bentham with a love of poetry, literature and music [source: Garcia]. John was a prolific writer, penning both landmark books — "Principles of Political Economy" and "On Liberty"are his best-known — and hundreds of magazine articles. His legacy is as a passionate believer of the equal rights of both sexes and all races, and a fierce defender of individual liberty.