Chapter 4: The Problem of Inconsistent References to the Title of the 1819 Treatise. Was James Milne the Author of Shepherd's 1819 treatise?
To support her argument that the architect James Milne is the true author of the 1819 treatise instead of Lady Mary Shepherd, Boyle cites a couple of 19th century magazines that listed new publications1. These sources seem to indicate that, by 1821, James Milne was thought to be the author of a book with a similar title to the 1819 treatise. Boyle2 seems to me to present this as though it constitutes irrefutable evidence of her hypothesis that Shepherd is not the author of the 1819 treatise, partly because the 1821 books have a similar title and because a different author of these 1821 books have been listed.
However, on my view, this does not constitute solid enough evidence and thus is open to scholarly dispute.
The architect and engineer James Milne, as far as I can see, has never been referred to as a philosopher. Surely he would have been described as a philosopher in addition to being an architect and engineer if such magazines intended to declare him as the author of a philosophical treatise. In the 18th and 19th century, philosophy encompassed much of pure science, meaning many scientific discoveries were considered part of what was then called natural philosophy. Unlike the 20th century and beyond, where philosophy became more demarcated, science became an even more separate field and scientific philosophy narrowed down to the philosophical analysis of scientific thought and became considered a more self-contained branch of philosophy, namely, the Philosophy of Science. Whereas in the Long Early Modern period, thinkers wore many hats and didn't worry about narrowing themselves down to specialising in a specific field or research area. Having said that, of course there are exceptions today and I think there can be a value to some philosophers being quite broad in their research interests, providing they have a broad enough educational background. Point being, 19th century biographers and writers would be accustomed to labelling a thinker as belonging to a variety of disciplines, so would be happy to call James Milne both an architect and engineer as well as a philosopher or natural philosopher, without any modern day concerns about whether he is a specialist in either STEM or Philosophy. Thus, it is possible that they did not entirely mean to suggest that he was clearly the author of a philosophical treatise.
James Milne is known to have published two books, one in 1816, titled: 'An Inquiry Into the Theory and Principles of Bridges and Piers, with Theoretical, Practical, and Critical Observations', and another, titled: 'The Elements of Architecture' although only one volume of this was published in 1812. The style of these titles is much shorter and to the point, compared to the 1819 treatise in question, titled 'Enquiry Respecting the Relation of Cause and Effect: in which the Theories of Professors Brown, and Mr. Hume, are Examined; with a Statement of Such Observations as are Calculated to Shew the Inconsistency of these Theories; and from which a New Theory is Deduced, More Consonant to Facts and Experience. Also a New Theory of the Earth, Deduced from Geological Observations'. Whereas this 1819 title does resemble the other book titles authored by Shepherd. Indeed, the beginning of it "Enquiry Respecting the Relation of Cause and Effect'' is identical to Shepherd's subject matter of her 1824 treatise on cause and effect.
So it seems slightly arbitrary to dismiss this topic match up while constructing an entire argument3 around a lack of a very specific topic overlap between the 1819 treatise and Shepherd's other treatises or possible early manuscript, namely, an absence of geological theories and not expounding on geology, or power and force in her 1824 and 1827 treaties.
In addition, I argue that there are a further four main considerations.
One, there is always the possibility that they made a mistake or that they exploited the anonymous status of the 1819 treatise and used this vagueness to write a woman out of history. Boyle4 throws out the credibility of the 1882 Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain by Halkett and Laing. This dictionary states, on page 774 of Volume 1 (A-E)5, that Shepherd is the author of the 1819 treatise, and a few pages later in the dictionary6, on page 822, it correctly states that she is the author behind the anonymously published 1824 treatise. In addition, both entries have an asterisk, which means these entries have been particularly thoroughly checked for accuracy. The full meaning of the asterisk is explained at the beginning of the dictionary, on page 2:
"The asterisk denotes that a copy of the work has been critically examined by Mr Halkett or Mr Laing, and that it is strictly anonymous, — i.e. the author's real name does not appear on the title page, or anywhere throughout the work."7
Moreover, Halkett and Laing were extremely thorough in their research and what they entered into the dictionary was backed up by several public libraries and biographers. So presumably it was considered accurate, accepted knowledge by libraries and biographers in the 19th century that Shepherd was the author of the 1819 treatise. We know this by reading page 3 of their introduction when they wish to give:
"... special thanks to the heads of the public libraries and numerous biographers for the valuable assistance which they so readily granted to the compliers and since their death."8
Surely this constitutes strong possible evidence against Boyle's9 hypothesis that Shepherd is not the author? The dictionary 10 is published in the same century as Shepherd lived and published her work, and is published only around 63 years after the publication of the 1819 treatise, meaning that it was still recent enough to be in living memory. Yet Boyle's argument11 for dismissing this dictionary relies on just one, non-philosophical, non-historical secondary literature source (by Leah Orr, who wrote it while a Visiting Assistant Professor of English). Yet Orr12 is not even directly refuting the accuracy of this dictionary for Shepherd's era. I consider Orr's article13 insufficient evidence to support Boyle's bold claim13, especially since the focus of that article14 is on possible errors the dictionary made concerning significantly earlier periods of time, centuries before Shepherd was born. Shepherd was much more recent in history when this dictionary15 was published, making it far less prone to mistakes. And Orr's16 article has not established that there are inaccuracies in the book for Shepherd's era, so I maintain that Boyle's17 use of it is rather a stretch of the imagination and somewhat irrelevant evidence.
Two, the book titles that one assumes to be all referring to this book in question do not match up perfectly in 19th century book publication listings. In the 1800's, all manner of inconsistencies were overlooked when listing publications, from spellings, to punctuation and even the book title itself, as will be seen shortly in my third argument in this chapter.
Therefore, I think there is room for doubt whether some 19th century publication listings and announcements are reliable. Hence, I suggest that period publication listings and announcements are not the best source to play such a vital role in Boyle's argument18 against Shepherd's authorship, especially given that she needs to rely on the claim that it is definitely the identical book even though many details are different, not just the author's name but also the date and publisher, on the theory that it is a second publication of it.
It is also not out of the question that Shepherd could have suffered from copycat publications that imitated her book title and contents after she had already published her original book anonymously. After all, as I mention in chapter 1 and 3 in this volume, Shepherd, and other women in that period of time, suffered from harassment through publishing means, such as publishing their work without their knowledge and consent. Shepherd also received a published contra from a man who was not even a philosopher yet thought he could nevertheless attack her work. So it is not inconceivable that Shepherd may have suffered from the copycat tactic which is still prevalent today. This 1819 book could be especially prone to sexist, misogynistic harassment because the title states that it is demonstrating inconsistencies within other theories (expounded by men) and putting forward new and presumably better theories (as a woman). This is a common style of contra and original approach throughout Shepherd's works so there is nothing in the wording of the title to suggest it is not in keeping with her other works.
Three, it seems to me that Boyle's claim19 rests on which sources one consults about 19th century publication listings. I suggest that, if one consults other well respected sources, one finds that it is perhaps not as straightforward and clear cut as Boyle makes it seem. I suggest there may be strong evidence that runs contrary to Boyle's argument, if one consults a different listing of new publications, also released at the time in the 19th century, and compare it with her findings.
Here, I shall examine two 19th century publication listings that appeared very shortly after the publication of the disputed 1819 treatise and the 1821 treatise attributed to Milne that could be the same text to which Boyle refers.
One source is 'The Edinburgh Review or Critical Journal'20 which included the identical 1819 book title in question at the earliest opportunity the following year (Jan-May 1820 edition) under their new publications listings. Earlier in the same edition, they include a learned article on geology, so they are clearly familiar with the subject matter, geologists and the latest findings in this field, so are a very relevant source. They do not list Milne as the author, but omit any reference to an author. So clearly it did not consider Milne to be the author roughly a year after the 1819 publication and not long before the 1821 book was released. So was the true author discovered as such within a couple of years or did the 1821 publication merely confuse the issue?
The other source is 'The Investigator; or Quarterly Magazine' (July-October 1821 edition)21 which lists the 1821 Milne book Boyle is presumably referring to in her article. However, there is no mention of it being a second edition and, worse still, it does not have the identical book title so it could potentially be referring to a different book. It names James Milne as the author, but refers to him as simply an architect and lists the book as: 'An Inquiry respecting the Relation of Cause and Effect, in which the Theories of Dr. T. Brown and Mr. Hume, are examined. Also, a new Theory of the Earth.' This book title is far more truncated and less eloquently written than the 1819 treatise and Shepherd's usual style of writing as a Lady belonging to a higher, more educated class in the 19th century. Obvious discrepancies include a different, lower status title for Brown (Dr. as opposed to Professor) despite being published two years later; the omission of stating that it demonstrates inconsistencies; not claiming that it contains new theories. Hence, I do not see any citing of this 1821 book attributed to Milne as strong grounds to argue that it is the identical book with the same author as the 1819 treatise.
Furthermore, the contemporary publication 'Early Responses to Hume's Life and Reputation', edited and introduced by James Fieser whose republishing extends to as recently as 2021, acknowledges Shepherd as the author of the 1819 treatise printed by Ballantyne, treats it as her thoughts on Hume's causation and lists her 1819 treatise as being "revised and expanded" into her 1824 treatise 'An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect'22. Therefore, I see no reason not to keep an open mind and accept Fieser's23 explanation as highly plausible and assent to the idea that the 1819 was authored by Shepherd and formed the basis of a modified, reissued version of it, which became the 1824 treatise (which was also published anonymously).
I argue that it is still preferable to include the 1819 treatise in collections of Shepherd's works, with a proviso that her authorship of it is subject to academic debate and dispute, so that readers can access its content and make up their own mind, rather than essentially censor it.
Likewise, I also maintain that book descriptions of the 1819 treatise, including both library listings and those for sale, should either state that it was published anonymously but is highly likely to be Shepherd's work or they should describe it as anonymously written together with an accompanying list of possible authors. There is no conclusive, solid evidence that positively proves that someone else wrote the 1819 treatise and who they were, so I argue that there is no good reason for dismissing Shepherd's likely authorial rights to the text, which is no weaker a claim than anyone else's. The book listing evidence Boyle24 provides for James Milne, I suggest, is even patchier and unreliable than any evidence for Shepherd's authorship, especially since such sources for Milne can contain the wrong date, possibly the wrong publishing house name and the wrong title, yet a very common book title so not rare enough to count as significant proof in favour of Milne, unlike the anonymous author dictionary entry for Shepherd. A dictionary of Scottish Architects25 does not refer to James Milne being a philosopher, seems unaware he published anything in 1819 and that he ever published anonymously. They26 do not state that his 1821 book was a republication and merely call it Theory of the Earth, without the distinctive, accompanying words: new theory, making this title the same as the book by the so-called father of geology James Hutton, and many other men who wrote on this field of science. Yet Boyle27 does not raise or address this issue, nor ask the question: Why are the titles varied and not matching up entirely between Milne and Shepherd? Hence, I maintain that book sellers and libraries should not be describing the 1819 treatise as authored by James Milne because the issue is far too complex to state his authorship as a true fact.
Therefore, I refute the value of a library basing what is meant to be an objective, factual description of an antique library book on only one scholarly interpretation at the expense of all others and despite the ongoing academic debate. I object to the Edinburgh University Library Catalogue referencing James Milne as the "Author/Creator" despite the weak evidence for it and while knowing so little about him they cannot even cite his year of death ("c. 1878-185-?")28. Worse still, their General Note now reads as though it's certain, true knowledge and a closed matter that Shepherd is no longer considered the author of the 1819 treatise when it only represents one opinion on the matter:
"Attributed in manuscript on title page of Edinburgh copy to James Mill. Attributed in other sources to James Milne and formerly attributed to Lady Mary Shepherd."29
Boyle30 discusses the Edinburgh University Library catalogue briefly, but I do not see that this passage in her article does her argument any justice. I find it interesting that Boyle31 is so quick to dismiss JS Mill's father, James Mill as a possible author, despite him being a Scottish Philosopher. She dismisses similar type of evidence in favour of Mill's authorship while accepting vague evidence for Milne's authorship. When it comes to James Mill, she highlights that the 1819 date is merely diffidently ascribed32, even though many sources for Milne do not even log a publication for him at all in 1819. She33 also appears unbothered that the two main Milne authorship sources on which she depends spell the Enquiry differently, with an I instead of an E, even though this can vitally change the linguistic meaning of the title and the aim of the book. So I worry that there is an inconsistent prioritisation and use of sources as evidence to support her argument for Milne's authorship. This, for me, undermines the strength of her argument.
Nevertheless, I do agree with Boyle34 that James Mill, the father of J.S. Mill, is highly unlikely to be the author of the anonymous 1819 treatise. I believe that Shepherd knew James Mill and that he attended her salons, but it obviously does not follow that this means he wrote a treatise that may have been authored by her. And why would he suddenly publish this one book anonymously? Most men did not suffer the same discrimination and harassment from their publishers or readers so there was less reason to hide their identity. Both James Mill and J.S. Mill, his son, were viewed as atheists and while J.S. Mill was merely openly not religious, James Mill wrote against religion and the church and was much more atheistic, which was easier for him because he was not a politician. However, neither of them, as far as I am aware, felt the need to publish anonymously, even when their views were religiously, historically or politically highly controversial. James Mill was also too busy writing and publishing major works in history and economics around and between the 1819 and 1821 publications and metaphysics, epistemology and geology were not his research interests, nor did he publish anything on these fields.
Four, I also have publishing, biographical and historical concerns about how plausible it is that James Milne could have written the 1819 treatise. Not only does it seem unlikely an engineer would randomly write a book on metaphysics and Hume but, from the little we do know about his life, it seems clear that Milne was working hard on complex construction projects in 1819 and around this period of time, with no mention that he was authoring or publishing anything simultaneously. However, records do show that he was submitting what's termed feuing plans, for projects such as elevating houses and shops35. No such work experience or architectural knowledge can be seen in the topics, arguments or style of language in this 1819 treatise. Milne's writing style in all his other works are very stark and technical, in keeping with his profession, unlike this 1819 treatise whose style is in keeping with Lady Mary Shepherd's class, academic background and philosophical argumentation.
There were also many problems within the publishing houses in question around 1819-1821, namely Constable & Co and Ballantyne &Co. Publishing rights and copyright became fraught around this time, because the latter publishing house was a break-away venture from the former after misunderstandings and unnecessary friction between the two leaders of Constable and Co, Archibald Constable and the famous writer, Sir Walter Scott. But this venture was unsuccessful within a few years and Archibald Constable and Walter Scott were soon back working together again: Ballantyne & Co publishing merged to some extent with Constable & Co, with Walter Scott selling his copyright to Constable and already transferring book stocks to Constable in 1813, six years before the 1819 treatise. However, Ballantyne Printing Press did not cease until the banking crisis of 1825, so it's not immediately clear why it would not have been named as the publisher of a second edition in 1821.
The situation and transfer of powers to Constable angered the Scottish publisher and manager of Ballantyne &Co, John Ballantyne, who may have consequently generated a negative reputation of Constable. Hence, it is not inconceivable that this could have impacted on the anonymous author of the 1819 treatise, and whether the book was ever misleadingly listed, if it was somehow used or caught up with the feuds between Scott, Constable and Ballantyne. So it is not easy to ascertain how these publishing houses managed their stock, copyright and feuds, which could be making the task of tracking the 1819 treatise and its true author much harder. Especially since Ballantyne died in 1821, making it easier to either shift stock or make erroneous claims about Ballantyne publications, which is the very year the supposed Milne 1821 treatise is listed as being published, according to certain sources. Before Archibald Constable died in 1827, he was a powerful publisher and his publishing house continues today, under the name Constable and Robinson. He was in the habit of buying copyright from authors and even major works (such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica). In addition, he owned the Scots Magazine and issued the Edinburgh Review from the inception of the 19th century. Thus, he had the power to influence authorship rights and book listings in such 19th century magazine and journal sources, making it harder to assess the relevance of any listing inconsistencies and whether they are due to lax referencing standards of the era or whether there were any motives behind it.
1Boyle, D., 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd' Journal of Modern Philosophy, 2(1): 5 pp1-4 [in open access download, last downloaded 4th April 2022] (June) 2020.
5Halkett, Samuel; Laing, John; Wheatley, Henry Benjamin; Laing, Catherine. 'A Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain'. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: William Paterson. 1882-1888; no visible notice of copyright; stated date is 1882.
Digitalized by Internet Archive in 2007
Available at (link opens at page 774):
Available at (link opens at page 822):
Available at: (link opens at page 2-3):
9Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'
10Halkett, Samuel; Laing, John; Wheatley, Henry Benjamin; Laing, Catherine. 'A Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain'. Vol. 1.
11Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'
12Orr, Leah. 'The History, Uses, and Dangers of Halkett and Laing.' The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 107, no. 2, 2013, pp. 193–240. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.1086/680796 Accessed 20 Aug. 2022.
13Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'
14Orr, Leah. 'The History, Uses, and Dangers of Halkett and Laing'
15Halkett, Samuel; Laing, John; Wheatley, Henry Benjamin; Laing, Catherine. 'A Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain'. Vol. 1.
16Orr, Leah. 'The History, Uses, and Dangers of Halkett and Laing'
17Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'
20'Quarterly List of New Publications' in The Edinburgh Review or Critical Journal: For Jan 1820 - May 1820, Quarterly Publication, Vol 33. Iss. 65 Published by Wells and Lilly, January 1820 p253
Available at (link opens at page 253):
21The Investigator; or Quarterly Magazine, vol 3, July and October 1821 edited by The Rev. W. B. Collyer, The Rev. Thomas Raffles (of Liverpool), James Baldwin Brown. Published in London, printed by James Meyer for Thomas and George Underwood, 32 Fleet Street. 1821
22Fieser, James (ed), Series Bibliography in 'Early Responses to Hume's Life and Reputation: Part 2', Google Book 2021 (Creative Commons) p419, this digital version 1.0 document part of the 10-volume series 'Early Responses to Hume' first published by Thoemmes Press 1999-2003; revised edition 2005. © James Fieser 2003; 2005; 2021
Available at (link opens at p419):
24Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'
25DSA Architect Biography Report in Dictionary of Scottish Architects, © 2016, available at (last accessed August 22, 2022, 8:04 am):
27Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'
28Edinburgh University Library online catalogue, Centre for Research Collections, Main Library, Special Collections
30Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'
35DSA Architect Biography Report in Dictionary of Scottish Architects