Back in the old days, intellectuals used to smoke. Indeed, anyone who didn’t smoke couldn’t be a real intellectual, and a cigarette, held at an angle on the lower lip by dried saliva, added immense depth to anyone’s thought. It’s not surprising, then, that old philosophy books tend to smell like ashtrays. My copy of Father Copleston’s book on Nietzsche, for example, is particularly bad in this respect. Merely opening it is equivalent to smoking a pack of twenty; I could probably sue, if only I could remember the bookseller.

My copy of John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography also reeks of stale tobacco, evidence perhaps not so much that intellectuals smoked more than others of their time, but that they lingered longer over their books than those whose tastes ran to lighter literature. The Autobiography is certainly worth lingering over; in his edition of the correspondence of Mill and Harriet ...