Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XV.: PROSPECT OF SAVING FROM THIS PLAN. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
LETTER XV.: PROSPECT OF SAVING FROM THIS PLAN. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 4.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
PROSPECT OF SAVING FROM THIS PLAN.
Many are the data with which a man ought to be furnished (and with not one of which am I furnished) before he pretended to speak upon any tolerable footing of assurance with regard to the advantage that might be expected in the view of pecuniary economy from the inspection plan. On the one hand, the average annual amount of the present establishments, whatever they are (for I confess I do not know,) for the disposal of convicts: The expected amount of the like average with regard to the measure which I have just learnt has been resolved upon, for sending colonies of them to New South Wales, including as well the maintenance of them till shipped, as the expense of the transportation, and the maintenance of them when they are got there:—On the other hand, the capital proposed to have been expended in the building and fitting up the experimental penitentiaryhouse:—The further capital proposed to have been expended in the furniture of it:—The sum proposed to have been allowed per man for the maintenance of the prisoners till the time when their labour might be expected to yield a produce. These points and a few others being ascertained, I should then be curious to know what degree of productiveness, if any, would be looked upon as giving to the measure of a penitentiary-house, either of any construction or of this extraordinary one, the pre-eminence upon the whole over any of the other modes of disposal now in practice or in contemplation. Many distinct points for the eye to rest upon in such a scale will readily occur:—1st, The produce might be barely sufficient to pay the expense of feeding;—2d, It might farther pay the expense of clothing;—3d, It might farther pay the expense of guarding and instructing, viz. the salaries or other emoluments of the numerous tribe of visitors, governors, jailors, task-masters, &c. in the one case, and of the contractor and his assistants in the other;—4th, It might farther pay the wear and tear of the working-stock laid in;—5th, It might farther pay the interest of the capital employed in the purchase of such stock;—6th, It might farther pay the interest of the capital laid out in the erecting and fitting up the establishment in all its parts, at the common rate of interest for money laid out in building;—7th, It might farther pay, at the ordinary rate, the interest of the money, if any, laid out in the purchase of the ground. Even at the first mentioned and lowest of these stages, I should be curious to compare the charge of such an institution with that of the least chargeable of those others that are as yet preferred to it. When it had arisen above the last, then, as you see, and not till then, it could be said to yield a profit, in the sense in which the same thing could be said of any manufacturing establishment of a private nature.
But long before that period, the objections of those whose sentiments are the least favourable to such an establishment would, I take for granted, have been perfectly removed. Yet what should make it stop anywhere short of the highest of those stages, or what should prevent it from rising even considerably above the highest of them, is more, I protest, than I can perceive. In what points a manufacturer setting up in such an establishment would be in a worse situation than an ordinary manufacturer, I really do not see; but I see many points in which he is in a better. His hands, indeed, are all raw, perhaps, at least with relation to the particular species of work which he employs them upon, if not with relation to every other. But so are all hands everywhere, at the first setting up of every manufacture. Look round, and you will find instances enough of manufactures where children, down to four years old, earn something, and where children a few years older earn a subsistence, and that a comfortable one. I must leave to you to mention names and places. You, who have been so much of an English traveller, cannot but have met with instances in plenty, if you have happened to note them down. Many are the instances you must have found in which the part taken by each workman is reduced to some one single operation of such perfect simplicity, that one might defy the awkwardest and most helpless idler that ever existed to avoid succeeding in it. Among the eighteen or twenty operations into which the process of pin-making has been divided, I question whether there is any one that is not reduced to such a state. In this point, then, he is upon at least as good a footing as other manufacturers: but in all other points he is upon a better. What hold can any other manufacturer have upon his workmen, equal to what my manufacturer would have upon his? What other master is there that can reduce his workmen, if idle, to a situation next to starving, without suffering them to go elsewhere? What other master is there, whose men can never get drunk unless he chooses they should do so? and who, so far from being able to raise their wages by combination, are obliged to take whatever pittance he thinks it most for his interest to allow? In all other manufactories, those members of a family who can and will work, must earn enough to maintain not only themselves but those who either cannot or will not work. Each master of a family must earn enough to maintain, or at least help to maintain a wife, and to maintain such as are yet helpless among his children. My manufacturer’s workmen, however cramped in other respects, have the good or ill fortune to be freed from this incumbrance—a freedom, the advantage of which will be no secret to their master, who, seeing he is to have the honour of their custom in his capacity of shopkeeper, has taken care to get the measure of their earnings to a hair’s-breadth. What other manufacturers are there who reap their profits at the risk of other people, and who have the purse of the nation to support them, in case of any blameless misfortune? And to crown the whole by the great advantage which is the peculiar fruit of this new principle, what other master or manufacturer is there, who to appearance constantly, and in reality as much as he thinks proper, has every look and motion of each workman under his eye? Without any of these advantages, we see manufacturers not only keeping their heads above water, but making their fortunes every day. A manufacturer in this situation may certainly fail, because so may he in any other. But the probability is, he would not fail: because, even without these great advantages, much fewer fail than thrive, or the wealth of the country could not have gone on increasing as it has done, from the reign of Brutus to the present. And if political establishments were to wait till probability were converted into certainty before trial, Parliament might as well go to bed at once, and sleep on the same pillow with sister convocation.
To speak in sober sadness, I do dearly love, as you well know, in human dealings no less than in divine, to think and to say, as far as conscience will allow me, that whatever is, is right;” as well concerning those things which are done, as concerning those which have been left undone. The gentlemen who gave themselves so much trouble about the penitentiary-house plan, did extremely well; and, for aught I know, the gentlemen who put it under the table at last, may have done still better. If you have a mind to share with me in this comfortable feeling, turn once more to that discarded favourite, and observe what load of expense, some part then necessary, some perhaps not altogether so, it was to have thrown upon the nation; and, at the same time, what will be still more comfortable to you, how great a proportion of that expense would be struck off, by the new and of course still greater favourite, which I have ventured to introduce to you.
In the first place, there was to have been a vast extent of ground; for it was to have had rope-walks and timber-yards, and it is well it was not to have had dock-yards. Then, for the sake of healthiness, that ground was to have a command of running water: then again, for the convenience of dignified inspectors, that ground and that water were to have been in the vicinity of the metropolis. It was to have been on the banks of the Thames—somewhere, I think, about Wandsworth and Battersea; and a site fit for I know not how many of the most luxurious villas that fancy could conceive or Christie describe, was to be buried under it. Seven-and-twenty thousand pounds, I think, was the price talked of, and, for aught I know, paid, for the bare ground, before so much as a spade was put in it.* As to my contractor, eighteen or twenty acres of the most unprofitable land your country or any other contains, any waste land, in short, which the crown has already in its possession, would answer every plea he could put in; and out of that he would crib gardens for his own accommodation, and farm-yards, and I know not what besides. As to running water, it is indeed to every purpose a very agreeable circumstance, and, under the ordinary jail regimen, a very desirable, possibly an essential one. But many of the Lords and Commons make shift without it, even at their villas, and almost all of them when not at their villas, without ascribing any want of health they may labour under to the want of running water. As to my contractor’s boarders, they must have water, indeed, because everybody must have water; but under the provision I have made for turning the operations of cleanliness into motions of course, I should apprehend their condition might still be tolerable, should they have no other running stock of that necessary element than what falls to the share of better men.
When the ground thus dearly wrung from the grasp of luxury came to be covered, think what another source of expense was to be opened, when, over and above nine hundred roomy chambers for so many persons to lie in, three other different classes of apartments were to be provided, to I know not what number nor extent, for them to work in, to pray in, and to suffer in!—four operations, the scenes of which are, upon our plan, consolidated into one.
I need not add much to what I have said in a former letter, about the tribe of subordinate establishments, each of them singly an object of no mean expense, which it seems to have been in contemplation to inclose within the fortress: I mean the mills, the forges, the engines, the timber-yards, and the rope-walks. The seal which stamps my contract dispels, as if it were a talisman, this great town in nubibus; and two or three plain round houses take its place. Either I am much mistaken, or a sum not much exceeding what was paid or destined for the bare ground of the proposed penitentiary-houses, would build and completely fit up those round houses, besides paying for the ground.
To this account of the dead stock is to be added, if I may say it without offence, that of the live stock of inspectors, of every rank and denomination: I mean the pyramid of under-keepers, and task-masters, and store-keepers, and governors, and committees of magistrates, which it builds up, all to be paid up and salaried, with allowances rising in proportion to the rise of dignity: the whole to be crowned with a grand triumvirate of superintendents, two of whom were to have been members of parliament, men of high birth and quality, whose toilsome dignity a minister would hardly have affronted by the offer of salaries much inferior to what are to be found annexed to sinecures.
I will not say much of the “other officers,” without number, which I see, by my View of the Hard-labour Bill, were to have been added, and of course must have been added, in such number as the “committees” of your * * * * to whom this business was then committed, or at any rate some other good judges should have judged “necessary.”
Officers and governors, eo nomine, my contractor would have none: and any superfluous clerk or over-looker, who might be found lurking in his establishment, he would have much less tenderness for, than your gardener has for the sow-thistles in your garden. The greatest part of his science comes to him in maxims from his grand-mother; and amongst the foremost of those maxims is that which stigmatizes as an unfrugal practice, the keeping of more cats than will catch mice.
If, under all these circumstances, the penitentiary-houses should have been somewhat of a bugbear, it will be the less to be wondered at, when one considers the magnitude of the scale upon which this complicated experiment was going to be made. I mentioned in round numbers nine hundred as the number of convicts which was going to be provided for; but 888 was the exact number mentioned in the bill. Three eights, “thus arranged, a terrible show!” But granting this to be the number likely to require provision of some kind or other, it surely does not follow that all that require it must necessarily be provided for in this manner, or in none. If the eight hundred and eighty eight appear so formidable, gentlemen may strike off the hundreds, and try whether the country will be ruined by an establishment inferior to that which an obscure ex-countryman of theirs is going to amuse himself with.
What I have all along been taking for granted is, that it is the mere dread of extravagance that has driven your thrifty minister from the penitentiary-house plan—not the love of transportation that has seduced him from it. The inferiority of the latter mode of punishment in point of exemplarity and equality—in short, in every point but that of expense, stands, I believe, undisputed. I collected the reasons against it, that were in every body’s mouth, and marked them down, with, I think, some additions (as you may or may not remember) in my view of the hard-labour bill, supplement included. I have never happened to hear any objections made to those reasons; nor have I heard of any charms, other than those of antiquity and comparative frugality, that transportation has to recommend it. Supposing, therefore, what I most certainly do not suppose, that my contractor could not keep his people at home at less expense than it would take to send them abroad, yet if he could keep them at no greater expense, I should presume that even this would be reckoned no small point gained, and that even this very moderate success would be sufficient to put an end to so undesirable a branch of navigation.
Nor does any preference that might be given to the transportation plan, supersede the necessity of this or some other substitute to it, in the many cases to which it cannot be conceived that plan should be extended. Transportation to this desert for seven years—a punishment which under such circumstances is so much like transportation for life—is not, I suppose, to be inflicted for every peccadillo. Vessels will not be sailing every week or fortnight upon this four or five or six months navigation: hardly much oftener, I should suppose, than once a twelvemonth. In the meantime, the convicts must be somewhere: and whether they are likely to be better qualified for colonization by lounging in an ordinary jail, or rotting on board a ballast bulk, or working in an inspection-house, may now, I think, be left for any one to judge.
[* ]I do not recollect from what source I took this idea of the sum. I now understand it to have been no more than five thousand pounds.