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GENERAL PREFACE. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 1 (Principles of Morals and Legislation, Fragment on Government, Civil Code, Penal Law) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 1.
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The Publisher of the first complete Edition of Bentham’s Works thinks a brief prefatory explanation indispensable, in order that the reader may know what he has to look for. The literary executor of “the master,” Dr. Bowring, being abroad, and others well qualified declining to undertake the task, it has devolved on the writer of the following pages, who sets to work on a some what hasty summons.
The science of legislation, and of morals as bearing on legislation, was invented by Bentham: he laid the foundations, and hitherto no one has carried the superstructure higher than he did. In order to appreciate what Bentham has accomplished—to indicate to the reader what he may expect to find in Bentham’s writings,—it will be necessary to glance at—first, the state in which he found legislative science and public opinion; second, the development of his opinions, the objects and character of the works he produced, third, the effect his writings have already produced, and the farther effect they are in the act of producing.
I. Of the state in which Bentham found legislative science and public opinion.
These two topics are inseparable. Abstract principles, and that floating mass of incoherent opinions caught up and relinquished at random, which has hitherto formed the moral creed and rule of the masses, re-act upon each other. On the one hand, conclusions of the philosopher are adopted by many who are incapable or unwilling to appreciate their reasons: on the other, the opinions of men direct their actions, their actions constitute the events of society, and these events suggest the reflections out of which the philosopher elaborates his principles.
The events of European history had, about the time of Bentham’s birth, established several true and important opinions as the political creed of all reflecting men: although the common principle, upon which the whole of them ultimately rested, not having been discovered, their necessary connexion was not felt—their exact import and extent was not clearly seen—and their important consequences were almost entirely overlooked.
The early religious reformers had devisted into the error of endeavouring to substitute one class of dogmatic opinions, sanctioned by law, for another. The stubbornness of contending sectarians had rendered in many cases a rude rule-of-thumb toleration unavoidable, but wherever a sufficient majority were of one way of thinking, formal creeds, sanctioned by legislative authority, were the order of the day. Again, the encroachments of Charles I. had led men to inquire into the basis on which the kingly power rested. The Long Parliament, finding the claims advanced by the King incompatible with security of person and property for the subject, overturned the throne: and the people, finding an irresponsible body of legislators equally dangerous, overturned the Long Parliament. The first experiment having failed, kings were restored, and were not long of driving the people to seek some new bulwark against their attacks. To soothe the superstitious veneration entertained for traditional establishments, the fiction of an original compact between the subject and sovereign was devised, and under its shelter, James II. was driven from the throne, and William III. seated in his place. But for one circumstance, the Bill of Rights would have transformed the “compact” from a fiction into a reality. That circumstance was, that the Revolution of 1688 transferred the excess of power from the king, not to the people, but to the aristocracy. The king dwindled to a puppet, moved by the largest faction of that privileged caste. A wider scope was given to aristocratical ambition; the British nobility split into two hereditary parties, which assumed the name of Whigs and Tories; and the structure of the representative body was admirably calculated for enabling whichever of them obtained the ascendency, to work its will with a House of Commons, which, seemingly the representative of the people, was in reality the hired servant of the aristocracy. The American revolution put an end to this delusion. The sturdy fathers of the Transatlantic Republic insisted upon the reality of what the mother country had been contented to enjoy in name only—the practical application of the doctrine that “taxation without representation is tyranny.” Thus successively did these important truths come to be recognised:—That no religious opinions, honestly entertained, can be criminal; that power is vested in the chief magistrate by the people, and for their benefit alone, and may be resumed if abused; that the only safeguard for the persons and property of the citizens consists in their retaining the power of enacting laws and imposing taxes in the hands of representatives freely chosen by themselves. These principles, empirically discovered, were vaguely enough understood. To them came in time to be added some dim perception of the truths, that where men were left most free to form their own religious opinions, the intellect assumed a hardier and more energetic character—and that where industry was least trammeled, the comfort of individuals, and the general wealth of the nation, most abounded. As yet, however, no man had arisen of sufficient clearness and grasp of intellect to detect the one-pervading principle, of which all these theorems were only diversified manifestations.
Where the teachers were only half-learned, much wisdom could not be anticipated from the taught. The opinions of all men are composed partly of what they have come to know by their own exertions, partly of what they have received upon trust from the tradition of others. With the bulk of mankind, the latter ingredient preponderates to a great extent. Indolence makes them rest contented with what they are told. Indolence does more; it is annoyed by contradictory information startling it from its repose, and regards the occasion of the disturbance with ill-will. Thus interest is brought into play, and many an active spirit is forced to remain torpid as his neighbours, for fear of rendering them unfriendly, and incurring, at the very least, a suspension of their good offices. This is the secret of men’s attachment to “things as they are:” herein consists the strength of “existing establishments.” The mass of society in Great Britain, during the latter half of last century, could learn nothing precise or practical in politics from men whose views were, as a whole, vague and incoherent. Men’s natural vis inertiæ made them acquiesce in what was taught them, notwithstanding the ill-concealed incongruity of its parts. And the whole fabric of British institutions was of a nature to render them friendly to the substitution of words for things. Nothing seemed the result of pre-disposition—every thing seemed, as it were, to have grown up. The constitution was a congeries of make-shifts. If a man remarked that the House of Commons did not represent the people, he was soothed with the phrase “virtual representation.” If he complained of the voluminous, contradictory, and inaccessible nature of the law, he was silenced by grave panegyrics on the wisdom of the successive occupants of the Bench, who, by virtue of legal “fictions,” had, as circumstances emerged, built up an artificial system of law, far superior to what any legislature could have devised. Civil life was one great and continuous practical lesson in the art of saying one thing and meaning another. The allied Church and the Universities completed the doctrine of insincerity. The most awful mysteries of religion were prostituted to a ceremony, compliance with which entitled to office: at the national seats of learning, young men were made to commence what was understood to be their search after truth, by professing to believe, and promising always to believe, what they were incapable of understanding.
Such paltering with public opinion could not fail to re-act dangerously on public morals. Men unfurnished with sound principles of action were tossed backwards and forwards between empty formulas of words. In books they might find professions of elevated sentiment; in active life, they found corruption everywhere. Walpole and Doddington systematized corruption: Gerrard Hamilton taught the art of veiling ugly practices with fair words. Lawyers trained in the school of fiction—divines, perverted from the beginning, by being taught to profess belief before they began to inquire, and thoroughly corrupted by rich pluralities, the reward of sycophancy and political intrigue, lent their aid to cement the fabric. There wanted not counteracting instruments of good—the lofty sentiments of the poets,—the holy beauty of that book on which the church professed to stand,—the sense of evils flowing from a bad system,—the contagious example of America. But these accidental influences were, to the compact frame-work of the constitution, as a horde of guerillas to the organization of one of Napoleon’s armies. The better spirits felt, rather than saw, the evils of society. They attempted to enforce their own views by the sophistical forms of reasoning devised by their antagonists, and were necessarily defeated. When the friends of parliamentary reform sought to make good their point by arguing that their system of representation was the real established one, and the other only a usurpation, the reason revolted against such perversion of fact. The struggle between good principles and evil practices seemed only to have made bad worse: virtue began to assume the aspect of a profitless disturber of the peace. But, as the German proverb says, “When the tale of bricks is doubled, Moses is near.” It was indeed high time that our Moses should make his appearance.
II. Of the development of Bentham’s opinions, the objects and character of the works he produced.
We are inclined to think that it was a fortunate thing for Bentham, that, connected as he was with the aristocracy, his connexions did not belong to the section of it which has affected to patronize liberal principles. If they had, he might, notwithstanding his purely intellectual cast of character, have, like so many others, commenced with being encouraged to make a display of fine sentiments, have proceeded to be gradually absorbed into the vortex of low personal struggles for office, under the delusion that he was enacting the part of a patriot, and ended by being as hollow and heartless a prating Whig as any of his compeers. Luckily for him, he was of a right Tory stock, and nurtured in the loyal and orthodox University of Oxford. His earlier studies rather inclined him to persevere in the family faith. “The writings of the honest but prejudiced Earl of Clarendon,” he says in a note to his ‘Fragment on Government,’ “to whose integrity nothing was wanting, and to whose wisdom little but the fortune of living a little later, and the contagion of a monkish atmosphere: these and other concurrent causes had listed my infant affections on the side of despotism. The genius of the place I dwelt in, the authority of the State, the voice of the Church in her solemn offices: all these taught me to call Charles a martyr.” But his disposition did not fit him for an intriguing partisan, and it is the nature of Toryism to favour, in all like him, devotion to any pursuits likely to keep them from criticising public affairs. Speaking of a considerably later period of his life, he says—“Party, I belonged to none: I knew not what sort of a thing party was.” But however little calculated by his dispositions to be emmeshed in party contests, there was that in his nature which would not allow him to remain uninfluenced by the political questions which were then beginning to convulse the abysses of society as with a moral earthquake.
The predominant characteristics of Bentham’s mind were:—sincerity, or love of truth; benevolence, or an ever active desire to contribute to the happiness of others; investigation, or a reckless craving which could only be satisfied by thoroughly examining whatever attracted his attention in all its bearings. If we add, that what phrenologists would call the faculties of order or classification, and of constructiveness, were in him peculiarly active, we have the key at once to the origin of his opinions, and their progressive development. Circumstances seem to have determined the field he selected for the exertion of those faculties, but it was the almost unparalleled power and energy of his mind that enabled him to cultivate that field to so much purpose.
The circumstance that seems to have given the first impulse to the inquiries which engrossed his future life, was the dispute between Great Britain and her colonies, which, during his law-studentship, was the universal topic of conversation. His inquiring turn of mind made him anxious to form such an opinion of the merits of the controversy as would be satisfactory to himself. His original leanings, we have seen, were towards monarchy: the shallow arguments of the then advocates of liberal opinions for a while confirmed him in his error. “Conversing with lawyers,” he says, in the passage from which we have already quoted, “I found them full of the virtues of their Original Contract, as a recipe of sovereign efficacy for reconciling the accidental necessity of resistance with the general duty of submission. This drug of theirs they administered to me to calm my scruples; but my unpractised stomach revolted against their opiate. I bid them open to me that page of history in which the solemnization of this important contract was recorded. They shrunk from this challenge; nor could they, when thus pressed, do otherwise than our Author (Blackstone) has done,—confess the whole to be a fiction. This, methought, looked ill. It seemed to be the acknowledgment of a bad cause, the bringing a fiction to support it.” He elsewhere says, in reference to the same subject—“As to the American controversy, the badness of the only arguments employed against bad government, whether on the one side of the water or the other, had left me sticking to it.” But the equal want of sound argument on the servile side of the question prevented him from long adhering to it. In his uncertainty he met with Hume’s Essays, and found in them what he sought—an unassailable central principle, from which he might sally on his quests after truth, and to which he might retire to recruit his powers by repose whenever he was baffled. This was the principle of utility, or, as he subsequently expressed it with more precision, the doctrine that the only test of the goodness of moral precepts or legislative enactments, is their tendency to promote the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number. Armed with this discovery, he applied it on all occasions, thereby at once directing himself to the truth, and establishing, by a multiplicity of experiments, the trustworthiness of his test.
Bentham was guided to the recognition of this all-pervading principle at an early period of his career, by his strictly logical turn of mind, which saw through the empty veil of words substituted for things, and by his instinctive truthfulness of disposition. The profession, to which choice or the will of his guardians devoted him, the law, furnished ample materials for stimulating these propensities, and further developing his opinions. He has told us, that while attending in the Court of King’s Bench during the years of his studentship, the chief objects of his admiration, and in part of his emulation, were Lord Mansfield and Mr. Dunning. Even in his advanced years, he recurred to his feelings towards the former in glowing language:—“From the first morning on which I took my seat on one of the hired boards that slid from under the officers’ seats in the area of the King’s Bench, at the head of the gods of my idolatry had sitten the Lord Chief-Justice. Days and weeks together have I made my morning pilgrimage to the chief seat of the living idol, with a devotion no less ardent and longing, and somewhat less irrational, than if it had been a dead one.” Of Dunning he says—“If in my style, appropriate aptitude in any shape or degree is discernible, it is probably in no small degree to Dunning that it is due. Precision, correctness, clearness, guardedness in expression—closeness in argumentation—seemed to me his characteristic features: in these, combined with force, he seemed to me altogether without a rival.**** At the Bar, of all men I had ever heard, he had been the one whom I had heard with the greatest pleasure and attention,—the one, whose style in speaking, it seemed to me, that on all occasions it would be matter of the highest satisfaction to me to be able to imitate.” Mansfield was the first who lent to the decisions of English courts the liberal views of the man of the world, and the graceful systematic coherence of the man of literary tastes. Dunning was nervous and perspicuous. They contributed by their example to cultivate that love of systematic arrangement, and clear unequivocal expression, to which Bentham was by his nature predisposed. At the same time, more minute acquaintance with the law convinced him, that, as he has forcibly expresssd himself in the Introduction to the Rationale of Judicial Evidence—“The incomprehensibility of the law, a circumstance which, if the law were wise and rational, would be the greatest of all abuses, is the very remedy, which, in its present state, preserves society from utter dissolution; and that if rogues did but know all the pains that the law has taken for their benefit, honest men would have nothing left they could call their own.” His sincerity was offended to find fiction the great staple of law. His benevolence was hurt by seeing the necessary tendency of the cumbrous and unintelligible system, by delay and accumulation of expense to destroy where it was meant to defend. His faculty of invention was stimulated to devise substitutes for the mischievous system of law and judicial organization which he found existing. To this task he devoted his future life. This was thenceforth his business in the world, and all his investigations radiate from this as from a centre—are subordinate and auxiliary to this end. If we keep this fact steadily in view, many shallow objections to passages in his works are dissipated at once: the cavillers have mistaken practical applications of principle for abstract enunciations of principle.
We are now in condition, starting from this point, to trace the progressive development of Bentham’s opinions, as manifested in his writings. There is, however, one preliminary to be first disposed of: this seems to be the most appropriate place for dissipating the absurd notion that he was a mere theorist. There never was a mind less disposed to wander in vague speculation: there never was a more thoroughly and essentially practical mind. Two instances may be given in confirmation of our assertion, that he was what is conventionally termed “a man of business,” in addition to the fact of his admirable management of his own domestic affairs. About the date of his first publication, having paid a visit to Paris, he there contracted an intimacy with a painter, who was in search of an engraver for a portrait of Lord Mansfield. Bentham was employed to draw the articles of agreement between the two artists, and this document having accidentally come into the hands of Lord Mansfield, elicited from him expressions of unqualified approbation, which (the transaction being quite in the ordinary track of business) could only be occasioned by the style of execution. Again: the late Lord Lansdowne, a shrewd man of the world, gave a pretty unequivocal proof of the esteem in which he held Bentham’s worldly wisdom, when he recommended him to the dowager Lady Ashburton, for a second husband, on the plea that he would make an excellent guardian for her son, a minor. But indeed, the subjects of Bentham’s writings, and his mode of handling them, suffice to show the practical turn of his mind. In order to stimulate him to exertion, it was necessary that something to be done be at least the ultimate object: and in working to this end, not the slightest item that might throw an obstacle in the way of the practical application of his principles was ever overlooked; while every new mechanical invention that seemed to promise additional facility, was seized upon the moment it appeared.
Bentham’s first publication was his “Fragment upon Government,”—an examination of what is delivered on the subject of government in general, in the Introduction to Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries. It was published in 1776 (ten years after the author’s entry at Lincoln’s-inn,) and is interesting, as containing the germ of his whole system. He broadly avows his universal test—his fundamental principle of utility. He shows no mercy to the well-rounded periods of Blackstone, exposing with the most ruthless logic their ostentatious wrapping up of no meaning in sounding language. The first object of the treatise is to show, that correspondent to discovery and improvement in the natural world is reformation in the moral. With an energy unsurpassed in the works of his maturest genius, he vindicates adherence to stern simple truth on all occasions, laying down the principle as applicable to the defender of abuses, that “every false and sophistical reason that he contributes to circulate, he is himself chargeable with.” He makes wild work with the figures of speech employed to plaster up the chinks and crannies of “Matchless Constitution.” He tosses about and disperses “checks and balances,” “blending of aristocracy, democracy, and monarchy, into a whole, combining all their advantages, and free from their defects,” and the like. He paints the social structure of Britain as it existed, and in a great measure still exists, not in the dainty phrases of legal fiction. The work is critical: it shows the hollowness of what had been hitherto taught. It leads men to look about for a better teacher, and heralds his coming. It clears away the rubbish, that the true builder may commence operations. The whole tone of the work corroborates what we remarked above, regarding law reform being the starting-post of all Bentham’s expeditions of discovery. It is legal reform alone that he seems to contemplate: if not wedded to monarchy, his divorce from it is more to be inferred than seen. Further investigations were necessary to impress upon his mind the full importance of democratical institutions. His democratic principles were not an evanescent sentiment caught from the perusal of classical authors; they were the mature conviction of his mind. After ranging through all possible forms of government, he reposed on the democratic representative at last as the only one that suited his purpose. It is not, however, in the Fragment upon Government that we must look for this: there he contents himself with exposing the nonsense written by others about the four recognised types of government, and showing its practical inutility.
Bentham’s mind, we have repeatedly observed, was essentially constructive: it could not rest satisfied with negative results. Between 1776 and 1782, his views had become so matured, that he had chalked out for himself a series of publications, which, when complete, would exhaust all that he felt necessary for the accomplishment of his purposes. As the enumeration of these furnishes a chart or outline, within some department or other of which all the labours of his future life may find a place, we give it a place here.
“Part the 1st.—Principles of Legislation in matters of civil, more distinctively termed private distributive, or for shortness sake, distributive law.
“Part the 2d.—Principles of legislation in matters of penal law.
“Part the 3d.—Principles of legislation in matters of procedure: uniting in one view the criminal and civil branches, between which no line can be drawn but a very indistinct one, and that continually liable to variation.
“Part the 4th.—Principles of legislation in matters of reward.
“Part the 5th.—Principles of legislation in matters of public distributive, more concisely, as well as familiarly, termed constitutional law.
“Part the 6th.—Principles of legislation in matters of political tactics: or the art of maintaining order in the proceedings of public assemblies, so as to direct them to the end of their institution; viz. by a system of rules, which are to the constitutional branch, in some respects, what the law of procedure is to the civil and the penal.
“Part the 7th.—Principles of legislation in matters betwixt nation and nation, or, to use a new, though not inexpressive appellation, in matters of international law.
“Part the 8th.—Principles of legislation in matters of finance.
“Part the 9th.—Principles of legislation in matters of political economy.
“Part the 10th.—Plan of a body of law, complete in all its branches, considered in respect of its form; in other words, in respect of its method and terminology; including a view of the origination and connexion of the ideas expressed by the short list of terms, the exposition of which contains all that can be said with propriety to belong to the head of general jurisprudence. [Such,” he adds in a note, “as obligation, right, power, possession, title, exemption, immunity, franchise, privilege, nullity, validity, and the like.”]
A little reflection will suffice to show that these heads may be made to embrace every topic with which the legislator can have anything to do. In filling up a map of the territory, the outline of which is here sketched, he spent the whole of the rest of his life. As he himself foresaw, the order in which the “parts” are arranged, although the “best fitted for apprehension,” was not that in which such of them as were published during his life ultimately made their appearance,—the succession of his works having been influenced in a great measure by “collateral and temporary considerations.” In the mass of writers, the faculty of language overmasters every other: they are never quite aware of the coherence or incoherence of their dim notions, until they see them staring them in the face from the paper. They work up a book rapidly: and can always show in tangible manuscripts the fruits of their hours of literary labour. With Bentham it was otherwise: language was with him a very subordinate concern—the mere vehicle for conveying his ideas. With the class of writers we have adverted to, arrangement and distribution is a mere matter of external form: it exists only in the visible signs of books, chapters, and volumes. With Bentham, on the other hand, arrangement was essentially a part of his subject: with him the outward symbols of arrangement flowed necessarily from his mode of thought. The whole field of his exertions lay distinctly before him: when he seemed to expend himself upon the minutest details of one corner of it, this was not because he overlooked the rest, or attributed an undue prominence to the subject of the moment, but because a man can only do one thing at a time. He laboured incessantly—seeking to give the last finish to every part of his work: conscious that when the whole was finished, each part would stand in its due relation to the rest, and thus create harmony of proportions. When he found the stone of a right size and texture, he did not waste time in having it cut, if the building was not far enough advanced to admit of its being laid. He knew where it was, and that he could fit it for use when he required it. The great architect, with his plans of the building as distinct in his mind’s eye as if it were finished, collected his materials, and arranged them so that each should be at hand when wanted. The details were executed by his assistants, under his superintendence, he lending at times a finishing touch. To the uninstructed, the works published during his life may seem fragmentary—his collections may seem a chaos; but he who, taking the above enumeration of projected works for a guide, reads himself into Bentham’s way of thinking, will soon come to see, that in the works published during his life, and his MS. remains now about to appear for the first time, the task of his life has been sufficiently accomplished.
It is impossible, in the limits we have prescribed to ourselves, to recapitulate every work: we must be contented to indicate them by classes. The books which Bentham prepared for the press himself, or allowed to be prepared from his MSS. by others, are of three kinds. All of them were published under the impression that something in the temper of the public mind at the moment, or in the tendency of public events, was favourable to the design of attracting attention to that particular part of his system. This is their common feature: the varieties are:—first, Complete treatises on one or other of the heads indicated in his outline; second, Preliminary investigations of a metaphysical character, intended to elucidate and defend the doctrines of his practical or constructive works; third, Polemical tracts on subjects attracting public attention, extracted by friends from his MSS., or hastily dictated by himself.
To the first class belong the volume of his “Constitutional Code” published in 1830; his Principles of Civil and Penal Law; his “Panopticon;” a little tract entitled “Plan for a General Register;” “Political Tactics;” and some others. In these works, the incessant aim of the Author is to suggest such institutions and modes of procedure as shall conduce to utility, i. e. to insuring “the greatest possible happiness of the greatest number.” His main instrument for obtaining this end, is the establishment of responsibility, on the part of those to whom the power of acting for society is intrusted, to the whole of that society. This instrument is framed of:—The attribution of the elective power to every individual (Universal Suffrage;) the renewal of the tenure of delegated power, at brief and regularly recurring intervals (Annual Parliaments;) and the removal of every external controul of the voter’s individual opinion (secret voting, or vote by Ballot.) His subordinate means are various. The most important are his precautions for insuring the utmost possible publicity to legislative enactments, and the utmost possible precision and explicitness in their expression. Next in order comes his plan for securing cheap government, in insisting upon which, he draws a most important distinction between what is cheap and what is merely low-priced. For further particulars, his works themselves must be consulted: in them will be found the most extraordinary manifestations of intellectual clear-sightedness, and fertility of invention, combined with an unsurpassed power of lucid exposition.
The most important works of the second class are the “Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation;” the “Rationale of Judicial Evidence;” and the “Rationales of Reward and Punishment.” The manner in which the first-mentioned of these was first suggested to its Author’s mind, as stated in the preface, explains the nature of the whole. It had at first, he tells us, “no other destination than that of serving as an introduction to a plan of a penal code, in terminis, designed to follow in the same volume. The body of the work had received completion according to the then present extent of the Author’s views, when, in the investigation of some flaws he had discovered, he found himself unexpectedly entangled in an unsuspected corner of the metaphysical maze.” He was therefore obliged to dig into the subsoil of metaphysics, in order to lay his foundation secure; but upon this task, not the most congenial to a mind less speculative than constructive, he never spent more time than was absolutely unavoidable. He never ventured into the dim chaos of metaphysics, out of sight of the illuminated world of practice; and the moment his object was accomplished, he winged his glad way back. His constant subordination of speculative inquiry to the practical end he had in view in undertaking it, gave occasion at times to his presenting general truths in a shape which has led sciolists, who found it easier to cavil at forms than to investigate the reason why they were adopted, to misapprehend or misinterpret his doctrines. To avoid misapprehension of Bentham’s metaphysical tenets, it is necessary to keep in view, that they are never advanced except for the purpose of establishing or throwing light upon the doctrines of practical legislation. Viewed in this manner, no safer guides can be found to moral speculation than his “Introduction,” and the “Rationales of Reward and Punishment;” as we will seek in vain elsewhere for a substitute to his “Rationale of Judicial Evidence,” as a treatise on the art of expiscating truth.
The third class embraces an almost countless and miscellaneous collection of treatises. The earliest of these is his “Defence of Usury.” In the preface to his “Fragment,” he had hinted at the utility of a natural classification of offences, in the character of a test for distinguishing spurious from genuine ones. He had experienced insuperable difficulty in the attempt to find a place in such a system for the imaginary offence of usury. About the time that he was thus perplexed, the usury laws became a subject of discussion, and, by publishing his treatise on them, he at once did good service in a controversy immediately at issue, and enabled himself at a later period to point to that tract as a specimen of the fruits of systematic research into the principles of legislation. At a period long subsequent, he allowed to be published in the same way a work of more varied interest,—the selection from his MSS. entitled “The Book of Fallacies.” This manual of political logic is at once an enduring proof of the valuable results of his sincere and systematic habit of thought, and a practical exercise to all who study it in honest and healthy thinking. In the same spirit of seeking occasion to demonstrate the value of his abstract researches, by applications of them to the practical questions of the day, he addressed in 1799 to the National Assembly, a “Draught of a Code for the organization of the Judicial Establishment in France;” and in 1831, his “Letter to his Fellow-citizens of France on Senates and Second Legislative Assemblies.” To the same intention we owe his “Petitions for Justice and Codification;” his “Radical Reform Bill,” his “Plan of Parliamentary Reform, in the form of a Catechism, with Reasons for each article;” his Defences of Economy against Burke and Rose; his “Boa-Constrictor, or Helluo Curiarum;” his “Chrestomathia—explanatory of a proposed school for the extension of the new system of instruction (Lancaster’s) to the higher branches of education;” his “Observations on Mr. Secretary Peel’s Speech;” his “Indications respecting Lord Eldon;” and many others. To this class also belong his various tabular works,—“Springs of Action,” “Delay and Complication Tables,” &c. These are valuable, as bringing under the eye at one glance the results of his inquiries, and impressing them upon the memory. None but the man who had so completely exhausted his subject, could have furnished materials for these: but who would à priori expect that such a mind would stoop to the drudgery of compiling them? In this, as much as in any act of Bentham’s life, we recognise the intensity of his benevolence. He thought no labour unworthy of him, which could produce practical benefit. His soul, which, as Wordsworth has beautifully said of another great reformer, “was like a star, and dwelt apart,” like him too, “the lowliest duties on itself did lay.” These formal works are eminently useful; but the others enumerated under the present head are also interesting and amusing. In these minor works, the reader unacquainted with Bentham cannot fail to recognise a buoyancy and vigour of intellect, a closeness of ratiocination, a play of humorous imagination, such as must lead him to wish to know more about the author. The student of Bentham’s systematic works will find his principles placed in new and startling lights, their practical utility corroborated by illustration; and will find what was at first a mere languid assent of the intellect, shaken into a healthy and pervading spring of action.
Here seems the appropriate place for offering a few remarks on Bentham’s style, regarding which the most absurd misrepresentations have been propagated. The staple of his composition is the purest and most nervous English. The occasional peculiarities which have been represented as pervading it are referable to two different sources. First, in his systematic writings he has found it necessary to use technical terms, or terms of art. In the language of ordinary conversation, or of writings the principal object of which is to amuse, there is unavoidably a considerable degree of vagueness. One man conceives, and consequently employs a word or phrase in a more restricted, another in a more extensive sense. The word or phrase passing into common use, is employed sometimes in the one and sometimes in the other. This is one of the most fertile sources of fallacious or false reasoning: an assertion is made, using the word or phrase in the restricted sense; an inference is drawn, using it in the more extensive. All writers on scientific subjects find it necessary in consequence (for a man may unconsciously play off this sleight of hand upon himself,) to use the words of conversational language with a precise and predetermined meaning, or in extreme cases to substitute others for them. The superior accuracy of Bentham’s mind may have made him do this more frequently than lesser reasoners: but he never introduces a term of art without careful and repeated explanations. The most unlearned reader will find a dictionary of all these unusual terms (and after all, they form a small part of his vocabulary) in Bentham’s own writings; and when he has mastered them, he will find that the exercise has been an invaluable practical lesson in accurate habits of thinking. The other source of some occasional peculiarities in Bentham’s style relates more to the phraseology, as the preceding referred more to the words. Many—and these not the least valuable—of his occasional publications, are, properly speaking, nothing more than notes or heads of discourse hastily jotted down or dictated. In these he was accustomed to give himself a greater latitude in abrupt and startling transitions, or in the introduction of unwonted terms of expression—in heightening the grotesque representations in which he sometimes delighted to indulge, by corresponding language.
There is a raciness about the rough smack of these off-hand sketches, which some prefer to the most elaborate finish. Who, with any taste, could wish to see Bentham’s letter to his fellow-citizens of France on senates, &c. assume a smoother or more conventional form than that which it at present bears? We repeat, however, that both classes of peculiarities are of comparatively rare occurrence in Bentham’s writings. His works are not flimsy novels, but substantial hard-headed pieces of reasoning—some of them of the lengthiest. In order to understand them, men must pay attention to what they read: and this is all. There is nothing in them that places them beyond the apprehension of average understanding and average industry. After all, the information acquired by reading is not the most beneficial result of the employment: it is the strengthening of the intellectual powers by the exercise.
III. Of the effect which Bentham’s writings have already produced, and the farther effect they are in the act of producing.
In tracing the history of the reception which Bentham’s works have met with, we may pass over with a brief allusion, the cavils of what a German would call the belle-lettristen. Of this class, the Edinburgh Reviewers may be considered as the most favourable specimen. These cavils proceeded from men who had begun to write before they began to think—who brought to their task vivacity, sentiment, wit, taste (of a certain quality)—everything, in short, but clear and comprehensive views, and competent knowledge. They would not take the trouble to understand Bentham, and consequently could not appreciate him. Their articles were amusing at the time; but, like all old jokes, have already become insipid. Their praise could not have hastened the day of Bentham’s acceptation; their blame has not been able to retard it. They are already of the things that have been and are forgotten: to estimate their character, or scrutinize their motives, would be mere waste of time.
It is interesting to trace the coldness with which original views (and Bentham’s in their totality were eminently such) are at first received, and the channels by which they insensibly find their way into general acceptation.
The power and superiority of the new writer was acknowledged at once upon the appearance of his then anonymous “Fragment on Government.” Lord Mansfield perused it with eagerness, warmly praising all those passages in which the verbose superficiality of Blackstone was crushed and dissipated. The Fragment became a topic of discussion at Dr. Johnson’s club, and the Dictator himself attributed it to Dunning, then at the height of his reputation. Other attributions of paternity, equally flattering to the young author, were made by others. The Edinburgh Review condescended long after to praise the eloquence and logic of the “Defence of Usury.” But with praise of the Author’s talents there was an end. The subject-many knew not what to think of the new doctrines; and the ruling few knew too well what to think of them. The Fragment and the Defence of Usury were short, and in some measure rhetorical: they were read. But the larger systematic treatises were “caviare to the multitude.” The Solicitor-General Wedderburne shook his head at the mention of the principle of utility, and said it was “a dangerous one.” It was indeed, for him and his tribe.
Amid this general coldness, Bentham persevered: he knew what he had undertaken to perform, and the work itself was to him a source of happiness. Nor was he at any time entirely devoid of some who acknowledged the justice of his views. John Lind adopted a short paper, in which Bentham had stated his views of the colonial question, as the nucleus of his “Remarks on the Acts of the Thirteenth Parliament;” and wrote in defence of the “Fragment” when it was assailed in the Morning Chronicle. Through Lind, who was agent for King Stanislaus of Poland, in London, Bentham’s connexion with the Polish patriots seems to have commenced. To this we are indebted for his correspondence with Prince Adam Czartoriski in 1815, relative to the code expected at the hands of the Emperor Alexander; as also for the orders given by Alexander himself to consult Bentham, relative to a Russian code then in the course of preparation.
Not long after the conversion of John Lind, Bentham obtained in Romilly a convert of higher qualities, both intellectual and moral. Romilly regarded Bentham “with the almost filial reverence of a pupil for his tutor:” he followed out his principles to a practical application, in his labours for the reform of the criminal law, and in his collection of the forms of proceeding in the House of Commons.
Dumont was introduced to Bentham by Romilly. Even in the first fever heat of the revolution, Dumont endeavoured to familiarize the French legislators with the principles of Bentham, with which at that time he was acquainted chiefly through the medium of Romilly’s mind. Several times he interested Mirabeau in some of them, but that was too restless a period for preaching order. It seems to have been Dumont who induced Bentham to offer his plan of a penal code to the National Assembly. But in 1802, Dumont adopted a more efficient method of disseminating the principles of his teacher. He published in that year a French redaction of the Principles of Legislation, which he followed up from time to time, by the publication of such compilations from the MSS. of Bentham, as amounted in time to a pretty complete body of our author’s systematic writings,—the only one that, previous to the present publication, has been issued from the press. It is almost exclusively through this work that Europe has obtained a knowledge of the principles of Bentham. Even the English public have hitherto possessed some of his most important treatises in the form of translations from the French of Dumont. In 1818, this model of redacteurs engaged the legislative committee of his parent state of Geneva in a correspondence with Bentham on the subject of a penal code. So early as 1805, he superintended the publication of a translation of such works of Bentham as he had at that time published into Russian.
By means of the publications of Dumont, and also of the personal exertions of many others of Bentham’s disciples, his principles were made known to the most illustrious jurists and legislators of Europe and America. A few facts will suffice to show how deeply his principles have struck root. In the Code Napoleon, we can trace somewhat of his arrangement, in the division into general and special codes. In the Constitutions of Spain and Portugal, and of most of the Spanish States of South America, we find still more unequivocal traces of them. Applications for advice and assistance were made to him in the formation of constitutional and judicial codes, from the leading patriots of Spain, Portugal, Greece, and, as we have seen, from the authorities of Poland and Russia. The Liberals of Italy have repeatedly expressed their admiration of his works.
“A prophet hath no honour in his own land.” So it seemed for a time likely to prove with Bentham. But better days were at hand. Sir Francis Burdett, in 1818, when at the zenith of his patriotism, applied to Bentham for assistance in framing a series of resolutions, embracing the principles of radical reform, to be submitted to the House of Commons. This was the first time that the principles of Bentham were avowedly and in any detail promulgated in that House. Little was gained in the way of votes: but the principles themselves were from that time inquired after by many in whose eyes the circumstance of their having been mentioned in parliament was necessary to render them worthy of notice. On several other occasions, both in parliament and out of it, Sir Francis was honoured by being made the speaking-trumpet through which Bentham’s voice found its way to the public. Previous to the commencement of Sir Francis’s acquaintance with Bentham, Lord (then Mr.) Brougham had been a frequent visiter. That energetic, indefatigable, and mercurial genius—incapable of working without éclat, and too often satisfied to rest contented with éclat—was incapable by nature of adopting Bentham’s views as a whole. But he was useful by frequently taking up an isolated point which suited his temporary purpose, and impressing it on the public, with his intense and glowing energy of language, and variety of felicitous illustration. Many germs of Benthamism had in like manner been quickly carried off by less prominent characters, and deposited unnoticed in the public mind, there to strike root. He co-operated with the enemies of slavery in every land, with the humanizers of the penal code, with the advocates of universal education. In his intellectual armoury were stored up implements fitted for the purposes of them all, and every man was welcome to take and use. Any person who reflects will be astonished, not only at the immense number of Bentham’s opinions which have insensibly obtained hold of the public mind, although, wanting the great principle which binds them together, they continue fragmentary and unproductive—but also at the certainty with which we can in so many cases trace them, though by a circuitous route, to him as their author. This mass of latent Benthamism, floating in the social atmosphere, has been increased and rendered positive by the exertions of the Westminster Review, a work set on foot by the immediate exertions of the philosopher himself, and little else than a medium for extending and popularizing his tenets. It is wonderful how, by means of these combined influences, so many people now-a-days write and talk Benthamism without seeming to be aware of it.
More efficient agents in the realization of his principles, are a number of young men, just growing up into active employment, who have been trained in his school. The ostensible honours of legislation and government are worn by others, but the real working men in many public offices, and in almost all commissions of any consequence, have been trained in the school of Bentham. Not only is the public mind rapidly ripening to a conviction of the advantage of throwing off the old hull of our effete institutions: we possess a body of men trained to public business, who sympathise entirely with the growing public opinion. Poets are said to be prophets. Shelley at least was one, when, referring to the popular disturbances of his own day, and the gradual loosening of the hold of old forms of government upon society, he employed the bold figure of speech:—“The cloud of mind is discharging its collected lightnings, and the equilibrium of institutions and opinions is restoring, or about to be restored.” And how much of this has been demonstrably accomplished by the single-handed exertions of one individual, who, little more than half a century ago, published a book, the style of which was praised by a few, and the reasoning disregarded by all but one lawyer, who declared that it contained a dangerous principle!
Need more be said, to recommend the writings of Bentham to a candid and attentive perusal?
The reader will entertain a natural curiosity to know something of the personal habits and domestic life of this great and good man. The materials for his biography—both abundant and interesting—are in the hands of a faithful biographer, Dr. Bowring, whose affectionate veneration for, and intimate acquaintance with Bentham, as well as his eminent accomplishments and extensive literary correspondence, furnish a guarantee that the work will be well executed, and in a right spirit. The Doctor’s Life of Bentham will either be printed uniformly with the present edition, or an abridgment of it, executed by himself, will be prefixed to the first volume. No long time can now elapse before the public shall be put in a condition to form an accurate personal judgment of Bentham.