Front Page Titles (by Subject) THREE LETTERS ON THE FRAGMENT ON GOVERNMEN - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 1 (Principles of Morals and Legislation, Fragment on Government, Civil Code, Penal Law)
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THREE LETTERS ON THE FRAGMENT ON GOVERNMEN - 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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THREE LETTERS ON THE FRAGMENT ON GOVERNMEN
(From the Morning Chronicle of the 6th, 10th, and 26th July, 1776.)
LETTER THE FIRST.
This Book being favourably spoke of by a gentleman whose good sense is generally admired, I was induced, at an expense of 3s. 6d. to purchase it. It did not appear to have been ushered into the world in the usual mode of advertising, for on inquiry after it at several booksellers, they knew nothing of its being published; probably the Author, whoever he is, had reasons for introducing it as privately as possible. The mode is peculiar, and so indeed appears the work itself.
Not to allow the Author to be a man of education, and perhaps great reading, would be offending common sense: his quotations amply prove that he possesses both; and his ingenious play upon words, in those passages chosen from Blackstone, where he delights in ringing the changes on their meaning with more glee than ever ringer tuned the sonorous bell, seems to tell us that he is not altogether deficient in logical learning and abstracted reasoning. To what end, however, has he wrote, read, transcribed, studied, reasoned, or pondered, was a consequential question with me, after I had perused all he had thrown together in the preface (which he calls a Critique on Blackstone at large) and afterwards in his introduction with five chapters—one, On the formation of government; 2d, On forms of government; 3d, On the British constitution; 4thly, On the right of the supreme power to make laws; and 5thly, On the duty of such power to make laws. But after this disquisition, I found nothing further gratifying than that this Fragment on Government, instead of being either the gleanings from other writings on subjects under that name, or an illustration of what they might doubtfully contain, was neither more nor less than a warm attack on a few pages from Blackstone’s Introduction to his Commentaries, which the Fragment Author confesses to be much offended at, and therefore he conceived the design of pointing out some of the capital blemishes in that work, or rather, as he terms it, of laying open and exposing the universal inaccuracy, which seemed to him to pervade the whole.
There is something promising in this language! It is bold, significant, and peremptory. It argues conscious and superlative wisdom in the author, and invites his reader to proceed; for who that has read Blackstone, and admired him even for those merits which the Fragment attributes to him, but would willingly have the sun of wisdom shine upon them, and be undeceived in such their admiration of a work “promising a general vein of obscure and crooked reasoning, from whence no sterling knowledge could be derived.” But when we seriously consider its import, what is it? what is the kind of man that writes and reasons? and what is the effect of both? I answer—either to create a disgust in weak minds for Blackstone’s Commentaries, without a material cause, or with men of experience and of better judgment to show the writer’s literary talents, metaphysically and logically exerted; for though, as he confesses that his logomachy has been beyond description laborious and irksome, yet it at last amounts to no more than “a tedious and intricate war of words,” put together in very harsh order, by a conceited writer, who seems envious of Blackstone’s fame, and desirous of trimming his laurel, by putting himself, if not above, at least in competition with him. Had he submitted his syllogisms with a small share of humility, and avoided that positive preceptive manner which runs through his whole book, we must have been pleased with it as a specimen of his abilities; but his sentiments on the Introduction to the Commentaries, in their present clothing, I fear will make but few converts to his way of thinking, and (if any) they will be among the meanest of his readers.
LETTER THE SECOND.
From the reception which I find my former letter has met with among my friends in the circle of the law, there is no necessity for my making the smallest apology to your readers for the intrusion of the present. I doubt not, if the author of the Fragment gives himself the trouble to read me under the above-mentioned head, but he will feel the force of what I advance, with a self-conviction that he has principally wrote in vain. The sale of his book (however extensive) will be no criterion whereby to determine this, because curiosity may lead his readers to contribute for his emolument, beyond the charge of paper and print, not advertising, for little expense on that account appears to have attended this his publication. If, however, he wrote for fame only, pecuniary profit was not his pursuit, and he may disregard the limited number his bookseller sells of this book for him, provided he succeeds in tickling his readers’ ears, so as to bring reproach and reprehension on the Commentaries; to do which he has spared no trouble. Labour appears in the produce of almost every line he has wrote, and as he has palpably bewildered himself, it follows with men of superior judgment that he has laboured in vain; that is to say, though he has ingeniously flourished his reasoning on what he calls the obscurity, or absurdity of Blackstone’s description of society and its consequences, yet, as I have already said, it amounts to nothing!
He tells us, that the passage in Blackstone’s Introduction, proposed by him for examination, occupies seven pages, from the 47th to the 53d inclusive. To defeat the validity of which, he has filled no less than 56 pages in his Fragment. In general they are sensible, and he has said a great deal to convince us, or rather with intent to convince, which is widely different, that Blackstone was a perfect blockhead in all he wrote in those self-same seven pages, and knew not what he was about when he talked of society, state of nature, and original contract, and that he has confused the definition of the one with the other, in contradiction sometimes to his own ideas of either.
With respect to society, the Fragment argues truly, and it gives us perhaps a good notion of what results from it. But does it say more than Blackstone, or not? Certainly yes—or the author must have been an extraordinary writer indeed, if in fifty-six pages he had not put together a little more than Blackstone has done in seven. But after all, has he said more in effect? Certainly not! for having discussed, according to his (confessed) ingenious (though peculiar) mode, the import of society, sometimes in opposition to Blackstone, sometimes nearly with him, what does he proceed to say? Why, that “It may be, he has misunderstood his meaning.” The context is then spun out for several pages, to prove to us that the darkness of the whole paragraph from Blackstone is rendered so, more from himself, than any real construction which a reader of it, less contemplative, nice, or exceptious, could possibly put upon it. The consequence therefore is, that the Fragment, in this particular, says a great deal, meaning much logical and ambi-dextrous sense to little purpose.
Soon after it has said, “It may be possible that its author has misunderstood Blackstone,” it makes him confess the paragraph spoken of from that gentleman, to be a riddle which he cannot solve. Why then say so much about it? why traduce from its merit, or attempt to perplex the truth of it? The answer is plain: to show the author’s integrity, and derogate, if possible, from the defects of the universally admired Commentaries.
The author of the Fragment having now tired himself in his journey after truth, on the word Society, for no other purpose than to tell us this riddle of his own is unsolveable; he then assures us from himself only, that “it were of use it should be seen to be so, that peace may be restored to the desponding student, who, prepossessed with the hopes of a rich harvest of instruction, makes a crime to himself of his inability to reap, what in truth Blackstone never sowed.”
Fine writing indeed! and if every student sits down to Blackstone in that way of thinking, which is next to impossible, he will read with prejudice, and poison will attend on every line he reads.—The purpose of these letters is to anticipate such reading, which I have no doubt will succeed.
LETTER THE THIRD.
Sir, Though it be your opinion, that “the Fragment says a great deal to little purpose,”† and though it be my opinion that with respect to yourself this is very true; yet I cannot bring myself to participate in the regret you seem to feel at having expended three shillings and sixpence in the purchase of this—to you unimproving—performance. What advantage has not the world derived from this petty expense? Two such letters as yours are surely impayable.
We have indeed your own word for the excellency of your first letter, as well as for the candour and discernment of “your friends in the circle of the law.” So favourably, you assure us, did they receive this first letter, that “not the smallest apology” was necessary for the second. I have not the honour, I fear, of being included in the circle of your friends, but if my word be of any weight, you may be assured, Sir, that the second is equal to the first: no apology then will be necessary for a third.
But leaving you to improve as little as you please by the perusal of the Fragment, and your friends in the circle of the law, or in any other circle, to improve as much as they can by the perusal of your letters; I will only beg leave to examine what are the objections which you make to the Fragment. The first relates to the manner of introducing the work to the knowledge of the public. It was done, it seems, too privately, nay even irregularly. It was not advertised so often as it should have been.
At the court of Apollo, as well as at other courts, there are, it seems, certain gentlemen ushers, certain masters of the ceremonies, or, to give them a denomination more expressive of their function, certain flappers, without whose friendly help it is a mark of impertinence in a writer to offer his work, and ill-breeding in a reader to receive it.
Whether such be the custom with gentlemen-ushers, or with flappers, at the court of Laputa, or any other court, I know not; having never descended so low, as to quit my garret for a court. But such (I know it to my cost) is the custom with the flappers in the literary world: these inserters of advertisements, they must be paid. And hence you insinuate, that the author was led by motives of avarice to spare this expense.
I love to clear things as I go. To this objection, then, I shall confine myself in this present letter; and it is, without doubt, an objection of the first magnitude. I appeal to the proprietors of the public papers, and to the receivers at the stamp-office. Were the author a staunch friend to the liberty of the press, he would certainly have thrown more money into the pockets of the former; as certainly, were he a staunch friend to Government, he would have thrown more money into the caisse of the latter. I have, however, my fears that the book will make its way, notwithstanding the shameful negligence of the author in this particular. Should this be the case, what is to be done?
Consult your friends in the circle of the law. It is possible there may be found among them some of that race, whom this Fragment-writer (as you elegantly call him) has treated so cavalierly in the 18th and 19th pages of his preface. Cannot they convert what you call “a peculiar,” into a clandestine mode of ushering the work into the world? Cannot they prove that the doing “it privately,” was in effect adding to the publicity—just as you have proved, that by saying a great deal more, he has in effect said no more than another had said before him? You have discovered that the author “had reasons for introducing his work privately:” meaning all the while, for making it as public as possible: your friends have but one step farther to make: they have only to assign these reasons—a malicious intention of defrauding his Majesty of his revenues, and the printers of the papers of their dues, &c. This is no bad ground for a special pleader to go to work upon.
You see, Sir, I defend no man when he is in the wrong. Amicus Socrates, Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas. The objection I have now considered is peculiarly your own. I do not believe any two men in England could have hit upon it; and here, you see, I give up my author to you entirely.
My candour on this occasion will, I hope, entitle me to the favour of your attention, when I come to consider two other objections which are not so peculiarly your own.
P. S. I should have done myself the honour of writing to you much sooner, had I not waited for what the printer seemed to promise, “A continuation of your very instructive letters.”*
[* ]See Morning Chronicles of July 6 and July 10, 1776.
[† ]See D.’s Second Letter. By “a great deal,” D. informs us that he “means much logical and ambi-dextrous sense.” These phrases are to explain the less intelligible one of “a great deal.” Who shall explain the explainer? Not I; rather will I follow his sagacious hint, and say nothing about them; lest—to borrow his own language—I should “traduce from the merits,” and “derogate from the defects of them.”
[* ]After the appearance of this letter, intimation (I understood from Lind) was conveyed from Blackstone or his friends to the author of this defence, that the matter (it was thought) had better be dropt. Lind being intimate with Lord Mansfield, and at that time not with any other man who was in the way to know, it was from that quarter, I imagine, that the information was derived.