Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: INFANCY AND BOYHOOD.—1748-59. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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CHAPTER I.: INFANCY AND BOYHOOD.—1748-59. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 10.
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INFANCY AND BOYHOOD.—1748-59.
Birth.—Connexions and Ancestry: Jacobitism: Father and Mother.—Localities.—Reminiscences of Infancy: Browning Hill.—Musical Taste.—Physical Weakness.—Instruction in French.—Passion for Reading: Fiction: History: Telemachus.—Early Companions.—Observation of Nature.—Susceptibility of Temperament.—Sir Thomas Sewell and Bentham, senior.—Recollections of Early Incidents.—Humanity to Animals.—Visits to Barking.—Anecdotes.—Liability to Horrible Impressions.—Influence of Early Reading.—Family Reminiscences.—Early Tastes: Flowers.—Death of his Mother.
Jeremy Bentham was born in Red Lion Street, Houndsditch, on the 4th-15th February, 1747-8.*
His great-grandfather, Brian Bentham, was a prosperous pawnbroker in the city of London, and a relation of that Sir Jeremy Snow who was one of the bankers cheated by Charles II. when he closed the Exchequer. In those days the profession of a pawnbroker was far more elevated than now. Brian Bentham had connexion with the founder of the Aldgate Charity, Sir John Cass, and with many other distinguished people.† He died possessed of some thousands of pounds. His son, Jeremy Bentham’s grandfather, was a Jacobite lawyer; “neither better nor worse,” as his distinguished descendant used to say of him, “than the average rate of attorneys.” His name was Jeremiah, and he had a partner, one Mr Avis, whose brother shocked the prejudices of the times by marrying a rich Jewess. The Avises were people of no small importance in the city. In their family was a literary lady, an unmarried maiden—Miss Barbara Avis—who was even a Latin scholar. One of the most awful events of Jeremy Bentham’s life, was his introduction to the erudite Miss Barbara. He was then not seven years old, and his father compelled him to learn by rote one of Horace’s satires, that he might repeat it when the lady arrived to pay the family a visit. Such visits were talked of long before they came, and long after they were over: they were events in the family history. This learned lady seems to have been less terrible than the trembling timid boy anticipated: and he got through his “Qui fit Mecænas” with due honour.
Bentham’s father, whose name was also Jeremiah, was born on the 2d of December, 1712, in the parish of St Botolph’s, Aldgate.
His grandfather, who, though no Papist, was a great devotee of the Stuarts, had the habit of hoarding and hiding large quantities of money in various parts of the house. Considerable sums, concealed from the knowledge of his family, were found, at his death and at subsequent periods, in foreign and domestic gold coin; and when Jeremy was a boy of about ten years old, twenty or thirty guineas fell out of a place which he had been using as a receptacle for his toys. Strong aversion to the reigning family—doubts of the stability of the funds—apprehensions of danger—and the desire of having some immediate tangible resources—induced many Jacobites to do what Jeremiah Bentham did. It was said that Pope or his father came into possession of a hidden treasure of £20,000 in gold, which was kept in a closet, and drawn upon according to need—the interest being sacrificed. But, withal, the old lawyer managed to invest in land a large amount of money, the result of his savings, and added to the fortune his father had bequeathed.
Of late years, some light has been thrown upon the extent of Jacobitism which pervaded the higher classes, where it was deeply rooted and widely spread; and among the people of the metropolis, at least, it was far more prevalent a century ago than is generally supposed. Bentham has assured me, not only that multitudes of the citizens of London were friendly to the Stuarts, but that even in the corporation there were aldermen waiting to bring about the restoration of the exiled family, whenever a fit occasion could be found. In the year 1745, the addresses of the Pretender had a wide circulation; and many papers, showing the zeal and interest which his forefathers felt in the success of the Stuarts, fell into Bentham’s hands. Bentham’s grandfather had struggled hard for the clerkship of the Cordwainers’ Company. He attributed his failure to his political sincerity—to his devotion to the legitimate race.
“My grandfather on my father’s side,” writes Bentham, “being a Jacobite, my father, comme de raison, was bred up in the same principles. My father subsequently, without much cost in conveyancing, transferred his adherence from the Stuarts to the Gnelphs. A circumstance that gave no small facility to it was a matrimonial alliance that had been contracted by a relation of my mother’s with a valet de chambre of George the Second’s. Ribbons—in material silk, in colour purest white, in dimensions narrow—closed in those days the occasional solution of continuity in the shirt collar of his Most Sacred Majesty. Its term accomplished—nor in such a situation was much time expended in the accomplishment—one of these royal trappings passed from the hand of my fair cousin to the neck of the author of these pages. Ribbon, of itself sufficed—ribbon, without garter or even star—to turn the little head. Kings upon kings, ever since my fourth year was accomplished, I had been reading of, in an odd volume of Rapin’s History. Crowns upon crowns I had beholden upon their heads. Imagine, who can, how I strutted, thus adorned and glorified!”
Some of the Bentham family made their way under the auspices of the dominant authorities. The chief clerk of the Navy Board was the first cousin of Bentham’s father. He lived a life of jollity on Tower Hill—was a member of the Beef-Steak Club—a warm-hearted man, who was disposed to show all sorts of kindness to his young kinsman. Bentham thus spoke of him:—“I longed for a more intimate acquaintance with him; but a coldness existed between him and my father; and, I am bound to say, my father was not the injured party. Now and then I did obtain the privilege of visiting him. My visits were mostly confined to those nights of beatitude on which the annual fireworks were displayed on Tower Hill, and which I looked at, in a state of ecstasy, from his windows.”
Bentham often talked pleasantly and playfully of what he called his Patronymics. “A son of a first cousin of my father was Captain Cook’s purser when he went his first voyage to the Sandwich Islands. I wanted him to talk to me of his travels; but I never got one fact out of him except this, that on one occasion, at the Sandwich Islands, they were greatly disturbed by the terrible noise with which the king made love to one of his lieges. Another second cousin was a banker at Sheerness; and another was a gentleman farmer.”*
Of his female ancestors—of the relations on his mother’s side, and of his mother especially, Bentham always spoke with the most affectionate tenderness. His grandmother, on his father’s side, was named Tabor,† believed to be the same family as the Doctor Tabor who was made a Knight of the Bath in the time of Charles II. in consequence of his successful treatment of various royal and noble persons, by the use of the medicine then called Jesuits’ (but now Peruvian) bark. One member of his grandmother’s family, Mr Ray, a relation of the botanist, had educated Bentham’s father, and was an object to him of so much respect and affection, that he sought him, on the death of his first wife, (whom he fondly loved,) hoping to find from him solace in his affliction. This Mr Ray had several brothers: one, a traveller, though he died when Bentham was only six years old, was to him an object of extreme interest and admiration. “Well do I remember,” said Bentham, in his old age, “his good-natured, playful humour—his kindness during his visits to my grandmother—his letters which were sent by his father to mine. Deep was the affliction which I felt at his death; and, when the news came, there was nobody to keep up my spirits but my grandmother. When he was gone, his letters made him present. They interested me so much, that I should know his signature now, after three-fourths of a century, though it was a sad scrawl. I recollect his writing about the Polygars; so the scene of his adventures must have been Southern India, somewhat near Travancore. He used to sing me songs whose music even now vibrates in my ears. Among them was ‘My Highland Laddie:’
The maiden name of Bentham’s mother was Alicia Grove. Her father was the younger son of a younger son; and, though belonging to a family of some consequence, his condition was not higher than that of a shopkeeper at Andover. His early life was one of marked vicissitudes. His later years were progressively prosperous. On his death the business was disposed of, and the family withdrew to Browning Hill, near Reading; a spot, the recollection of which was to Bentham, throughout the whole of his existence, like a thought of paradise. One great-uncle had been a publisher—(a brother of Bentham’s grandmother)—his name was Woodward. He brought out Tindal’s “Christianity as Old as the Creation.” He used to talk to Bentham of books and booksellers—of “Honest Tom Payne,” whose shop was then contiguous to the Mewsgate, and was a sort of gathering-place for the lettered aristocracy of the times. Woodward retired from business—was crippled and rich. Such part of his stock as was unsold and unsaleable, formed a large portion of the library at Browning Hill, and served for young Bentham’s intellectual pabulum.
Three sisters—Bentham’s grandmother Grove, a widow Mulford, an unmarried great-aunt Deborah, and, occasionally, Bentham’s mother—habitually lived at Browning Hill. They were all kind to, as they were all fond of, the studious boy. “But my aunt Deborah was too prone to talk of the people of quality whom she knew; for she knew the Ridleys and Colbornes, and divers other great families. I cared nothing about such topics. I wished she would talk of Vortigern and the Anglo-Saxons; but I wished in vain.”
Bentham made, throughout his life, open war upon the maxim, De mortuis nil nisi bonum; and as he frequently spoke of his father in terms of disapprobation, he was in the habit of justifying the course he pursued, by something like the following reasoning:—“Why should a Latin or an English* proverb screen the character of our ancestors from investigation? The suppression of truth may be as baneful as the utterance of untruth. By one as well as by the other, and often equally by either, may wrong obtain a triumph, or right be visited by defeat. In the abstract and intrinsic nature of the dogma, there is mendacity: in its application inevitable mischief. Take the case of flattery bestowed upon dead tyrants. What does it serve but to encourage a continuance or a repetition of tyrannical acts? The other day a journalist, who wrote in terms of deserved reprobation on the character of a deceased monarch, was severely punished. Had he uttered any quantity of laudatory lying, reward would probably have been his lot;—a small portion of criminatory truth subjected him to heavy inflictions. And thus is veracity polluted and persecuted!” “While my father lived, from my birth to his death, I never gave him any ground to complain of me. Often and often have I heard from him spontaneous and heartfelt assurances of the contrary. My conduct may indeed have sometimes been a cause of regret and dissatisfaction to him; but on what ground? My ‘weakness and imprudence’ in keeping wrapt up in a napkin the talents which it had pleased God to confer on me—in rendering useless, as he averred, my powers of raising myself to the pinnacle of prosperity. The seals were mine, would I but muster up confidence and resolution enough to seize them. He was continually telling me that everything was to be done by ‘pushing;’ but all his arguments failed to prevail on me to assume the requisite energy. ‘Pushing,’ would he repeat—‘pushing’ was the one thing needful; but ‘pushing’ was not congenial to my character. . . . How often, down to the last hours of our intercourse, when we were sitting on contiguous chairs, has my father taken up my hand and kissed it!”
Bentham’s father had, like his illustrious son, a phraseology of his own. If a person neglected to visit him, he would call the absence “self-sequestration.” If a client left him, he shook his head and said—“Ah! he has taken himself into his own hands.” He had two ways of accounting for all conduct which was opposed to his standard of propriety. If the party were of such rank as that, without presumption, he might sit in judgment, he called the deed he disapproved of “infatuation,” but when he was afraid to attribute anything like blame, he always said it was a “mystery.” And these two words—“infatuation” and “mystery”—were the talismans with which he explained whatever was otherwise unexplainable, and dealt out a sort of oracular decision to his hearers.
He adopted for the family motto—Tam bene quam benignè; and, when Bentham was very young, he was called on to translate the phrase, the application of which his father considered a most lucky hit, for it was meant to convey a recondite meaning—Tam bene, read backwards, was to designate Bentham. The lad neither valued the wit nor preserved the motto, though he once observed to me—“My father’s reasons were as good as those which justify nine-tenths of the mottoes in use.”
Bentham’s father had, in truth, not the slightest comprehension of the delicacy and diffidence of his son’s nature. He whose maturer and later life flowed in one stream of continued happiness—the most gay and joyous of men—had the recollection of his boyhood associated with many thoughts of a painful and gloomy character. But his observation was acute, and his memory wonderfully accurate, even of the minutest events. “I was filled with marvel,” he said, “when I found the power I had over the ground in the church-yard near my father’s house in Aldgate. I used to walk into the church-yard, particularly when there were burials, and I remember, that as I looked I found that the surface of the ground changed—it was sometimes uniform, sometimes in waves,—which I could vary at will by altering the position of my eye.”
Red Lion Street, Houndsditch, in which Bentham was born, is a cul-de-sac close to the church, and his father’s house was the last on the left-hand side. It is still existing, pretty much in the same outward condition as it exhibited a hundred years ago; though, in these modern days, a substantial city attorney would rarely dream of dwelling in such a street, or such a neighbourhood; both having become occupied by people less and less opulent, as the more wealthy and higher stationed gradually withdrew. He had the name of Jeremy given to him, because Jeremiah, as his father said, was a family name; and there was an advantage in curtailing a syllable, and in showing a preference towards the names of the New Testament over those of the old. Accident brought his father and his mother together at a place of entertainment on or near Epping Forest, called Buckholt Acres. His father fell desperately in love, returned home, and vowed that, if any, the woman he had seen should be his wife. It was a terrible shock to the ambitious purposes of his family, which had already decided that a certain young lady, with a jointure of £10,000, should be united to him. Bentham used to relate, with great glee, how his grandmother made him her confidant, and poured out into his young bosom the expression of her vexation that his father had made so great a mistake. But if ever an amiable woman existed, the mother of Bentham was one.
Bentham’s father kept a journal of expenses, written in a strange jargon of bad French, Latin, and English. Under the date of 1744, September 30, is the following entry:—“Pro licentia nuptiale, 19s. 6d. Dat. clerico, 2s. 6d.=£1 : 2s.; and, in the year 1747-8, February 4, appears—“Fils né, apres nommé Jeremy; a quatre heures et demi, mon fils se nait.”
On the 15th June, I find—“J. B. jun.—Paid Mr J. Mulford, for a coral, 14s.”
Several letters are before me written by Mrs Bentham, which exhibit many of those gentle and beautiful traits of feminine character which I have often heard Bentham attribute to his mother. In one, dated Andover, August 6, 1749, addressed to her husband, she mentions that she had left the stage-coach during her journey, and, on coming back, she found her place, which was with the face towards the horses, occupied by a lady, and says—“I was chagrined by this unlucky accident, knowing I could not sit backwards without inconvenience; therefore, addressing myself to the lady, I hoped it would suit her to sit on the other side; but she assured me it would not. I was obliged to take the middle place: but this did not put me out of temper. She was afterwards extremely obliging, and offered me a bed at her brother’s house.” I do not know whether this incident was recollected by Bentham, but I remember to have heard him say that a stagecoach was a place where the virtues of prudence and benevolence have often occasion eminently to exhibit themselves, and where lessons of wisdom are sometimes admirably taught. In the same letter, she speaks of her anxiety about “her sweet boy,” (Bentham,) and of “an uneasy dream” she had had respecting him. In another letter, of the following week, she writes of the “longing expectation” with which she had waited for her husband’s letter, of “the joy of hearing from a beloved absent one;” and implores a frequent repetition of such “absent interviews.” She says, “I try to divest myself of all uneasy cares, and think of nothing at home but the joys I left behind—my sweet little boy, and his still dearer papa; though there are little anxious fears about death and fever, and too great a hurry and perhaps vexations in business, which may perhaps overpower the spirits, and I not present to bear my part, and soothe those cares; which, I flatter myself, would be in my power, were it only from my desire of doing it. Shall you see the dear little creature again? I dreamed he had been like to have been choked with a plum-stone. Surely nurse will not trust him with damsons. God preserve him from all evil accidents!” It would appear from this letter that Mr Bentham had some aspirations after a knighthood; for she says—“I am vastly angry with the title of ladyship. I have taken so great a disgust to it that I hope you will not get yourself knighted in haste, for I don’t believe I shall ever be reconciled to it. It has robbed me, I fear, of some sweet epithets, and exchanged what I value above all the world for an ‘humble servant.’ However, it shall not deprive me of a title I value above all others that could ever be conferred on me: even that of your faithful and affectionate wife,
At the time of Bentham’s birth, his father’s mother was an inmate of the family; living, however, principally at Barking, where they occupied a house, which was her jointure, and in which the whole family ordinarily passed, as a weekly holiday, a portion of Saturday and Monday, and the whole of Sunday. Bentham’s father said to him, when he was very young, that, by the blessing of heaven on his exertions in making a combination between his wife and his mother, he was enabled to keep a country-house and a carriage. The paternal grandmother was proud and scornful; the maternal one humble and gentle. The pride of grandmother Bentham was built on an independence of one hundred pounds a year; and the humility of grandmother Grove was outpoured into the bosom of young Jeremy; to whom, without any asperity, but with a good-humoured pleasantry, she sometimes expressed her wonderment that the rival for the boy’s affections should “hold her haughty head so high.” But from the country-house and the carriage, that rival could well look down on those who had neither; and, besides, in early life she had passed some time in the company of ladies of quality, with the daughters of the Earl of Fermanagh, in Ireland, whose dwelling was not far from that of her reverend father. That earl, or a preceding one, figures in the Memoirs of Count Grammont; and Bentham’s grandmother had partaken of the accomplishments, such as they were, which formed part of the education of high-born dames; and had learned to play successfully (so she told her grandson) on the bass viol. Whatever she had learned, however, was all forgotten before Bentham could derive any benefit from it, as he found she could not even teach him the musical notes. Plain in her youth, she had grown graceful and dignified in age; and Bentham, who was early sensible of her weaknesses, found her far from unpleasing to him. When the leaves fell, she migrated from Barking to London; and when the leaves appeared again, she appeared in the country with them.
I have heard Bentham mention, more than once, his remembrance of a circumstance that occurred before he was able to walk alone, and which made, he has often told me, the strongest impression on his memory. He had been remarking how much suffering the acuteness of his sensibilities had on many occasions caused him, and that his earliest recollection was the pain of sympathy. “It was at my father’s country-house at Barking,” he said: “the place and persons present are even now vividly impressed on my memory. My grandfather was then the constant occupant of the house; and my father and mother, with occasional company, came down every Saturday, and returned to town the following Monday. There had been some unusual feasting in the house, and I had been supplied by my nurse, no doubt, to satiety. Soon after, my grandfather came, and I ate something that he offered me. Thereupon came my mother, smiling—she came with her natural claims upon my affections—but it was out of my power to accept her intended kindness; and I burst into tears, seeing the chagrin and disappointment which it cost her. I was then not two years old.” And the fact of his age he established by a comparison of dates, persons, and places, sufficient to authenticate his statement.
Of the precocity of his powers, I have gathered up many remarkable examples. He knew his letters before he was able to speak. His father was accustomed to mention, and, as he said, “to brag,” of his early feats, and he reminded him a thousand times of his infantine literary powers. “He was always talking to me and to others of my powers,” said Bentham; but the stimulants applied did not act in the direction which parental pride was constantly pointing out.
Another instance of precocious mental activity I will give in Bentham’s words:—“What I am about to tell you, I have often heard from my grandfather: it occurred before I was breeched, and I was breeched at three years and a quarter old:—One day, after dinner, I was taken to walk with my father and mother, and some of their acquaintance. They were talking, as usual, about matters—I cannot say above my comprehension—but rather distant from, or on one side of my comprehension—matters of complete indifference to me—about Mr Thompson, Mr Jackson, Miss Smith, and old Mr Clark. Not being interested, I soon got wearied and annoyed, so that, unperceived, I escaped from the company, took to my heels, and scampered home. The house was tolerably far off, though in view; and I reached it a considerable time before the arrival of the pedestrians. When they came in they found me seated at table—a reading desk upon the table, and a huge folio on that reading desk—a lighted candle on each side, (for it had become dark,) and myself absorbed in my studies. The book was Rapin’s History of England. I have it still. The tale was often told in my presence, of the boy in petticoats, who had come in and rung the bell, and given orders to the footman to mount the desk upon the table, and place the folio upon the desk, and to provide candles without delay. All this was repeated again and again, and I received the impressions from others. But what I did not receive from others, was, the knowledge of the satisfaction with which I read the folio historian. The day remembered by others was not the first in which I had been delighted. There is nothing sentimental in Rapin, but the facts simply narrated were most interesting to me; those facts I read over and over again; and they excited my sympathies strongly, particularly those which occurred in the Saxon period—Redwald and Edwy; and Rosamond’s story above all.” In the year 1751, Bentham being then in his fourth year, there is in his father’s book of accounts, an entry for “Ward’s Grammar, 1s. 6d.; Fani Colloquendi Formulæ, 6d.; and Nomenclator Classicus Trilinguis, 8d., being 2s. 8d. for Jeremy, junior,” showing at what an early age his classical studies began; and in the year 1753, a nicely written scrap of Latin is preserved among his father’s memoranda, with this notice:—“Mem. The line pasted hereon was written by my son, Jeremy Bentham, the 4th of December, 1753, at the age of five years nine months and nineteen days;” and a few days after is the following entry:—“Paid Mr Robert Hartley for double allepine for Jerry’s coat and breeches, to his pink waistcoat, £0 12 3.”
Long before Bentham was five years old, his father had resumed his own studies in Latin and Greek, in order to officiate as instructor to his boy. I find different fragments written by young Jeremy at the age of four; and I remember he mentioned to me that he learned the Latin Grammar and the Greek alphabet on his father’s knee. Mr Bentham confessed that, in teaching his son, he had taught himself more than he had been ever taught before. Lily’s Grammar and the Greek Testament were the two principal instruments of instruction.
Bentham’s recollection of the scenes of his boyhood was most accurate; and never did he appear more delighted than when speaking of the two spots, Browning Hill and Barking, the country abodes, in which his two grandmothers dwelt. He had, through life, the keenest sense of the beauties of nature; and, whenever he could be induced to quit his studies, his enjoyment of fields and flowers was as acute and vivid as that of a happy child. To Browning Hill, especially, he was exceedingly attached. “It was my heaven,” he used to say; “Westminster School my hell; Aldgate was earth, and Barking was paradise to me.” When Browning Hill was sold, Bentham wrote the advertisement, in which he has often told me his affections led him to paint it in a romantic way. It had always to him the interest of a novel, in which the principal characters were women, and those women preëminently excellent ones. “How well do I recollect,” he said to me, not long before his death, “the happy community at Browning Hill! My uncle, to whom it belonged, visited it every two or three weeks, to inspect his little concerns, which were superintended by a bailiff named Maberly, who did all domestic services except waiting at table, and who directed matters so prudently and economically, that the three ladies—my grandmother, my great-aunt Mulford, and my little aunt Deborah—lived comfortably upon the estate; and the bailiff himself, without any imputation on his character, was able to occupy a good house, with a considerable shop belonging to it, and, by gradually extending his trade, he became a timber-merchant. He married another servant of the family, and amassed many thousand pounds. Prosperous and fortunate, though in a less degree, was his successor Thomas West, who also married a female servant of my grandmother’s; and I heard that they had made themselves a little fortune of £800 by economy and industry. No shadow of reproach was ever cast on the characters of those good people. The history of their management, in all its details, would have been, if recorded, a most instructive one. We had, at Browning Hill, a garden and an orchard, bountifully productive; a large extent of stabling and outhouses; venerable elms, scattered here and there, offered ornament and shade; the access to the estate was over a pleasant green, studded with cottages, in one of which lived a little farmer, of whom I recollect the boast, that he had made his children roll in gold. His successful industry had but accumulated petty gains. We were within hearing of the bells of Boghurst church, though it was not in the parish in which the house is situated. Dear to me beyond expression, when first it greeted my ears, was the sound of those three bells; one a little cracked, another much cracked, and the third so cracked as to be almost mute.
“At Browning Hill everybody and everything had a charm; even the old rusty sword in the granary, which we used to brandish against the rats, was an historical, a sacred sword; for one of my ancestors had used it for the defence of Oxford against the Parliamentary forces.”
Bentham thus gives the particulars of his earliest education:—“I do not exactly recollect how soon I began to write; but I began to scrawl when I began to read. My father had always kept a clerk; never more than one, for his practice was small; and among that clerk’s amusements or duties was my instruction. He taught me the rudiments of writing and music. His name was Thomas Mendham. Painful was it, both to hearer and preceptor, to study the application of the musical art to the violin; for the business of instruction had not then been simplified as it has been since. I was bewildered in a labyrinth, entangled in a maze, in which the unintelligible words, la, mi, re, fa, si, fa, ut, sol, re, ut, assailed my ears and eyes. I at last got through, and found myself in possession of a fiddle in miniature, and able to scrape Foote’s minuet. At about six years old, I had a regular music-master, whose name was Jones; he was to improve my practice on the fiddle, and my father gave him a guinea for eight lessons. I continued to receive lessons from him until I went to Westminster School. Then I lost sight of him altogether for many years. About fifty years since, I saw him again—a venerable man, above eighty, with the look of a gentleman of the old school; and he still managed, although almost blind, to get a subsistence by accompanying ladies on the harpsichord. I visited him in a house where he had handsome apartments, in Scotland Yard. It was a house built by Sir John and belonging to Lady Vanburgh. Jones had expressed a wish to see me. He was sliding fast into the grave. There was a servant above the ordinary condition of domestics, who was serving him with the greatest reverence and affection. He took a fiddle, and made me take a fiddle also; but his musical faculties were almost gone. This was in 1775. It was my last visit.”
Now and then the musical acquaintances of his father were invited to tea, and Bentham gathered much instruction from practice at these little family concerts. But he could not get books: he was “starved,” to use his own expressions, for want of books.
Bentham was, at this time of his life, so weakly, that he could not mount the stairs without bringing up one leg to the other at every step. In size he was almost a dwarf. He was the smallest boy of his age while at school.
At the age of six, Bentham was taken by his father to visit one of the king’s valets, who lived in Stable Yard. The conversation was about nothing, and wearied the poor boy; so he escaped, and hid himself in a closet, where he found a copy of Pope’s Homer, which he read with extreme satisfaction and avidity, while they were gossiping. Bentham remembered the dinner to the day of his death. He said “the minced veal was shockingly salt,” and he wondered that king’s valets did not fare more sumptuously than less distinguished persons. Bentham called himself a gourmand, which he never was; though no man enjoyed his meals more, and few men were so attentive to others when at table. About the same period of his life he went to the theatre, for the first time—“I thought myself in heaven,” he said, “I was in such an ecstasy. In the play were little cherubims coming down from the sky. Miracles were wrought in my sight. I could not form any idea of heaven beyond what my eyes there saw, and my ears heard.”
“I was about six or seven years old, when a Frenchman was introduced into the family, to teach me the language of his country. His name was La Combe—a common name; so having a desire to distinguish himself, and being somewhat of a literary man, he called himself La Combe d’Avignon. His errand to England then, was what is a frequent errand of his countrymen now, to learn English, and to teach French, and to make one labour afford payment for the other. The terms of payment became, however, a matter of after dispute. My father found him his board, for some time less than twelve and more than six months: but a sister of my mother’s being, during part of the time, an inmate of the house, La Combe considered that to give her the benefit of his instructions was no part of the bargain, though he had benefited by hers. With me there was no quarrel. I was exceedingly fond of him—drowned in tears of sorrow when he left, in tears of joy when he afterwards became an incidental visiter. One sad misunderstanding once took place between us. He had been engaged in writing an English Grammar for the use of Frenchmen. One day, he produced a sheet of it, in which he spoke of the eye of a person of the female sex. According to the usage of his own language, the word œil being masculine, he had rendered son œil—his eye. ‘This will not do, as you are speaking of a woman,’ said I; ‘I beg your pardon, sir, but son œil must be translated her eye.’ He was grievously offended. In vain I assured him it was the English idiom. He was a man and a scholar; I was not only a child, but an ignorant and impertinent child. His ill-humour increased, and I left him in a state of exasperation—exasperated against me, and against himself, on account of the ill success of those learned labours, of which I had been the object. This, however, was sometime after he had quitted my father’s house. His residence in it had been useful and pleasing to me. All the recollections of the toils of learning the grammar were obliterated or absorbed in the delight experienced among the stores of amusement which the language opened to me. My mother—it was a point of principle with her—refused me access to every book by which amusement in any shape might be administered: but the first book that was put into my hands by La Combe was a small collection of fairy tales. It opened with the history of Le Petit Poucet, and the Ogre Family: then there was Raquette à la Houpe, Cinderella, and the Belle du Bois Dormante; and the one of which Fenette was the heroine—Fenette and her naughty sisters, Nonchalante and the other; and the Chat botté. How did I joy over the administration of poetic justice in its most admirable shape, when Nonchalant, the wicked would-be seducer, having popped himself into the barrel full of razors and serpents which he had prepared for his intended victim, was himself rolled down the mountain in her place!”
Bentham narrated this to me, as if he were still the impassioned boy. “Don’t you remember this?” he said. “Don’t you know the story?—you ought to know it. A man,” added he, with the most amusing gravity—“a man must be extremely ignorant, not to know that such was the fact.” After a hearty laugh from me, which was responded to by his benevolent smile, he resumed—
“Here was great delight; but there awaited me delight much greater; and something more than delight. The fairy tales had not affected the moral part of my mind. Another book of far higher character was put into my hands. It was Telemachus. In my own imagination, and at the age of six or seven, I identified my own personality with that of the hero, who seemed to me a model of perfect virtue; and, in my walk of life, whatever it may come to be, why, said I to myself, every now and then, why should I not be a Telemachus? In my sleep I was present at the scenes between him on the one part, and Calypso and Eucharis on the other. To Eucharis I was more particularly attached. I awoke, and found by my side, not Eucharis, but my grandmother! What was the special source of attraction in that bewitching island had not, at that time, been unveiled to me: I had no notion of any distinction between the sexes. I had indeed been struck with the fondness and kindness of women. I saw the exhibition of strong affection; and strong affection, whatever might have been its cause, (which then, indeed, was beyond my ken,) was as rapidly imbibed by me as water by a sponge. That romance may be regarded as the foundation-stone of my whole character; the starting-post from whence my career of life commenced. The first dawning in my mind of the principles of utility, may, I think, be traced to it. In the course of one of his adventures, Telemachus finds himself in the Isle of Crete, at the time when the form of government being a monarchy, and the throne vacant, election was to be employed for filling it. A course of trial was to be gone through by the candidates, and various were the subjects of contention; one of them being to give answers to questions on constitutional law; and, in particular, the inquiry is mooted as to the best form of government, and the proper objects of government. Different candidates prescribe different answers to the same questions, which, accordingly, are entered on the protocol. One of them seemed to me at the time—though not altogether so precise as it might have been at this time of day—it seemed, I say, to border, at least, on the principles of utility; or, in other words, the greatest-happiness principle. This, however, was not sentimental enough, and the candidate came off at last no better than second best. The prize was adjudged, of course, to Telemachus, whose notions seemed to me a short but still too long a tissue of vague generalities, by which no clear impression was presented to my mind. It was too much of a piece with Lord Bacon’s notion of a good government, and his principles of legislation, ending with, “to generate virtue in subjects”—generare virtutem in subditis. I was disappointed, and the recollection of my disappointment still dwells in my mind. On every other occasion he was all perfection in my eyes: but on this occasion, I knew not well what to make of him. Great was my distress when Mentor takes Telemachus to the rock, and plunges him into the sea. I thought there was an end of my hero. Great was my joy when Telemachus gets on board the ship; but I could not forgive Mentor for the unprovoked outrage. If, in after life, I have felt a certain portion of contempt for classical antiquity, the impressions I received from reading Telemachus were not without their influence. The description of classical hell has been considered authoritative. Had I doubted, my doubts would have been dissipated by the ample and particular assurance which I received in after studies, and from the highest authorities: Sisyphus with his stone, Ixion on his wheel, the Danaides with their sieves. I was between eleven and twelve years old when Homer’s description of hell (a miserable succedaneum!) fell into my hands. My heart sank with disgust and disappointment. Virgil’s was not so bad as Homer’s, but still at an immense distance from Telemachus’. How little did it enter into my thoughts that this history, or this romance, was, for the most part, a well-grounded satire; and that, amongst other things, Idomenes was Louis XIV.” The impression made on Bentham’s mind, by reading Telemachus, was a permanent one. I have heard him, again and again, speak of the interest with which he followed the Cretan political controversy, and his vexation and disappointment at the poor display made by his favourite, who might, he thought, so much more honourably have won the palm. The goddess of Wisdom, wrapt up, as she was, in the greatcoat of an old man, was much lowered, in his estimation, for not distinguishing and recompensing the wisest of the competitors; but Bentham dared not openly to express his preference. He fancied he could have mended the best of the answers. A short time before his death, Bentham said to me—“I should like to contrast the impressions which Telemachus would make upon me now, with those it made nearly fourscore years ago. I should like to compare my recollections of the book with the book itself, to see whether they approached the truth. I still remember the flowery tirade, manufactured as a sort of pattern for the competitors for the prize; the vagueness of Telemachus’ speechification, and the sound but incomplete doctrine of one of the candidates.
“La Combe induced my father to give me the ‘Lettres Juives,’ which filled my mind with vain terrors. I could not understand the book, but I was frightened by the accounts of the vampires in it. He recommended some other works, of the propriety of reading which my father doubted. La Combe was, as I afterwards discovered, a freethinker. Voltaire’s ‘Life of Charles XII.,’ his ‘General History,’ and his ‘Candide,’ were, in process of time, read by me, on his recommendation. This ‘History’ was beyond me. It was filled with allusions to facts of which I knew nothing. It is an essence of history. Many years after, I learnt to value and admire it. It is one of the few books that give a just view of things. My father and family differed now and then with La Combe, on religious questions probably: but the good-will and harmony of our home were not disturbed by the debates. My mother and her sister, though pious themselves, had been inured to toleration by family sympathy; for, while the females of my mother’s race were believers, and devoutly believers, the males were, for the most part, unbelievers. That was the case with my great-uncle Woodward, my uncle Grove, and my cousin Mulford.”
Bentham’s father united with his mother in keeping out of his way, as far as he was able, all amusing books. He fancied that there was a concealed contagion in them, and therefore he established a prohibition upon them; and, knowing Bentham’s love, or rather passion for reading, he imagined that it would naturally lead him to get hold of whatever books might be most accessible. The list of these is rather curious, particularly as connected with the impressions they made on Bentham’s young mind. “There was first,” said he, “ ‘Burnett’s Theory of the Earth,’ in folio, by which I was informed of the prospect I had of being burned alive; ‘Cave’s Lives of the Apostles,’ in a thin quarto, with cuts, in which the said Apostles were represented playing, each of them, (as a child with a doll,) with that particular instrument of torture by which he was predestined to be consigned to martyrdom. Another quarto was an old edition of Stow’s [Chronicle,] in black letter. This Chronicle had stories in it which acted upon me with a fascination similar to that which certain animals are said to be subjected to by the serpent, to which they become, in consequence, a prey. Several pages there were, by every one of which I was filled with horror as soon as ever I ventured to risk a glance at them. Yet never could I venture into the little closet, in which almost the only sources of my amusement were contained, without opening the book at one, or two, or more, of the terrific pages, and receiving the accustomed shock. The book concluded with a description of a variety of monstrous births. I thought the world was coming to an end. My sensibility to all sources of sentiment was extreme, and to sources of terror more particularly so; and these volumes teemed with them. There was also a ‘History of England,’ in question and answer, by a Mr Lockman, with a quantity of cuts: but my father’s caution had not gone so far as to divest the book of its embellishments, though better it would have been for my peace of mind if it had; for there it was that I saw the blessed martyr, Charles, with his head on the accursed block—there it was I saw the holy bishops burning as fuel at Smithfield—there it was I saw the Danish Coldbrand, with a Saxon’s sword, in the act of finding its way into his body. Not long after, to this ‘History of England,’ was added a ‘History of Rome,’ in like form and demeanour, by the same author. Lockman was secretary to some associated company, into which my father had contrived to introduce himself; which incident was perhaps the cause of the instruction I was destined to derive from these two sources. Lockman was of the number of my father’s protegés. He may have given these books to my father. My father had some books: I knew it well; for they sometimes escaped from the receptacle in which he destined them to be buried; the being allowed access to which would have been indeed a pleasure and a privilege to me. Such was ‘Churchill’s Voyages,’ in several volumes folio. I saw them once or twice by accident, but never knew whence they came nor whither they went. In these I should have found instruction, and most useful instruction: but then the instruction would have had amusement to sweeten it; and that idea was not to be endured. My father gave me once ‘Phædrus’ Fables;’ but fables, inasmuch as they are stories in which inferior animals are represented as talking together like men and women, never had any charm for me. One of my tribulations at this time was the learning Church collects: they used to give me the cholic; but my father insisted on my getting them by heart. When living at Aldgate, a volume of Swift’s works was left about. There was the poisoning of Curl. I did not know what to make of it, whether it was true or false, serious or jocular. It excited my sympathy, however; a sort of provisional sympathy.
“ ‘Rapin’s History of England,’ which I often read, whatever benefit it might have been of in other respects, was of little advantage in a moral point of view. Rapin was a soldier by trade, and his history is a history of throat-cutting on the largest scale, for the sake of plunder; and such throat-cuttings and plunderings he places at the summit of virtue. Edward the Third’s claim to the throne of France was, in my view, an indisputable one. I followed his conquests in their progress with eager sympathy. My delight grew with the number of provinces given up to him against the will of their inhabitants, and with the number of Frenchmen left dead in the field of battle. Yet do I remember how great was my mortification when, after so many victories gained, he had, at the head of one hundred thousand men, advanced to the gates of Paris, which I thereupon expected to find given up to him without a struggle, and all France following its example; instead of that, the termination of his career—of this part of it, at any rate—was the same as that of a certain King of France of whom it is narrated, that he,
On Calais, too, I could not help thinking that he had bestowed more time than it was worth. Our conquerors, I observed, had, according to the account given of them by the historian, two main instruments by which their conquests were effected: One of these instruments was the sword,—a brilliant instrument, never beheld by me without delight, as it glittered in my eyes; the other instrument was negotiation,—a word which met my eyes too often, and never without annoyance. Having consigned the sword for a time to the scabbard, Edward betook himself to negotiation; and how it was that so much was to be got by negotiation, and so little, in comparison, by the sword, I could by no means explain to myself, nor find explained. At the sight of the word negotiation, my spirits began to droop; at the sight of the sword, when once more drawn from the sheath, they revived again. In a victorious king, merit was in the direct ratio of the number of armed men slaughtered by him, and in the inverse ratio of those employed in slaughtering them. With this impure alloy, during a great part of my boyhood, was mixed up the pure virtue which the moral part of my frame had imbibed from reading ‘Telemachus.’ Such were the contents of my library; a library that was no otherwise my own than by the door being left unlocked of the small room in which the books were deposited; a room on the first floor at the head of the principal staircase, situated over the principal door into the house. At this house, in which my father scarcely ever made a longer stay than from Saturday evening to Monday morning, he had no library of his own. My mother was too much occupied by her children, and other family concerns, to have a moment’s time for books.
“As to my grandmother, she had her own library. It was composed, besides the Bible, of two or three books of devotion, so much in use as nearly to have fallen in pieces. These books, not containing any of them the poison of amusement, there could be no objection to my studying them as much as I pleased. One of them was the book of sacred poetry, by Bishop Ken. It began—
the first lines of the first hymn; and to render them the more intelligible, the sun was represented in a vignette as beginning his daily course, and making himself a pattern for me. I feel even now the sort of melancholy which the sight of it used to infuse into me. Another book which was imported for my use, did not contribute to lessen my melancholy: it was ‘Dodsley’s Preceptor,’ with the Vision of Phedors, and the Hermit of Teneriffe, found in his cell; the production of the gloomy moralist, Samuel Johnson—of one of the last of whose clubs I became, in process of time, a member. Like Godwin, this man infused a tinge of melancholy, though of a different hue, into every book he touched. There was the poor ideal traveller, toiling up the hill, with Reason and Religion for his guides, and an unfathomable abyss at each side, ready, at the first faux pas, to receive his lacerated corpse; as it actually did those of the greatest part of the travelling population whom I saw toiling towards that summit which so few of them were destined to reach. Every now and then. after reading a page in this history, or another page in that system of cosmogony, which taught me to look out for that too probable day in which I should be burnt alive, it occurred to me that I had better not have been born: but, as the misfortune had actually happened to me, all I could do was, of a bad bargain, to make the best, and leave the rest to chance or Providence. Had I had children of my own age to associate with, these gloomy ideas would not have filled so large a portion as they did of my time. Except once or twice, no such solace was I destined to experience.
“I could, even now, if it were worth while, number up, to a certainty, all the visiters of an age approaching to my own, whom, down to the age of fourteen, I was ever allowed to receive at my father’s house. There was Thomas Skinner, one of three or four sons of a clergyman who was a member of my father’s clerical club: he was of Merchant Tailors’ school; he was two or three years older than I, and twice or thrice he came to Barking. Another was Thomas Lysen, of the same age, the son of a neighbouring bricklayer, with whom my father had occasional dealings; he came to play with me at minnit, or cricket, once or twice every summer. Toulon Flood once spent two or three days with me; and Edward Reeve, one day: these two were my schoolfellows at Westminster, and Flood, for a considerable time, my bedfellow. Reeve’s day was a heavenly one; how I longed for another such! A boy called Shuttleworth came once—but he came in chains—his visit was of no avail: he brought with him his morose tutor—that tutor was our every day usher. These were the only intruders on the solitude and insipidity of my existence. The list of adult visiters to my father is scarcely more diversified: Two old ladies, contemporaries of my grandmother, used to pay one visit a-year. A Mrs White, with two nieces, one in the state of singleness, the other a Mrs Waldo, a widow bewitched, called once every summer. A small house in the neighbourhood, built in antique style, was occupied by Mrs Hutchinson, whose son, a little older than I, used to accompany the family to Barking church, and to perch himself in a pew near to ours: his name was Julius, and he edited, not many years ago, Mrs Hutchinson’s interesting autobiography. I was taught, however, to regard him with contempt: I was told he was more my inferior in learning than my superior in age. There was a Mrs Geddes, the widow of a divine of that name, who had been removed, years before, to another, and, let us hope, a better world: I believe he had been the author of a ponderous volume of divinity, which I never read. Of Mrs White, I only remember that she was distinguished for the strength of her jaws; and, when considerably above seventy years old, no stone of peach, apricot, or nectarine, could resist them. Mrs White excited my astonishment, while she removed a smaller mote from my eye by the introduction of a larger one; it was a round black seed, which she called Oculus Christi; and whether its operation was natural or miraculous, the reader must judge. I can aver that, after its application, the annoyance ceased to trouble me. There was one visiter—rather an unwelcome one—a great-aunt, of the name of Powell, who was received on the footing of a poor relation; she was a sister of my grandmother Bentham, and came across the water from Woolwich. She had made a disparaging match with an operative in the neighbourhood of the dockyard, and was therefore in disgrace. Of her existence, no traces remain in my memory.
“Scarcely as often as once in a season, my grandmother, accoutred in sable muff and tippet, used to make a visit of ceremony, in her carriage. About as often was a visit paid by a relation and cotemporary of the same sex, who came from Woodford, and to whom a dinner of ceremony was given. This was a Mrs Archer, to whom I was taught to pay homage, under the appellation of Aunt Archer; the auntship consisting in that her husband had had for a first wife a sister of my grandmother. She was in some way or other my grandmother’s cousin. She had a maiden sister who sometimes dwelt with her, and sometimes in a small tenement adjoining; at whose death I received an old gold watch and a trifling legacy. Once or twice in the year I used to accompany my father to Woodford, and saw Mr Archer, who had retired upon a fortune of £15,000, made by the sale of ivory. They spent little, kept no carriage, no town-house, exhibited no marks of hospitality, had not even to offer us a spare bed, to my no small mortification. Yet the visits interested me: their garden was larger than ours, and had two ponds at different levels. The change broke the permanent monotony of my father’s house, and diversity was to me a treasure of the greatest rarity. I recollect one visiter, whose presence was singularly agreeable: it was a Mr John Bonnet, of a French refugee family, a working jeweller by trade, and of my father’s age. There were two Bonnets among our acquaintances—the other’s name was Benjamin; but I know not if they were allied. Benjamin, in comparison with John, was a magnificent personage: he was no less than a notarypublic. He wore a wig of fashion—at any rate of city fashion,—while poor John wore nothing better than a wig of business. In those days, whatever was his profession or rank in life, a man might be distinguished by his wig with little less certainty than a peer by his coronet, or a monarch by his crown. We had Mr John Bonnet’s company for a day or two, and took an excursion as far as the Thames, Barking being at the head of a creek which runs up a couple of miles. At the outset of our walk, and as evidence of what I had learned in French, my father proposed that, during the whole excursion, a halfpenny should be paid, as a fine, for every word of English spoken. The joke was, that Mr Bonnet, though a Frenchman born, or, at any rate, educated by a Frenchman born, made the most numerous mistakes; at all events, my pockets were replenished with halfpence.”
When a very little child, having been escorted by his grandmother from Browning Hill to Andover, Bentham was left in an upper story, and saw, for the first time in his life, that the water in the hand-basin had been converted into a cake of ice. It was the winter season, and ice was everywhere abundant, so that he thought he might indulge the fancy of seeing what would happen if he threw the ice-cake out of the window. He flung it out. It broke, of course, into a thousand pieces. The little boy’s heart throbbed with joy; but the joy was soon overclouded with the thought that mischief had been done. The association between the ice and the hand-basin was so strong in his mind, that he could not fancy himself blameless; and he was long tormented by the fear of discovery and its consequences. Throughout life, the apprehension of blame was strong in Bentham’s mind. An expression of displeasure from those with whom he associated would at any time have sorely distressed him. His dread of punishment was extreme; and he was never visited by corporeal punishment from any hand whatsoever. I remember once putting the question—“Were you ever chastised at school?” and he answered with great earnestness—“Oh, never! never! never!—never punished by master—never engaged in any the slightest skirmish with any boy, except once, when at Westminster School. They surrounded a lad named William Sewell and myself, and forced us upon a sort of hostile encounter. He was the son of Sir Thomas Sewell, then or afterwards Master of the Rolls, and whom his father appointed to one of the six clerkships in Chancery.”
This Sir Thomas Sewell had been, at one time, the intimate friend of Bentham’s father; and of that intimacy old Bentham frequently boasted to his son. He had, for his town residence, one of the tall houses in Lincoln’s Inn Square; and, for his country abode, an estate he had purchased at Ottershaw, in Surrey. At Ottershaw, Bentham once dined, being conducted thither, not by his father, but by Chamberlain Clark, and introduced to Sir Thomas as “the son of his old friend.” This was the first time of his seeing a gentleman of whom his father had been constantly speaking for fifteen or sixteen years, as one with whom he was closely allied. They had, as he stated, marked out their course together by mutual understanding, and for mutual help: Sewell to become a barrister—Bentham (senior) to be an attorney. Sewell’s circumstances were very narrow: he had about £70 a-year; and, when he entered into his chambers, they were papered by the hands of the two young men in order to save expense. Sewell was a scholar. He wrote an essay on speech and grammar. It had some merit, but not of a transcendent character. It, however, served as an introduction to a gentleman, whose daughter he afterwards married, and who brought him a fortune of £15,000. He had previously reached some eminence in his profession. Among the presents he received from the hands of his future bride, was a silver cork-screw, wholly inefficient for its intended use, but which he constantly introduced for the sake of telling his guests from whom he received it, its inaptitude for cork-drawing giving him daily occasion to dilate upon it. He never visited Mr Bentham, senior, nor Mr Bentham him; and the “tam propè, tam propinque” was a matter of great mystery and embarrassment to Bentham, junior. It never entered his mind, he said, to think of blaming his father. Such a thought he would have ignominiously expelled as a thought of sin and guilt: but when turning over, in after life, his own prospects for futurity, “the intimate friend of his father, the Master of the Rolls,” often occurred to him as one from whom he might have looked for a helping hand.
Thomas Sewell, the son of Sir Thomas, married a lady of quality of the family of the Earl of Louth, in Ireland. She had more rank than money, and her husband soon got into the King’s Bench. A second son was a midshipman, who was none of the brightest. When he was examined for his grade, he was asked what he could do in a certain case of naval manœuvre? He was silent. The examiner then inquired—“Would you use a messenger?” (A messenger is a nautical term for some sort of rope.) “No!” said he, “I would send my own servant.” One son (William) was alive in 1827, and holding one of the Six Clerkships in the Court of Chancery, given to him by his father. Sir Thomas, like most of the lawyers of his time, was a man of narrow mind, and of rough, vaunting, and imperious manners. He took the occasion of Bentham’s visit with Chamberlain Clarke, to give him a sort of rhetorical pedagogical lecture in the shape of instructions as to what he ought to read; which instructions were the subject matter of many a subsequent joke between Clarke and his companion. “Read Xenophon, the greatest general, the greatest philosopher, the greatest historian; read such a one;” and then followed a pompous and inappropriate description of the author. Some time after, Bentham met Sir Thomas at a Manor Court. He (Bentham) carried with him a little volume of Epictetus, in the original tongue; and he produced it in Sir Thomas’s presence, with the design of ingratiating himself with the great man, and of showing that his suggestions, as to classical reading, had not been thrown away: but the scheme failed—he took no notice—he gave Bentham no invitation.
“In Lincoln’s Inn Fields, stand, or stood, contiguous to one another, two houses with balls on them. They were among the fruits of the genius of Taylor the architect, (father of Michael Angelo Taylor,) who had, from these and other buildings, acquired the sobriquet of Ball Taylor. One of these houses was built for Sir Thomas Sewell. It either fell or was burned down, and was then rebuilt in its present form. Many were the changes in the occupiers of these houses; and Mr Burton, an eminent solicitor, succeeded Sir Thomas Sewell. Lord Kenyon followed Mr Burton. Abbott’s (Lord Colchester’s) elder brother. when he bought his great office and married, occupied the other, and died there in 1792. Lincoln’s Inn Fields was then the abode of high life.”
Bentham took no walk into the country as a boy, of which he did not retain a recollection as a man. In reading to him some of the memoranda of his father’s diary, he at once recalled the most minute circumstances. One day I remarked to him a note—“Went with Jerry to the Creek.” “Well,” said he “do I remember it. It was a voyage par terre et par mer. I passed through great perils. It was a memorable day, indeed, whose history I related to the boys at Westminster, when I got back. In crossing the swamp of a meadow, we were attacked by a bull. We had incurred the indignation of his bullship, and my father took me in his arms and threw me over a gate. The bull vented his indignation against the gate; but it passed harmless by me. Such was the land adventure; the water adventure was this:—Our boat passed under the rope by which a vessel was moored, and I should have been thrown overboard and drowned if I had not dipped my head. Two awful perils in one day.”
I do not deem it necessary to apologize for the insertion of many circumstances, in themselves trivial, but which had their influence on the colour and character of Bentham’s mind. It were well if anecdotes of childhood were more diligently collected; and if the seemingly unimportant events of early life were more thoughtfully watched and studied, both by parents and observers. And in the case of Bentham, I scruple the less: as, on the one hand, the accuracy of his recollection was wonderful; and, on the other, his sagacity enabled him to trace the influence of passing, however remote, circumstances upon the whole fabric of his thoughts and feelings. His humanity to animals was among his prominent virtues. Their susceptibilities to pain and pleasure he studied, and made the constant subject of his care. He knew very well that legislation could not put a stop to many of the sufferings to which they are condemned: but he always insisted on the necessity of applying the powers of legislation, as far as possible, to the diminution of the miseries of the brute creation. One anecdote I will give in his own words:—
“We had a servant, whose name was Martha: a woman of kindness and gentleness; and the kindness of her temper ameliorated mine. One day, while I was a little boy, I went into the kitchen. Some earwigs were running about. I laid hold of them, and put them into the candle. Martha gave me a sharp rebuke, and asked me, how I should like to be so used myself? The rebuke was not thrown away. About this time, a neighbouring decayed gentleman, of the name of Vernon, came to pay a morning visit to my grandmother. By way of recommending himself to my favour, he brought with him, in his pocket, a toy of his own manufacture. It was a cage for the reception of flies, formed by two horizontal slices of cork connected together by uprights composed of pins. All but one were fixed—that one was moveable—and the amusement consisted in catching the miserable animals and cramming them into the cage, till it would hold no more. Sometimes they got in with all their limbs; sometimes with one or all, or any number between one and all, torn off. When I had amused myself with the instrument for some minutes, a train of reflection came across me; the result was an abhorrence of the invention, coupled with a feeling not far short of abhorrence for the inventor and donor.”
Bentham mentioned another circumstance, connected with his feelings towards animals, in the following manner:—
“My uncle’s house, in Hampshire, was the scene of a very useful lesson. A personage, of no small importance in the family, was a dog named Busy. He was a model of the conjunction of fidelity and surliness. A very slight cause sufficed to elicit from him a loud and long-continued growl. No beggar durst approach the house. I myself stood in no inconsiderable awe of him. One day I thought to find amusement in fomenting a quarrel between him and another dog. While I was thus employed up came my uncle, and reprimanded me for my cruelty. I felt it bitterly; for it was the only token of displeasure I ever experienced from him, from the day of my earliest recollection to the day of his death, which took place in 1784. He was one of the gentlest of all human beings, though a lawyer by profession.
“During my visits to Barking, I used to be my grandmother’s bedfellow. The dinner hour being as early as two o’clock, she had a regular supper, which was served up in her own sleeping room, and, immediately after finishing it, she went to bed. Of her supper, I was not permitted to partake, nor was the privation a matter of much regret. I had what I preferred—a portion of gooseberry pie; hers was a scrag of mutton, boiled with parsley and butter. I do not remember any variety.
“My amusements consisted in building houses with old cards, and sometimes playing at ‘Beat the knave out of doors,’ with my grandmother. My time of going to bed was perhaps an hour before hers: but, by way of preparation, I never failed to receive her blessing. Previous to the ceremony, I underwent a catechetical course of examination, of which one of the questions was—‘Who were the children that were saved in the fiery furnace?’—Answer—‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego;’ but as the examination frequently got no farther, the word Abednego got associated in my mind with very agreeable ideas, and it ran through my ears, like Shadrach, Meshach, and To-bed-we-go, in a sort of pleasant confusion, which is not yet removed. As I grew in years, I became a fit receptacle for some of my grandmother’s communications, among which the state of her family, and the days of her youth, were most prominent. There hung on the wall, perpetually in view, a sampler, the produce of the industry and ingenuity of her mother or her grandmother, of which the subject matter was the most important of all theologico-human incidents, the fall of man in paradise. There was Adam—there was Eve—and there was the serpent. In these there was much to interest and amuse me. One thing alone puzzled me; it was the forbidden fruit. The size was enormous. It was larger than that species of the genus Orangeum which goes by the name of the forbidden fruit in some of our West India settlements. Its size was not less than that of the outer shell of a cocoa nut. All the rest of the objects were, as usual, in plano; this was in alto, indeed in altissimo relievo. What to make of it, at a time when my mind was unable to distinguish fictions from realities, I knew not. The recollection is strong in me of the mystery which it seemed to be. My grandmother promised me the sampler after her death as a legacy; and the promise was no small gratification: but the promise, with many other promises of jewels and gold coins, was productive of nothing but disappointment. Her death took place when I was at Oxford. My father went down; and, without consulting me, or giving the slightest intimation of his intention, let the house, and sold to the tenant almost everything that was in it. It was doing as he was wont to do, notwithstanding his undoubted affection for me. In the same way, he sold the estate which he had given to me as a provision on the occasion of his second marriage. In the mass went some music-books which I had borrowed of Mrs Browne. Not long after, she desired them to be returned. I stood before her like a defenceless culprit, conscious of my inability to make restitution; and, at the same time, such was my state of mental weakness, that I knew not what to say for apology or defence.
“My grandmother’s mother was a matron, I was told, of high respectability and corresponding piety; well-informed and strong-minded. She was distinguished, however; for, while other matrons of her age and quality had seen many a ghost, she had seen but one. She was, in this particular, on a level with the learned lecturer, afterwards judge, the commentator Blackstone. But she was heretical, and her belief bordered on Unitarianism. And, by the way, this subject of ghosts has been among the torments of my life. Even now, when sixty or seventy years have passed over my head since my boyhood received the impression which my grandmother gave it, though my judgment is wholly free, my imagination is not wholly so. My infirmity was not unknown to the servants. It was a permanent source of amusement to ply me with horrible phantoms in all imaginable shapes. Under the Pagan dispensation, every object a man could set his eyes on had been the seat of some pleasant adventure. At Barking, in the almost solitude of which so large a portion of my life was passed, every spot that could be made by any means to answer the purpose was the abode of some spectre or group of spectres. The establishment contained two houses of office: one about ten yards from the kitchen, for the use of ‘the lower orders,’ another at the farther end of the little garden, for the use of ‘the higher,’ who thus had three or four times the space to travel, on these indispensable occasions, more than that which sufficed for the servile grade: but these shrines of necessary pilgrimage were, by the cruel genius of my tormentors, richly stocked with phantasms. One had for its autocrat no less a personage than Tom Dark; the other was the dwelling-place of Rawhead and Bloody Bones. I suffered dreadfully in consequence of my fears. I kept away for weeks from the spots I have mentioned; and, when suffering was intolerable, I fled to the fields. So dexterous was the invention of those who worked upon my apprehensions, that they managed to transform a real into a fictitious being. His name was Palethorp; and Palethorp, in my vocabulary, was synonymous with hobgoblin. The origin of these horrors was this;—My father’s house was a short half-mile distant from the principal part of the town, from that part where was situated the mansion of the lord of the manor, Sir Crisp Gascoigne. One morning, the coachman and the footman took a conjunct walk to a public house kept by a man of the name (Palethorp); they took me with them: it was before I was breeched. They called for a pot of beer; took each of them a sip, and handed the pot to me. On their requisition, I took another; and, when about to depart, the amount was called for. The two servants paid their quota, and I was called on for mine. Nemo dat quod non habet—this maxim, to my no small vexation, I was compelled to exemplify. Mr Palethorp, the landlord, had a visage harsh and ill-favoured, and he insisted on my discharging my debt. At this very early age, without having put in for my share of the gifts of fortune, I found myself in the state of an insolvent debtor. The demand harassed me so mercilessly, that I could hold out no longer: the door being open, I took to my heels; and, as the way was too plain to be missed, I ran home as fast as they could carry me. The scene of the terrors of Mr Palethorp’s name and visitation, in pursuit of me, was the country-house at Barking: but neither was the townhouse free from them; for, in those terrors, the servants possessed an instrument by which it was in their power, at any time, to get rid of my presence. Level with the kitchen—level with the landing-place in which the staircase took its commencement—were the usual offices. When my company became troublesome, a sure and continually repeated means of exonerating themselves from it, was for the footman to repair to the adjoining subterraneous apartments, invest his shoulders with some strange covering, and, concealing his countenance, stalk in, with a hollow, menacing, and inarticular tone. Lest that should not be sufficient, the servants had, stuck by the fireplace, the portraiture of a hobgoblin, to which they had given the name of Palethorp. For some years, I was in the condition of poor Dr Priestley, on whose bodily frame another name, too awful to be mentioned, used to produce a sensation more than mental.”
Shall I seek excuses for introducing these autobiographical sketches? I think not. They are faithful as pictures; they are interesting as philosophical studies.
“Another instance of the influence of horror in me:—I recollect, when I was about nine or ten years old, I went to see a puppet-show: there were Punch and Joan—the devil, whom I had seen before; but I saw, for the first time, the devil’s imp. The devil was black, as he should be; but the devil’s imp was white, and I was much more alarmed at his presence than at that of his principal. I was haunted by him. I went to bed; I wanted to sleep. The devil appeared to me in a dream: the imp in his company. I had—which is not uncommon in dreams, at least with me—a sort of consciousness that it was a dream; with a hope that, with a little exertion, I might spring out of it: I fancied that I did so. Imagine my horror, when I still perceived devil and imp standing before me. It was out of the rain into the river. I made another desperate effort. I tried to be doubly awake; I succeeded. I was in a transport of delight when the illusion altogether vanished: but it was only a temporary relief; for the devil and the imp dwelt in my waking thoughts for many a year afterwards. On the same occasion, I believe it was, that I saw ‘Solomon in all his glory,’ and the story of Esther: there was King Ahasuerus; there was Queen Esther; there was Mordecai the Jew; there was Haman the courtier. One emphatic phrase from Ahasuerus to Esther, I well remember:—
“ ‘Ask what thou wilt, and I will give it thee.’
“The acting of the wooden tragedian amused me not a little. It dwelt long in my memory; and on my return to school, I amused with it my bed and chamber fellows, imitating the motions of the wooden imitators, whose arms and legs were moved by a wire—thus:”
And most amusingly, even at the age of eighty, did Bentham represent the stiffness, gravity, and dignity of the fantoccino of his boyhood.
“Bursts of laughter followed my exhibition; and my own low stature, something midway between that of the wooden actors and my school-fellows, added to the effect.
“I not unfrequently obtained the applause of my companions, by thus contributing to their pleasures. One of my modes was to start up out of my bed at night, and to begin ranting, in a sort of medium state between waking and dreaming. I heard it called light-headedness. The first commencement of it may have been unbidden: but, finding that it attracted attention and afforded amusement, art came and assisted nature. I recollect, on one occasion, I was over-powered with terror. I had been reading ‘Plutarch’s Lives,’ the old translation, ‘by diverse hands;’ Dryden, I believe, among the rest. To every life there was a cut. Sylla, after his abdication, was represented in his civic costume, with a long flowing head of white hair. In several of the pictures the unskilfulness of the artist had produced a ghastly effect; and, in the portait of Sylla this was so much the case, that it wrought upon my morbidly susceptible frame. One night I awoke in horror, with the image of Sylla before me: for many years thereafter did that same image continue its visitations. That night I continued raving for a considerable length of time. In other days, and in a similar state of things, the ravings might have passed for inspiration; and I might have been a prophet, or something more than a prophet—the founder of a new sect. When I was promoted to the companionship of boys of a higher age, and about to leave the school for the university, the enfantillage evaporated. I was tranquil and happy while in Mrs Morell’s boarding-house; for I had a bedfellow, in whose presence, as was natural, ghosts never ventured to make their appearance: but, during the holidays, when I was removed to Barking, and after I had become too old to be my grandmother’s bedfellow. I became sole occupant of a large unfurnished bedroom—a fit place for the visitation of nocturnal visiters; and then and there it was that the devil and his imp appeared to me.
“I was a favourite, a timid child, who gave offence to nobody; and one more dutiful could not exist. Two or three instances of early aberrations I distinctly remember. One of these was a subject of long-continuing affliction. On a dresser, not far from the fireplace in the kitchen, was, as I mentioned, a portrait of Palethorp, sketched with a fork on the wainscot, constantly before my eyes. I got chattering with the footman, and, whether in play or in anger, I forget which, as I forget the immediate cause, I took up a pair of scissors which were within reach, and threw them at him. (At this time I was not breeched.) I took aim but too well: they hit him in the eye. Whatever was his pain of body, my pain of mind was greater. Sad was the disgrace into which I found myself plunged. My father, though in all his life he never struck me, yet, being fond of power, and of everything that could afford ground or pretence for the exercise of it, exercised on me, on this occasion, this talent of his with little mercy. I was sentenced to banishment. It happened to be migration time; my grandmother was gone to Barking already. Instead of being conducted to my father and mother, at the time of the usual weekly visit, I was sent off, in the middle of the week, with all my infamy on my head. I remembered this for many years after; and, as for any use that this severity had on me, none can I find. The accident had not its origin in my ill temper; and there was nothing from which the punishment would preserve me. The man was under the care of a surgeon for days, if not weeks. He recovered; and his sight continued uninjured: but in this, or other ways, my mind was seldom without something gnawing upon it.”
Bentham’s father amassed a considerable fortune, principally by successful purchases of lands and leases. His vanity was flattered by the distinctions which Bentham obtained from his earliest years; and he fancied his son would become the stepping-stone to his own elevation. But Bentham’s mind responded to no call of vulgar ambition; and he had to bear perpetual reproaches for not stretching out his hand to gather the fruits of worldly fame, which he was perpetually reminded had ripened for his own fruition. But the enjoyments of Bentham were of a far different and a far higher order; and, while his father sighed over his “bashful folly,” he was laying up for himself the richest intellectual treasures.
The impression made on Bentham’s mind by the books he read in his childhood, was lasting. With the most amusing naiveté he would recall, in old age, what he thought, in his youth, of the books that were either placed in his hands, or which he was enabled to reach, in spite of a theory, both of his father and mother, that books of amusement were unfit for children.
“When I got hold of a novel, I identified myself with all the personages, and thought more of their affairs than of any affairs of my own. I have wept for hours over Richardson’s ‘Clarissa;’ in ‘Gil Blas,’ when very young, I took an intense interest: I was happy in the happiness, uneasy in the uneasiness of everybody in it. I admired ‘Gulliver’s Travels;’ I would have vouched them to be all true: no romance, no rhodomontade, but everything painted exactly as it happened. The circumstance of his being condemned to death for saving the capital, was excellent. I was very anxious in his behalf, particularly when chained down by the pigmies. I was sad when I saw the Laputans in such a condition; and I did not like to see my own species painted as Yahoos. ‘Robinson Crusoe’ frightened me with the story of the Goat of the Cave; it was a moot point with me whether it was a goat or the devil. I was indeed comforted to find it was a goat. ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ frightened me still more; I could not read it entirely through. At Westminster School, we used to go to a particular room to wash our feet; there I first saw an imperfect copy of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’: the devil was everywhere in it, and in me too. I always was afraid of the devil; I had seen him sowing tares, in a picture at Boghurst: how should I know it was not a copy from the life? I had seen the devil too, in a puppet-show; I dreamt about him frequently: he had pinched me several times, and waked me. I had frequent dreams of a desire to go east; but I found interminable lugubrious buildings between me and the Strand, and melancholy creatures walking about. How much less unhappy I should have been, could I have acknowledged my superstitious fears! but I was so ashamed! Now that I know the distinction between the imagination and the judgment, I can own how these things plagued me, without any impeachment of my intellect.
“I read Timothy Peascod’s history; he was hanged, and I did not like this, because it put an end to him; and I was not fond of hanging. Camden’s Britannia was a serious book, so I was allowed to read it; besides, it was too big to be put away on the shelf, and was therefore left about. My father used to talk about ‘Tristram Shandy,’ and ‘the black page in Tristram Shandy.’ I often took it up, but could not find the black page. It seemed to me strange stuff; there was no coherence. I often saw the ladies giggling over it. Once my father took it out of my hand. Moliere’s plays were among the books at Barking. I did not like the allegorical parts or the ballets: they confused me; they were insipid;—I wanted facts. ‘Theron and Aspasia’ pleased me; it was full of slang, and slang was amusing. I read the ‘Paradise Lost,’ and it frightened me. There was the pandæmonium with all its flames. The book looked like something between true and false, and I did not know how much might be true. ‘Paradise Regained’ was very dull. I read Johnson’s ‘Account of the Hermit in his Cell,’ and it was a sad drawback on my happiness. His mind was essentially ascetic, and he brought nothing new to me—no facts, no chemistry, no electricity—all was gloomy and tasteless. ‘Thomson’s Seasons’ I also read, with a sort of fancy that they might be very fine to some people, though they brought no pleasure to me. ‘Gay’s Fables’ I also read; they did not interest or instruct me. I knew that his stories of cocks and bulls were not true.”
Of his studies, Bentham, on another occasion, gave this account:—
“At Browning Hill, was the refuse of the stock of my great-uncle Woodward. There was ‘Locke on the Understanding,’ ‘Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion,’ ‘Burnet’s History of His Own Times,’ all Richardson’s novels, ‘Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees,’ ‘Clarke on the Trimity,’ ‘Tindall’s Christianity as old as the Creation,’ ‘Atalantis,’ a collection of novels. There was ‘Kämpfer’s History of Japan,’ a very curious book. The author was physician to a Dutch embassy, and went up to the capital of that island. He was a good botanist, and an intelligent man. Taken altogether, there was a pretty good supply for the three months of each year which I was there. I used to climb a lofty elm, and read in its branches. I was the more fond of this while the labourers were thrashing corn in the neighbourhood, as I was delighted to be in society with which I was not compelled to mix. No situation brought with it more felicity than to hide myself in the tree, and, having read for some time, to descend to gather up wheat for the peasants to thrash, and then to mount again to my leafy throne. In the summer-house, too, a few books were scattered. There were a few numbers of the ‘Mercurius Rusticus,’ a periodical of 1660. There were the ‘Memoirs of the Marquis de Langallerie,’ a French adventurer; he entered into a treaty with the Grand Seignior, who, at that time, used to be crowned with the sun and moon. There were ‘Harris’ Voyages,’ two volumes in folio. So that there was abundance of occupation for me. ‘Pamela’ was written, a good part of it, in the summer-house at Browning Hill, so that the interest became extreme. ‘Clarissa’ kept me day after day incessantly bathed in tears. Tindall’s book filled me with such astonishment that I could not believe my eyes, and I went frequently to the originals, to verify his quotations. I was puzzled by Locke’s fictitious entities—such as power. But I was pleased with the advantage he had over Bishop Stillingfleet, a grandson of whom (a proud, pompous fellow) was afterwards one of my companions at College. He had the manners of a dogmatical parson, while yet an under-graduate. I do not know what became of him. I had heard ‘Locke’s Essay’ spoken of in the highest terms; so I read it as a duty. I read Clarendon with great interest, but could not understand the difference between his narrations and Burnet’s, who was by far the honester man of the two. He was short sentenced and clear; the other rolling and inflated. Burnet was one of the best of bishops—a kind, straightforward man. Pepys speaks of the bribes that Clarendon used to take.
“The parsonage-house of Boghurst was contiguous to the church. There was an entrance from the church-yard to the garden, which, with the parsonage-house, was in the occupancy of my cousin Mulford, son to my great-aunt; the minister of the parish living elsewhere. My uncle Grove, a kind and good creature withal, was a man of small mind; but nothing could be more devoid of amusement than his society was, to an ardent, acutely sensitive, and inquisitive boy; so, on every possible occasion, I broke away from Browning Hill, to quarter myself on my cousin Mulford, from whom I always experienced the kindest reception. His was a very whimsical character. At an early age, between thirty-five and forty, he abandoned a prosperous business to live a single life at the Browning Hill parsonage. His mind was full of knicknackery and conceit; he was familiar with the practice of various handicraft arts: he was a blacksmith, a whitesmith, turner, carpenter, and joiner; he did, in fact, everything that could be done by hand; he was, at the same time, an amateur surgeon, and practised gratuitously, to a considerable extent, for the benefit of his poor neighbours. He had lived in a low and irregular way; was a sort of rake: but his rakery had been considerably subdued by this his country retreat, where his attentions were confined to one woman—a widow, or a widow bewitched, of a lieutenant in the navy. Never shall I forget how I was appalled when a Quaker farmer, who was in company with my uncle and cousin Mulford, jeered them, in my presence, on the irregularity of their amours. No suspicion of such irregularity had ever before crossed my mind, and a sad tribulation it must have been to their respective mothers. I remember a daughter of my cousin’s calling on me, borne down by poverty and premature old age. My cousin was a member of a perpetual drinking club, of which the rule was—that the drinking-room should never for a moment, in the whole year, be empty, so that, by resorting to it, society, such as it was, was always to be found. Drunkenness did not necessarily form a part of the attributes of this club; for, during the sixty years and more that I knew this cousin of mine, I never saw him intoxicated, nor did I ever hear of his being so. His opinions were extraordinary: he had a notion that whatever was in print was a lie. I asked him whether, if a fact had taken place, the putting it in print would cause it not to have taken place?
“I remember once, in his wisdom, he quoted, as evidence of the disposition of the Chinese to cheat, that a friend of his, in buying seeds in China, had got just such seeds as he could have got in England; as if the Chinese were the better for his friend’s disappointment, or were bound to know what seeds grew here. He thought it a marvellous fine thing to cheat, and I did not fail to observe that the man who had the wit to cheat another, rose immediately in his opinion.
“When I was about twelve years old, he left the parsonage-house, to my great grief, and took a small abode on the banks of the Thames. I could not divine his motive; for the parsonage gave him all the enjoyments he desired: abundance of game, which he shot without any qualification; he had an aviary stocked with partridges, which he caught with his setting dogs. He was a man, though not of large stature, of remarkable strength: but he once spontaneously told me he had been outmastered by the woman with whom he lived. I suspect this connexion was the primary cause of his migrating from the personage. My grandmother Grove sometimes visited the widow, and, on one occasion, she took me with her; but told me, on the way, how very reluctant her visits were to a person whose conduct, if closely inquired into, could not bear the test of scrutiny. To me the visit was very charming. I was treated with rare sweetmeats, and got possession of a delightful book, a novel in four volumes, called ‘The Invisible Spy’—the heroine of which had, by the favour of an old magician or wonder-maker, acquired the secret of making herself occasionally invisible. Mr Mulford was fond of gardening; and in his library there was, in 3 vols. 8vo, one of the earliest editions of ‘Miller’s Gardeners’ Dictionary,’ which I read over and over till I had got all the names by heart. There was also a publication, entitled, ‘Pills to Purge Melancholy,’ in seven or eight volumes, with notes.* ‘Bulwer’s Artificial Changeling,’ was a source of great amusement to me, from the quaint titles of the chapters or sections; but my cousin took the book out of my hands. There were also some medico-chirurgical books, but not of the most modern or most improved choice. He shut up the books in a cupboard. He used to leave the key in: but there was a particular art in managing the lock, so that a stranger could not open it. I used to play with him at backgammon. His mornings were spent in gathering mushrooms, or gathering nuts. He was a sprightly man. He had a little smattering of Latin, and a little smattering of French, but was a perfect roué.
“My righteous cousin—for such was the name he bore—had a crony of the name of Mayo, a clerk in the bank. His form was globular.
“My cousin’s habits were frugal. He saw little company; and the pittance with which he withdrew from business, had accumulated, when he died, to £20,000 or £30,000. I imagined it was to be mine; and my disappointment was great at finding it disposed of—much more properly—among a multitude of relations; none indeed so near as I was, but, for the most part, poor; and elevated, by the dispersion of this property, into a state of competence. My brother and I, however, were left by him about £3,000, and a similar sum, the proceeds of an estate, which to my cousin’s mortification and unassuageable wrath, was entailed, after his death, upon my uncle Grove, and from him to me. My visits to my cousin were frequent, and generally of two or three weeks at a time; and I became acquainted with such of his neighbours as he was on terms with. Among these was a Quaker of the name of Harris, an extensive gentleman farmer, inhabiting a nice house, who introduced me to his two sons and two daughters. The eldest of his sons (John) married one of the many daughters of a Mr. Plowden, a neighbouring country gentleman, descended from an ancient family, ranking in it the founder of All-Soul’s College, Oxford; to education in which, his children were in consequence entitled. The great author of ‘The Commentaries’ was also, I believe, one of his ancestors. He was the hero of a crim. con. case, which made much noise at the time, where the seducer was a reverend divine of a noble family, the rector of a neighbouring parish. I remember dining with the said divine on a Sunday, after he had officiated; and his dress was a white coat, faced with black velvet; a white waistcoat; and black velvet small clothes; and in his shoes stone buckles to imitate diamonds.”
I have often heard Mr Bentham speak of the state of society at that period, and in that district—the elopements of women—the irregularities of men—and the vicissitudes which, in his experience, had followed the greater portion of the families with whom he was acquainted in his boyhood, and whose adventures he had followed in after years. Some of the details of penury are so distressing, some of the facts of profligacy so disgusting, that I think it best to suppress them. Connexions, relatives, or descendants of these families, no doubt, exist; and I should feel that I was giving pain, with no sufficient balance of good, were I to individualize those cases, which, however they might illustrate the manners of the time, would shock the susceptibility of some, and scandalize the feelings of others. Sure I am that, in the course of three-quarters of a century, the morality of the country gentry and the more opulent race of farmers and traders has undergone a most marked and obvious improvement; that society would not, at the present time, tolerate habits and usages which were almost universal seventy or eighty years ago; that temperance and chastity, veracity and good faith, are much more rarely violated now than then: in a word, that the former times “were not” “better” nor wiser, but, on the contrary, far less virtuous, and far less instructed “than these.”
Of some of his early tastes Bentham, only a short time before he died, gave the following description:—
“I was passionately fond of flowers, from my youth, and the passion has never left me. My aunt Grove was fond of flowers, and had a few geraniums, which she called gerrnums. I loved to gossip with a very fine old man, the gardener at Boghurst. He had a strange style of conversation, and would often ask me, ‘What would the king say to this?’ And then I asked him, what, in his opinion, the king would say? I was at that time reading ‘Rapin’s History of England,’ full of kings and queens, and it was delightful to hear from him what he thought the king would say. It appeared to me that the gardener treated the beautiful flowers very roughly. So long as I retained my smell, a wall-flower was a memento of Barking, and brought youth to my mind; for the wall-flowers covered the walls, with their roots between the bricks. It I were a draughtsman I could give the site of every tree; and, without being a draughtsman, I can describe every particular about the house. On the borders of the garden were honey-suckles trained to standards, tulips in the beds: a noble pear-tree, which covered the whole house; I can remember all. When I was at Oxford, I found there was a botanical garden. A gardener was there, who was very civil to me. His name was Foreman; and he was foreman of the garden, and had been so for fifty years. He allowed me to take seeds. A little before then, I laughed at botany students. I remember being much delighted at hearing there were Bee Orchises near Oxford, and more delighted still when I discovered one. When I read ‘Miller’s Dictionary,’ and learned that the Man Orchis was to be found near Reading, I started for the place, but found not the flower. It is not much like a man after all. When I last went to Oxford, and visited the physic-garden, I found it much degenerated. Many of the things I used to see were gone. I loved botany for the sake of its beauties. Of a wilderness at Ford Abbey—a perfect wilderness—I made a beautiful spot. I paid £400 to £500 a-year, and was in treaty for having it for my life. I have been reading about a former possessor of it—Prideaux, Attorney-general during the Civil Wars—an extortioner. In the course of five years I was there, I did not lay out more than £100 on the house and gardens, though I built walls, planted trees, repaired old walks, cut new ones; found a desert, and left a flower-garden. The works I wrote at Ford Abbey were, ‘Not Paul,’ ‘Papers on Logic,’ and ‘Church of Englandism.’ ”
Bentham frequently drew little sketches of the persons he recollected in his childhood.
“My great-aunt died at above the age of eighty. She dispossessed herself of the greatest part of her property to give to her son, who behaved to her badly and coarsely. Whenever I saw her, she gave me a guines, even after I grew to man’s estate, and then apologised, and hoped I should not be offended, saying, ‘It is a habit, you know.’ She was, like all the females of my family, amiable, kind-hearted, generous. Her time was passed in knitting stockings for the poor. She always wore the same simple garb of gray stuff, perhaps with some small mixture of silk. When once I asked her for a token of her remembrance, she knit me a pair of garters, so thick and coarse that they swelled out my small-clothes most inconveniently. The death of my mother almost broke her heart. Her son was an unbeliever; he knew not why. Then he became a Methodist; and, last of all, a member of the New Jerusalem church, and with about equal reason.
“There were my two uncles, the Rays; both of them persons; one of them learned, the other unlearned; one never looked into a book, the other was fond of books, but less so than of horses, (of which he kept many,) and of syllabubs, of which his wife was an admirable creator. He trusted his horses to me, and I sometimes went on one of them to visit an honest attorney, one Tom Martin, who was so fond of spending his money on antiquities, that he was always pulling the devil by the tail. I was a welcome visiter. He had, among other things, a book of songs, which had belonged to Mary Queen of Scots. Finding him distressed for cash, I put him in the hands of another honest Tom—Payne the bookseller—who was delighted to buy some of his literary treasures.”
On the whole, Bentham’s boyhood was far from an unhappy one. His mind resisted that bent which his father and his father’s family sought to give it. He had little relish for those objects which were pointed out to him as specially deserving his care, and met with no individual in early life whom he could at the same time love for generous affections, and honour for mental superiority. Yet he gathered up many enjoyments from the many sources of enjoyment which opened upon his susceptible mind; and, in spite of every drawback, the tenor of his existence, from first to last, was in the broad way of felicity. It was, however, principally in the latter portion of his life that his felicity was almost untroubled. The many discomforts of the early half of his existence were often contrasted by him with the quiet and habitual pleasures of his later years. Even after he had become known as an author, a sense of his own insignificance pursued him. “I have done nothing,” he often said; “but I could do something—I am of some value—there are materials in me, if anybody would but find it out. As it is, I am ashamed of an unrecognised existence. I feel like a cat or a dog that is used to be beaten by everybody it meets.”
He was accustomed, from his earliest years, to be talked of and to as a prodigy; and if this estimate of him had been wisely used to awaken his ambition, and excite his powers, it might have produced no undesirable result on his timid and retiring spirit. But he was taught scorn and contempt for other boys. He was perpetually placed in a sort of estrangement, by hearing his companions treated as dunces; and thus his vanity and pride received constant fuel.
Bentham had a strong affection for his mother: she died in 1759, and everything exhibits her in the character of a kind and amiable woman. Bentham was used to say that his family was distinguished by virtues on the female side. His father was exceedingly attached to his wife, and was so affected by her death, that it seemed likely to cause his own. I find the following entry in his memorandum book:—“1759, January 6.—This day died my most dearly beloved wife, and one of the best of women, Alicia Bentham, with whom I had lived in a constant and uninterrupted state of nuptial happiness thirteen years, three months, and three days, except the grief and affliction which her last illness occasioned to me.” Bentham himself had a most gloomy recollection of the event. His father them lived in a large and darksome house in Crutched Friars; and its solitary and deserted look accorded with the impressions left by his mother’s absence. He fancied his father would die too; but change of air, and of scene, and the kindness of friends whom he went to visit in the country, restored him to health.
[* ] See the extract from his father’s journal, infra, p. 5. I found in his own handwriting, on one of his school-books, “E Libris Jeremiæ Bentham, Junioris: 6° Die Januarii, Anno Domini 1753, annoque Ætatis suæ Quinto, hoc scriptum fuit.”
[† ] Bentham’s father directed, by his will, that a gilt silver cup should be given to Sir John Cass’s Charity, and the history of his achievements recorded on the cup.
[* ] It is a curious fact, that the arms of Bentham are the same as those of the Counts of Bentheim (in Westphalia.) “I visited Bentheim,” said Bentham, “on my way home from Hanover. The count was out at elbows, and the county was mortgaged. I had a project upon it in the days of Panopticon prosperity; but George the Third got the better of me, and obtained the count’s mortgage.”
Bentham used to discuss with Mr William Bentham, who had pursued antiquarian studies, the subject of their common ancestry, and they used to trace the origin of their family. “We found out the forefathers of my great-grandfather, the pawn-broker, three or four hundred years ago, and ascertained there had been a Bishop Bentham in the family.”
There are some Benthams settled in the United States, but whether or not kinspeople of his race I am unable to state. He had letters from some of them, stating that their ancestor was a chaplain to Charles the Second, and that they descended immediately from James Bentham of Dorsetshire, whose son, James Fitch Bentham, left Poole for the United States in 1760. I do not know whether Bentham ever ascertained, or endeavoured to ascertain, if they were of the same pedigree.
[† ] She was the daughter of Randolph Croxall vicar of Salisbury. From a blank leaf in a copy of Dugdale’s Monasticon I extract what follows:—
“The author of this book was my neighbour and very good friend, by whose means I was settled at Tolleshunt Knight, in Essex, and afterwards I left that living and removed to Tollesbury. Mr Dugdale was knighted by King Charles II., and made Quarter-King-at-Arms, decidedly for his great industry and abilities. I, Randolph Croxall, was born at Shustock, in Warwickshire, where the chiefest in the town, except Mr Dugdale’s posterity, are of my name, and are my near relations. . . . . . . God gave me by my wife four children, that lived to be men and women.” The eldest he speaks of was Samuel, born 1655. (He was probably the father of Dr Samuel Croxall, who was Archdeacon of Salop, and wrote “The Fair Circassian,” “The Vision,” “Scripture Politics,” &c.) “My daughter, Dorothy,” the MS. goes on to record, “was born the 16th of February, 1658, and is married to Mr John Tabor, tutor of South Hanningfield, nigh to Chelmsford, in Essex, where she liveth virtuously and comfortably.”
[* ] “ ’Tis an ill bird that harries its own nest.”
[* ] “Pills to Purge Melancholy,” being a collection of the best merry songs and ballads, old and new. By the celebrated Thom Durfy. 6 vols. London, 1720.