Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV.: 1770—1780. Æt. 22—32. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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CHAPTER IV.: 1770—1780. Æt. 22—32. - 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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1770—1780. Æt. 22—32.
Earliest Printed Composition: Defence of Lord Mansfield.—Extracts from Commonplace Book.—Preparation of Critical Elements of Jurisprudence.—Publication of Fragment on Government.—Studies, and Habit of Life at the Bar.—Autobiography of Constantia Phillips.—Retrospect of the Growth of Opinions.—View of the Hard Labour Bill.—Correspondence with Public Men in France: D’Alembert.—Notices of Eminent Men: Mansfield, Camden, Barrington, Speaker Abbot.—Further Extracts from Commonplace Book.
The first compositions of Bentham that ever appeared in print, were two letters in the Gazetteer, written when he was about twenty-three years old, and signed Irenæus, from Irene, (Peace.) Of one of these letters he said, “It was a portrait of my character and my love of fairness. Lord Mansfield had been attacked. I was deluded by his eloquence, and fascinated by his courtesy of character. There was an ignorant story of the hanging of forty judges in Alfred’s time, taken from one of the most trumpery books that ever was written, namely the ‘Mirror of Justices;’ and it had been suggested that Lord Mansfield might very properly be made the forty-first. I showed there was no evidence for the story. The letter was answered; but I had the last word, and it was a good-humoured word. Some will say it was better written than anything I write now. I had not then invented any part of my new lingo. I was at that time about twenty-one years old.”
Talking of these letters to Bentham, not long before his death, he expressed a desire to see these his first attempts; “but who knows where to find them?” said he. “In the museum they are not. Are they in the king’s library? Possibly—there is always a possibility—they may be at the Home-office. Newspapers ought to be there from the beginning of time. I should like to ask myself now, if they were well written; for, in those days, composition was inconceivably difficult. I often commenced a sentence which I could not complete. I began to write fragments on blotting paper, and left them to be filled thereafter, in happier vein. By hard labour, I subjugated difficulties; and my example will show what hard labour will accomplish. I should be glad to see my earliest placed side by side with the latest composition of my life. I used to put scraps into drawers, so that I could tumble them over and over; to marginalize and make notes on cards, which I could shuffle about: but, at last, I took to arranging my thoughts. I had been in the habit of shifting my papers from shelf to shelf; and well remember, when at Bowood, where I stayed two or three months at a time, that Lord Shelburne took Minister Pitt to see the strange way in which I worked, and arranged the many details of a complicated subject.”
I have found many of these disjecta membra among his papers, and they show the extraordinary attention and care which he gave to his early writings: thoughts expressed imperfectly and confusedly, are often worked out into sentences of great simplicity and beauty. Whatever opinion may be formed of the later compositions of Bentham, it has never been denied that the style of his first productions is most remarkable for its terseness, appropriateness, and polish. In after life, he sacrificed everything to precision: he thought the first duty of a writer was to leave no doubt of his meaning: he invented words, many of them admirable ones, whenever he found none existing in the language which exactly represented the idea he wished to convey; such as, maximize, minimize, international, forthcomingness, codification, and others, upon which he would hardly have ventured in his less experienced days. His last composition, (the Constitutional Code), is certainly a remarkable contrast to the Fragment on Government, in every characteristic (except intellectual power) by which one production can be distinguished from another. Many of Bentham’s youthful compositions are headed Crit. Jer. Crim. meaning Jeremy’s Criticisms on the Criminal Laws; and they consist, principally, of severe remarks on the various contradictory and absurd decisions respecting felony and other offences. These papers were generally placed in a drawer, turned over, criticized, corrected, altered, and amended, from time to time; then marginalized, and afterwards set in order.
His early notes frequently contain the germs of the opinions he afterwards elaborated in his greater works. Thus, in 1774, I find this sentence, which, in fact, forms the groundwork of his Theory of Morals and Legislation:—
“There is no man that doth a wrong for the wrong’s sake, but thereby to purchase himself profit or pleasure.” This grand truth was not hidden from Lord Bacon. His was a mind to be struck with the beauty of truth wherever it met him, but his was not an age when to pursue it to the utmost was either practicable or safe. “Cum vitia prosint, peccat qui recte facit: if vices were upon the whole matter profitable, the virtuous man would be the sinner.”
His usage was to keep every separate branch of a topic on a separate paper, which he could thus conveniently dispose of in its fit place.”
His rules for composition he afterwards condensed in the following verses: Nomography; 1828, February 3d.
Fadem Natura, eadem Nomenclatura.
“For thoughts the same, the same the words should be;
Where differ thoughts, words different let us see.”
“Sameness of thought, sameness of words attests;
. . . . . . . .
Take that half verse, then add who will what rests.”
I find, scattered over fragments of blotting paper, sentences almost illegible, but which record the thought of the moment in some emphatic form. I will give a few examples:—
“When will men cease beholding in Almighty Benevolence a cruel tyrant, who (to no assignable end) commands them to be wretched?”
“Why should the names of Religion and Morality be employed for purposes by which, if accomplished, Religion and Morality must suffer?”
“Men ought to be cautious ere they represent Religion to be that noxious thing which magistrates should proscribe.”
“The grand catastrophe of our sacred history is itself an act of the most illustrious suicide.”
Sundry Memoranda of Bentham, made in 1773-4:—
Prejugés in favour of Antiquity.
“It is singular that the persons who are most loud in magnifying the pretended advantage in point of wisdom of ancient over modern times, are the very same who are the most loud in proclaiming the superiority in the same respect of old men above young ones. What has governed them in both cases seems to have been the prejudice of names: it is certain that if there be some reasons why the old should have advantage over the young, there are at least the same reasons for times that are called modern having it over times that are called ancient. There are more: for decrepitude as applied to persons is real: as applied to times it is imaginary. Men, as they acquire experience, lose the faculties that might enable them to turn it to account: it is not so with times: the stock of wisdom acquired by ages is a stock transmitted through a vast number of generations, from men in the perfection of their faculties to others also in the perfection of their faculties: the stock of knowledge transmitted from one period of a man’s life to another period of the same man’s life is a stock from which, after a certain period, large defalcations are every minute making by the scythe of Time.”
1. “To make consummate characters, either in depravity or in virtue.
2. “To attribute every motion of public men to political motives; to attribute every action to ends and purposes which belong to them as politicians, and none to those which belong to them as men.
3. “To attribute every instance of supposed misconduct in public men to the depravity of the heart; and none to the imbecility of the head.
4. “To suppose everything illegal which appears to them inexpedient.”
Punishment.—Origin of the Vindictive Principle.
“Men, private men, punish because they hate. They think they see (for their own parts) just cause for themselves to punish, where they think they see just cause to hate. Lawgivers, like themselves, are men. They think they see just cause for lawgivers to punish, where they think they see just cause for lawgivers to hate. The law, they imagine, does so too. The more they hate, the more they wish to punish. Crimes, they are told, they ought to hate. Crimes it is made a matter of merit to them to hate. Crimes it is a matter of merit, of more than merit—of necessity, to punish. They are to hate them—they are to punish them. ’Tis their hating makes them wish to punish. How then should they punish but as they hate? They do so. The more they are disposed to hate, the more they are disposed to punish. What wonder? To ordinary apprehensions no mischief from this is visible. Yet more: no mischief in many cases exists, since in many cases it is true that the cause of hatred and the demand for punishment increase together. The cause which makes hatred rise is the reason which makes punishment expedient. If of punishment for any act there be more than is needful, it is either because there is too much of it where the act wants some; or there is some of it where the act wants none—‘What harm in a man’s suffering who does an act I hate? What harm in the man’s suffering whom I hate? When a man suffers whom I hate, where confessedly he ought to suffer, what matter whether it be a little less or a little more?’ Such is the reasoning of the multitude of men.
“How should they punish but as they hate? What other standard than their hatred should they assume? ’Tis the clearest standard, at least at any given time, when it is applied: though at different times its decisions are so apt to vary. What standard clearer? To know whether they hate in common—to know which of two crimes it is they hate most—what have they but to consult their feelings? What standard should they take? Even this or none. For to this hour, except here and there a disjointed sentence, no other has been laid down. If here and there others have indeed been set up, these have not themselves been rectified by the standard of utility—they clash. Nobody has yet attempted to mark out to each its limits, and mould them into one harmonious body.”
“There is no pestilence in a state like a zeal for religion, independent of (as contradistinguished from) morality.”
“As to people at large, I want little of their company, and much of their esteem.”
“Morality may well say of religion—Wherever it is not for me, it is against me.”
“No man appears to himself so bad as he is. No man acts against conscience in all that he acts amiss.”
“Prejudice and imposture always seek obscurity.”
“What is called legal style is the most execrable way of putting words together that ever was devised.”
“Ladies, like birds of paradise, have no legs; it is all feet with them.”
“Invention is learning digested: quotation is learning vomited up raw.”
“The constitutions of the Society of Arts, and of many other societies, are penned with conciseness and perspicuity. How happens this? Either there are no lawyers concerned, or their right-hand forgets her cunning. They forget that they are lawyers, and, seduced by example, become gentlemen, scholars, and philosophers.”
Conciseness is an apter term than brevity for a desirable property of style—conciseness is relative brevity.”
“A monarch is a sort of a creature that unites the properties of the Grand Lama and the Pope of Rome, not to mention an odd attribute or two that remain unclaimed by any other created being. Like the first of these, he is immortal: like the last infallible: as if this were not enough, he is omnipresent: no perfection that is imaginable is wanting to this god of our idolatry. Look at him well; turn him round and round; about and about; examine him limb by limb: a more accomplished deity at all points never trod upon dry ground.
“The plain truth of the matter would have made a poor figure in comparison of this description. It has pretensions to wit, and it might hope for the profits of servility. No king of the ordinary stuff that kings are made of could help being enchanted at the person pictured in this flattering mirror. An unpopular king might find a consolation for the contempt of his personal character in the adulation attached to his political character, which is that of his office. A wise king would turn with loathing from the incense: but a weak one might reward it.
“Greedy of incense without caring to deserve it: fond of any principle of awe that could serve to screen his person against attack—regardless whether it rooted there, glad to behold it planted by however ignoble hands; content to draw upon his office for a perpetual tribute of respect, without ever thinking of deserving it. Such is the condition of a king!”
Digest of the Law premature before Locke and Helvetius.
“A digest of the Laws is a work that could not have been executed with advantage before Locke and Helvetius had written: the first establishing a test of perspicuity for ideas; the latter establishing a standard of rectitude for actions. The idea annexed to a word is a perspicuous one, when the simple ideas included under it are assignable. This is what we owe to Locke. A sort of action is a right one, when the tendency of it is to augment the mass of happiness in the community. This is what we are indebted for to Helvetius.
“The matter of the Law is to be governed by Helvetius. For the form and expression of it we must resort to Locke.
“From Locke it must receive the ruling principles of its form—from Helvetius of its matter.
“By the principles laid down by Locke it must be governed, inasmuch as it is a discourse; by those of Helvetius, inasmuch as it is a discourse from authority, predicting punishment for some modes of conduct, and reward for others.”
Principles of Education.
“Education is a series of conduct directed to an end: before any directions can properly be given for the education of any person, the end of his education must be settled.
“The common end of every person’s education is Happiness.
“Happiness depends—1st, In the possession of the instruments; 2ndly, In the right method of applying them. The Happiness that can be proposed for a subject of education is either, 1stly, That stock that is obtainable from the stock of instruments man in appearance is born to the possession of: or that further stock that is to be hoped for from the acquisition of more.
“This divides education into—1stly, Defensive; 2dly, Active. The instruments productive of happiness are either—1st, Inherent; or, 2dly, External.
“Inherent, again, are either—1st, Of the body; 2dly, Of the mind. The most generally useful education is the defensive: the active never can be the education of the many. The active leads to preëminence: every man cannot be preëminent over every other.
“The only active plan of education the state ought to encourage, is that which tends no otherwise to increase the happiness of the individual than by increasing, at the same time, the happiness of the community.
“This is done by improving the arts and sciences which produce the instruments of happiness, or directing them in their application.
“This, too, is the only plan of active education the preceptor ought to promote by his instructions. The arts of supplanting and competition (where the advancement of one man is the depression of another) ought to be noticed in no other view than that of pointing out the means of frustrating them: they are of that sort of pernicious or unprofitable secrets, which it is right to teach only to make them inefficacious.
“A state rendered less happy, made up of individuals rendered more happy by the same circumstances, is a curious contradiction. This, however, is a notion advanced by Dr Johnson, in his Tour to Scotland, where he speaks of emigration.”
Vicinage of a Jury.
“If Vicinage is at all a matter to be regarded in a Jury, it should be vicinage to the witnesses, not to the parties. Vicinage to the witnesses whose character for veracity is at stake; upon whose veracity depends the truth of the relation: not vicinage to the parties upon whose veracity nothing depends, since nothing is taken from their relation.”
I find, in the handwriting of Bentham’s father, (dated 1773,) “Verses by a young gentleman of Oxford, on the report of a design to make barracks for recruits of the building in St James’s Park, adjoining to the garden of Jeremiah Bentham, Esq., in which is erected a temple to the memory of Milton, whose house it was, and where he lived when he wrote his immortal poem of Paradise Lost.”
No doubt Bentham was the author of these lines. The adjoining of the barracks to his hermitage troubled him to the end of his days. His studies were sometimes interrupted by the cries of the soldiers who were flogged in the barrack-yard; and I have often heard him speak with the utmost indignation and horror of that most unnecessary penalty, whose infliction was so frequently called to his mind by the sufferings of its victims.
From Bentham’s Commonplace Book for 1774-5, I copy the passages that follow:—
“Oh, Britain! Oh, my country! the object of my waking and my sleeping thoughts! whose love is my first labour and greatest joy—passing the love of woman, thou shalt bear me witness against these misruling men.
“I cannot buy, nor ever will I sell my countrymen. My pretensions to their favour are founded not on promises, but on past endeavours,—not on the having defended the popular side of a question for fat fees, but on the sacrifice of years of the prime of life—from the first dawnings of reflection to the present hour—to the neglect of the graces which adorn a private station; deaf to the calls of present interest, and to all the temptations of a lucrative profession.”
Bolingbroke’s Idea of a Patriot King.
“I opened it with eagerness,—I shut it with disappointment.
“I expected to have found something worthy of a great name: I found nothing but general maxims for the distribution of favours, and for exercising the functions of his executive character.
“Lord Bolingbroke’s patriot king was a king that would take Lord Bolingbroke into favour, and discard his successful rival, whom he hated.
“Barristers are so called (a man of spleen might say) à Barrando, from barring against reformation the entrances of the law. It would be as good an etymology as many a one of Lord Coke’s, and I believe entirely in his taste.”
Public Virtue in the Body of the People.
“The great body of the people can have no other virtue but zeal, no other corruption but indifference. It is impossible they can be zealous against their own political interests; but they may be so immersed in their private interests as to neglect them.
“The zeal of the people, which is the virtue of the people, does not depend upon the wisdom with which it chooses its objects: a people may be virtuous, that is, clamorous for very detrimental measures, so as it does but think them right. A people may be virtuous, though warmly attached to one who is nothing less than a friend to his country, so as they do but think him so. If two people present themselves, both alike destitute of pretensions in other respects, but one a favourer, the other an opposer of the court, (so that no particular event have happened to indispose them against the line of conduct pursued by an opposition;) mind which they choose: if they choose the latter, it cannot be said that they want virtue.”
Emblem for the System of Codes—Subject for a Medallion.
“A king crowned advancing from his throne, standing upon a platform raised above the level, upon steps; in his left hand a large bushy plant, the branches entangled and almost withered; in his right hand a twig, plucked off from the plant, which he is presenting to the foremost person of a mixed crowd, distinguished by the instrument of their several occupations, bending one knee as he is receiving it.
“The motto, ‘Discreta revirescerint.’ ”
Abuse and Use.—Both equally effects.
“The abuse of the thing is as much the effect of it as the use is. When a thing has various effects, some good and some bad, it is not by calling the bad by the name of abuses that will make them the less its effects than they were before. An abuse is a bad effect: now a bad effect is a thing as much its effect as a good one: the one has as much claim to consideration as the other. Whatever the subject be, the balance of the one should never be struck till after the deduction of the other; whatever the subject be, the business is to bring both bad and good effects equally into account; nor are there any better founded claims to merit for blinking one any more than the other. The true merit of the speculator consists in blinking neither; but, if he makes any difference, in taking most pains to place those in a clear light that are most in danger to be overlooked.
“An institution is not to be judged of from its abuses—understand this of its abuses singly; but these, as well as its benefits have an equal claim to be taken into account; for if these are more numerous and incontestible than those, it is from these rather than from those that its character ought to be reported.”
King Henry V. committed by Chief-Justice Gascoigne—A Subject for a Picture.
“Has it ever been proposed by the Society of Arts to offer a premium for the best historical painting upon the subject of the committment of Henry the Fifth, when Prince of Wales, by the Lord Chief-Justice, for striking him; the prize-picture to be presented to the Court of King’s Bench?
“Your Lordship, let it say, wants no memento, but it may serve to remind your successors, that the disclaimer of all respect of person, and an intrepid integrity, is at once the best road to the reverence of the people, and to the favour of an enlightened Prince.
“The scene should be just after the blow has been given. The Chief-Justice should be seen in the attitude of giving directions to the officers who have just laid hold on the Prince at the instant he is about to repeat the stroke.”
Dic aliquid et quod tuum.
“There are two classes of writers to whom the public is very little obliged: those who pretend to say something, and in effect say nothing; and those who say something, but say not what they think.
“He who thinks, and thinks for himself, will always have a claim to thanks; it is no matter whether it be right or wrong, so as it be explicit. If it is right, it will serve as a guide to direct: if wrong, as a beacon to warn.
“The needle directs as well to the South Pole, from whence it flies, as to the North which it pursues.
“The paradoxes of Hobbes and Mandeville (at which divines affect to be so much scandalized) were of service: they contained many original and bold truths, mixed with an alloy of falsehood, which succeeding writers, profiting by that share of light which these had cast upon the subject, have been enabled to separate.”
Conduct of the Understanding in Composing.
“Having found some word, however improper, to fix the idea, (upon the paper,) you may then turn it about and play round it at your leisure. Like a block of wood, which, when you have fixed in a vice, you may plane and polish at your leisure; but if you think to keep it in your hands all the time, it may slip through your fingers.”
“The people is my Cæsar: I appeal from the present Cæsar to Cæsar better informed.”
“Would you appear acutated by generous passion? be so.—You need then but show yourself as you are.”
“I would have the dearest friend I have to know, that his interests, if they come in competition with that of the public, are as nothing to me. Thus I will serve my friends—thus would I be served by them.”
“Has a man talents? he owes them to his country in every way in which they can be serviceable.”
“Independency is not in the fortune, but the mind.”
“The very mitre upon Warburton’s head might have reminded that right reverend person, that Civil Society does afford rewards. Let us not therefore say, that a mitre is no reward, but let us wish that it may never be worse bestowed.”
“The charity of some lawyers is boundless. If they can find no reason for a law, they presume that it had once a good one; and because it had once a good one, that it has so still.
“Thus far no great harm is done; but they are apt sometimes to go further, ‘therefore,’ say they, ‘ought it to be retained.’ It would be strange if they stopped at the conclusion which is the most specious and the least exceptionable.”
“The manner in which the composition of laws is in this respect performed, is such as would seem to indicate it to have been performed, either in derision or insult of the mind’s weakness, or in the infinite presumption of its strength.
“Yet prolixity, any more than redundancy, whatever certain persons may find it convenient to suppose, is no more the necessary attribute of the science of jurisprudence, than that of any other science.
“If there had been anything more to be gotten in physic and divinity by writing nonsense in long sentences—long sentences would, without doubt, have been written by doctors and divines.”
“Prolixity may be where redundancy is not. Prolixity may arise not only from the multifarious insertion of unnecessary articles, but from the conservation of too many necessary ones in a sentence; as a workman may be overladen not only with rubbish, which is of no use for him to carry, but with materials the most useful and necessary, when heaped up in loads too heavy for him at once. The point is therefore to distribute the materials of the several divisions of the fabric into parcels that may be portable without fatigue.
“There is a limit to the lifting powers of each man, beyond which all attempts only charge him with a burthen to him immoveable.
“There is in the like manner a limit to the grasping power of man’s apprehension, beyond which if you add article to article; the whole shrinks from under his utmost efforts. In no science is this limit more necessary to be consulted, in none has it been so utterly unattended to.”
“In England the clergy are scorpions which sting us. On the continent they are dragons which devour us.”
“To trace errors to their source is to refute them.”
“It is rare to meet with a man disinterested upon reflection.”
“’Tis here in matters of the law as it is in Roman Catholic countries in matters of religion: to keep clear of mistakes, you must be warned at every turn not to believe your own eyes.”
“Voluminousness is of itself a poison to perspicuity.”
“Falsehood is the high-road to (self) contradiction.”
“The effect of praise is to dispose to imitation.”
“All the industry of lawyers has been hitherto employed to prevent the grounds of law being canvassed, almost as anxiously as that of divines to prevent the grounds of religion from being examined.”
“In respect of notoriety, what is wanted is, that people may know the legal consequences of a point of conduct, before, not after, they have pursued it.”
“It is one thing for the law to be notorious to one looking from the station of a judge: and another to one looking from that of a common man.”
“It is as impossible for a lawyer to wish men out of litigation, as for a physician to wish them in health. No man (that is of the ordinary race of men) wishes others to be at their ease that he may starve.”
“There is no way in which the state can be prejudiced unless some individual suffer.”
“The use of words is not less to fix ideas for a man himself, than to communicate them to others. A man scarce knows he has the idea till he has the word.”
“Happy the people of whom one hears but little.”
Fictions of Law.
“Fictions are mighty pretty things. Locke admires them; the author of the Commentaries adores them; most lawyers are, even yet, well pleased with them: with what reason let us see.
“What is a fiction? A falsehood; but in this there is nothing to distinguish the peculiarity of its nature.—By whom invented? By judges.—On what occasion? On the occasion of their pronouncing a judicial decision.—For what purpose? One may conceive two—either that of doing in a roundabout way what they might do in a direct way, or that of doing in a roundabout way what they had no right to do in any way at all.
“The natural effect of praising a thing which has been done once, is, that it shall be done again; that those in whose way it lies to do it, shall do it; that those in whose way it lies to see it done, shall wish to see it; at least that they shall be content to see it done.
Arrest for debt in the first instance is lawful; certainly at this time of day, it is useful. I believe it. For all this the first judge who had the effrontery to remand a debtor brought before him on pretence of a criminal charge, whereas there was no criminal charge, should have gone to gaol himself, and not the debtor.
“Fictions are mighty pretty things, and like other pretty things, not the less esteemed, I suppose, because the manufactory of them is broken up. The manufactory of them is certainly broken up; and its greatest admirers would look, I trust, once and again before they attempted to revive it.
“Perhaps if pressed they might be brought to acknowledge that nothing in the shape of fiction would deserve, any more than it would meet, with approbation at this time of day: ’tis a pity but they had said as much of them of their own accord.”
Terms familiar falsely supposed to be understood.
“What we are continually talking of, merely from our having been continually talking of it, we imagine we understand; so close a union has habit connected between words and things, that we take one for the other; when we have words in our ears we imagine we have ideas in our minds. When an unusual word presents itself, we challenge it; we examine it ourselves to see whether we have a clear idea to annex to it; but when a word that we are familiar with comes across us, we let it pass under favour of old acquaintance.
“The long acquaintance we have had with it makes us take for granted we have searched it already; we deal by it, in consequence, as the custom-house officers in certain countries, who, having once set their seal upon a packet, so long as they see, or think they see that seal upon it, reasonably enough suppose themselves dispensed with from visiting it anew.”
“The idea of patriotism, too liable to be worshipped in the nation at large, and which some unhappy conjunctures have of late years so effectually conspired to obscure, is nowhere devoted to more open contempt than at Oxford. The genius of the place is a compound of orthodoxy and corruption: corruption, to give it force in the world; and orthodoxy, to cover its advances from the eyes of the people, and from the scrutiny of the party’s conscience.
“Be silent, secret, discreet, accommodating; crush silent innovations, join yourself with alacrity to those who would stop up the inlet at which light may enter: save them the fatigue of examining projects which distress, gall, and stimulate their indolence, and the vexation of being obliged to adopt measures which oppose a bar to their cupidity. Insult not weakness, and ignorance, and mediocrity, with the demonstrations of wisdom; and lest you should be tempted, bar its entrance into your minds. For six days let the mammon of unrighteousness, of intrigue, of avidity of fraud, of insincerity, be in your hearts; and on the seventh the gospel of righteousness, or what is given you instead of righteousness, in your ears.
“Men there are who live in the habitual practice of what themselves call perjury, and in the flagitious tyranny of forcing it upon others; who rise to broken vows as to their breakfast, and sleep on them as their pillow.”
“Suppose the topic were, the obligation which day labourers are under to work upon the roads, from the improvement of which, having neither horses nor carriages, it is said they reap no benefit.
“A company are discoursing on this law; and they all agree in censuring it:—
“ ‘It is hard,’ says one.
“ ‘It is unequal,’ says another.
“ ‘It is inequitable,’ says a third.
“ ‘It is most hard and unjust,’ says a fourth.
“ ‘It is oppressive,’ says a fifth.
“ ‘It is tyrannical,’ says a sixth.
“ ‘It is infamous,’ says a seventh.
“ ‘It is fiagitious,’ says an eighth.
“ ‘The man who framed it is a tyrant,’ says a ninth.
“ ‘Some unfeeling landlord—a blood-sucker of the poor,’ says a tenth.
“ ‘The case is not very different with the majority who passed it,’ says an eleventh.
“ ‘When you are about it, you may go a little higher,’ says a twelfth.
“ ‘These are your Right Reverend Fathers in God,’ says a thirteenth.
“No, indeed; as to them, you are mistaken, since it is a miracle if they ever trouble their heads, of their own accord, about anything, good or bad, except when it is to stand up for the violation of the rights of conscience.
“ ‘This is your pious king,’ says a fourteenth.
“ ‘We might as well send for one from Morocco,’ says a fifteenth.”
“Scandal is to the Moral Sanction, what Perjury is to the Political.”
“France may have philosophers. The world is witness if she have not philosophers. But it is England only that can have patriots, for a patriot is a philosopher in action.”
“If there was a language peculiar to innocence, it could be so only for one moment, for the next it would be usurped by guilt.”
“Nothing can be more flattering to the indolent, the disingenuous, the domineering spirit which lurks more or less in all men, than a practice for uniting in one’s own person the character of advocate and judge. Socrates had his Dæmon.”
“Let us profit from the most irrational and detestable of all systems, nor spurn a pearl though we find it in a dunghill.”
Subjects for Premiums.
1. “Essay on the Measures to be kept in Legislation, in all cases between Private and Public Interest.”
2. “Essay on the best method of reducing the burthen upon the Nation from sinecures and unnecessary offices, consistently with a due attention to the rights of the present patrons and possessors; with a due examination of the question how far, and whether to bad or good effect, the balance of power would be affected by such a scheme. None but a good minister will have the courage to endure such a discussion as this.”
3. “The best collection of examples of virtue adapted to the different classes of mankind.”
4. “The best Moral Catechism for the use of Schools.”
5. “The best Legal Catechism for the use of Schools.”
6. “History of Criminal Law in this Country, divided according to the several crimes. A compilation, or rather, as the degrees of merit in the execution of it could not be very various, and the compilation would be too voluminous to engage a number of writers upon hazard,—An Essay delineating the plan, and indicating the sources from whence the materials are to be obtained.”
7. “A new Treatise on a new species of Brachygraphy, or a System of Rules for the Conversion of Long Sentences into Short Ones, for the Legislatorial Style.”
Title for a Book.
“The Homage of Foreigners to the British Constitution.”
1.Moral Department.—“Inspire a hatred for conquerors, and a contempt for their admirers. Show the difference between conquest by an individual, and conquest by a nation. Conquest by an individual, especially made in the ancient or modern Eastern manner, is robbery in the gross.”
2.Scientific.—“Elements of all sciences upon playing cards. The contents to be made the subject of conversation.”
3.Moral.—“Inspire a general habit of applauding or condemning actions according to their general utility. Professional affections to be exploded. Natural affections to be encouraged, keeping clear of inhospitality. Family affections to be stationed in their proper place, viz. subordinate to natural ones.”
4. “Inspite a contempt for ancient philosophy, or philosophy of words.”
“The question between Christians and those who are not so, is a question of evidence. It is as unreasonable to make a difference of opinion on this question, one way or another, a matter of reproach, as the question, whether such a will was or was not made.”
The following letter from Bentham to his father, indicates the nature of his occupations, and of his literary projects, in 1776.
BENTHAM TO HIS FATHER.
I am now at work upon my capital work, I mean, ‘The Critical Elements of Jurisprudence.’* I am not now, as heretofore, barely collecting materials, but putting it into the form in which I propose that it should stand. I am working upon a plan which will enable me to detach a part and publish it separate from the rest. The part that I am now upon is the law of Personal Injuries: from thence I shall proceed to the law relative to such acts as are Injuries to property and reputation. This will include the whole of the Criminal Law relative to such offences as have determinate Individuals for their object. This part may be characterized by the name of the Law relative to Private Wrongs. The remainder, in that case, will come under the Law relative to Public Wrongs; but a much clearer and more natural line will be drawn between the offences that respectively come under those divisions, than the technical mode of considering the subject would admit of Blackstone’s drawing. Previous to these details will come that part of the work which contains the general principles by which the execution of those details is governed. Of this preliminary part the plan is pretty well settled, and the materials in good part collected.
“By what I have seen and learned concerning Sam’s† work, I doubt not his doing great things in geometry. The rogue is pressing me so, I must be done; I have sent him upon the mare, thinking this would be a good opportunity of his having a couple of rides.
“I am, Dear Sir, yours most dutifully and affectionately,
(Signed) “Jerry Bentham.
Fetcham, 1st Oct. 1776.”
When Bentham published the “Fragment on Government,” in 1776, it was his earnest desire not to be known as the author: he gives  the following account of his father’s making the fact known:—
“The secret which well-grounded diffidence, in conjunction with personal ambition, might for I know not what length of time have kept inviolate, received from paternal weakness, a premature disclosure. I had been designed by him for the situation now occupied by the Lord of Doubts, (Lord Eldon.) To afford me a prospect of it, and a relish for it, upon the publication of Lord Clarendon’s Memoirs of his own Life, he lost no time in putting the work into my hands.” But the influence of Clarendon was superseded in Bentham’s mind by that of Teresa Constantia Philips, whose Memoirs had just made their appearance, and to which references have already been made. “They were,” he said, “originally delivered out through a wicket in the door of a residence which, some years afterwards, became my father’s, and is now mine.* It was the first, and not the least effective, in the train of causes in which the works by which my name is most known had their origin.
“For some years before the publication of the Fragment, I had been regarded in the light of a lost child: despair had succeeded to the fond hopes which something of prematurity in my progress had inspired. On my being called to the bar, I found a cause or two at nurse for me: my first thought was how to put them to death; and the endeavours were not, I believe, altogether without success. Not long after, a case was brought to me for my opinion. I ransacked all the codes. My opinion was right, according to the codes; but it was wrong, according to a manuscript unseen by me, and inaccessible to me; a MS. containing the report of I know not what opinion, said to have been delivered before I was born, and locked up, as usual, for the purpose of being kept back or produced according as occasion served. This incident, the forerunner of so many others, added its fuel to the flame which Constantia had lighted up. I went to the bar as the bear to the stake; I went astray this way and that way. The region of chemistry, amongst other foreign fields, was one in which I wandered. I incurred the anathema which, without my knowledge, had been pronounced against me, and against all who dared presume to accompany me or follow me in my wayward course. I walked erect in all those regions in which prostration of understanding and will, had, with such successful suit, and such illustriously consecrated authority, been prescribed.
“My optics were to such a degree distorted, that, to my eyes, the imperfections of the phantom rule of action seemed only errors calling for an easy remedy. I had not learned how far they served as sources of wealth, power, and factitious dignity. I had contracted—oh, horrible! that unnatural, and, at that time, almost unexampled appetite—the love of innovation.
“In my anxiety to soothe the paternal sufferings, ere yet the ‘Fragment on Government’ had issued from the press, I could not conceal the little attempt I had made to raise myself out of that obscurity which, while on myself it sat lightly, was to him so unendurable. He would thereby see that my mind had not been totally abstracted from the country so rich in gold mines, though so unknown in the golden age. I saw the use of secrecy: I solicited at his hands, not without earnestness, a correspondent promise, and obtained it. My father, it may well be imagined, was not among the last to whom the sensation produced by it was perceptible. One day, as I was at my chambers, a neighbour and friend of his, whom I had never before seen, called to offer me his congratulations. Struck all of a heap with the unexpected charge, penetrated with that abhorrence for falsehood which I had imbibed from earliest infancy, I sought refuge in the arms of evasion and found none. I remember it as if it had been yesterday. My countenance could not but have betrayed the strongest symptoms of the confusion under which I laboured: the countenance of a guilty criminal charged on the sudden with the blackest crime could not have betrayed more. Blushing in the female sex is not so liable to be misconstrued. Blushing in the male sex is too frequently and constantly regarded as a proof of guiltiness: it is a proof of sensibility and fear of disrepute, by whatever incident called forth; but, except in so far as fear of being thought guilty is proof of guilt, it affords no proof of the existence of the object, by the idea of which the apprehension is excited.
“I remember the time when my almost infant face used to burn when, in the carriage with my father and mother, I passed a wall on which were any of those scrawls which, in those days, were so frequent, and in these more polished days so rare—scrawls of which it was surely no fault of mine that the import was unknown to me. The only instance in which I recollect a degree of inflammation comparable to that experienced by me when taxed with having given birth to the literary foundling, was one in which I not only had not done any such scandalous act as the joke imputed to me, but could not for a moment have entertained any serious belief that I either then was or could have been suspected of it. Finding that my cheeks had been regarded as affording conclusive evidence of what my tongue had endeavoured to conceal; understanding, at the same time, from the tormentor, that direct evidence of the affirmative had been received by him from a quarter superior to all suspicion—a quarter that was suspicion-proof—I ceased kicking against the pricks, and received, as composedly as I could, the unwelcome compliment. The eagerness to obtain some little alleviation under so long a course of suffering, had, in an unguarded moment, it was but too plain, shut the door of my father’s memory against the plighted promise.
“Of repentance for this weakness, there was soon but too much cause: no sooner had the images of the illustrious reported father vanished—no sooner was it known that the bantling was the offspring of somebody known to nobody, than the rate of sale underwent a sensible diminution. More than a few months, or perhaps weeks, had, indeed, not elapsed, when I understood from the bookseller that no copies of the work were in his warehouse; somehow or other, however, no direct application for a fresh edition was at the same time made; and afterwards I heard, though still by accident, that a parcel, which, by accident, had been mislaid, had been found. Besides the obscurity of the author, one cause, perhaps, of the non-desire, may be found in the reimpression which the work had received in Dubliu. Reimpression is a circumstance which, having in those days been stamped with the name of piracy, has, since the union of the two kingdoms, been at an end.
“It seems not easy to say in what degree the currency received by the Letters of Junius may have been indebted to that secrecy, which, after such multiplied and still renewed endeavours to penetrate into it, has still remained impenetrable. That, under equal concealment, the Fragment should have received a degree of currency comparable to that of the Letters of Junius, is not to be thought of; but it might have received a currency, not a quarter, not perhaps a tenth, so great as Junius’ Letters, and still have received one much more extensive than it has actually experienced.”
What follows was written in 1822, and exhibits the strange contrast between the state of mind of the young enthusiast communicating to the world his great discovery, and that of the experienced old man who had discovered that the causes of evil lie deeply rooted in our social organisation.
“The reader cannot have gone through the first sentence in the Fragment without having seen the passion that gave rise to it—the passion for improvement: I mean in those shapes in particular in which the lot of mankind is meliorated by it—a passion which has been rekindled by recent incidents, and is not likely to be extinguished but with life: a passion for improvement in every line; but more particularly in the most important of all lines, the line of government. At an age a few months before or after seven years, the first embers of it were kindled by Telemachus. By an early pamphlet of Priestley’s, the date of which has fled from my recollection, light was added to the warmth. In the phrase, ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number,’ I then saw delineated, for the first time, a plain as well as a true standard for whatever is right or wrong, useful, useless, or mischievous in human conduct, whether in the field of morals or of politics. It was, I think, in my twenty-second year, that I saw in it the foundation of what seemed to me the only correct and instructive encyclopædical arrangement—a map or chart of the field of thought and action: it is the same map which stands in the work intituled ‘Chrestomathia.’ I felt the sensation of Archimedes when I committed the first rough and imperfect outline to one side of a half-sheet of paper; which, not entirely useless, served, I hope, to help to kindle a more substantial flame.
“No sooner had my farthing candle been taken out of the bushel, than I looked for the descent of torches to it from the highest regions: my imagination presented to my view torches descending in crowds to borrow its fire. Of disposition, in the midst of such excellence, with which, as all pens and all voices concurred in assuring me, I was so abundantly eucompassed, I could not suspect any deficiency; for, clearing away the imperfections which still remained in Government, all that was wanting was a few of those lights which, I could not tell how, had happened to take my mind for their first visiting-place.
“Nothing could be more opposite to the truth. Instead of the universal sympathy, of which I had expected to see these graspings after improvement productive in those higher regions, universal antipathy—antipathy on the part of all parties—was the result: proofs of the fact came in upon me one after another; but sixty years had rolled over my head before I had attained to anything like a clear perception of the cause. On the other hand, while everything of mine, which I had ever set any value on myself, remained an object of antipathy, I found myself in those same elevated regions, though not so early as I had expected, an object of sympathy. All this while, fruits so opposite in their nature—the bitter and the sweet—had in my talents, such as they were, the common cause: the antipathy in the direction I had hitherto given to the exercise of them: the sympathy in the direction I was supposed capable of giving to them, and upon the application of appropriate and not often-failing inducements, disposed, like other men, to give to them.
“Now, for some years past, all inconsistencies, all surprises, have vanished: everything that has served to make the field of politics a labyrinth, has vanished. A clue to the interior of the labyrinth has been found: it is the principle of self-preference. Man, from the very constitution of his nature, prefers his own happiness to that of all other sensitive beings put together: but for this self-preference, the species could not have had existence. Place the chief care of each man in any other breast or breasts than his own, (the case of infancy and other cases of intrinsic helplessness excepted,) a few years, not to say a few months or weeks, would suffice to sweep the whole species from the earth. By this position, neither the tenderest sympathy, nor anything that commonly goes by the name of disinterestedness, improper and deceptive as the appellation is, is denied. Peregrinus Proteus, the man whom Lucian saw burning himself alive, though not altogether without reluctance, in the eyes of an admiring multitude, and without any anticipation of a hereafter, was no exception to it. It was interest, self-regarding interest, that set fire to this so extraordinary a funeral pile. Yes; and interest there is in every human breast for every motive, for every desire, for every pain and pleasure. Be it ever so feeble, no pain or pleasure but, under favourable circumstances, as Aaron’s serpent swallowed up all other serpents, is capable of swallowing up all other pains and pleasures,—the interest belonging to all other interests: no pain, no pleasure so weak, but, under favourable circumstances, may have magnitude enough in the mind to eclipse all other pains, as well as all other pleasures; strength enough to close the eyelids of the mind against all other pains, as well as all other pleasures.
“The pleasure of reputation had, for some time, obtained exclusive possession of the mind of Proteus: it had shut the doors, not only against all future contingent pleasures, but against the pain of burning; or, to speak more properly, of suffocation. The self-devoting burial sacrifices of Hindostan belong not to this head: they are the effects of much more complicated causes, in the composition of which, as in that of most human evils, what is called religion, occupies a principal place.
“If self-preference has place in every human breast, then, if rulers are men, so must it have in every ruling breast. Government has, accordingly, under every form comprehending laws and institutions, had for its object the greatest happiness, not of those over whom, but of those by whom, it has been exercised; the interest not of the many, but of the few, or even of the one, has been the prevalent interest; and to that interest all others have been, at all times, sacrificed. To these few, or this one, depredation has everywhere been the grand object, oppression a subsidiary one: where, to the purpose of depredation, oppression has sufficed; oppression, as being the cheaper instrument, has been employed alone: where the aid of corruption has been necessary, the aid of it, notwithstanding the expense of it, has been called in; and what has been lost in quantity has thus been gained in stability.
“In a government in which a representation of the People, or a shadow of one, has place; of the matter of good, in all its shapes—money, power, factitious dignity—that portion which is at the disposal of the monarch operates upon the whole of that body, in the character of matter of corruptive influence. It operates of itself; and, without need of so much as a single act that can be called an act of corruption, suffices to the production of the effect. It operates upon all parties, and with influence which never has been, and never can be, resisted. All parties are, in fact, at all times, resolvable into two: that which is in possession, and that which is in expectancy, of the sweets of government. Between the two, there is always the semblance of a difference; for the party which, being out of office, acts against office with its abuses, cannot act against it without acting to an extent more or less considerable for the People. There is, therefore, always the semblance of a difference; but with regard to the People’s interests, there is never anything more than a semblance.
“This state of things is of the essence of mixed monarchy.
“By reform is meant, or at least in it is included, abolition of corruptive influence. All those who see, in the matter and fruit of corruptive influence, the object of their desires, are, therefore, whether in possession or expectancy, alike enemies to reform in every shape. Improvement, in so far as applied to political power, to the quantity of it, or the distribution of it, is but another word for reform; is but reform under another name: they are, therefore, alike enemies to improvement—to improvement in every such shape. But when, in any shape, improvement is brought to view and advocated, it is naturally advocated upon right and proper principles. The all-comprehensive and all-directing principle, the greatest-happiness principle, is, in some shape or other, in some point of view or other, brought forward. But of this fountain of all political as well as of all moral good, the water is an object of horror, to all who are engaged in the war of politics; the sound or the sight of it is to them that which the touch of the salted holy water is to the unclean spirits; to the unclean spirits on both sides: and at the bottom, no less than at the top of the world of politics, all spirits that move in it are unclean. From this field of universal depravity issues, at all times, a loud and indefatigable cry of excellence. The world of politics is, by the acknowledgment of both parties, divided into two opposite regions; the world of major, and the world of minor purity. Between the two hypotheses, the only difference is, that where the one party places the major, the other places the minor excellence. At the summit of both, high in the region of the clouds, in the portrait drawn by both, sits royal excellence; underneath both, in the regions of depravity, lie, or grovel, the lower orders: these, by an all-benevolent, all-just, and all-wise God, (blessed be his name!) having been made for the use of the higher, have this, and no other title to their regard.
“Such being the fashionable picture, the British-constitution picture of the field of politics, what is the true one?
“What there is of purity in the mixture, is to be found, if not absolutely at the bottom, much nearer to it than at the top; what there is of corruption rises to the top: if the lower orders have been called the dregs of the population, the higher may, by a much clearer title, be termed the scum of it.
“The world that is, and the world that is to come, are painted by the same hands on the same plan, and for the same purposes. God—archangels, and angels—devils. God and the king have sitten for each other; members of Right Honourable House for Archangels; members of Honourable House for Angels; Devils, all without doors, who, to the rest of hierarchy so constituted, are matter of contempt. An Angel, is he anything but a messenger? Members of the Honourable House, are they not the People’s messengers, sent by the People; or, what is better, by God or Archangels to represent them? And can anything be more in course than that Angels should ripen into Archangels? A Devil, is he anything but an accuser? A Prophet, was he anything but a man who, on occasion, could speak out?
‘Tutto il mondo è fatto come nostra famiglia’—was it not the discovery made by Harlequin?”
The “Fragment on Government” was seen by nobody before it was published. Five hundred copies of it were printed. It was ascribed to many of the great men of the day: to Lord Mansfield, Lord Camden, and Lord Ashburton. It was the means of introducing Bentham to Lord Shelburne; but it brought no profit, whatever it may have brought of fame. It was not, however, the only attack upon Blackstone written by Bentham. He wrote “Castrations to the Comment on the Commentaries; being the Third Chapter of the Second Book of that work published, as it might have been;” but, apprehensive of prosecution, the work was never printed. The latter work is a bitter animadversion on Blackstone, principally on account of his defence of the Jewish law. Bentham introduces the volume with a declaration that he will never answer any inquiries as to the authorship. He justifies Burke for refusing, though sorely pressed, to declare whether or not he wrote the Letters of Junius. He lays it down as a rule, that there are only two cases where the public has a right to call upon an anonymous author to produce himself. First, where he is accused of being the magnifier of his own works; and, second, where he depreciates the reputation of another by the allegation of specific facts:—in the first case, from a regard to his own honour; in the second, out of regard to the justice due to others. He denies, in all other cases, the right of any man to inquire of any othre man whether he be responsible for an anonymous book, and especially while our libel laws exist as they are. He asserts that an author is entitled to presuppose malevolence on the part of such an inquirer, and to answer the inquirer thus:—“Do you think if I were such a villain (as you would call me) to write this book, that I would be such a fool as to tell you so, in order to give you, and those who think with you, the pleasure of seeing me punished?”
The “Fragment on Government” appears to have called down upon Bentham not a few anathemas. His opinions, religious as well as political, were violently attacked, and much of the ribaldry of the day was attributed to the unknown author of the Fragment. Among other books, “The White Bull” was laid at his door: speaking of which, on one occasion, he said to me, “Come, now, I’ll make to you a confession as long as my arm; so accommodate your phiz to gravity. Know you Voltaire’s squibs called L’Evangile du Jour? If you do not, it is better you had known them. There was one called Le Taureau blanc. I proposed the translation to Lind. Lind was so lazy that I undertook it merely for the pleasure of translating it. There was a coarseness, a want of refinement, of tact, in Lind’s style that displeased me. The tale is a sort of romance, the scene of which lies in Egypt. I fancy I have a copy of the book; and if you can get a dispensation you shall have it. The White Bull is brought into contact with Apis. The Witch of Endor, the Serpent who was the devil, are among the dramatis personæ. For weeks it filled me with ecstasy. They meet with my namesake the prophet Jeremy, after which they were turned into Magpies, and went on talking as if nothing had happened to them: a miracle for no purpose in the world. It used to convulse me with laughter. It is an admirable thing. There was Mambres, with his long beard, toujours faisant his reflections. I drew it out as a piece of original history of great value for correcting erroneous chronology. Jonah’s whale was also an important personage. The Critical Review noticed it, and said it had all the wit and pungency of Voltaire. I had not courage to send Voltaire a copy. He would have invited me to Ferney had I done so. It was the goodness of the style of this book that induced Hinsley to offer me work as a translator: but the book did not sell. A man of the name of Franklin, who was translating Voltaire, took the book off the booksellers’ hands.”
It appears, at one time, to have been Bentham’s intention to publish an answer to those who had accused him of being the author of the White Bull. But he abandoned that intention. As his views, however, on the complicated question of the rights and duties of anonymous authorship are ingeniously put forward, I deem them worthy of being preserved.
“I have given too much offence to many well-disposed persons, not to expect to be charged with offences. The industry ordinary upon these occasions, hasraked up an accusation against me. It is now about—years ago, as I observe by the title-page, that an obscure jeu d’esprit made its appearance, under the title of ‘The White Bull,’ attributed to Mr Voltaire; a translation,* with a preface by the translator. I shall not wonder to find myself charged, by the zeal of these—persons, with every book, published within a certain time, that happens to be obnoxious and to have no owner. With respect to this publication in particular, I am happy enough to be able to plead not guilty, and to say, with truth, that I am not the author. I have read it, however, not altogether without amusement; but mixed, here and there, with sentiments of which my accusers would not fail, I suppose, to make an earnest, pompous, and pathetic display. I might here launch out into a grief of griefs: nothing were more easy. But what sentiments of piety I feel, I choose rather to demonstrate by less equivocal marks than a strain of declamation, which can tend only to bring into notice an obscure piece of Grub Street manufacture, which, hitherto, neither has had, nor, if the author will excuse my saying so, deserves to have, any regard. My humble, but assiduous, labours, which I hope will not cease but with my life, I desire to be engaged in the service of my country. This is the piety of which it is important to mankind to find proofs in their neighbours. The other sort is between God and me; of which it were idle and useless for any man to demand a public account of me, or for me to give it. For my opinions, I refer to such writings as are mine; for the effects and tendency of these opinions, to my life and actions. If these gentlemen have aught to object to either the one or the other, let them produce it to the public, if they think it decent to trouble the public about a person so little worth its notice. So that it be to the public, that I may know and answer it; far from complaining, I shall thank them, and will wave every advantage the law would give me.
“As to publications, all I shall say I have said already. They may compliment me with all the produce of Paternoster Row, ere I shall take any further notice: there is neither end to it nor use.”
Of the uncomfortable state of his mind while living in Lincoln’s Inn, Bentham gives the following account:—
“I never pleaded in public. I have just opened a bill two or three times, saying a few words for form. When I had obtained my father’s leave to give pleading up, I heard that the bills were admired. My father was always out of spirits for my want of success.
“I was, indeed, grossly ignorant. Instead of pursuing any sound studies, or reading any modern books of law, I was set to read old trash of the seventeenth century; and I looked up to the huge mountain of law in despair. I can now look down upon it from the heights of utility.
“Chemistry somewhat consoled me. I spent half-a-guinea on a quantity of phials, and hid them in a closet, in which I surreptitiously made a hole to let in a little light. But mine was truly a miserable life. I had been taken notice of by the great, when a little boy at Westminster School; for I was an object of praise from the earliest time of which I have any recollection. That filled me with ambition. But I met with all sorts of rebukes and disappointments till I was asked to Bowood.”
In his Commonplace Book, for 1776, I find many passages worthy of preservation:—
“Prosecutions for offences against laws relating to the Customs and Excise are often, it seems, carried on in the Crown-office.
“They are very frequent: at the same time, what might appear extraordinary till accounted for, scarce one or two in the course of a year are brought to trial.
“A certain connexion that there is in this case, between interest and power, will sufficiently account for this as for all other phenomena that are observable relating to the execution of the laws.
“It is the interest of those who happen to have a power correspondent to that interest, that prosecutions should be commenced: accordingly they are commenced in numbers; but it is the interest of the same persons that such prosecutions should not be pushed on to punishment, but he compounded: accordingly they are compounded.
“It is a very small proportion that the number of the offences that are detected, bears to the number of those that escape unpunished; and it is not every detection, perhaps, that is accompanied with proof sufficient to support a prosecution. When, however, by good fortune a prosecution is commenced, the first thing the defendant always does, is to petition the commissioners to be permitted to compound. The petition is almost always granted; so far granted at least, as that the defendant is referred to the solicitor of the office. The solicitor is always compassionate, and the deliquent cannot but be grateful. A ‘bill of costs’ is made out by the solicitor. The ordinary fees taken by solicitors in penal prosecutions, are just double those taken by attorneys in civil actions. The defendant has too much magnanimity to enter into a minute and invidious inquiry; whether every little charge is warranted by the rigid rule of custom, is an inquiry the defendant’s magnanimity seems unwilling to enter into; and his generosity indicates the propriety of a proper present.
“By this happy arrangement, all parties (that is, all private parties) are satisfied. The delinquent receives a silent squeeze from a palm his gratitude has softened, instead of being crushed by the rough hand of open justice. His official friend enjoys that purest of satisfactions which results from the godlike function of forgiving injuries: a satisfaction the freer from all alloy, in that the said injuries are not his own.
“All this is admirable; but how fares it with the public all this while? and what becomes of the benefit of example? and of what use is this sum of secret torture to those who are under temptation to offend, but whom the spectacle of punishment might deter?
“Thus happy then is the harmony in this branch of law between public and private interest.
“The interest of the public is, that punishment be known to be inflicted; and, therefore, that when there is occasion it be inflicted, in order that delinquencies may be few. The interest of those who act in this matter for the public, is, that delinquencies may be many; and lest they should not be many, that the punishment that happens to be incurred for them, should, upon certain conditions, be as little as may be, and that little not be known.
“To this interest, as things stand at present, is joined the power. Of this power, I know not whather this man or that man makes an undue profit; but I know, as a child of this world, he is unwise in his generation if he does not.
“The matters of fact taken from J. F. Abbot, at 2, Q. S. P., Wednesday, May, 1775.
Employment for Pauper Manufacturers.
“The great evil manufacturers are liable to, is that of a temporary stagnation of trade, which leaves vast numbers at a time without employment, and without subsistence. For a remedy, I propose public works to be set on foot in the neighbourhood of manufacturing towns: to be carried on by none but manufacturers out of employment. For example, digging of canals, deepening of harbours, making of roads, building of fortifications.
“The kind of work must be such as requires no skill, because the workmen will be set to it without preparation.
“The pay must be less than what they can earn by their manufacture, or else they would quit their manufacture. None should be employed about it, but manufacturers out of employment; because it is for their relief that it is designed. When applying to be employed in it, they should therefore be required to produce a certificate of their being manufacturers of such a manufacture, having been so for such a time. When thus confined to them, their pay may be something higher than that of common labourers, as their earnings at their manufactures are generally much greater than those of common labourers. The national or the county fund might make good the difference.
“The parishes where the manufactures are, might well contribute a certain proportion of the charge, as such an establishment would be a great relief to the Poor-rates.
Law—an affair of pain and pleasure.
“If law did not concern pains and pleasures, it would be a very idle business—a business in no way superior in dignity, and much inferior in amusement, to dominoes or push-pin.
“It does, however, concern pain and pleasure. Pain and pleasure await each motion of its will. This, however, lawyers are wonderfully disposed to forget: it never seems to have entered into the heads of some, and it is this inattention that is the source of all their absurdities. Hence their quaint reasoning and ridiculous conundrums.
“Of the merits of a work of which truth is the object, one cannot have an adequate idea, or a perfect relish, without some acquaintance with the errors against which it is levelled, and which it is calculated to displace. With respect to others, the apparent merit of such a work will be apt to be in an inverse proportion to the real. The better it answers its purpose, of making an abstruse subject plain, the more apt it will be to appear to have nothing in it that is extraordinary.
“An observation that seems to contain nothing more than what every one knew already, shall turn volumes of specious and formidable sophistry into wastepaper. The same book may succeed ill with different sets of people for opposite reasons; by the ignorant, who have no opinions about the matter, it may be thought lightly of, as containing nothing that is extraordinary; by the false learned, who have prejudices they cannot bear to have questioned, it may be condemned as paradoxical, for not squaring with these prejudices.”
“In 1777 I translated the first of two volumes of the last of Marmontel’s novels, dull and insipid, and it fell and was forgotten. It was put into my hands by Elmsley of the Strand. I said I was proud as well as poor. He offered three guineas a sheet. I engaged for it. I grew tired long before. I had done; but forty guineas was to me a most important sum, though I was exceedingly capricious about my style. The second volume of Marmontel was translated by a parson—a Presbyterian parson of the name of Nixby. He was, as I said, no better than a Scotsman: and I confess, I think my volume the best of the two.”
At this time, Bentham was frequently visited by his father, to encourage him in his literary pursuits. In turning over the pages of his father’s diary, I read to him the following memoranda, and have added to them the observations to which they gave rise:—
“December 7th, 1777.—Au matin, at son Jeremy’s chambers, perusing his new work proposed to be entitled ‘The Policy of Punishment.’ Paid him his expenses for standing godfather to Mr Wise’s eldest daughter.”
—“This was part of the ‘Rationale of Punishment,’ published by Dumont.”
“1778, January 23.—Called chez fils J., when he showed me the heads or division of his work.”
—“Poor fils Jeremy! how I was tormented! I went on very slowly in my father’s conception; but it was the result of dejection of spirits. I was feeling and picking my way—getting the better of prejudice and nonsense—making a little bit of discovery here—another there—and endeavouring to put the little bits together.”
Bentham’s View of the Hard Labour Bill, alluded to in the extracts which follow, was published in 1778: it brought him into correspondence with Mr Eden, the author of the bill, who was also the author of the preface which Bentham said he admired beyond anything he ever read on the subject of legal polity. Mr Eden defends himself in his letters to Bentham for employing the phrase, “not disposed to propose or promote novelties,” (which Bentham attacked as “the wisdom-of-ancestors fallacy,”) by saying, “he merely meant to disavow that busy interference with established systems, which, except on occasions of necessity, like the present, is oftener productive of confusion than benefit,”—an unsatisfactory defence, since every one, who profits by an abuse, denies that his own case is the “occasion of necessity.” Justice Blackstone, in acknowledging the receipt of a copy of the work, calls it “ingenious;” adding, that “some of the observations in the ‘View’ had already occurred to the patrons of the intended bill, and many more are well deserving their attention.”
“March 15.—Fils Jerry about putting to press his ‘Observations on Mr Eden’s Bill.’ ”
“26th.—Au matin, went to fils Jeremy’s chambers, settling the preface to his ‘Observations on the Hard Labour Bill.’ ”
—“This was my constant ebstruction, depriving me of free agency.”
“28th.—Fils Jeremy dinoit chez nous, and showed me Mr W. Eden’s answer to his letter about the preface to the Hard Labour Bill proposed to be published by him.”
—“Eden and Judge Blackstone were together the authors of this bill. I worked them to a jelly. I thought what was so interesting to me was interesting to all the world; but nobody cared at all about it.
“Eden’s letter was very cold and civil. He was a commissioner to make peace with the Americans, or rather to forgive them; but they would not be forgiven.”
“April 5th.—Chez fils Jeremy, when he gave me six copies of his book to send to some of the judges by Thomas.”
—“In these matters I had no option. It was pushing, pushing, pushing; none of them took any notice of the book.”
“November 19.—Chez fils Jeremy L. F., when he told me he had gone halfway towards composing his ‘Code of Laws.’ ”
—“A misconception. He had not understood my answers.”
In 1779, I observe an entry:—“April 19th. Called on son Jeremy, and gave him, towards paying his amanuensis, £5, 5s.”
—“Pinched as I was at this time for money, I had a strange aversion to accounts, coupled with perfect economy. I never kept money accounts: I was always thinking of legislation and chemistry. It is not common for non-account-keepers to be as I was, rigid economists. Two of the happiest dinners I ever made in my life were with my brother on five pennyworth of mutton at Lincoln’s Inn. I used to distil my water for experiments on the hob. The tea-kettle was always the third person in our conversation. We talked of all sorts of schemes. One was to send some sort of present to the House of Representatives which was to explode. I thought the Americans used sadly stupid arguments, and that there was no better reason for their breaking out than for the breaking out of any other part of the country.”
Bentham employed a poor fellow, half for use, half for charity, something between servant and clerk, to copy his MSS.
The following curious and characteristic entry appears in the diary of Bentham’s father, dated November 8, 1778; nor are Bentham’s observations, when I read to him the passage, less characteristic:—“Mr William Barrett dinoit chez nous; après diner Mr Drake chez nous, when me and son Abbott (Charles) went to Justice Robert Elliott’s public office, Cambridge Street, to answer the complaint of Sarah Wheeler against me for wearing unlawful buttons on my clothes, when she swore she saw Mr Bentham have a silk waistcoat with the same on the 13th November, but that she did not see him in the room. At the same time she was heard to a complaint against Mr Whittel for wearing a brown silk waistcoat with buttons of the same stuff; but, on her swearing to a wrong person, she was charged with being guilty of wilful and corrupt perjury; and, a warrant being made out against her, she was committed accordingly, at the instance of Mr Nokes of New Inn, attorney for Mr Whittel. Après midi, drank tea with Sir John and Lady Hawkins—rude, despotic, and reproachful, for not prosecuting S. W. as well as Mr Whittel.”
—“And they were unlawful buttons,” exclaimed Bentham, “worn by the person whom she supposed to be my father. Poor woman! she accepted the reward offered by the State. I never think of the rage against informers without myself being in a rage against it—calling out for laws, and then visiting with shame those who assist in their execution; determining that a thing shall be done, and shall not be done, in preventing its being done through the only means by which it can be done. Sir John was a most insolent, worthless, fellow. He wrote five volumes on the history of music, but knew nothing of the subject in theory or practice.”
An active correspondence was carried on between Bentham and some of the public men of France, who were now obtaining celebrity in that great agitation which preceded the Revolution, or which was rather the earliest symptom of the Revolution. In a letter of D’Alembert to Bentham, dated 26th June, 1778, he says:—“It is indeed high time that the human race should be freed from all the absurdities, or rather, all the atrocities of our criminal jurisprudence; and if we may not speedily hope to see this great change, it is a happiness for which philosophers like you are preparing the way by your writings—useful as they are to society, and honourable to yourself.” The Abbé Morellet, in a letter of the 8th May, 1778, announcing that the government had, by an arbitrary order, suppressed Mirabeau’s periodical, which, only having reached its second number, had 7000 subscribers, says:—“the suppression has caused a terrible noise, and excited loud complainings.” He laments the violent passions which were then beginning to show themselves, both in the provincial and national assemblies; the want of order in the discussions, and of authority in the presidents; the vagueness of the debates, and the preponderance of the lawyers; and especially the follies of his own “reverend order,” which, he says, “would induce him speedily to hurry into retirement, that he might not be compromised by their extravagances.”
The Chevalier de Castellux writes to Bentham:—“In these days laws must be discussed, and, if they deserve it, censured; and courtly legists must bend under the weight of mental criticism.” He says of Necker, that “his purposes are good and benevolent, but possessing only an executive authority, not grounded on popular representation or popular support, his real influence must be weak.”
Bentham told me that he had never personal intercourse with Franklin. “There was a Doctor Swediaur,* who amassed a little fortune at Paris, though he was pulling the devil by the tail here. He was a pleasing man, of a great deal of knowledge in his way. He took a 4to copy of my Essay on Morals, &c., which he gave to Franklin; but he never expended any observations upon it, which was then a matter of considerable regret and disappointment to me.”
[* ] When the book was printed in 1780, (it was not published till 1789,) he changed its name to “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.” It is in vol. i. of the Works.
[† ] His brother, afterwards Sir Samuel Bentham.
[* ] See, in the Rationale of Evidence, an allusion to this work, and a quotation from the portion bearing on Legal Abuses, Works, vol. vii. p. 219.
[* ] Critical Review, vol. xxxviii. (1774) where this translation, titled, “The White Bull, an Oriental History, from an Ancient Syrian MS., communicated by M. Voltaire, cum notis editoris et variorum,” is favourably contrasted with another translation.
[* ] Francis Xavier Swediaur, author of the Philosophical Dictionary, &c. He died in 1824.