Front Page Titles (by Subject) BENTHAM TO HIS FATHER. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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BENTHAM TO HIS FATHER. - 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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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:—
[* ] 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.