Front Page Titles (by Subject) Truth—in books. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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Truth—in books. - 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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“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.”
Visits to Lord Shelburne.—Letters from Bowood: The Bowood Ladies: Lord Pembroke: Court Scandal: Necker: Louis XVI.: Lord Bristol.—American War: Captain Blankett: Elliot: Siege of St Lucie: Lord Dartry: Lord Chatham and William Pitt: Dunning: Relation of an Overture by Lord North to the Rockinghams: Lord and Lady Tracton: American Intelligence: Camden: Sir William Draper’s Letter to Lord Shelburne.
Bentham’s connexion with Lord Shelburne (afterwards Marquis of Lansdowne) began in 1781, when his lordship called on him at his chambers in Lincoln’s Inn. The intimacy became very great, and Bentham spent much of his time at Bowood.
Lady Shelburne died in 1789. During her last illness, Benjamin Vaughan and Bentham were the only persons of the male sex whose presence she could endure; and, on her death, he was the only male person who was constantly near Lord Shelburne, of that little party to which he looked for consolation.
When a rupture took place with Col. Barré, Bentham held the place of confidence which Barré had occupied. He was consulted on all occasions, at a time when a debt of £300,000 encumbered the rent-roll.
Bentham used his influence in order to prevent the present marquis from being sent to Oxford; a place, he said, where perjury was daily practised.
Lord Shelburne avoided talking on religious subjects, for fear, he hinted, of getting into a scrape; but he avowed to Bentham that his opinions were what is called sceptical.
The following letter is a specimen of Lord Shelburne’s style, and conveys his opinion on some subjects of interest:—
[* ] Francis Xavier Swediaur, author of the Philosophical Dictionary, &c. He died in 1824.