Front Page Titles (by Subject) Bentham to George Wilson. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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Bentham to George Wilson. - 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 George Wilson.
“Crichoff,December 19-30, 1786.
“My dear Wilson.—
Great comfort to get a letter from you at last; but some chagrin to find I have been destroying the better part of my life, as you pretend to do your vacations. I had ordered horses for England, to take triumphant possession of the throne of Legislation, but finding it full of Mr Paley, I ordered them back into the stable. Since then, I have been tormenting myself to no purpose, to find out some blind alley in the career of fame, which Mr Paley’s magnanimity may have disdained. After all, I have been obliged to go a-begging to my brother, and borrow an idea of his, which I have dressed up with a little tinsel of my own, and now send to London as a private venture Parve, nec invideo sine me liber ibis in urbem.
“I think the effect of your good advice to me, is—commonly much snarling and growling at first, and obedience at the last. You and Trail passed sentence on my Introduction to a Penal Code, alias Principles of Legislation, alias I don’t know what besides, and there’s an end of it. I think you have told me more than once, that if it were possible for my scrawl to be tolerable in any shape, it would be in that of letters. I have accordingly given that form to my twopenny-halfpenny pamphlet, consisting, I suppose, from 150 to 200 pages. The hero celebrated is our Sam: for the hero to be addressed, I have taken Q. S. P. [his father] as Boileau took his gardener. The origin of this choice was, that when I first sat down, I meant nothing more than a private, or, if you please, a semi-public letter, to be shown by him to anybody that would condescend to look at it: more especially his worshipful brethren, the Middlesex Justices, to whom it more particularly belonged, as you will see. As it grew upon me, your dictum confirmed me in my choice. Being a sort of Flying Castle, or, to speak more to the times, an air-balloon, it sweeps over all sorts of ground. Amongst the rest, it passes over the ruins of the poor old Penitentiary house. There I have occasion, or, perhaps you will say, no occasion, to fling a stone or two once more at Goliah Eden. This you will be sorry for, as before, for the same reason that David’s brethren were for David. On the other hand, if you happen to think any of them give him a twinge, you will be glad, because Goliah is a Philistine. There are great bets here which carries it—private friendship or party spleen: to be sure, what we should be glad to see, were it possible, is that they might shake hands and divide stakes. Now for a little job for you and [or] Trail, which I have taken care to leave you both at the most perfect liberty to take in hand, or let alone as you have a mind. I have not here the Penitentiary House Act which passed; nor anything belonging to that affair, but my own view of the first Labour Bill. Consequently, I have been forced to proceed altogether upon the ground of the said View, whence divers undesigned misrepresentations may have arisen. What I want, is some charitable hand to take the Penitentiary Act, and, by a few notes at the bottom of the page, correct such misrepresentation for the benefit of the unlearned reader. These notes might be prefaced and accounted for by some such advertisement as this:—‘At the request of several of the Author’s friends, one of them has added a few notes for the purpose of correcting some undesigned misrepresentations of the danger of which he was aware, but which the distance of his situation rendered unavoidable.’ You may then disavow in what terms you please all combination and confederacy, &c. Treat me as cavalierly as you please, for which this shall be your sufficient warrant. If, in any shape, I have done said Goliah, or whom ever else it may concern, any injustice in point of fact or argument, redress the wrong, adding or not adding, that it was at my desire. If you and Trail want leisure, or resolution, turn the business over to anybody else that may vouchsafe to meddle with it. I avoid sending it to you, that if such should be your pleasure, you may avoid dirtying your fingers with it altogether. I send it to King, at the Coffee-house, with instructions to him to give you notice of its arrival, and make legal tender of it to you, or either of you, that you may do about it as you please. If, like old surly Northington, you please nothing, he will put it into Hughes’ hands to print, and, I believe, into Payne’s to publish. It remains for the learned to determine whether it were best in 8vo form—for the faint chance of being bound up by a few people with the poor View of the Hard Labour Bill; or in 12mo, in which case it might make a bindable book of itself. Two or more architectural drawings will accompany it; but as they are mere outlines, anybody may execute them, and the expense can be but a trifle. Perhaps the publisher will manage that. Alderman Clark had once a protegé in that line of the name or Sharp. If he is not dearer than othef folks, which Payne, I suppose, could tell, if it were worth asking, which it hardly can be, this Sharp might as well be employed as anybody else. . . . If out of compliment to Q. S. P., the Justices should be for having it published, and signify their desire in proper form, I suppose there can be no harm in the printing of their order containing such desire. . . . . . Whether you take any part or no in the publication, tell me in due time, in perfect sincerity, what you think of it, as well of Sam’s architectural idea as of the puffing and the collateral matter of all sorts which I have added to it; tell me also, as far as you can collect, what other people say of it, if they say anything. Perhaps, to give the thing two chances of arrival, I may take measures for the two copies being sent from Riga at a post or two’s distance.
“A possibility upon a possibility, is that we may pay England a visit in the course of the summer in a vessel of Sam’s invention, manned by a part of his battalion. If so, it will be from Cherson, or a port in the Crim; and perhaps we may make a point of pushing for England without touching anywhere in the passage. In that case we want to know whether, plague or no plague in the Levant, we should be obliged to perform quarantine. You could tell us by looking into the acts, or otherwise. There is no knowing beforehand, whether it will bear the sea or no; but a small trial will soon show. Perhaps though it did not at first, it may at last. At any rate, it can scarce fail to be of use for inland navigation. We shall know, as soon as rivers are open, what it is worth; and if it answers expectation, we shall have to take out a patent for it in England, and I shall have a puffing pamphlet to write to show the advantages it has above all other vessels imagined or imaginable, from which it differs as much as a house upon the inspection principle (my string of letters will tell you what that means) does from common houses. If it ever reaches England by sea, it will be scarcely less of a raree-show than the air-balloons. If it bear the sea, and the event demonstrates the received theories to be just, it should go near to supersede all other sorts of vessels, and it would have the strangest consequences with regard to trade and politics. It has already been tried, and answered as far as it has been tried: doing in its infant state what no other vessel could have done. But a regular course of experiments, whereby alone can be taken the exact measure of its utility, in comparison with others, cannot be made till the rivers are open again: in the meantime, the great improvement has been hit on to which he trusts for its bearing the sea. In the meantime, he has carte blanche for maturing the experiment; and very busy a-building we are. It is very foolish for me to run on in this manner: but it would have cost me more pains to stop than it was worth being at. At any rate, I have given one—yes, two answers, amongst more that might be given to the question, what Sam is doing? Other inventions he has of the mechanical kind, some finished, some finishing, which, if he comes to England, may perhaps form part of his cargo.
“You have received, I hope, a paper, which frightened, I suppose, the man that gave it you. I hope you quieted his fears. After one passage of it, the writer ought not by good rights to have sent it you, as he writes me word; but he tells me he had just received a kind letter from you, which made him sell his soul to the devil in hopes of pleasing you.
“Q. S. P. is so jealous of you that I have no hopes of getting you a sight of my letters by scolding him for his backwardness with regard to you. But as Alderman Clark makes similar complaints, I shall beg of him to lend them to the alderman, and write the alderman to lend them to you. I give Q. S. P. the power to prevent the publication altogether, or to add anything to it which he may choose to add, either in his own name, or in that of the editor; as likewise to strike out anything, either whole passages, or words, supplying the place with stars, or saying the manuscript was illegible in that part. . . . . . .
“Of the accuracy of De Tott’s account, I can tell you nothing certain. Some said that it was true, others that it was a lie, or exaggeration. I had no opportunity of cross-examining people. The diplomatic people and the Franks live very much among themselves, and have very little opportunity of knowing what is going forward among the Turks on the other side of the harbour. The account I could give you of the authenticity and verity of Habins’ publication would be about equally satisfactory.
“Major J—does not deserve the honour of your inquiries. He got at the time at least ten times the value of what he gave, and which he took care to set down to the public account. In the first part of his journey home, for instance, at Iskutsh, (where Sam heard of him, and drank some of the rum he had left there in presents,) he could not find terms to express his sense of the astonishing generosity of the English. As he advanced nearer Petersburg, his note lowered, till at last he came to complain of neglect and ingratitude. Sam, firing at this, sent him a message, recommending it to him to change his note back again, if he had not a mind to find himself contradicted to his face. Sam wrote particulars to Sir J—H—at the time; but his recollection of the matter is now very imperfect. Besides swords and watches, and other things, of which the value was known to the donors, he received those valuable sea beaver or otter skins, of which the value was not then so fully known, to the amount, as Sam thinks, of some hundreds; at any rate enough to make an ample fortune to him. Sam thinks he got, besides a gold snuff-box from Sir J. H., besides a magnificent piece of plate, with an inscription, which the Admiralty sent him, and which he offered to sell to Prince Potemkin, at whose house Sam saw it,—Sam thinks he got 600 of those skins; but does not pretend to any sort of certainty, except with regard to the general result.
“To speak seriously of Parson Paley, I should not have expected so much of him, from the account given of a part of the work in one of the nine reviews of Maty’s, which I received by Trail’s grace. People were surprised to see how green my eyes were for some time after I received your letter; but their natural jetty lustre is now pretty well returned.
“You have no need to breed mischief in my family by pretending affection to Sam. He never rebels against my authority, but he takes credit for your alliance. He has cut out some of the best passages in my pamphlet, on pretence that you would have done so if you had been here. Hang it, I shouldn’t care if you were, for you could not be a greater plague to me than you are now at fifteen hundred miles distant.
“Sir R. W. has a notion that Pitt means to reduce the rate of interest from five to four. Tell me what you hear about it; were it true I should like to give him a piece of my mind first. I have arguments against it ready cut and dry: the former epithet you may have some doubt about; the latter you will not dispute. You know it is an old maxim of mine, that interest, as love and religion, and so many other pretty things, should be free.
“Code was going on at a very pretty jog-trot, till Sam’s inspection-house came upon the carpet, not to mention his new model of ship-building, and his other whimsies. Fighting Sam and you together is bad enough, but correcting three copies taken by ignorant people is intolerable. In a few days I hope to return again to duty. The day has abundance more hours in it at Crichoff (or rather at our cottage three miles off, where I now live altogether) than anywhere in England. I rise a little before the sun; get breakfast done in less than an hour, and do not eat again till eight or nine at night. Trail with his three and a half lines is a shabby fellow, unworthy of my notice.—Sir W. Jones! how came he to return from the E. I.? Give me his history.
“Could you get me any lights respecting the following points?—1. Expense of the ballast lighters per man, per annum. 2. Expense per man of the New Zealand expedition. 3. Expense per man per month in prison before sent there.”
“My Dear Wilson,—
In my last which went from hence the latter end of December, but which I doubt was rather late in coming to you, I mentioned amongst other things a project of my brother’s which, if successful, would require a patent, begging the favour of you to tell us whether a caveat would answer in any, and what respect, the purpose of securing to him the property of the invention in the meantime. As it was necessary for him to send a model to Petersburg, we find it is beginning to make a noise: and there are various channels through which the idea seems likely to have already reached England in its unfinished state. We have, therefore, judged it advisable, to run the hazard of the post, for the sake of giving you a general intimation of it, under the notion that some such intimation may be necessary for the purpose of taking out a caveat, which, if it will answer the purpose, we will beg the favour of you to get taken out as soon as possible. The single word vermicular, is sufficient to give a general idea of a leading principle. The vessel consists of a string of barges to any number, each individually of the simplest construction, and capable of being connected or disconnected at pleasure. The modes of connexion have given a good deal of exercise to his invention: for inland navigation there is but little difficulty: any mode almost will do; but the difficulty lays in adapting it to sea service—a difficulty which, though he believes everybody in England who knows anything of what sea is, will look upon it as insuperable, he is not without hopes of overcoming. Two barges upon this principle, the one of three smaller links and the other of five larger ones, were built and made use of in the course of last summer. The former was used only in plying about upon this river, from one part of our dominions to another. But the larger was sent down from our Soz (Soje) into the Dnieper, and so down as far as Kremenschuk, (about midway between Kiev and Cherson,) about 800 or 1000 miles. Laying out of the account stoppages, which the business required to be made at different places, the voyage was performed in eighteen days, a degree of expedition much exceeding anything that had ever been known. Sam and I, and Sir R. W—, went down in it about one hundred versts, (sixty or seventy miles.) According to the received theories, the length of a vessel makes no difference in the resistance it meets with in pushing through the water. This, I suppose, may hold good with regard to the greatest differences in point of length, that can ever subsist upon the present plans: if it hold good in strictness, and with regard to any length, the velocity might be increased to infinitum, by adding sails and oars, so that you might get a boat, which, like Jupiter, would require but four efforts to get from one end of the world to the other. Back-breaking, which is the death of so many vessels upon the ordinary plans, is prevented, you see, by the division of the whole into vertebros, as short as can be required. The mode of connexion thought of for the sea is now practising upon a vessel which, under the name of the Imperial Vermicular, is building here, for the faint chance of her majesty taking a fancy to set foot in it. A barge has been built for her at Smolensko, and another for the emperor, and sent down to Kieff; but they are so clumsy, that there are great doubts whether they will be deemed fit for service. In this imperial vermicular, the joint is such as to render the vessel flexible in all directions: the tail (stern) of each intermediate link is concave and adapted to a corresponding convexity in the head (stem) of the link behind.
The enabling them to play up and down as well as laterally, is performed by a contrivance which I am not able to describe without drawings, and which would be difficulty apprehended without a model. Suffice it to say, that by means of an iron bar playing upon rollers in a horizontal groove, the links are kept from striking one against another, at the same time that they are capable of being allowed to pitch and roll in every direction. This has the inconvenience of requiring some good carpenter’s, as well as smith’s work. Upon further reflection, my brother has conceived what he looks upon as a more commodious mode of connexion, as well as more secure mode of fastening by nothing but ropes and wood; and the convex and concave terminations which required some work, he now looks upon as unnecessary, even for sea service. He is accordingly building two other vermiculars, which are nothing but a parcel of oblong boxes, such as every one can work at who is capable of handling an axe—that is, every man in Russia. As such a vessel cannot be governed by the tail, it must be governed by the head, and the head link is accordingly adapted to that purpose. There are other contrivances for rendering the serpent flexible or inflexible at any joint, as occasion may require. The above-mentioned are on Sam’s own account. The prince’s peasants are just about to be set to work upon a vermicular of a hundred links, which, if it has so many, will be just a verst—that is, two-thirds of a mile long. This is to fetch Crimean salt from Kremenschuk, to which place it is hindered by waterfalls from getting all the way from the Crim by water. Another, of a few solid links, is to try the experiment of sending wood to the Crim, where it bears an immense price: the timber alone costing more than the ship it is destined for would cost when completely built at Petersburg. Timber, at present, travels very expensively and awkwardly by sea. Sam flatters himself that his mode of navigation will admit of a considerable saving in the article of men in comparison with the common one, as well as in the articles of workmanship and materials. When you go over as Judge to the E. Indies, let him have the honour of building a vermicular for your conveyance. Should it be a calm, he’ll row you all the way faster than the wind could blow you. I wish I could know, for example, what the ordinary rate of expedition is at present in the London fish trade, and what advantage would be likely to be had, if that rate could be increased in any given degree, for example, doubled. I believe, at present, the fishing smacks are stopped every now and then at Gravesend waiting for the tide. A vermicular shall catch them for you at sea, and row them up to Oxford, dropping a link wherever there is a market. I doubt they will smell rather strong at that rate before they come to the end of their voyage, unless one can persuade them to live a little while in a cage with or without fresh water. I will leave it to your imagination to extend the idea to the thousand applications, belligerent as well as pacific, to which ours extended it some months ago. We intend you for the command of an expedition to storm Paris with; and pray do not let a foolish tenderness prevail with you to leave anything there alive. You will conclude for or against the patent according as you think it more likely to do good by securing the invention in this unformed state, or harm by publishing it. Mr Williams, Alderman Clark’s partner, has taken out patents: if the connexion still subsists, nobody better. I have all along understood that the taking out a caveat costs but a guinea; but this, I suppose, does not include the solicitor’s fee. A few words, I imagine, is all that is necessary, or even usual; just enough to serve as an index to the invention.
“I am grudging every instant of the time I am fooling away in writing stuff and nonsense to you, and the much greater time it takes me to consider which I shall say to you of the thousand things I should have to say to you if it took up no time. I am writing letters to you abusing Pitt for being about to reduce the rate of interest, and abusing the world for limiting the rate of interest at all.* I am marginal-contenting†Essai sur les Recompenses‡ about the size of Beccaria’s book, with Voltaire’s Comment added to it. It was begun to serve as one of the divisions of my great French work; but I found it detachable, so I swelled it out a little, and send it you to do what you will with it. It touches upon all the possible applications of the matter of reward, ordinary and extraordinary. I want the Report of the Commissioners of Accounts bitterly; but want must be my master. I pull down the church in it inter alia; but the church will have been settled, as well as the rate of interest reduced, before it gets to England. All I have to say on the civil branch of law is marginal-contented and ready for reading, were you but here. It is a preceding introductory book. There is a Frenchman of the name of Allix, whose business it is to teach French. Alderman Clark, by whose means I knew him once, knows, I suppose, where to find him. Him I should like to have to correct the press, and expunge solecisms. A parson would not do, because perjury subscriptions are abused, and the emoluments of ecclesiastics reduced to what they themselves set them at by Curacies. If ‘Hughes’ correctors understand accents and so forth, as a Frenchman would, I would take my chance for solecisms, if such a thief as Allix could not be had for the value of five guineas. I mention Allix thus early, because his lodgings may perhaps be unknown to the Alderman by this time, and it may take some time to find him out.
“I am distracted to know what to do about staying here or returning. Here I can work double tides; but every now and then I am non-plussed for want of books. London is infested with devils. If I knew of any such lodging-place as Thorpe, where I could be perdu till my book was printed, without being known to anybody to be in England, besides you and Trail, and honest Mr R. King, whom I could depend upon for not betraying me, it might be a means of my returning sooner than I should otherwise. I would change my name and pass for a madman, or a bankrupt. I can sleep without a bed, and live without victuals. The only article of luxury I should be puzzled by the want of, is a two-legged animal who lies down without a bed by the fire and keeps it in all night, with power for me to get up at any time and kick him out of the room. A rushlight, with a fire ready laid in my bedchamber, would be but an indifferent succedaneum.
“Pray get from R. King a packet containing securities of mine: open it and give me a list of them, (there are but few,) and keep them in your custody. In particular, tell me whether amongst them is a Tontine debenture on my life, and whether it appears therein up to what time the interest has been received.
“This day three weeks the empress passed through Crichoff, in her way to Kieff. Besides Russians, there were F. H., and the French and Imperial Ministers. Lord Carysfort was not of the party, as was expected. Poor F., who is ailing, having got something the matter with his liver, was sadly sick of the excursion. The same company, the same furniture, the same victuals: it is only Petersburg carried up and down the empire. Natives have too much awe to furnish any conversation: if it were not for the diplomatic people, she would have been dead with ennui. Dr Rogerson, the E.’s physician, attended her of course: no other Englishman of the party except a young officer, adjutant to one of the generals. Five hundred and fifty, I think, was the complement of horses provided here. The most extraordinary part of the cavalcade were no fewer than thirty washerwomen. A large wooden house, under the name of a palace, had been built here as at every other station, for the purpose of furnishing her a night’s lodging. Sam was not in the way, being then upon an expedition about the vermicular business to Cherson and the Crim, from whence he returned but Saturday. Neither was the prince,—for it was he that Sam was dancing after. Sam saw some of them in his way home through Kieff. I was, of course, much inquired after, which I chose rather to be than seen: being at the farm here a few miles from Crichoff, I escaped regal notice. The streets through which she passed were edged with branches of firs and other evergreens, and illuminated with tar barrels, alternating with rows of lamps, formed by earthen-pots filled with tallow and a candle-wick in the middle. So I was told, for I had not curiosity to go to Crichoff, either before or after, nor have I been through these three months.
“God love you. Answer this as soon as you receive it, and tell me the news, particularly what projects of all kinds are said to be in agitation.”
In the course of his residence in Russia, Bentham had oceasion to witness more than once the interference of arbitrary power. His person was arrested, and his property seized, for a debt of 280 rubles, alleged to be due by his brother. He appealed to the superior court of Mohilev, declaring that he was not altogether ignorant of natural or general jurisprudence, though unacquainted with Russian law. I find in his papers much correspondence both in French and Russian, on the subject; but I cannot discover whether he ever obtained redress. Notwithstanding the many annoyances to which he was subjected, and repeated applications from his friends to return to England, he still lingered at Zadobras, for the benefit of that complete solitude which enabled him to pursue his studies, and to proceed with his writings. George Wilson, to whom he had sent a pamphlet on Prison Discipline, refused to send it to press as being “small game,” the “subject unpopular.” Some of his remarks on the character of Bentham’s mind, are worth preserving. They are in a letter of 26th February 1787. He says:—
[* ] The Defence of Usury, at the beginning of vol. iii. of the works. See farther notices of it below.
[† ] In reference to his practice of running an abridgment along the margin of his works.
[‡ ] See the Rationale of Reward. Works, vol. ii.