Front Page Titles (by Subject) Lord Lansdowne to Bentham. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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Lord Lansdowne to Bentham. - 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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Lord Lansdowne to Bentham.
“Dear Mr Bentham,—
I solemnly assure you, that it has been not only on my mind, but upon my heart, to find out this parson’s house at Hendon, and to pay my court to you, not to thank you for your magnificent present of not only a most magnificent, but very useful map in the present situation, because I know your nature makes you above accepting acknowledgments; but to tell you how much we wish to see you at Bowood. I am so tired of the whole human race, that we propose to bury ourselves for some time; but as happily all desires return after a certain abstinence, you will find me very happy to make peace with my fellow-creatures through you, and to begin my return to society in London, by profiting of yours for some time in the country. I need not say anything for the ladies. Though I am just now tired to death, and quite asleep, I must tell you the news of the day—which is, that Prussia, Sweden, and Denmark, have made an alliance against Russia; and are, at least Sweden, immediately proceeding to action. You know the consequences of all this better than I do. The accounts from France are wonderfully serious. Sanguine people imagine a civil war must ensue. I cannot myself imagine that any other consequence can be expected, than a more speedy assemblage of the States, and a better constitution of the Cour Pleniere, or IIabeas Corpus, restricted to particular descriptions and bodies. Lord Wycombe sets out to-morrow, and goes with me as far as Bowood. He sleeps only one night at Bowood, and sails in the packet on Sunday for Lisbon. This affects me, as you know, but things must go their natural course.
“P. S. You must not be surprised if my news turns out to have no foundation, for I have it from no authority. I will take care of your letter, and instructions about it, for Lord W.”
I extract what follows, from Bentham’s reminiscences of persons of celebrity with whom he came in contact at about this period:—
“Baron Massares* was an honest fellow, who resisted Lord Mansfield’s projects for establishing despotism in Canada. He occupied himself in mathematical calculations to pay the national debt, and a good deal about Canadian affairs. There was a sort of simplicity about him, which I once quizzed and then repented. I had not studied the Deontological principle as I have studied it since.
“In 1788, I belonged to a Club, where we had a frugal supper together, the guests consisting of Fordyce,† John Hunter, Sir Joseph Banks, Solander, Lovell Edgeworth, Mill the architect, Ramsden the instrument-maker, Cummin the watchmaker,—and we talked over the news: there was nothing of form. It was rather uncomfortable for me, as I could add nothing to the interest of the Club. Fordyce, when he introduced me, communicated to nobody his opinion of me, which was high. He fancied he should see me Master of the Rolls. When my brother sent me a quantity of stuffed birds from Russia, Hunter fell in love with a huge box, and when he had performed some operation, he took the box as his fee. Mrs Ramsden was a clever woman, the sister of Dolland.”
Of the Fordyces, Bentham said on another occasion,—“I think George Fordyce had twenty uncles by the father’s side. The head of the family had some great place under Government. He was too grand a personage to look at Dr George Fordyce. It was an unfortunate time when I knew him first. His laboratory took fire, and he had nothing to exhibit with, but a small portable furnace, with a few vials and common things. He had acquired a certain celebrity. He was a member of a chess club with C. J. Fox. He had no conversation. What he said, he said in a paradoxical shape, with a silly expression. There was generally a good deal that was true, with a little bit that was false. He acquired about £10,000, got by books, lecturing, and practice. He left it between his two daughters. My brother married one of them.—(Who married the other daughter? said I)—Nobody! That’s a captious, interrupting question! His plan was, that the youngest should marry, and the eldest remain with him; but just the reverse took place. His wife was clever at all sorts of handiworks, botany, &c.: latterly she amused herself by making coverlets for beds. She made acres of them. He had one son, whose loss at the age of fourteen, made a deep impression on him. He was, on the whole, the coldest of the cold Scotch. He approved, he said, of every atom of the Introduction to Morals and Legislation. He had originality, and valued it in others. In my love of chemistry, it would have been a privilege for me, had Fordyce possessed a chemical apparatus. I should have been supremely happy to have known anybody who possessed one. My chamber was spacious. There was a grate, and over the grate a chimneypiece; and in one corner a closet apart to hold chemical things. I broke a hole through the wall, (it was not perceived,) and putin a pane of glass to light my closet.
“Among the members of the St Paul’s Churchyard club, to which I belonged, with Dr Johnson, was Tasso Hoole. He was one of Dr Johnson’s lickspittles. He had, I think, a place at the East India House; and got money by plays and translations, which he got people to subscribe for. He even asked me for subscriptions, though he lived in style—asked me who lived in beggary! He got me to subscribe; and Chamberlain Clark forced him to give back the money again. I went once to the rehearsal of one of his plays.
“I knew Lord St Helens through my brother,—he was ambassador at Petersburg. My chambers in Lincoln’s Inn, were opposite chambers occupied by Lord St Helens’ elder brother Fitzherbert, who had been member for Derbyshire, but had overspent himself, and was rather in bad plight. He married a lady of the name of Purvis, respecting which marriage there was a famous suit. Fitzherbert and I had been schoolfellows at Westminster, which he had remembered, but I had forgotten; but as I was a dwarfish phenomenon, this was not unnatural, for he was no phenomenon; and there was some inter-course between us. Lord St Helens was extremely intelligent. He frequently attended the Privy-council, and he showed me an account of the assassination of Paul of Russia.
“Fitzherbert had travelled with the Duke of Devonshire, and through him, I believe, he got his baronetcy. I was once asked to a formal dinner. There came in a Mr Stone, who had been secretary to the English ambassador in Paris. He sat down to the harpsichord, and played Marlbrook, the first time, I believe, it had been played in England. He was a son or nephew of Edmund Stone [the mathematician] whom we read of—for he was a personage. We had excellent punch, made of fine spirits which had come from his estate in Barbadoes. Lord St Helens was sent for by the king immediately after dinner, and left us. There was also a French refugee bishop.”
In 1788, I find the first notice of Dumont, to whom Romilly had sent some of Bentham’s writings. He was struck with their originality and their power; and said the author was worthy to serve the cause of liberty. The MSS. were in French, and Dumont offered to rewrite portions, and to superintend the publication of the whole. He calls himself the “unknown friend” (Ami inconnu.)
He devoted a great part of what remained of his life, to translating the works, and giving legislative effect to the opinions of Bentham, in Switzerland, and, as far as he was able, in France, through Mirabeau his friend, and, in some sort, his pupil. It was through Lord Lansdowne the acquaintance was cemented; and I find the strongest re-commendation of Dumont’s aptitude in Lord L.’s letters. But of Mirabeau, Lord L. had a very mean opinion. He says of him—“As to Count Mirabeau,—I always looked upon our friend Romilly as a man of great honour and discretion; but I have been always astonished at his courage in risking a connexion with such a man. In short, I am not at all afraid of you, should you be engaged in a controversy with him; but it’s madness to hazard any communication with him.” Mirabeau seems, however, to have been very inattentive to Romilly’s correspondence; for Romilly says in a letter to Bentham, “He (Mirabeau) never writes to me, nor answers my letters.”
On one occasion, Dumont called on Talleyrand; and while a number of German princes, covered with orders and decorations, were kept waiting, he was admitted. “It might be supposed,” said Dumont, “we talked about matters of state. Not a word. We only talked over the stories of our youth, when we were in London together.” Dumont had then a disorder, under which he was pining away, and not expected to live. They frequently met when he visited Chauvet.
“Lord Sidmouth once stopped Dumont in the street, to thank him for his works. The English government gave him a pension of five hundred pounds a-year.”
In the latter part of Bentham’s life, Dumont and he were much alienated. Bentham felt offended by some remarks made by Dumont on the shabbiness of his dinners, (the observation was offensive, uncalled for, and groundless,) which he contrasted with those of Lansdowne House. In April 1827, Dumont called on Bentham, who would not see him. I took the message. “How he is changed!” said Dumont; “he won’t listen to a word from me.” Bentham refused to come down. He loudly called out, it was hard that Dumont’s intrusion should prevent his taking a walk in his own library, he said. “He does not understand a word of my meaning,” he repeated more than once.
Dumont first communicated extracts from Bentham’s writings to the “Courrier de Provence,” and writes to Bentham “that the papers were thought sound and useful, and had been well received.” “Continue your course,” he says, “and march courageously, for the goal is in view. The suffrages of the few who think, will repay you for the indifference of the many—the reputation of one book prepares the way for another.” In another letter Dumont says,—“In the name of your own honour, finish what you have begun, and be not diverted from your object. You are young enough for a kingdom of this world. Write and bridle my wandering opinions.”
Dumont, it is well known, furnished to Mirabeau the materials for some of his most splendid speeches; and these materials were mostly provided by Bentham.
“Dumont,” said Bentham “got intimate with Mirabeau, for whom he wrote many of his addresses to his comettans. He talked to me on various subjects, and I mentioned my papers on legislation. He expressed a desire to see them, and, having read them, asked me to allow him to use them, to which I consented. I gave him the Introduction, [to the Principles of Morals and Legislation,] which was written 1781, and published in 1789. It stuck for eight years, in consequence of the coldness of Lord Camden and Dunning; the former of whom said to Lord Lansdowne that he found a difficulty in understanding it, and therefore others would. Afterwards, however, something I wrote made a strong impression in my favour. Lord Lansdowne was intimately connected with Sir Eardley Wilmot, who had been Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas. During Warren Hastings’ trial, there was a curious question of evidence: it was referred to me, and there was a great notion raised by this communication of my sagacity on this particular matter.* My views were not favourable to Lord Lansdowne’s views; for on this occasion they bore against Hastings, and he took the side of Hastings because King George the Third had taken his side. Lord Lansdowne referred the paper to Sir Eardley Wilmot, who lauded it. I did not like Sir Eardley, on account of his conduct in a case of negro slavery, when he gave damages of only one shilling in favour of the negro, and wanted to reserve the point of law. I thought the case was one where so much injury had been inflicted, that the award of one shilling excited my indignation;—one shilling for a man torn away from his family, and perhaps ruined by the law process!”
The intimacy with Romilly just alluded to, which had commenced before Bentham left England, became more active on his return. He had been engoué with the “Fragment.” “George Wilson brought about our acquaintance. I knew him before I went abroad, and we dined together, in 1784, in Chancery Lane. Our acquaintance had not then ripened into an intimacy; but on my return in 1788, I met him one day at Lord Lansdowne’s, where I also met Dumont, who had been introduced there during my absence. Great was my surprise, and a most agreeable surprise it was, to meet Romilly at Lord Lansdowne’s table.
“Romilly’s father was a jeweller. He was of a refugee family, no better than a Huguenot. There was a preacher of the name, I think. He had a brother and a sister. The sister is the mother of Dr Roget. The brother failed in business. When I first knew Romilly, he was in Gray’s Inn. I remember calling on him, and seeing there another man’s puss, which excited my concupiscence. I was very amorous of the puss, for the puss was singularly virtuous, and as interesting to me as a two-legged creature. Our love for pusses—our mutual respect for animals—was a bond of union. For pusses and mouses we had both of us great kindness. George Wilson had a disorder which kept him two months to his couch. The mouses used to run up his back and eat the powder and pomatum from his hair. They used also to run up my knees when I went to see him. I remember they did so to Lord Glenbervie, who thought it odd.”
Speaking of Romilly on another occasion, he said, “He was a man of great modesty,—of few words,—of no conversation. Dumont used often to dine there, and after dinner they would sit together for half an hour without either uttering a word. He had a way of quashing conversation, by saying, for instance, ‘O, that man is such a fool!’ but he got violent on one topic, and so laid the foundation of his fame and fortune. He did not bear his faculties meekly, nor was he heard very patiently in the House of Commons. In the Court of Chancery great oppression is exercised by the seniors towards the juniors. Many attempts had been made to set the matter right; but Romilly adhered to the aristocrats. Romilly had the ear of the chancellor, and trusted to his influence over the chancellor, and so he got some of his little miniature reforms adopted. Had they been considerable, they would have been resisted with all Lord Eldon’s might.”
I have exhibited some of the early impressions of Bentham respecting Lord Lansdowne. His later opinions were these:—
“Lord Lansdowne had a way of talking in fits and starts. His mind seemed always in a state of agitation with the passion of ambition and the desire of splendour. He was never much at ease, for he always outran the constable, and involved himself monstrously in debt. He showed me his rent roll. There was an enormous sum which I did not understand: it was so much due to his creditors. He had had a most wretched education, and a foolish father and mother, of whose management of him he always talked with horror. When I once spoke to him of the family mausoleum, he refused to show it to me; for he said it was associated with such disgraceful recollections. His father gave all the property he could to a younger brother, Fitzmaurice, amounting to £10,000 a-year. The Pettys had been Barons of some place (whose name I forget) for four and twenty generations. They were among the first conquerors of Ireland. He did not, however, talk in the pride of ancestry. What endears his memory to me is, that, though ambitious of rising, he was desirous of rising by means of the people. He was really radically disposed; and he witnessed the French Revolution with sincere delight. He had quarrelled with the Whig aristocracy, who did not do him justice; so he had a horror of the clan, and looked towards them with great bitterness of feeling. That bitterness did not break out in words, though of him they spoke most bitterly. There was artifice in him, but also genuine good feelings. His head was not clear. He felt the want of clearness. He spoke in the house with grace and dignity, yet he uttered nothing but vague generalities. He took much pains to consult particular men. I remember going with him to Warwick castle for a week. There came a man from Birmingham,—a man of great eminence, whom he had sent for, to get all manner of details in relation to some branch of political economy. His name, I think, was Gabbett, and he was a manufacturer of oil of vitriol; and was, I believe, the grandfather of Lady Romilly, with whom Romilly became acquainted at Bowood, and carried on the courtship there. I heard her spoken slightingly of in the Bowood family, as if not strong in understanding; but I thought her understanding both strong and sound.”
An amusing epistle of Bentham to one of the ladies of Bowood has these passages:—
“My plan was, after having written what you have by this time received, to go to town to pay my respects to Lord W—, with my letter in my pocket, time enough for the post. The Fates decreed otherwise. I had scarce put the seal to it, when my seven tables, together with your old acquaintance the harpsichord, and the chairs that make up the society, set up a kind of a saraband; moving circularly round the centre of the room, but without changing their relative positions. They composed themselves, however, after a short dance, nor have they had any such vagaries since. I set out, notwithstanding, and reached London that evening, but not till the post was gone. This makes another day’s retardation of that important letter more than I thought for when I put the last hand to that immortal work. What was the object of this extraordinary, and by me never-before-experienced interposition, I submit to your omniscience. What momentary consequence may be the result of the retardation above-mentioned, remains yet to be revealed; in all other respects, the world, as far as I can see, goes on as if nothing at all had happened.
“Stung to the quick by your reproaches, I have ever since been hard at work upon Ovid, in hopes of fetching up my lost time, and picking up some little gleanings of that art which I am so much a stranger to; but it is so long since I learnt Latin, I can’t make head or tail of it, for want of Lord Henry to consult, who has it by this time at his fingers’ ends, having mastered the Tristibus when I had the honour of seeing him this time twelvemonth. Was it in the original that you read it, or what translation would you recommend? Could not you spare me your own copy for a little while, putting a few marks in it to guide me to the instructive passages; distinguishing for example by a dagger † the honest arts, and by a star *, or constellation of stars, those, if you can find any, that would enable me to succeed beyond expression? Then there might be some hopes for me; for, alas! I feel but too plainly it is impossible for me to make anything out without your assistance. Well, now, a thought has come across me that makes my heart sink, and almost sets the chairs and tables a-swimming again. This beautiful Italian that has scarce been out of my hands, and never out of my thoughts, since it arrived, is but a translation from the Runic! the hand, indeed, is angelic; but the apparition of a cloven foot behind the curtain haunts me so, you can’t imagine. Come, now, I will tell you what you should do: The honest and the handsome thing would be to steal half an hour when you know nobody knows anything of the matter, and tell me of the violences that were practised upon you to make you write this; and which part, if any, you adhere to, and which part you disavow. Tell me how long you were kept without food before you would comply, and whether it was in your own apartment in the Harem that you were confined, or in the one formerly occupied by my friend the Tiger.
“It is not a small matter, as I have occasion to know, that will subdue you: witness the persecution you underwent at Worcester, rather than read a page or two of a language which is the same to you as English. But be sure disavow, at any rate, the superlative about Mr R., and above all things if it was genuine. I called at his chamber-door as soon as I had sent to Lord W., in order to look him through and through, and measure the degree of his success by the firmness of his tread, the loftiness of his head, and the self-complacent security of his countenance. But his recollections and his prospects were too delicious to be exchanged for any sort of company; for though the porter told me he had just let him in, his door was shut, and all the poundings and kickings were in vain.”
Another letter to the same lady:—
“I am smitten with remorse at the thought of having, in one of them, brought back to your recollection something that passed at Worcester, not considering, simpleton as I was! that however delightful the recollection was to me, it might be otherwise with you. You would remember only the being teazed, while I thought only of the unwonted kindness with which you contrived to soften its refusal.
“I beg, with folded hands, you would not let another post go out without telling me, either that I have not offended, or that, if I have, I am forgiven.”
“I beg pardon.—I had quite forgot the papers you had the goodness to send me; you never told me how they fell into your hands. Did you pick them up from the ground anywhere?—or did — bring them to you? She has a real kindness for me, poor creature, whenever she dares show it, notwithstanding some insinuations that have been circulated to the contrary in very shocking terms. Last Autumn, when Bowood was turned into a desert, and we were left almost alone together, we grew very fond of one another, and came to a thorough explanation,—nothing more conciliating than sympathy in sorrow. But do not let it go any further, for poor Timon’s sake.
“I am growing more and more savage every day. I begin to moralise, and talk about the sparks flying upwards. I have known dogs that, if you spoke to them and offered them a bit of the breast of a chicken, would turn and growl at you.—I am exactly in this case. It was but t’other day I spoke to puss, the only person I ever see, in so civil a manner; she went into hysterics. I feel my forefeet drawing nearer and nearer to the ground,—as soon as the grass is got up a little, I shall take to eating it. Does Lord H. propose to have a menagerie when he goes to —; I forget the name of his place,—I believe it’s Winterton? If so, and the dens are not all engaged, put in a word for me, pray, and bespeak one of them for me, to keep me in. He need not put himself to the expense of a chain, I have had one by me these ten years. I won’t bite you; indeed I won’t, though you should put in a hand, and give me a pat now and then through the grate. If anything could keep me upon my hind legs a little longer, it would be the sight of a few lines now and then, such as those that were written to the jewel-man; but put me in the inside of the letter, so that nobody may see them but myself.
“Hands which were made never to be kissed, were made to be snapped and snarled at. What is on the other side was delayed in the hourly expectation of being able to fulfil the promise to Miss F.; the interval has given room to a sort of half repentance. The sarcastic disdainfulness which drew forth so snarling a reply, was a just punishment for bragging. I have accordingly struck out, beyond all power of deciphering, the three or four most snarling lines. Thorough prudence would have condemned the whole to the flames. The half prudence, which is all I am as yet able to rise to, comforts itself under the consciousness of saying and doing foolish things, by the thought of the penetration displayed in the discovery of their folly. If ever the time should come, when one J. B. is able to write, or speak, or behave to a Miss F. or a Miss V., as he does to others, or as others do to them, it will be a sign that the reign of attractions and fascinations is at an end, and that F. and V. are become no more than A. B. or C. The task is rather a severe one; but as endeavours are not wanting, success may at last attend them.”
An answer to an invitation to Bowood, is thus given:—
“In humble imitation of the fair objects of my adoration, I will try for once whether I cannot write a letter, discreet, guarded, and short as theirs is: dropping in, too, on my part, the word gratitude, which in my dictionary has a little more, and a little warmer meaning. I hope to kiss the fair hands, and take the gouty ones between mine, with due regard to their respective sensibilities, on Saturday or Sunday.”
The following letter is an agreeable satire upon our libel law. It was sent to Lord Lansdowne, professing to be intended for the editor of The World—and a second letter, written to Lord Lansdowne, pretending that the epistle “To the Conductor” had glided by mistake into the former envelope:—
“To the Conductor—
“In page 3 of my letter, line 5, political Foxical, dele Foxical, I doubt it is hardly safe; or blank it thus, F—ical. You can insist upon it to the jury, that it is as likely to have been intended for farcical; and Lord Kenyon, as well as Lord Mansfield, leaves it to them to determine upon the innuendos. See what Eitherside says to it, the next time he comes to you for a dinner: give him a bottle extra, and he will be satisfied; considering the obligations he is under to you, he can’t insist upon a fee for a question like this, that lies in a nutshell. If he thinks this won’t do, turn to your Priestley’s chart, and take the name of any dead politician you find there: or suppose you put it Shelburnical, it will be more piquant; and there can be no danger in it, either in the way of action or indictment: there being no such person now in rerum naturâ; such at least is my opinion; but it is your concern, not mine, and I suppose you will be ruled by Eitherside.
“Don’t forget to send me back Miss F.’s as soon as you have done with it; but don’t print it till you hear further from me. As to the additions you propose, put as much Birmingham in it as you will, that’s your affair, provided you make me the same acknowledgment as for the sterling; let me tell you, sir, these are things that don’t turn up every day, and I expect to be considered accordingly. The more additions, the more violently I can protest in general terms against the genuineness of it: then you produce scraps of the original, in proper time, in the state they were found, to any gentleman that knows the hand, and will call at the office, &c. As to Lord L.’s, you may have a hamper full of them if you please: but they are a drug in comparison of this. I really cannot bate a farthing of twenty, which, with the additions, will make forty. The V.’s are yours upon the same terms: genuine original V.’s, you rogue, you. I allow these are not quite so political; but then, you know, there are so many of the same name, it will set all the world in an uproar. The first you will have upon your back is the Maid of Honour; then there will be such confusion and explanations:—take my word for it, the Munro and Stackpoole affair won’t last half the time. You know how low it is with you; nothing less than a stroke like this can save you. Mind that the advertisement about the loss of the trunk appears in proper time; if you bungle this, all the fat will be in the fire. In other respects, times and seasons I leave to you: perhaps, as you say, it may answer better to wait till the public are grown cool about the Munro business; but that’s no reason why I should wait for a compliment I am so well entitled to. When a gentleman risks his character to serve such dogs as you, he ought to be considered accordingly.
“P.S.—If you take the V.’s, as good a way as any of marking the persons, when the time comes, without committing yourself, would be to print Horace Walpole’s verses on them, out of the Annual Register, for the next paragraph.”
Some of Bentham’s correspondence of this period with France, throwslight upon the passions which so soon broke out in such ungoverned fury. One letter from Paris, of the 12th November, 1788, says:—“Our great men are exasperating the nation by language which cannot but make them unpopular. One Grand Seigneur,—and what is worse, one of the notables,—said the troops did not fire on the people, but only on the populace,—a distinction with which people and populace are sufficiently exasperated. Our debates are carried on as barbarously as in the time of Charlemagne,—our national character seems opposed to sedate deliberation. We have little moderation in our expressions, and less logic in our reasonings. We are too impetuous and too vain. Every one seeks to display his talent (esprit,)—nobody seems to think about enforcing conviction. As if we had not enough to do with a few great and grave matters, only think of Necker’s submitting to the Assembly from fifty to eighty questions, any one of which would require an age of time, and a legislature of Solons to solve,—and he says, ‘Answer them all in a few weeks.’ You are celebrating the centenary of your public liberties. Noblest of Te Deums! Would we had such to celebrate,—but we dare not even to announce the celebration of yours! The censors struck out the notice from the Mercure. There seems no bound to our wanderings. It is indeed but the French history of the past. Brittany is amusing herself with a riot,—the nobility and the tiers état with mutual recriminations of abuse. The court is appealed to for troops to enable one province to come to blows with another. Béarn is loudly clamouring for separation. Paris is full of pamphlets and pamphleteers, who and which only entangle more the too much entangled question. Some demand the pure democracy of Appenzell,—others a tyrant king and a free people. Everything tends to detach and to alienate,—nothing to unite. M. Delacretelle announces that, ‘France is about to give the noblest lessons to other nations.’ So be it,—but let me shroud myself in silence.”
Bentham was originally introduced to Brissot by Dr Swediaur.
“Brissot,” he said, “was a little weak man, ignorant of the world. He would establish a Lyceum, and that Lyceum consisted of M. Brissot, Madame Brissot, and your humble servant. He married, having nothing to maintain a wife with. She was a pretty Frenchwoman. His influence was due to a great fluency in writing. He kept up a daily newspaper himself. It was a mighty small thing, but he could be depended on; and he became the organ of a party that could depend upon him, and depend upon nobody else. He really erected a public-opinion tribunal of his own which raised him to be the head of his party. His conversation was not remarkable. Poor fellow! I had occasion to mortify him more than once, by opposing his plans. He brought me a literary project, in which one Mirza, a Persian gentleman, was to shine. I did not know it was his, and laughed at it—but he took it in good part. Once I was sitting in a chair at one end of the room, and I said to him, ‘Ayez la bonté de—’ He said, ‘You are not a Frenchman, and may be forgiven; but a Frenchman would have said, ‘Voulez vous avoir la bonté’—but withal he was a good-natured, gentle creature. We used to talk of terms of locution. I suggested to say the word champ for field of thought and action, but he would not listen to it—it was not Français.
Brissot was guillotined in 1793. He was undoubtedly one of the most disinterested of men: distinguished among a generous and enthusiastic band, who were as pure as they were poor, and who, possessing all the resources of a state, turned none of them aside for any sinister or selfish purpose. Their devotion to the cause of liberty was as impassioned as their affection for one another. Who can forget the trait of the young republican, Girey Duprey—who, knowing that to confess his connexions with Brissot, would bring with it the punishment of death, boldly declared before his judges, that he honoured the character of his martyred friend, and shared his opinions; and added, “He lived like Aristides—and died like Sydney!” It was of Brissot that Madame Roland said that, “Under despotism he advocated freedom—amidst tyranny he fought for humanity. The best of mortals, an excellent husband, a tender father, a faithful friend, a virtuous citizen, gentle and easy, confiding even to imprudence; gay, frank, ingenuous as a child of fifteen years; fit companion for the wise, fit dupe for the wicked.” This, however, is a far more flattering character than is drawn of him by Dumont, who knew him well, and who asserts that though neither the thirst for riches, the struggle for office, or the love of pleasure, had power to corrupt him—he was under the degrading influence of personal vanity and insincerity; and that to the claim of party, he sacrificed the claims of integrity.
I have extracted from Brissot’s letters to Bentham, a few passages which appear to me the only ones worth preserving. Most of the correspondence refers merely to the interchange of mutual services, such as the sending of books, newspapers, &c. They are here brought together, instead of being dispersed in conformity with the chronological arrangement of the work, as they rather illustrate the feeling which these two great men entertained towards each other, than bear on any particular events in Bentham’s life.
[* ] Francis Massares, appointed a cursitor baron of the Exchequer in 1773.
[† ] Dr George Fortlyce, the celebrated physician and chemist.
[* ] See above, p. 181.