Front Page Titles (by Subject) Brissot to Bentham. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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Brissot 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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Brissot to Bentham.
“Will you forgive me for breaking my word?—I was tied and chained by duty,—and sorely regretted that I could not fly to the rendezvous. I felt more than ever the disadvantage of living so far away from you, and from all the literary helps that London would furnish—and hence I must change my abode within a month. But I must finish a work I have undertaken, and it will be finished in a week. Accept my excuses, and make them acceptable to Dr Swediaur, whom I am ashamed and desolé not to have seen. The weather is frightful. It is impossible to get out.”
“July 8, 1783.
“I will not conceal from you the motive of my journey to Dover. I am married; but to this hour, and for many reasons, my marriage is a secret. Mon amis comes to meet me in London. I was to have met her at Dover; but other reasons keep me here. I expect her daily—momently.”
“14th July, 1783.
“There is, my dear colleague, in your letter, a tone of dryness and drollery which grieves me. I have been separated from mon amie for fifteen months, and you do not forgive me for setting aside, for a few moments, books and commissions. You have, then, never loved me,—me whose sensibilities mingle with legislation itself. I am less severe.”
“Boulogne, 12th November, 1784.
“For the services done to you, I shall, from time to time, have to ask others from you. In consequence of the new arrangements which I have been obliged to make with the government, I shall only be able to pass three or four months of every year in London. I am, therefore, obliged to abandon my London house. I shall tell you all this when I have the pleasure of seeing you. I thank you, beforehand, for all the interest you have shown towards me, and my misfortunes. Answer me here.”
Project for the Translation into French of the best English Books on Constitutions and Legislation; and for the Translation of that of Mr Howard on Prisons.
“Some individuals, either opulent or instructed, but all desirous of promoting public instruction, are about to associate for the translation, printing, and circulation of the best books on Constitutions and Legislation. Some will give their labour, others their money. Mr Howard’s book on Prisons will be the first. Any individual undertaking it alone, and paying the expenses, would undoubtedly be a loser. The reasons why good books are not translated in France is, that a Romance or a Journey has more attraction, and is more profitable. Two individuals, tolerably rich, are willing to subscribe a certain sum. Will Mr Howard himself contribute, if their names, and the name of the translator, are communicated to him? I should have written to him; but from your intimacy, I hope you will propose the plan to him, especially for his own work.”
Endorsed, “Copied and sent to J. Howard, Friday, November 26, 1784.”
“Boulogne, 30th November, 1784.
“Your regrets on my future absence have much touched me. They prove your friendship. Mine is not less than yours; and sorry I am not to have better profited by your knowledge, during my stay in London. Next year I shall repay myself, for I shall spend three or four months in London, and see you often. If what you say is true when you quote Scripture, I may flatter myself to be much loved, for I have been cruelly persecuted. I read a part of your letter to my wife, who was enchanted with it, and who entreats to be recalled to your regards. Our child does well. These are my two consolations; for I have had many sorrows. Adieu, my friend—continue your friendship to me—write to me—employ me.—I am—I shall always be—entirely yours.”
Brissot’s opinion of Bentham is thus given:—*
“There are two men whom I would except from the proscription pronounced by Magellan against the English—these are Jeremy Bentham and David Williams. Reader! has your imagination ever attempted to trace the portraits of those rare beings, whom Heaven sometimes sends down upon earth as a consolation for woes, who, in the form of imperfect man, possess a heavenly spirit. Have you ever pictured to yourself, for instance, Howard or Benezet, whose traits were, candour in their countenances, mildness in their expression, unruffled brows, calmness in speech, quiet in their motions—impassibility and sensibility united,—all these belong also to my friend, Bentham. He one day gave me a description of himself whilst describing Howard. Howard had devoted himself to the reform of prisons; Bentham to that of the laws which peopled these prisons. Howard only thought of prisons, and occupied himself about them alone: for that he renounced all pleasures, and all other sights. Bentham followed this noble example; yet there was one blessing which, in Howard, soothed the agonizing feelings of his soul, caused by the horrors of dungeons, which Bentham did not enjoy—he was married; but this circumstance ought only to raise in our estimation the sacrifices made by this Angel of Peace. Howard tenderly loved his family, and, when on the point of quitting it for any length of time, in order to familiarize himself with the loss, he separated himself from it a fortnight beforehand, a week of which he spent in solitude, when, just before his departure, he returned home to enjoy some hours with his family.
“Bentham only knew me through an act of injustice on my part. In my Theory of Criminal Law, I made light of a very profound essay he had written on the ‘Punishment of Hard Labour in Houses of Correction:’ having learnt my address, he came to give me his name, and state the grounds of his opinions. His calmness and coolness altogether confounded me: how little I seemed even in my own eyes! He promised me his friendship and counsels, which I had requested. I often went to see him in his obscure retreat in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Here I must state, that those persons who are destined for the English Bar, take chambers in those parts of London, which are specially reserved for lawyers.
“Bentham had applied himself to the study of this profession, not for the sake of the profit or honours, but that he might be made thoroughly acquainted with the defects of English jurisprudence, and penetrate that labyrinth which is inaccessible to those who have not made it a particular study. He wished to reveal its vices and defects, which the legal men of that country shrouded in the greatest mystery, that they might live on these abuses, and the ignorance of the people. After having penetrated the depths of this abyss, before proposing any methods of reform, he wished to study the criminal jurisprudence of all the other European nations; and, however immense the undertaking might be, it could not impede the progress of a man whom love for the public welfare had excited.
“These Codes, for the most part, were only to be found in the languages of the nations to whom they applied. Bentham, therefore, successively acquired the knowledge of all those languages. He spoke French thoroughly, knew Italian, Spanish, and German; and I saw him study Swedish and Russian.
“As soon as he had waded through the rubbish of these Gothic laws, and collected his materials, he attempted to form a systematic plan of criminal law, founded entirely on reason, and the nature of men and things. It was to this great work, that, for ten years of his life, each day was devoted. He was as regular in his habits as Kirwan: as soon as he had risen in the morning, he took a long walk of two or three hours, when he returned to his solitary breakfast; he then applied himself to his favourite work until four in the afternoon, at which hour he always went to dine with his father. Although his father was rich, Bentham lived in a very economical manner, in order that he might have greater means of satisfying his ruling passion—love of books. I cannot but regret that the result of so much labour has not yet been made public; his journey, and lengthened residence in Russia, may perhaps be the causes of this delay. Nevertheless, all enlightened men must have duly appreciated the talents and sentiments of this benefactor of his race by his ‘Panopticon;’ a work which ought to immortalize his name, and which will do so, whenever humanity, fixing its attention on the state of prisons, shall bring into request the only work in which is to be found the secret of reforming men’s dispositions, without the use of pains and tortures, and without abusing them.
“Bentham looked with pleasure on our revolution: he watched its progress, and, wishing himself to participate in it, he more than once took up his pen, with the view of directing our steps.
“All must remember his excellent work on the ‘Organization of Courts of Justice,’ which he addressed to the Constituent Assembly, of which the Marquis of Lansdowne sent one hundred copies in his name. He was barely thanked for it; and when Larochefoucault Liancourt moved that it should be translated, Sieyes (who despotically ruled the Committees of Constitution and Jurisprudence, and who did not share in Bentham’s views, perhaps because he was not the originator of them) was the cause of the motion being lost. Bentham, not at all discouraged, wrote another essay, as clever as it was profound, on the easiest way of learning, without tumult or insurrection, the public opinions. This pamphlet is almost unknown; and no one has profited either by his views or the experience which he had gained from the practice of the House of Commons. Nevertheless, near the close of the session, on the motion of the Extraordinary Commission, of which I was president, the Legislative Assembly gave some mark of its esteem for him, by conferring on him the title of French Citizen. The Convention has since passed another decree as honourable to Bentham as the preceding one: it was on the occasion of his sending his ‘Panopticon.’
“But it was not by rewards such as these that this benefactor of his race was most exquisitely pleased; it was by acting upon his ideas, which it must have been his greatest sorrew to have seen buried in oblivion.”*
Brissot estimated his own “Traité de la Verité” very highly. It was, according to his judgment of it, his master work. He fancied that in it (see his criticism on it, Mém. vol. i. p. 326-29) he had “descended to the foundation of all the sciences,—tested their solidity,—established their relations,—tried them in the crucible of truth.” It is a book which he avows “must make those who read it better men.” “It had created happiness for himself, as it would for others. It had sensibility as well as reason to recommend it.” “It was written under the inspiration of love,—while full of the resolutions of virtue—full of the Divinity, whose kindness I recognised: while under the influence of these varied feelings, I composed my work.”
To an ambition so flattering and far-stretching, the volume on Truth most assuredly does not respond.
Bentham’s “Introduction to the Penal Code”† was at this time communicated to George Wilson. He speaks of it (Nov. 30) with unwonted enthusiasm:—
[* ] Mémoires de Brissot, publiés par son fils, avec des notes par M. F. de Montrol. 4 vols. in 8vo, Paris, 1830. Vol. ii. p. 253-557.
[* ] “A few years ago Jeremy Bentham was at Paris, and we had, therefore, the means of judging that the above description, by Brissot, is in nowise exaggerated. The highest virtue and grandeur of soul were never more openly depicted by a more noble countenance or venerable head; nor the greatest reputation ever more justly merited. Bentham must not only be considered as the most profound jurist of any age, but also as a philosopher whose writings have most enlightened humanity, and assisted the cause of liberty in our own time. For an acquaintance with the most important of Bentham’s works, France and Europe are indebted to Etienne Dumont, who is recently dead; for, however remarkable it may be, Bentham’s ‘Tactics of Popular Assemblies,’ and even his ‘Theory of Rewards and Punishments,’ published in French by Dumont, have not hitherto appeared in the language in which they were originally written. It would appear as though it were sufficient for him to see the increase of intelligence and general good by his writings, whilst he disclaimed to attach to himself all the glory of it.”—Mémoires de Brissot.—Ed.
[† ] The work formed what was afterwards published under the name of “Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.” See vol. i. of the works.