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.
“Hendon, Friday,June 12, —89.
It is impossible for me to recollect the terms in which I expressed myself to Morellet about your share in Romilly’s paper. I well remember the term I did not use, which was the word triumvirate, which I suppose was the occasion of your alarm. My object—as far as a sentence of a line or two could be said to have an object—was to communicate to people there the sense entertained by me of the value of a present that was none of mine. Saying nothing but the truth, having no injunction, nor being under any obligation that I know of to conceal the truth,—saying nothing but what was honourable to the parties, as far as honour may be derivable from such a medium and from such a source,—I do not feel the smallest compunction for anything that I may have said, whatever it may have been. Having nothing to gain in any shape by misrepresentation, nor feeling in myself much propensity to misrepresentation, the probability, I hope, is, that I have used none. If I wanted diversion at your expense, I should like to hear you make your apology to Romilly for a no-injury from which you could derive no benefit, and in which you had no participation or concern. But were I in Romilly’s place, I should not be much flattered by an apology which supposed, on my part, a disappointed plan of passing as exclusively my own a work in which two others had so large a share. For whatever I may have said to the Abbé, the fact is, that the share you and Trail had in it was very considerable, as the original—in all your hands, and now before me—testifies. The fault you have to apologise to Romilly for, is his having lent me that original, and your having written in your own hand instead of forging his, for the sake of making what was yours appear his, when you knew nothing of any intention on his part to communicate it to anybody. What never entered into my head, I must confess, till you put it there, was, the idea that any one could look upon a paper of this kind as a thing to found a reputation upon. It was always spoken of to me as a collection of a few rules, which would not have been worth setting to paper but because they were known to everybody, but which, for the opposite reason, might be of use there. The value of such a work was as its accuracy, and the probability of its accuracy was as the number of hands it passed through. Whether Romilly mentioned to people there his having received any such assistance, is more than I know or hope ever to know. If be did not, it must have been either because it never occurred to him, or because he did not think it worth while. What I should have done in his place I am equally unable to determine. It is likely enough I might have mentioned the assistance, not conceiving it to be a matter in which either the vanity of talent or the vanity of modesty could have place, but that, as having the more title to confidence, the information might stand the better chance of being of use. But if Romilly would feel the smallest regret at hearing that the assistance received was known in its full extent, or, to speak shortly, if he would care a straw about the matter, he is a man very different from what I take him to be. Your scruples about the matter were refined to such a degree of subtlety, that it cost me no small effort to bring my conceptions to the same pitch. I gave no answer at first, in humble hope that maturer reflection or oblivion would have dissipated them: and because, to express myself in imitation of a great model, I have but one head, and cannot always spare that at the precise moment you would wish. The time it cost your one servant to take the letter to Lansdowne House, added to the time it took me to write the letter on the slave trade, are not, together, equal to the time it cost me to study your two letters and compose this, which, after all, will afford you little satisfaction.—Mem. To take care another time how I use the word triumvirate.
“With regard to the temporary miscarriage of the books, it was as I supposed: they are since arrived. I waited two message-cart days before I mentioned it. When such mistakes happen, the way to have them rectified is to mention them. Turgot’s came in course, for which I thank you.
“Necker is double damned in my estimation, were it only for his folly, and tyranny, and tergiversation, in suppressing all accounts of the debates.
The following is a curious memorandum of a conversation with Lord Lansdowne:—
“1789, Saturday, June 27.
“Lord L., in order to gain the empress, was for offering to accede to the armed neutrality; but conditionally—on condition of her mediating in our favour with Holland. Fox carried it against him in the cabinet to have the offer unconditional: and the letter from Fox, Home Secretary of State to Sweden, was penned accordingly. N. B.—I had already read the letter in a volume of correspondence Lord L. left for my perusal. Fox, to gain credit with the empress, gave her to understand what had passed on that occasion in the cabinet.
“[Lord L.] gave me to understand there was a negotiation then depending between him and the king for his coming in. Seemed to hesitate between the Foreign Department and Ireland. Spoke of Ireland as a thing below him, otherwise a place where he should find himself much at ease. ‘You, and I, and Romilly, should govern it with a hair.’ Many questions about my circumstances—my answers general—that it was true I had nothing, but that I had been used all my life-long to live upon nothing, and that nothing was perfectly sufficient. Questions about my aptitude and inclinations for parliament,—answers—that my voice was the most inaudible one that ever was; that I was perfectly unfit for talking upon commonplaces; that if I could do anything anywhere, it must be in committees, or in the way of reply; taking in pieces the arguments on the other side; that I never would, nor ever could, argue against my own opinions, verbally or in writing. He said he was not the man to expect it, as the Marquis of Rockingham did.
“Complained repeatedly of Pitt and Thurlow for breach of faith. Something had been concerted between him and Thurlow, that it was essential the king should not be apprized of. Thurlow promised him in the most solemn manner, laying his hand on his heart, to keep it secret. He went and told it the king immediately.
“This passed in the room where we were sitting. On the day of his (Lord L.’s) resignation, there was a meeting of Peers on that occasion at L. House. Pitt, fearing the intimation of resignation was not sufficiently explicit, came out to him from the Peers to desire he would make it more so. He did; and then Pitt, having got his assurance, accepted the place. This story he told me at two different times. It seemed to sit very heavy on him; but I did not perceive either time wherein the treachery consisted, nor how Pitt was to blame. There seemed to be a tacit reference to some compact, expressed or understood.
“The Duke of Leeds a poor creature. Lord Sidney a stupid fellow. His own character he conceived to stand high in Europe: he was sure it did in France. He had received a very flattering letter from the late king of Prussia.”
On the subject of the Declaration of Rights, Bentham thus expressed himself to Brissot:—
“I am sorry you have undertaken to publish a Declaration of Rights. It is a metaphysical work—the ne plus ultra of metaphysics. It may have been a necessary evil,—but it is nevertheless an evil. Political science is not far enough advanced for such a declaration. Let the articles be what they may, I will engage they must come under three heads—1. Unintelligible; 2. False; 3. A mixture of both. You will have no end that will not be contradicted or superseded by the laws of details which are to follow them. You are deluded by a bad example—that of the American Congress. See what I have said of it in my new 4to volume—the last page of the last note. Believe not that this manifesto served the cause. In my mind it weakened that cause. In moments of enthusiasm, any nonsense is welcomed as an argumentation in favour of liberty. Put forward any pompous generality—stick to it—therefore we ought to be free—conclusion and premises may have nothing to do with one another—they will not be the worse for that. What, then, will be the practical evil? Why this: you can never make a law against which it may not be averred, that by it you have abrogated the Declaration of Rights; and the averment will be unanswerable. Thus, you will be compelled either to withdraw a desirable act of legislation—or to give a false colouring (dangerous undertaking!) to the Declaration of Rights. The commentary will contradict the text. The contradiction may be persevered in, but this will only increase the confusion—heads will be weakened—the errors of the judgment will become errors of the heart. The best thing that can happen to the Declaration of Rights will be, that it should become a dead letter; and that is the best wish I can breathe for it. My first impressions have been strongly confirmed by looking over all the ‘projects’ which have hitherto had birth. It would be some remedy if any declaration were made provisional, or temporary. The National Assembly has more than once acted wisely in this particular; but would the impatience of the people tolerate the expression of doubts in a matter deemed so important?”
On De Witt’s letters, Lord Lansdowne says:—
“They are abominably stupid and uninteresting, with, however, some curious things interspersed, which I have marked sometimes with my nail, sometimes with doubling the leaf at top or at bottom, and sometimes with a pencil—you will read them in an hour. I thought I had marked the four volumes of negotiations; but it’s no matter, for there is so full a table of contents that you will easily find what’s interesting. I read them chiefly with a view of tracing the designs of the French upon the Low Countries, and the nature of their connexion with the Princes of Orange before Louis Fourteenth and William Third’s time. You will find several curious particulars upon both these heads, and the book, in general, well worth reading. I wish, if you read it, you would be so good as to mark for me whatever can be applied to modern times.”
A letter of George Wilson’s, of the 5th of July, has the following passage:—
“I received, a few days ago, an unpublished book of my friend Gregory’s, on the old controversy of liberty and necessity,—in which he undertakes to demonstrate that the doctrine of necessity leads to conclusions, which are, some of them false, and others absurd. The following paragraph is transcribed from his letter:—‘and one for your own perusal, and your friends, Bentham the usurer, and Trail, and Trail’s brother. I have great confidence in the soundness of your four heads, and the fitness of them for strict reasoning. I take it for granted that you will all dislike and distrust at first my mode of writing and reasoning. Possibly some of you may have a different system from mine as to my conclusion. So much the better: you will examine my argument more rigorously, which is just what I want. If it swerves in the least from the strictest mathematical reasoning by necessary inference from principles that are intuitively and necessarily true, then it must be arrant nonsense. If any of you can show me any error in the chain of reasoning, I give it up for ever, and shall suppress the work, and shall think myself much obliged to you for preventing me from exposing myself by publishing nonsense. I make the same offer to Priestley, who will be in very great wrath at the essay and the author of it.’
“I shall, therefore, unless you forbid me, send it to you in a day or two, and if you make any observations on it, shall transmit them to the author; but, at any rate, you must let me have it again in a week, because I am instructed to send it to another person before I leave town.
“I wish you joy of the complete victory of the Commons.
“In a late number of Mirabeau’s letters to his Commettans, which Romilly has, or will send you, are six principles relating to the manner of debating, translated verbatim from you, without acknowledgment, and without reasons, which, he says, he may add hereafter. I believe it is true that the troops refused, or were ready to refuse to act. I heard from good authority, that the Duc du Chatelet, who is colonel of the French Guards, told the king that he could not answer for his men. Our papers—I think the Diary, says, that they were all ordered to their quarters, but refused to be confined; and that, for several days, they walked about Paris, feasted by the inhabitants; and that all the coffee-houses in the Palais Royal were filled with them. After the junction on Saturday afternoon, Bailly adjourned them to Tuesday.”
Bentham answered thus:—