Front Page Titles (by Subject) Bentham to George Wilson. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Bentham to George Wilson.
“Hendon, Friday,January, 1791.
“My dear Wilson,—
Nothing can be more judicious than the advice you give me to write readable books: to show my gratitude, suffer me, who am your senior, to treat you with another. Get business. Don’t complain for this time that you have been preaching to the winds; you have been preaching, you see, to an echo: I don’t mean one of your vulgar echoes, but such a one as they have in Ireland, which, when a man says to it, ‘How d’ye do?’ answers, ‘Pretty well, I thank you.’ What! your notion is, then, that I make my books unreadable, for the same reason that asses stand mute—out of pure sulkiness. As to the book in question, there will be another obstacle to its general circulation here, which is, that it won’t go to the booksellers at least for a long time, if ever. Be listened to in France? No, to be sure it won’t. But you seem to have forgotten, that it is the continuation of a work begun before that matter had been ascertained. As to the unpopular form, it was determined by the popular occasion. If I give it up, I am fickle: if I go on with it, I choose a form that is unpopular, and write books that are unreadable. So you have me either way, or to speak more intelligibly, quacunque viâ datâ. If you have got a receipt for making readable books, please send copy thereof per return of post, together with a ditto of your own making for a pattern.
“You have as good a chance for putting the house of our Lady at Loretto into a parcel as my Inspection-house, by sending to Brown’s to-day, or Saturday. Neither angels, nor any other messengers, have brought it yet from Ireland. To make amends, if you will send the enclosed to Spilsbury’s, you may get, in some state or other, but toujours without a title-page, a scrap of my hornbook for infant members, which I am going to publish without the rest—more food for speculation, and another bait to catch good advice. The title-page you may send him by another opportunity. Seriously though, I am greatly obliged to you for the access you have got for me to the Contracts. I shall hardly be at leisure to profit by it these ten days or a fortnight, but that I suppose will make no difference.—Yours ever.
“Remember me affectionately to Trail, when you write. I had the pleasure of seeing his letter at Romilly’s.
“How is Trail’s Irish brother to be directed to? I mean at Dublin. If I knew his correspondent there, I would send him this last No. and the preceding one,—as far as No. 4, I think, he has. I remember something about Stafford Street—was that a temporary lodging, or a friend’s?”
A letter from Benj. Vaughan, dated February 2, 1791, has the following passages:—
“They say wits often jump upon the same thing. I had just been supposing I should incur your displeasure for having detained three Numbers of The Literary Gazette since Wednesday; and it seems you have some fancy about me. Let us barter thoughts, and matters will stand as they ought to do. Let the things, therefore, you have put together ‘be put asunder.’ ”—“I know Mr Christie, who is properly a physician, but he has lately taken to trade. He has had many books from me, at his desire, to assist in his pamphlet. I suppose he wants more of your time than a man who has given it all away can spare.”—“I wish much to have a copy of your pamphlet for the Duke de Liancourt.”
On sending to Bentham a series of questions, forwarded by King Stanislaus of Poland, Lord Lansdowne writes as follows:—
“Does not the book upon Tactics answer the enclosed questions, and many more, which the same line of inquiry may suggest. If so, why should not Mr Bentham, as well as Roussean, give a contribution to Poland? If he will, with this view, answer the enclosed questions, by referring to his book, or otherwise, as he must, at this time, have the subject at his fingers’ ends, Lord Lansdowne will undertake to transmit the answer, and to take no atom of the credit to himself; but in that case, he thinks Mr B. should send the book, and perhaps the French Numbers, with an English letter, (for he understands English,) to the King of Poland. Lord L. will undertake to transmit it, and is sure that it will be received and answered in the handsomest manner imaginable; but he will consider the matter, and do whatever seems best to himself—Lord L. having nothing in view, in either instance, but Mr B.’s honour and glory. I have had another thought about the plans, which I cannot put to paper, but will mention to Mr Vaughan, unless you can make it suit you to come and dine here on Wednesday with Vaughan and Romilly. Adieu, in haste.”
Bentham writes to the ladies of Bowood, then removed to Albemarle Street, March 5, 1791:—
“The enclosed is sent to show how much I prefer the possibility of affording your tea-table half an hour’s amusement to that bubble reputation, which I prefer to everything else. You will see how a rebellious disciple of mine libels me, in writing to another Scotch rebel like himself. Unfortunately I am obliged to return the letter, or I should either have cut out the passage, or altered it into a panegyric. The danger is, its falling into the hands of a certain person, who has had an account open for these two or three months, in which everything that tells on that side is viewed through a magnifying glass, and entered in large letters. You saw, I suppose, the two preceding letters from the same hand. Since I saw you all together, and not before, I have read a note written three months ago, in I am not sure whose hand, but I believe Miss V.’s. The affectation of being piqued at my setting myself down at the distance to which I had been thrown, is more flattering to me than a thousand kind speeches, and would go nigh to cure, if it were in the power of words to cure, a mortification which has recurred at least fifty times a-day for above these three months, and every time accompanied with a degree of pain, which, some how or other, has not undergone that abatement by time that I expected it would. Don’t let Miss V. think there is no such thing as prudence anywhere but in Albemarle Street. All the ideas I could muster were not enough to answer the demands that were made upon me for building prisons and castles in the air: had I read the letter at the time in which it was put in my hand, instead of thinking fifty times a-day of what I had better never have thought at all, I should never have been able to find thoughts for anything else.
“March 5, 1791.”
Benjamin Vaughan says, March 17, 1791:—
“The news from France is very good again, notwithstanding M. de Condé may enter France with 1500, (not 15000,) all he has got, pursuant to his engagements. The Jacobins are at least preaching up tranquillity. A Baltic fleet is preparing—but I doubt it’s going. I wait Romilly’s answer before I reply to you. The story of the new metal is recanted in form.
“March 17, 1791.”
Bentham addressed to his brother the following letter to wait his arrival at Paris. The colonel was at this time on his way homeward from Russia:—
“No. 9, Bedford Row,
April 1, 1791.
“I write this from Mr Browne’s, people chattering round me. It is of no use to make long preachments, or give histories. Yours, of February 18th, from Vienna, is before me: it was sent to me the 16th, after having been kept, God knows how long, for Q. S. P. did not tell me when it was received. When you arrive in London, come, the first thing you do, to Mr Browne’s. I don’t know whether you know that I have left Crichoff for years, and live altogether at Zadobras. You will learn at Mr B.’s where Zadobras is. Lest you should not, know that it is eight miles from Crichoff, near a place called Hendon, four miles beyond Hampstead or Highgate, which you please. Hampstead is the road you must take, as the other would be unfindable. It is the first house, or rather hut, you come to, when you are passed the eight mile stone on the way to Mill Hill. At Hampstead you have only to ask the road to Hendon—it is the great one. Q. S. P. will easily excuse your not first calling upon him, upon your telling him you were determined upon calling upon me, if I was living, as you had never heard from me. Let me hear immediately from you as soon as you arrive at Paris, as I dare say you will lounge there long enough to hear from me in answer before you come away. Lord L., who sees all your letters, talked of writing one for you to the Duke de la Rochefoucauld: whether he has, I don’t know—but it will be no matter.
“You have a slave with you, I suppose, of some sort or other. Don’t bring him to me, as he would be a nuisance. Mr Browne will tell you what to do with him, as also with your baggage. You may leave it at his house, if you will, till we have conferred and agreed where you are to be. The fact is, they go to bed at ten o’clock at Q. S. P. and would be frightened at people’s calling, as they would upon you. Besides, your servant, black or white, would put them in a panic. I will explain all this fully when we meet. Come upon your ten toes: you are man enough to walk eight miles. If you fear our being at a loss for conversation, you may put a pack of cards in your pocket. I received yours to me, of I know not what date, telling me how to direct to you; also, the long letter mentioning, inter alia, the amphibious contrivances. I gave in a proposal to our Potemkin two months ago; but the Potemkins never give answers. Happily my proposal is in little danger of being out of date; Pole Carew, with whom I am on terms, and others, protect me. You will stare when you come to see it. I am helping to govern Ireland with an old shoe of yours; but they are a sad crew.”
There is a short but pithy note, from Vaughan, of April 4, 1791:—
“The news from France good, except that Mirabeau remains ill. Dr Price, also, I fear, is dying. People in general reprobate Pitt’s war.”
In a letter to Colonel Bentham, of April 5, 1791, Bentham says:—
“Go to M. Gautier, Rue des Capucines, vis-à-vis l’hôtél de la Mairie. He is a great merchant or banker, or both, of the house of Gran or Grand. He translated the ‘Defence of Usury into French;* but, I believe, does not care to have it known, as he, or somebody belonging to him, had smarted for that crime. Your errand is to ask him, whether he has anything for Mr Romilly. Mr R. expected, before this, to have received something from M. Dumont of Geneva; and if it was not left with M. Gautier, it must have been with some one or other of their common friends. Romilly is at the bar, about Wilson’s standing—an intimate of mine, connected as well through the medium of Wilson and Trail as of Lord Lansdowne. Dumont is also intimate—a zealous disciple, and who half-translated, half-abridged, some papers of mine, relative to French business. By-the-by, he has a mother and sisters, or other near relations, settled at Petersburg, in some line of trade, and was in Russia as bear-leader for many years. On the ‘Judicial Establishment,’ my papers are six numbers, which are not yet finished—perhaps never may be. They, and my ‘Essay on Political Tactics,’ Romilly sent to Gautier not long ago. There, I suppose, you might see them, were it worth while, which it is not. When your name is mentioned to Gautier, he will probably recognise it, and ask you after me; but he has never seen me.”
Three brief notes, from Vaughan, follow:—
1. “Nothing very new. Pitt much chagrined; the war, (if to be, which I doubt, as Prussia must see our support soon die away,)—the war, I say, very unpopular: Pitt exposed abroad and at home; no further use for him in German politics, and then . . . . .
“France à l’ordinaire, except that the separation of the two powers (of state) makes fermentation, and the aristocracy still talk of counter-revolutions.
“April 16, 1791.”
2. “If the king of France provokes the nation once more, he will be called by a new name. The aristocracy should experience one more blow, the new-officering of their army.
“I will write about your philosophy soon; but our people will not concur.
“April 25, 1791.
3. “Stocks here are lower.
“You hear of Fayette’s restoration. There is still fermentation at Paris. Assignates at 7 or 8 per cent. discount. The question about Avignon is on the tapis. Lord Stanhope having just returned me Condorcet’s report, I shall read it, and write to you.
“May 3, 1791.”
1791—1792. Æt. 43—44.
The Panopticon Project.—Reveley the Architect.—Correspondence: Pole Carew, Sir Samuel Bentham, Dr Anderson, Vaughan, Lord Lansdowne, and the Bowood Ladies.—Correspondence with Garran, Brissot, and the National Assembly, on Projects of Reform.—Death of Bentham’s Father.
In the correspondence contained in this and the following chapter, the Panopticon Penitentiary House will be found to hold a prominent place. It occupied Bentham’s attention during many years of his life; and I possess many volumes of correspondence which refer to it alone. His hopes were raised to the highest pitch when the project was adopted by parliament; but the veto of King George the Third overthrew the scheme, and a large sum was paid to Bentham as compensation for time and labour, and expenses incurred. He could not speak of the subject without pain. “I do not like,” he would say, “to look among Panopticon papers. It is like opening a drawer where devils are locked up—it is breaking into a haunted house.” “The architectural part of the Panopticon,” to use Bentham’s words, “was invented by my brother for the Mujiks, or peasantry of Russia. I thought it applicable to prisons, and adopted it. The inspection is universal, perpetual, all-comprehensive. Everything was going on most prosperously, when, on the 17th August, came a terrible frost, and destroyed all his gardens, and fruits and flowers. The Panopticon was not built—it was merely traced out.”
“In 1792, I put it into George Rose’s hands, and Rose told Angerstein he had never met with a more taking proposal in the course of his life; and at the same time Lord St Helens put it into the hands of Sir Evan Nepean; and Sir Charles Bunbury made a speech about it in the House of Commons.
“But George Rose had unfortunately got a trick of making me say, whether intentionally or not, what I never said, and then attacking it. A well-bred man, in George Rose’s place, might have made the communications to me which he had to make, very bearable: but that was not in his nature. The ground bought of the Marquis of Salisbury for the Panopticon was very cheap, and no job. It cost £12,000, or £14,000. The quantity must have been eighty acres.
“The discussions respecting Panopticon were spread over a space of twenty years, in parliament and out of parliament.
“During the Penitentiary discussions they made use of the evidence of a fool, and of a rascal, in order to use them against me. Holford was the chairman of the Committee of Inquiry. There was a good deal of hypocrisy mixed in the affair.
“Lord Sidmouth behaved shabbily in the business. He had taken a public part in the House during the discussions on the subject; and when he supplanted Pitt and came into power, he denied that he had ever concerned himself in the matter.
“Charles Butler did me the good service of drawing the bill for Panopticon, and he would take nothing for his pains. I drew a bill, short, compact, and, as I thought, complete. But the bill so drawn was rejected with ignominy.
“In order to advance Panopticon after I returned to England, I consulted Reveley. He had an admirable pair of hands; his wife was a clever woman; but Reveley would never talk on the subject on which he was wanted to talk.”
Bentham had met Mr Reveley in the course of his journey. He had been taking views in Greece,* in the employ of Sir R. W., described in p. 156, and Bentham engaged him to assist him in the architecture of the Panopticon. He had married a lady abroad, who had been an acquaintance of Bentham; and in her society Bentham enjoyed much pleasure. I received from that lady a memorandum, which I give in her own words:—
“Mr Bentham had applied to Mr Reveley to assist him in the architectural development of his plan for a Panopticon. At first he paid us short visits, merely furnishing Mr Reveley, from time to time, with the necessary instructions for making out his plans,—but the ingenuity of the latter enabling him to raise objections, and to suggest various improvements in the details, Mr Bentham gradually found it necessary to devote more and more time to the affair, so that at length he frequently passed the entire morning at our house, and, not to lose time, he brought his papers with him, and occupied himself in writing. It was on this occasion, that, observing how much time he lost, through the confusion resulting from a want of order in the management of his papers, I offered my services, in classing and numbering them, which he willingly accepted, and I had thereby the pleasure of supplying him with any part of his writings at a moment’s notice. Judging from the manner in which he appreciated my assistance, I am inclined to think that this kind of facilitation had never before been afforded him. I then proposed to him that, in order to gain still more time for the despatch of his business, he should take his breakfast with us. He readily consented to my proposal; but, upon the condition, that I would allow him a separate teapot, that he might prepare his tea, he said, in his own way. He chose such a teapot as would contain all the water that was necessary, which was poured in upon the tea at once. He said, that he could not endure the usual mode of proceeding, which produced the first cup of tea strong, and the others gradually decreasing in strength, till the last cup became little better than hot water. Tea-making, like many other things (particularly the dimensions of the cups) is, perhaps, greatly improved since that time. I was, even then, so well convinced of the advantage of his method, that I have pursued it ever since, more or less modified according to circumstances.
“During this intercourse, Mr Reveley once received a note from Mr Bentham, written in an angry tone—this was owing to the former having used some incautious, and, perhaps, improper expression, in writing to some one concerned in the affair of the Panopticon. It might have been the engraver—though I can scarcely admit the probability of that surmise.
“Mr Reveley knew himself to be perfectly innocent of any intentional rudeness or impropriety,—he therefore felt himself much hurt at the severity of Mr Bentham’s reproof. I can recollect but these very few words of Mr Bentham’s note:—‘I suppose you have left your orders too with Mr’ . . . . . (naming a lawyer or barrister employed by Mr Bentham, who was residing in Red Lion Square.) In fact, Mr Reveley, though a young man of superior talent, was, at that time, little accustomed to writing; he was also perhaps not sufficiently attentive to the established forms of society. It is, therefore, by no means improbable that he might have committted some mistake in the use of language.
“It occurs to me also, that there might have been previously some slight degree of dormant displeasure in the mind of Mr Bentham against Mr Reveley, excited, perhaps, by an habitual, though very innocent levity on the part of the latter, who was too apt to make jokes, in order to excite a laugh, even on subjects which demanded serious attention. When we were alone, Mr Bentham’s Panopticon did not altogether escape; and I can easily imagine that his penetrating glance may have caught a glimpse of this misplaced mirth. But of this, if it was so, he never took the slightest notice. I think that this little misunderstanding took place when the business between them was nearly brought to a conclusion; and it is most pleasing to observe, that it did not prevent Mr Bentham from doing justice to Mr Reveley’s ability in his printed report, or description of his ‘Panopticon.’ I can also recollect, that the sum which the latter received, as a remuneration for his trouble, was ten pounds—Mr Reveley’s first professional emolument.
“After this event, I never saw Mr Bentham again, till my interview with him in April last, (1831.) His views with regard to the ‘Panopticon’ were baffled, and he had no longer occasion for architectural assistance.
“My situation was also changed—I was no longer in the enjoyment of that state of ease and quiet in which he had known me in former days, when he first visited my father’s house.
“Still under twenty years of age, I was already the mother of two children, and was called upon to bear my part in a very severe struggle. Our income was but £140 per annum; and the increase brought in by Mr Reveley’s business was, for several years, very slender and uncertain. With these inadequate resources, from the necessity of maintaining, if possible, our useful connexions, we had to make a genteel appearance: this we effected, not without considerable difficulty, and by means of constant exertion. A person in such a situation must make great sacrifices, and submit to much self-denial. My mind was concentrated in the continual efforts which my new situation required.
“I lost sight of the inestimable Bentham—at least, I lost sight of him personally,—but still the sentiment—that strong perception of his superior worth, which I had imbibed in my first acquaintance with him, was continually strengthened by my own spontaneous reflections, and by the accounts which were given to me, from time to time, of his steady and heroic devotion to the great cause of truth, humanity, and justice. It was delightful to me to hear his praises from the mouths of all those whom I most looked up to as philanthropists and philosophers.”
In connexion with the same subject, Sir R. P. Carew writes as follows:—
[* ] This, I believe, is an error. The translator of the “Defence of Usury” was M. Delessort.
[* ] He edited Stuart’s “Athens.”