Front Page Titles (by Subject) Bentham to William Wilberforce. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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Bentham to William Wilberforce. - 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 William Wilberforce.
“My worthy Friend.—
Extraordinary crises call for extraordinary measures; and may even throw a veil of gravity on what might otherwise appear ridiculous. Read the extract beneath: it may serve as a text to the practical discourse that follows it.
“ ‘Paris, 26th Thermidor, (13th August,)—Executive Directory—Public Audience of the 20th Thermidor, (7th August)—Extract from the Speech of M. Vincent Spinola, Envoy Extraordinary from the Republic of Genoa to that of France.
“ ‘. . My fellow-citizens have cast their eyes upon me. They have thought that he who has so often had assurances of confidence from the Representatives and Generals of the French Republic, will have, Citizen Directors! some title to yours.’
“Reply of the President of the Executive Directory to M. Spinola—concluding passage:—
“ ‘The Executive Directory sees with satisfaction, that the Genoese Government has chosen for its representative to the French Republic, a citizen who has acquired the reputation of being a friend to humanity, and to the liberty of French Republicans.’
“Above, you see the occasional cause of an idea which, however whimsical, and whether practicable or no, proves at least to have something like a foundation in precedent, and experience. We must sooner or later have done fighting with Pandemonium: and upon that occasion may find it advisable to look out for some sort of a candle to hold to the princes of the devils. Waiving devils and candles, might it not contribute to smooth the approach to peace, if in the steps taken, whatever they may be, towards that end, use were made in some shape or other of some person, the choice of whom might, upon the strength of some conspicuous and incontestable attribute, stamped, as it were, upon his forehead, appear intended purposely as a compliment to them, and indicative of a disposition to humour and flatter them? Now, then, my good friend, where is that sort of person, the choice of whom for such a purpose, could be more likely to prove flattering to them than that of one of the chosen few, on whom they took it in their heads to confer that sublimest of all earthly honours, that highest of all degrees in the climax of equality, the title of French Citizen? Looking over the list, among the seventeen of which it is composed, I observe six British; and among those six, none but yourself and your humble servant, who are not reputed Republicans, unless it be your journeyman labourer in the Vineyard of the Slave Trade, Mr Clarkson, of whose sentiments in Constitutional matters I am not apprized. What say you, then, to an expedition to Paris upon occasion, properly dubbed and armed, not à la J—n, to devour the country; but à la Wilberforce, to give peace to it? The knight of Yorkshire at any rate—his fellow-citizen, if so please his knightship, in quality of his humble squire to keep his armour in order, and brush his shoes?
“As to yourself, every man, since Thales gave him the hint, knows himself, at least as much of himself as a man likes to know; and therefore of yourself, speaking to yourself, I need say nothing.
“As to your obscure and humble would-be-follower, who has the prophet-like property of being still more unknown in his own country than in the next, in addition to the grand article above spoken of, the following are the titles that might help to recommend him to an embrace of condescending fraternity from the five kings.
“1st. A sketch of the Panopticon plan, printed by order of their second Assembly, with a letter of mine before it: a sort of certificate of Civism, such as no other non-Frenchmen that I know of could display.
“2nd. An invitation in form, given me here by Talleyrand in the name of the Directory of the Department of Paris, desiring the Duc de la Rochefoucauld’s presidency to go and set up Panopticons of different sorts there. Witnesses at least, and, for aught I know, the Minutes are still in existence.
“3d. In Brissot’s, as well as Mirabeau’s periodicals, flaming eulogiums of some extracts of my papers on the Judicial Establishment which I sent to the first Assembly, (before they had taken to plundering, &c.,) and which the Abbé Sieyes (proverbial there for jealousy and self-sufficiency) prevented, in spite of the endeavours of the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, Brissot, and others, (appearing in some measure from letters of theirs in my possession,) prevented, I say, from being translated and printed.
“4th. An acquaintance made in London with Brissot in the days of his obscurity and innocence followed by marks of esteem and confidence on his part, widened by a bundle of letters of his, beginning 25th January, 1783, ending 6th November, 1790, relics of that protomartyr, which happen to remain unburnt, and which a noble Scotch worshipper of his is welcome at any time to kiss without a fee.
“Brissot used his endeavours afterwards to get me returned to the Convention, and (but for the instances of a friend of mine, who, happening to be there at the time, feared its drawing me into a scrape) was likely, as that friend afterwards told me, to have got my name added to those of Payne and Priestley. The whole business as perfectly strange to me, till months afterwards, as to the Pope of Rome. Don’t let it mortify you too much, but we three (two P and a B) were made grandees of the first class,—set down in petto for Solons,—fenced off from the gens en sous ordre by a semicolon—an impayable semicolon! We being thus intrenched and enthroned, after us they let in a parcel of corn-consumers,—the Wilberforces, the Washingtons, fortemque Gyan, fortemque Cloanthum.
“Some friends of mine (apropos of Brissot) used often to be attacking me, in those early days, for having anything to say to so poor a creature. My defence used to be, that he seems a quiet, good-humoured sort of man, and was of use to me in procuring books and literary information.
“5th. The business your Excellency would have to do, would consist principally, I suppose, in chaffering about colonies. As to this matter, while vanity would join with duty in engaging us both to strain every nerve in the endeavour to retain whatever you were intrusted to haggle for, the printed opinions of your humble second would give him that sort of advantage in point of argument, and afford him such a certificate of sincerity in the use of it, as can hardly be to be found elsewhere. What theministersays to younow,is no more than what the man said to you at the beginning—We are an infatuated people:youa wise one. Give us what we want, you see it will be no loss to you. In this point of view, at least, how much fitter a man with such opinions, than one who could never open his lips without impressing people with the importance of the very objects which it was his business to prevail upon them to give up!
“True it is, that were they to see an analysis I have by me of their favourite Declaration of Rights, there is not, perhaps, a being upon earth that would be less welcome to them than I could ever hope to be; but there it lies, with so many other papers that would be equally obnoxious to them, very quietly upon my shelf; and though no man can be more averse to simulation, even in the best cause, yet no man, according to my conception, is bound to suppress any ideas that he happens to have in common with those whom his business is to conciliate, still less to fling at their heads any that he happens to entertain in opposition to theirs, because no man is bound to get his head broke to no use. With these reserves, what renders everything of simulation the less necessary is, a general principle of human nature—a certain propensity we have, as often as we observe a man’s ideas meeting our own in a prominent point or two—to jump at the like conclusion with regard to all manner of other points. But of all people the most remarkable for their precipitancy in this way are surely the French. I met with a Frenchman once, whom nothing would persuade, that Priestley, whom he had been talking with, was not an Atheist, as well as himself; because they happened to agree on some points relative to matter and free will. Priestley foamed with rage at the imputation, but the Frenchman was not to be so taken in. Priestley, on his part, was even with him; for he would no more believe the Frenchman’s Atheism, than the Frenchman his Theism. If you and I, their adopted brethren, with our recorded merits, were to go and shake hands with them, and call them fellow-citizens, we might say what we would,—for the first month at least,—they would no more believe it possible for us to ‘honour the king’ that sent us, than the man believed it possible for Priestley to ‘fear God.’
“Were it to fall to their lot to send to us on a similar errand, who the messenger were, so long as there were nothing about him particularly offensive, would here, I believe, be regarded as a matter of very considerable indifference. But in their instance, the examples of the vent they give in this way to their humours, good or bad, are as abundant as they are notorious. This Spinola, and I believe many others, on the one side; on the other, Carlildé, the Swedish Envoy, whom they shut the door against t’other day,—the Pope’s Nuntio, and the Sardinian Minister, whom they sent packing, with others who might be found, I suppose, in plenty, if there were any use in it.
“Suppose them, on the other hand, applied to in the ordinary way—suppose them, in that case, refusing to treat with your great friend—suppose their insolence to rise to such a pitch (and to what pitch may not French insolence rise?)—would not his option be rather an awkward one?—to deprive the country of one of two things—the benefit of his services, or the blessings of peace? Would it not be a satisfaction to you, before the dilemma came upon him, to step in and save him from it? However slight the danger on one hand—however uncertain the efficacy of the prevention on the other, yet the expedient being so simple, and so cheap, might it not be worth while to take the chance of it? Has not there been already an instance? Tuscany, I believe, (the events of the time succeed one another with such rapidity, that, without a particular call for attention, the impression vanishes.) Has not there been an instance of their actually forcing a sovereign to discard his principal minister? There is some difference, indeed, between that country, whatever it may have been, and this country, it is true; and thence comes the hope that, in our instance, they may satisfy themselves with the sort of complimentary (though an instance of mere common civility, and no more than what good breeding, joined to prudence, would dictate between man and man) submission proposed,—whereas, in the other instance, nothing short of dismission could be accepted. There is the invasion too; and though, at the long run, I should not much expect that many who came over on that errand would get back again, unless by a cartel, yet, make the best of it, the final destruction on one side, would be but an indifferent compensation for the intervening confusion on the other.
“On an occasion like this, it is impossible for me to avoid thinking of an excellent friend of mine—an acquaintance of yours to boot—a veteran in the trade, and who, in these hard times, adds high dignity to great worth, without a morsel of bread. I need scarce say how absurd it would be for me to name myself in company with him, were it not for the above-mentioned accidental peculiarities, but for which I should as soon have thought of offering myself for the command of an army as for any such purpose as the present. On the supposition of your declining the business, I would black his shoes with as much fidelity as yours, and would black them literally rather than see him a sufferer by my means.
“Your great friend, were this to reach his eye or his ear, might smile; but there are times in which, for a chance, how faint soever, of being of use, a man may be excused for exposing himself to a smile; and, if I may address myself to you, my good friend, as to a confessor, when looking round me, I observe those who, taken from a situation once my own, without any such marked though accidental recommendations, have given satisfaction in this very line, I fear not to say to myself—ed io anchio—I too am capable of going on an errand.
“Should the general idea happen to meet your approbation, make whatever you think best of it; nor let your friendship conceive, that, because it is from me that the suggestion happens to have come, there is any necessity of my having anything more to do with it. On the other hand, should I be supposed capable of being made useful, make use of me, in any way, without reserve. Believe me, with the truest respect and affection, yours ever.
“P.S.—In the papers of this very day, I read the following articles:—‘Times, Sept. 1st.—From the Paris Papers, Aug. 25-27.—Italy, Aug. 6.—The French, it is said, require the exclusion of the Chevalier Acton from the Ministry of the Court of Naples. Herald, Sept. 1.—From the Paris papers, Aug. 25-27.—Rome, July 27th.—The Chevalier Azzara was chosen by M. Miot, and Barbery was appointed to represent the Pope. But in the first day the conferences were broken up, and M. Azzara declared he would not treat with Barbery, whom he looked upon as one of the principal causes of the ruin of the State.”