Front Page Titles (by Subject) William Wilberforce to Bentham. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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William Wilberforce 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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William Wilberforce to Bentham.
“Broomfield,September 3, 1802.
“My dear Sir,—
I have run over your packet very hastily—it has found me lying under an arrear of business which I am impatient to clear away, but I would not wait the full time you allowed me to keep your papers, in order to find a day of leisure, which experience has instructed me to fear might disappoint my hopes. Without further delay, therefore, I will express to you what occurs to me on this hasty perusal. Excuse any marks of precipitation which my letter may contain, and impute them to my being obliged to write hastily, if just now I write to you at all. Yet I honestly confess to you, I am tempted to lay down my pen at the very outset, from a fear lest you should misconstrue my motives, and lest my advice should be wholly thrown away. But I will persist: if without effect, it will be a satisfaction to me that I have acted with rectitude and kindness in making the endeavour.
“It is but too natural for any one who has been for so long a period as you have been, a sufferer from that ‘hope deferred which maketh the heart sick’ to feel acutely, and to express himself warmly. But he will yet allow a person who has a sincere and deep sense of the hard treatment he has sustained, and both on public and personal grounds, a cordial wish to see the actual accomplishment of his long-meditated plan, to speak to him with that frankness, to which only the epithet of friendly can be justly applied. I might return your papers with a short note of acknowledgement, with less trouble than it will cost me to say what I am about to communicate; and as from my indifferent health and little leisure, my time is by far that possession of which I am most covetous, you may judge from the share of it which I willingly allot to you, that I am much interested on your subject. That you should lose a little of your temper, too, after having lost so much of your time and money, is not to be wondered at. I fear, had I been in your situation, I might not have borne my ill-usage with so much philosophy; at least I am sure I should not, except from being enabled to calm my mind by those soothing as well as consoling cordials which religion alone can furnish. But let me honestly ask you, what is now your object? and let me earnestly conjure you to consider whether, both on personal and still more on public grounds, you ought not to adopt a different tone and course of conduct from that which you seem disposed to assume.
“The objects of your personalities are the Duke of Portland, Mr Pitt, Rose, Long, Addington, and Lord Belgrave, and Lord Pelham. Now, I will not argue with you, concerning the justice or injustice of your censures, in the case of some of these gentlemen; but can you doubt, that it will with the world be a sufficient answer, of which every man’s own mind will anticipate the actual suggestion, that Mr Pitt, having the whole machine of government to superintend, during a period such as never before was witnessed in the history of this country, may be forgiven, if he neglected one subject, though of importance, which was not within his immediate department? You cannot have lived so long in the world, without knowing how superficially men inquire, and how much they judge from formed prejudices, and preconceived opinions, in all these cases, wherein individuals state that they have been injuriously treated in their transactions with government. But I will speak out. Mr Pitt’s real faults in this matter are two. First, and chiefly,—procrastination. Secondly,—suffering himself too much to be influenced by some of his friends: Lord Spencer I chiefly allude to, whose land was to have been compulsively purchased from him for the site of the Panopticon. By the way, it is only justice to Lord Spencer to say, that probably it was owing to his agents, through whom great men like him see and hear, as well as speak, that this influence was used to prevent the original agreement about the land from being fulfilled. He is a liberal, generous man, with the high spirit of a nobleman, and would not have resisted, I think, unless misinformed and misled; nor had he, probably, any idea, that he was stopping the work, and that land would not easily be found elsewhere. But how do you treat Mr Pitt? You speak of him, as though he had been fully aware of all the delay that would take place, in consequence of his procrastination (whereas it is the very nature of that disease to infuse a hope of sure, and perhaps early, but only not of immediate performance;) and still more, as if he had been aware of all the suffering and losses which would fall on you in consequence of it. Now, can anything be more unjust? A thousand parallel cases might be put to prove it so; but this is needless. My object is only to convince you, that people will not be so forward as you may suppose, to impute it to Mr Pitt as a matter of extreme blame, that he put off your affair from year to year, as little intending it, no doubt, as you yourself did. For the Duke of Portland, I will say nothing; nor will I say anything against him. Your ludicrous caricature of him might excite a laugh at his expense; but it would do you yourself a more real injury, by conveying an idea that you were writing more from the feeling of resentment, or to gratify the sensations of a lively genius, or to gain the praise of a witty satirist, than to obtain tardy justice for yourself, and for the public an establishment of great usefulness, and even indispensable necessity. I will fairly own to you, that I shall be silent on the Duke of Portland’s subject; because he has behaved so very ill in a transaction, in which I have unintentionally been a party concerned, that I have long and seriously doubted, and still doubt, whether I can be excused from making his conduct the subject of parliamentary discussion. As for Messrs Rose, Long, Vansittart, Addington, &c.—I mean the Secretary of the Treasury—what will people think? Why, that the principals in their departments, not having made up their minds on your business, they had been the immediate instruments in putting you off from time to time; and, perhaps, that they had sometimes deceived either themselves or you, or both, by not opening their eyes to what was likely to be the consequence of admitting any procrastination at all, in a case where there already had been too much delay, and where the grounds of decision were clear and satisfactory. But people will, as they ought to do, make allowances for men in their situations, overburthened with business—worried by suitors of all sorts—liable like the rest of the world to be out of spirits, or out of humour—to be peevish from a fit of the cholic or the headache. Remember, my dear Sir, that the very circumstance of all these different men having treated you so ill, will of itself make against you. Remember, their friends will say, they had no private interest in preventing Mr Bentham’s scheme from going forward: they had, &c. &c.;—but there is no end of what I might say. Observe only, I have said nothing of the private characters of these gentlemen, nor have I spoken in the language of private good-will, which I bear for all of them; but I will declare, that after a long and intimate knowledge of them all, I believe them men of integrity, good nature, liberality—not without their faults, but in a situation wherein an angel could not give universal satisfaction. But I must say a few words about Lord Belgrave, though I really recoil from the task I have undertaken, of expressing what has occurred to me on your packet; for though I scribble en galop, my time is nearly consumed, and my fingers wearied, and yet I have scarce made a beginning. My only doubt, I see, will be whether to throw my incomplete remonstrance under the table, or to send it; or rather one-tenth of it, (for I shall not get through one-tenth of what I wish to say,) in its crude and unfinished state. Lord Belgrave is one of the best and most amiable young men in this kingdom, of talents too, which, had not his high birth and ample fortune been in the way by damping exertion, would have made him distinguished in any line in which he had sought for eminence. Now you yourself say, that his surveyors assured him his property would not suffer in value from your Panopticon. In fact, I am persuaded he would be influenced by no such consideration; but he too easily believed the Panopticon would be a bad neighbour! And is that a mistake for which all respect, all regard should be banished, and you should hold him up, as far as in your power, to ridicule,—the severest punishment to an ingenuous mind? But, farther, you speak with levity at least, if not ridicule, of his religious character. Where any man, by the inconsistency of his conduct with his professed principles, gives just ground to suspect him of hypocrisy, let him be charged with it; but let him, by whom the charge is brought, be careful lest a suggestion is excited, that it is not hypocrisy, but religion, which is the real subject of offence. And is it for Mr B., the reformer of the vicious,—(and in no character has he ever appeared to me in a more amiable or dignified light, than when exercising the resources of his ingenious mind for so laudable a purpose,)—is it for him to laugh at any one as a propagator of Christianity? Excuse me, my dear Sir, if I feel a little warmly. I have often fought your battles with warmth: I mean still to do so;—and the very same motives which prompt me so to do, generate that warmth with which I must condemn the style and spirit in which you have resented the error of a most respectable and truly amiable character, on whom, in these days, as I verily think, this country may look with more hope and confidence than on any other man living, for the greatest of all services,—the elevation of the moral standard, and the preservation of our manners and habits from that taint of practical infidelity, in all its varied forms of vice and dissoluteness, which is the true Jacobinical contagion, the most pernicious plague that can infest society.
“But I must draw towards a conclusion—a word or two of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and of Lord Pelham.
“They will be excused if they delayed the first entire year of their administration to put the finishing stroke to your business, which was rendered, remember, a matter of greater difficulty and more labour to investigate, from the very delay, and the numerous proceedings of past times. And what do you expect to get by any publication, or any hostile proceedings of the spirit and colour to which I am objecting? Remember, my dear Sir, it is, above all other things, to be kept in mind—that, when once you threaten a man, in these days of modern honour, you make it, in the highest degree, difficult for him to comply with your wishes, because you render him liable to the imputation of having complied from intimidation. Unless a man has more than ordinary magnanimity, or more than common principle, he cannot bring himself, when bullied, as he would call it, to do that, which otherwise he might have done without unwillingness. Independently of all the sophistry of honour, there is a real objection to complying when threats have been used, because you render it likely that they will be resorted to in other cases, as the expedient by which the desired object will be most surely obtained. From experience I speak, when I assure you, that it does require more firmness than can well be summoned up, except on Christian principles, to hold on the same course one would have done, if such a vile imputation had not been made to fasten on one’s adherence to it. But, according to the common way of thinking and judging in the world, believe me, from the very moment of your having been known to use, to any of these gentlemen, the language of intimidation, they would be justified in stopping short. Now, what will you have gained, when, on a cool and subsequent review, you compute your acquisitions—the character of an acute, clever, biting satirist?—the revenge of great and undeserved injuries? The former you do not want—the latter (I will not stop to ask how far a just object of pursuit) you will not obtain. But what becomes of the Panopticon all this time? I have argued on personal grounds merely: but I cannot suppose you to have become indifferent to the accomplishment of a plan which, in itself of the highest public utility, a monument more truly glorious to the genius and perseverance, and public services of its accomplisher, than any with which it falls to the lot of almost any man to be honoured by the favour of Providence,—a plan which, in itself, I say, deserving this high eulogium, may, still more, be the means of changing our long established system in all that regards Criminal Justice, and will be a precedent, taking it in all its bearings and connexions, abounding in more lasting and important benefits than almost any which any one could devise: and yet, as I believe, by the course you are pursuing, you are not only blasting whatever prospect there may be of effecting your plan, but opposing an almost insuperable obstacle in the way of establishing any similar institution: whereas I cannot but entertain a persuasion, (I should say, a confident persuasion, if, after all I have witnessed, I durst be confident,) that if you will take your measures with prudence, judgment, moderation, and temper, the next session of Parliament will not pass away without your bringing this long-suspended business to its termination.
“(I was interrupted, and I now resume my pen.) Give yet one other trial; and if it prove in vain, then I will no longer try to avert or suspend the storm you threaten; but in the effect of which, perhaps even then, you will find that you deceive yourself. I assure you, most solemnly, that, in what I have written to you, I have been influenced by a strong and sincere regard for the accomplishment of the object, and by motives of friendly concern for you, accompanied by an apprehension that your long-continued ill-usage may a little have warped your judgment on the one hand,—may have kindled too keen a desire of vengeance, and have made you desperate of the success of any farther endeavours. My advice would be, that you should yourself go on with the same diligence you have already used, to obtain whatever information may tend to show the evils of the system of Botany Bay, N. S. W., (there I can give you some aid,) or in any other way, furnish arguments in favour of Panopticon; that when Parliament meets, a few of your friends, and of any gentlemen who have made these matters the objects of their attention, should hold a council of war, and consider what course it will be best to pursue: I will myself gladly assist, and give you all the aid I can—I wish I durst hope it would be of any great effect. I am sure, however, that this plan is the only one likely to lay the foundations of the Panopticon. You hazard nothing by pursuing it; because you may, after the trial of it, resort to your own.
“I dare say you think that I was grown cool about your business; but really I never have been so; but when any one has such a multitude of different things as I have, all clamorous for that time, which, like any other insufficient supply, is dealt out to them in short allowance,—he too naturally neglects matters, however important, which are not brought before him, and in which he is not the principal party. I grew almost ashamed to see you, and I was quite hurt whenever we met, from the consciousness that you had suffered so much from men for whom I felt a friendly regard.
“But I must stop—I shall wear out your patience, without adding to my own; I will only say one thing, which I forgot to mention before,—that you have many connexions and friends, (the Speaker, Lord Redesdale, &c., &c.,) who will probably assist as your friends, if you do not assume an aspect hostile to the last or present Administration; but who, if you do, will shun you as tatooed, and not say a word in favour of the great object.
“Hoping that I shall yet shake hands with you in the centre of the Panopticon, and lay the top stone with a huzza! I remain, my dear Sir, yours very sincerely.
“P.S. I have been forced to scribble in order to save time. I wish I may be legible; but you will excuse the hierographical nature of my characters.”
A pleasant correspondence conducted with Sir F. Eden, author of the “History of the Labouring Classes,” &c., refers to many topics of interest:—