Front Page Titles (by Subject) Col. Aaron Burr to Bentham. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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Col. Aaron Burr 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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Col. Aaron Burr to Bentham.
“22d August, 1808.
“It has been my misfortune to attract the notice of Lord Hawkesbury. On my arrival in town last evening, a note from that department was found at my lodgings, dated on Thursday last, requesting my attendance on the day then following at the office of the Secretary of State. I shall, therefore, as in duty bound, advise his lordship, or his man Beckett, of my arrival, and of my readiness to lend a gracious ear to their future requests. This business, whatever it may be, (and I have a presentiment that it is for no good, having no business with that department, nor desiring ever to have any,) will unavoidably detain me to-morrow, and very likely the next day, of which I hasten to give you this notice.
“I called last evening at the Bird Cage, (a most beautiful cage, and from which one would never wish to escape,) and handed your note to Mrs S., the housekeeper. Her reception gave me the most flattering testimony of the very friendly tenor of your instructions to her.
“The Hawkesbury affair turned out to be—just nothing. If no other dignified personage should honour me with his notice, I shall dine with you on Wednesday.”
“2d September, 1808.
“I found, readily, the letters to Lord Pelham, and the Plea for the Constitution, and have read them with very great interest: but it gave me a fever to see by what sort of reasons the ‘project’ was defeated—the particular items, indeed, do not appear, yet the nature of those reasons is sufficiently manifest. These letters are a gross libel on the Government; and if you had developed the details, I think it probable you would have made a practical experiment on the doctrines of Pitt and Portland, by a voyage to New South Wales. I am resolved that the Panopticon shall be known in America.”
“12th September, 1808.
“New cause of delay! Gods, how weary I am of delays! My soul is with you at Barrow Green, and the mortal part of me would follow it, if not kept back by violence—but can I, ought I to disappoint poor Swartwout? On my return from Hampstead, I found here a letter from him written at Liverpool, whither I had sent him to do something for himself, seeing no prospect that I should be able to do anything for him. This is that Swartwout who was seized, robbed, transported two thousand miles, immured in a solitary prison, denied the use of pen, ink, and paper—denied a Hab. Corp.—not allowed to speak with a human being,—and all on suspicion of being connected with one who was suspected of an intention to commit a crime; this he bore with something more dignified than mere passive firmness. This Swartwout writes—but here is the letter—read, and pronounce—(my apotheosis is now put off, till Thursday, certain,) the influence of your name! He too must be mad—but then, as I am the leading cause of it, he has claims to my indulgence.”
“Q. S. P., 1st October, 1808.
“The history of my late visit to Hertford must be reserved till we meet. It will afford you some moments of amusement; the stock will be greatly increased by the experience of the approaching week, for Lord Barrington has proposed various objects of amusement; yet, shall I confess to you? these very recreations, to me, are labour. I participate with coldness—all I say is weighed, and generally forced. There is, indeed, some gratification of curiosity, and a slight hope that new channels of communication and of influence may be discovered.”
“Q. S. P., 4th October, 1808.
“This day (yesterday, Monday meaning) meeting your friend, Reeves, (in whose holy keeping I am, by appointment of the Right Honourable Lord Hawkesbury, &c.,) he gave me a most friendly and affectionate reception—prayed me to dine, which was accepted—met there Mr and Mrs Brown, who have been much in Russia, and Chalmers—(do you hear me?)—all very social—very happy to know Mr B—!
“It is nevertheless, my dear friend, but too obvious that I am a mere encumbrance here, and ought to be gone; yet the attempt proposed shall be made, humiliating and hopeless as it is. Thus I shall, at least, escape the reproaches of my friends, and what is of more moment, my own.—God preserve you.
An amusing account of his adventures, in a journey to several towns in England, I give entire:—
“21st December, 1808.
“The adventures of Gilblass Mohsagungk de Manhattan. Wednesday evening, 21st December, ad 1808.—In a garret at the Black Lion, Water Lane, London. Having made half a dinner at Q. S. P., drove off furiously to the White Horse, Piccadilly, to be in time for the Oxford stage. Having waited half hour, and coach not come, the weather cool, went in to warm—having warmed half hour, awondering at the delay, went out to see—the coach had been gone twenty minutes. My honest coachman, as well to be sheltered from the storm, as for repose, had got inside, and was sound asleep. Drove to the Gloucester Coffee-house to take the mail—was advised to go the Golden something, Charing Cross—thither went, the mail was full inside and out—thence to the Saracen’s Head—thence back to the Ship—same report—to Fetter Lane—coach full—to the Black Lion, Water Lane, Fleet—full inside and out—to the Old Crown, Holborn—no coach there till Friday—to the Bolt-in-Tun—where found seat in a coach to go at seven to-morrow—but no bed to be had. Went to the nearest inn, being the same Black Lion, where I am occupant of a garret room up four pair of stairs, and a very dirty bed. In the public room, however, I have been amused for an hour with a very handsome young Dane—don’t smile—it is a mule—a merchant. I would have slept on the porch, or walked the street all night, sooner than have returned to Q. S. P.—coach hire, nine shillings.
“Oxford, Thursday evening, 22d December.—Was called at six to be ready for the coach at seven—gave my baggage to a porter, but having stopt a minute to make change, he got out of my sight. I missed the way, and when I got to the Bolt-in-Tun, the coach had gone—my passage, 21s. having been paid in the evening, there was no inducement to wait for me—pursued, and had the good fortune to overtake the coach—found in it one man. Having preserved perfect silence for a few minutes, by way of experiment, I remarked that the day was very mild, which he denied flatly, and in a tone and manner as if he would have bit me. I laughed out heartily, and very kindly inquired into his morning’s adventures. He was old, gouty, very fat. No hack being to be had at that early hour, or, what is more probable, choosing to save the shilling, he had walked from his house to the inn—had fallen twice—got wet and bruised, and was very sure that he should be laid up with the gout for six months. I sympathized with his misfortunes, wondered at the complacency with which he bore them, and joined him in cursing the weather, the streets, and the hackney coachmen. He became complacent and talkative—such is John Bull. We took in another fat man, a woman still fatter, and a boy—afterwards a very pretty, graceful, arch-looking girl about eighteen, going on a visit to her aunt Lady W—. But Mademoiselle was reserved and distant. At the first change of horses, she agreed to take breakfast, which we did tête-à-tête—was charmed to find her all animation, gaiety, ease, badinage. By the aid of drink to the coachman, our companions were kept three-quarters of an hour cooling in the coach—they had breakfasted when we joined them; the reserve of my little Syren returned—after various fruitless essays, and at first without suspecting the cause, finding it impossible to provoke anything beyond a cold monosyllable. I composed myself to sleep, and slept soundly about eight hours between London and this place, where we arrived at eight this evening: (there must be something narcotic in the air of this island,—I have slept more during my six months’ residence in Great Britain than in any preceding three years of my life, since the age of 14); took leave of my little Spartana.—Mem: To write an essay, historical and critical, on the education and treatment of women in England—its influence on morals and happiness.
“Thinking it too late to call on Mr Provvust, (your instructions are not lost on me,) I wrote him a polite note, enclosing the letter, and proposing to see him in the morning, to which a polite answer was received.
“Oxford, 23d December (Friday.)
“I was received with the distinction due to such a letter. His manner is mild, cheerful, and courteous. He engaged me to dine, and sent for a young ‘fellow’ who went with me through all the great buildings, and showed me all the strange things. Many of those for which I inquired he had never before heard of. Everything here is for ostentation, and nothing for use. A manuscript of Horne’s Mirror was shown me, but evidently modern—a hand-writing much like our K.’s. The librarian acknowledged it was but a copy, and professed no knowledge of the original. The bust of Aristotle has a forehead very like yours. We were more than three hours traversing the various buildings—I was much gratified—my poor conductor nearly frozen.
“Two plump, hale ‘Fellows’ joined us at dinner. Study and abstinence had not yet impaired their rosy complexions; all in canonicals. The dinner was excellent, and well served. The details of the conversation shall amuse you at another time, and they cannot be written. A few hints may serve as memoranda—‘I would rather our friend B. should write on Legislation than on Morals! Holy father! if ever one of thy creatures was endowed with benevolence without alloy,’ &c. All this was admitted; and the expression was qualified, and qualified, till finally it settled on the single point of divorce, and Hume was quoted.
“By mutual consent, Divine authority was laid aside, and I made a speech, which was very silly, for I ought to have turned it off with levity.
“ ‘The innate sense of religion.’—‘The most barbarous nations have some religion.’—Has it not a great influence on your Indians?!—We then got on American politics,—statistics, geography, laws, &c.,—and on all which a most profound and learned ignorance was displayed.—The evening wound up pleasantly, and we parted with many expressions of courtesy.—He appears to be of cheerful temper and amiable disposition.—Yet, though he speaks of you with reverence, and probably prays for you, I presume that he thinks you will be eternally damned; and I have no doubt he expects to be lolling in Abraham’s bosom, with great complacency hearing you sing out for a drop of water.—Such is the mild genius of our holy religion!
“Brummiggem, (though, indeed, I have several times heard it called Birmingham,) Saturday evening, 24th December. Left Oxford at seven this morning.—We were four inside,—the only article of any interest was a smart little comely brunette, who had been through Blenheim castle, and all the other places of note within twenty miles,—could describe all the pictures and statues, had read all the fashionable novels and poetry, and seemed to know everybody and everything.—I was never more at a loss in which rank of beings to class her, but was very much amused.—At twenty miles, we put her down at a very respectable farm-house,—I handed her in,—was introduced to her aunt,—‘My dear aunt, this gentleman has been extremely polite to me, on the road.’—I received from aunt and niece a very warm invitation to call on my return, which I very faithfully promised to do, whensoever, &c.—If, &c.—At Stratford, where lie the bones of Shakspeare, the bar-maid gave me a very detailed account of the jubilee in honour of his memory. At about twenty miles further, was pointed out a very handsome establishment of Sir — Smith, dit frère de Me Fitzherbert. For the last forty or fifty miles, we had on board, a strange, vulgar-looking fellow, who had been all over the world,—spoke Latin, French, and Spanish,—and in the course of three hours told me more than a hundred lies, probably some itinerant Irish school-master.
“The market-place and the principal street adjoining to which I am set down, is full of people, tents, booths, camps, candles, fiddlers, pipers, horns. Having nothing to amuse me within, I shall sally forth to see what is going forward without. But, first, I have taken passage for Liverpool, to set off at half-past eleven, being advised that there is no other way to get on,—very much against my will, therefore, I go to Liverpool. We shall, from appearances, make a lively party. At this hour to-morrow I may have something more amusing to say. Now I go.
“Twelve o’clock—Still at Birmingham—full of contrition and remorse—lost my passage—lost (or spent) 28s. and a pair of gloves—every bed in the house engaged—no hope of getting on but by the mail at seven to-morrow morning. The office shut, and no passage to be taken to-night. What business had I to go sauntering about the streets of a strange place alone and unarmed on Christmas Eve? Truly I want a guardian more than at fifteen. It was K.’s fault that I left my dirk, and I could choke him for it. I have often heard that great sinners have relieved their consciences by full confession—let me try:—I sallied forth—there were hundreds of smartly dressed folks of all sexes and ages in little groups, and very gay; I joined one party, and then another and another,—at length I got so well suited with a couple, that we agreed to walk and see the town, and there repose a little out of the street. You know that I have always had a passion for certain branches of natural history,—these appeared to me to be very fit subjects for examination; and even now, under all the horrors of remorse, I must acknowledge that it was a most instructive, and, bating one cursed rencontre which had nearly ended in a riot, a most amusing lesson. Hence it would seem that all this penitence is for the four 7s., and not for the folly—on which a very good theological discourse might be written. The subject shall be recommended to our friend the provost. Indeed, I was very much amused; I heard many amusing anecdotes of the grandees of the town, and fine, strange, and pretty things. At this moment it comes into my head how to redeem this 28s.: it shall be done, and then peace of conscience will be restored.
“I will take passage outside—half price only, I am resolved, and you shall see how I execute.
“Mem.—Lo! the value of repentance: for another 7s. I have got a bed—a thing not wanted for me.”
Burr sketched briefly the character of his three principal friends in the State of New York, thus:—
“William P. Van Ness, Kinderhook, aristocrat, aged 30—austere, not eloquent.
“John Duer, Goshen, Orange County, 26—classical, good writer, mild, will be eloquent.
“John V. N. Yates, Albany, 28—managing man, eloquent, firm, active, bold, generous.”
The Dean and Chapter of Litchfield, supposing that Bishop Bentham* was an ancestor of Bentham, applied to him for ten guineas to enable them to blazon the Bishop’s arms on the stained glass window of their cathedral; but I believe the letter was never answered. Bentham cared little about ancestry, and less (if possible) about his own ancestors.
Burr seems to have undertaken to attempt bringing round some leading Spaniard (probably Urejo,) to advocate the introduction of a good system of debating in the Cortes,—but he failed, and writes thus (Sept. 1, 1808):—
[* ] Thomas Bentham, of Magdalene College, Oxford, Bishop of Litchfield from 1559 to 1578.