Front Page Titles (by Subject) Bentham to Lord Holland. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
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Bentham to Lord Holland. - 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 Lord Holland.
“Queen Square Place,Westminster, 31st October, 1808.
Your lordship little expected to be intruded upon by a letter from the undersigned, still less on the subject which gives occasion to it. He flatters himself with the idea of being not altogether unknown in your lordship’s circle, in his character of a quiet, pains-taking, inoffensive recluse, in whom though no man has a companion, every man has a friend, and who, though an Englishman by birth, is a citizen of the world by naturalization. The Defence of Usury was planned and conducted at a sequestered villa in the neighbourhood of Crichoff, a town on the river Soje, in the Government of Moghilev, in White Russia. A fancy has taken him for defending something else as bad, or doing something else as whimsical, and with equal privacy, and to as little purpose, in some equally sequestered situation in the neighbourhood, if it be practicable, of the city of Mexico. And now, my lord, your lordship sees, by anticipation, the substance of what it remains for me to write. The case is, that, though upon the whole, considering my time of life, I have no great reason to complain on the score of health, I have some little infirmities against which Providence seems to have pointed out the table-land of that country as a place of refuge. For upwards of half a year, I feel myself so pinched by the cold of our English winters, that a great part of the time that would otherwise be employed in driving the quill, is consumed in thinking of the cold, and endeavouring, but in vain, to keep off that unpleasant sensation without bringing on worse. But is there no heat in fire? Yes: but as it comes from our English fire-places, such is the heat, as neither my eyes, nor other parts about me, are able to endure. Between eyes and feet, perpetual quarrel about heat: feet never can have enough, eyes never little enough—a new edition of the old parable of the members. Mexico, from a variety of authorities, private as well as public, I have learnt to consider as affording a climate, by which all such differences would be kept at rest. Temperature just what anybody pleases. If you want it warmer, you go down a few hundred yards: if cooler, you go up. In the capital itself, never higher than 84: average duration of human life one-third longer, compared with a healthy situation (I do not remember exactly what) in Europe. Such is said to be the power of the two antagonizing, but harmonizing, and mutually regulating circumstances, altitude of the sun above the horizon, and ditto of the earth’s surface above the sea.
“Explicit, Sect. 1, concerning the end in view: incipit, Sect. 2, concerning means for the accomplishment thereof.
“Upon my brother’s return from Russia, he brought me as a present from Admiral Mordvinoff, a copy of a French translation, that had been made and printed at Petersburg, of the far-famed work of Don G. M. Jovellanos, (‘cidevant Ministre de Grace et Justice’—as per title-page) ‘Identité de l’interêt géneral avec l’interêt individuel,’ &c.—anno 1806. Traducteur, as per dedication, a M. Rouvier. Patron—Count Kotchubey, the Minister of the Interior, by whose order the translation appears to have been performed: the same by whose order one of the two Russian translations that have been made of Dumont’s book, was also made.
“Mordvinoff must have been more or less known to your lordship, as having been the immediate predecessor of the present minister Tchichagoff, in the direction of the Marine. After his relinquishment of that post, he became the head of a sort of opposition, such as Russian government admits of, and in that quality was elected commander of the noblesse at Moscow, that volunteered on the occasion of the war with Buonaparte.
“Amongst his oddities, is that of being a sort of sectator of the old hermit of Queen Square Place: the future effusions of whose dotage, be they what they may, he has offered to get translated into Russ: and observing the principle of laissez nous faire, applied, in the Defence of Usury, to the case of contracts concerning money, it occurred to him that the author could not be displeased to see the same principle applied, and so well applied, and by such high and influential authority, to the case of contracts concerning land. Since the reascension of this thinking, as well as signing minister, and the mention made of him in the newspapers as the object of the warmest hopes of Spain, my brother having also a copy of his own, great court has, in my absence, been paid to him, by Romilly, George Wilson, and a few other liberal or semi-liberal lawyers, for a sight of it.
“The basis of my project upon Mexico has now, my lord, for some time been visible to you. Considering that a year or two ago, (if Dumont’s intelligence is to be believed,) about 750 copies of his book had already found their way into Spain and Portugal, it occurred to me that, of one or other of the two translations published in Paris of the ‘Defence of Usury,’ a copy might perhaps have found its way into the hands of Senor Jovellanos: possibly also a copy of Dumont’s book, immediately or intermediately, under favour of the protection given to it by Lady Holland, if what her ladyship was pleased to say to me on that head was anything more than persiflage. At present the minister’s reading days must be over, more completely so than the hermit’s, though not, I hope, from the same cause. As far as depends on actual reading, my chance of favour in that quarter must therefore rest on past impressions, if any such have been received, circumstances not admitting of any future ones from the same source.
“Whether the road to the Mexican capital is, or is about to be open to Englishmen in general, is, by this time, perhaps known to those who know anything, but is altogether unknown to me. If yes, a recommendation to the powers that be, in that quarter of the empire, would be a matter not indeed of necessity, but of grace, and of a sort of grace without which, at my time of life, I should not be disposed to go in quest of adventures: if not, besides a recommendation, an authority or license would, if I were to attempt going there, be matter of indispensable necessity. Before Buonaparte had made himself to such a degree master of Spain, Humboldt, at any rate, (whether any other Frenchman I know not,) was admitted into Mexico, with the known design of writing what he could learn, and of publishing what he should write.
“The favour thus granted at that time to a Frenchman,* would it at this time be refused to an Englishman? When he went, it was with the known, and, I believe, professed design of writing and publishing the state of the country. Even now, if a man had any such design, it does not strike me that there would be any great harm in it: nor, in the present state of things, should I expect to find it an object of apprehension, either on this side of the Atlantic or on the other. But the fact is, that my ambition has never pointed that way, and therefore, if any obligation of that sort were to be made a condition, it would cost me nothing to submit to it. In the year and three quarters that I staid in Russia, I wrote nothing of the kind. What I wrote was ‘Defence of Usury,’ the leading part of ‘Panopticon,’ other parts of Dumont’s book, and I know not what other visions, such as nobody cares a straw about. In the same way I should go on scribbling so long as I had a hand to scribble with, (eyes not serving me for reading,) wherever my hermitage happens to be situated—in Queen’s Square Place, or in Mexico.
“Hereupon, my dear lord, besides laying hold of your lordship’s patronage, in quality of a ladder of ascent, whereby to climb up to the grace and favour of his highness, Señor Jovellanos, permit me to avail myself of your lordship’s trustworthiness in the character of a witness, beseeching you to sign in my favour a sort of certificate, which may be termed a certificate of harmlessness. Nobody can have known anything of me without knowing how completely disqualified I have ever been in all points for everything that, in French, is called intrigue, or, in English, politics. The late Lord Lansdowne would, to the last, have signed a certificate to that effect, I am certain, in the most ample terms. — and —, who cannot but have heard what Lord Lansdowne has so often said, would not refuse to me, on this occasion, the benefit of the best evidence that is to be had, now that our noble friend is no more.
“In the only other Cabinet in which I ever conceived myself to have a friend, and from one member of which, if Dumont did not deceive either me or himself, I received a message as kind and gracious as it was unexpected, there was not one, as your lordship can also attest, that, had he conceived himself to stand in need of any political assistance, would not as soon have thought of addressing himself to my housekeeper as to me.
“I have dwelt the longer, and the more emphatically, on the desired certificate—the certificate of nothingness—in the presumption of its being the very best recommendation that, on a visit to Mexico, a man could carry in his pocket; and, if the form of the allegation is not absolutely of the very gravest kind, in substance, your lordship knows, it is not the less true.
“That plunder is of the number of my objects, I cannot but confess. But the matter of plunder will not, in my instance, as in Dupont’s and Junot’s, be composed of crucifixes and candlesticks, but of other and prettier things, such as are treasured up at St Anne’s Hill, and valued at Little Holland House.
“Lady Holland I stand so much in awe of, and am to such a degree agitated with apprehensions of having fallen into disgrace with her about Dahlia, that I feel altogether unable to determine with myself what sort of a nuzzeer to approach her with. A feather or two from the crown of Montezums, if there should happen to be such a thing left? In short, here it is that I feel myself a distressed man, not knowing what to say for myself.
“To Señor Jovellanos I consider myself as giving a suitable and sufficient bribe, in promising to persevere in support of the principle of Laissez nous faire, so long as I have the stump of a pen left; and if aller be included in faire, and aller au Mexique in aller, (which, unless my notions of logic be altogether incorrect, must actually be the case,) speaking with respect, I don’t see very well how he can consistently avoid supporting my request.
“So far as depends on your lordship, I will frankly, however presumptuously, acknowledge I feel myself pretty much at my ease. Everything that, in the shape of poetry, has ever issued from any press in either Mexico, old or new, from the death of Guatamozin to the present day, shall be faithfully collected and transmitted to Holland House, there to be transmuted from Mexican Spanish into elegant English. But, Sir—oh, yes, my lord, I know the difference. Prose is where all the lines but the last go on to the margin—poetry is where some of them fall short of it.
“Being pretty much in the habit of sending out my thoughts upon their travels into the region of future contingencies, I foresee already an eventual need of assistance, in the shape of information, from Mr Allen,* whose acquaintance with the state of things in Spain and Pern can hardly have been so intimate and comprehensive as it appears to be, without embracing some particulars that it might concern me to be informed of relative to Mexico, and the means and mode of getting thither and living there. But everything of this kind is, as yet, but reckoning of chickens before they are hatched.
“Here, too, I feel myself not altogether clear of embarrassment, between the fear of not gaining his assistance and the fear of not hitting his taste: should it happen to me to meet with a good picture of the god Vitzlipultzli—I mean such a one, of which I could be perfectly assured of its being done from the life, and, at the same time, a faithful and striking likeness, I would send it with my compliments for him to Holland House at a venture. To a scrupulous mind, such a proof would be more satisfactory than any explanation of pair-royals, or any argument about sequences.
“If Señor Jovellanos has anything in him in common with other statesmen, or with other authors, he would not be displeased to possess a translation of his work, especially a translation made and published at so out-of-the-way a place as Petersburg. Having, as far as can be judged from its date, been out there two years, during the greater part of which time there has, I believe, been a Russian Minister at Madrid, it can hardly be regarded as in the ordinary course of things, that a copy of the translation should not, in some way or other, in all this time, have reached the author’s hands. Had the contrary seemed probable, much as I prize my copy, my brother having another, I should, without staying to ask the question, have taken some course for getting it transmitted to Spain, consigned to your lordship’s care. I had even projected a visit to Holland House, with the book in my pocket, when, lo! I was stopped by an article in the Times, 19th Oct., 1808, speaking of the noble master thereof, cum totâ sequela sua, as being already on the road to Falmouth. But, contrary to expectation, should it happen that the champion of the liberty of agriculture is possessor of no such copy as supposed, mine shall be transmitted to him by the first opportunity that is to be found, after my hearing to that effect: and this upon principles of the most heroic disinterestedness, and although the Minister should have presented to my petition that deaf ear which he cannot but find himself obliged to turn to so many others.
“Except as above, I do not very well understand how there should be a chance of my being able to render myself of use, in any shape, in Mexico or anywhere else, to Señor Jovellanos, or anybody else. But should it happen to him to think otherwise, any services in my power would, of course, be at his command.
“An incident that has presented itself to my view as possible, is a remark of Señor Jovellanos—‘A recommendation from your lordship does everything that it is in the power of a recommendation to do; but it is too much for me to sign any such paper, still more to apply for its being signed by others, on behalf of a gentleman not personally known to any of us. If it be worth his while to come thus far that we may see him, and ask him a question or two, then will be the time for ayesor anoto be returned.’ So far, Señor Jovellanos. Spain is not the country, of all others, for travelling in at any time: still less in winter, in time of war, and such a war! Neither is it the climate of which I am in search. Nevertheless, were this the condition sine quâ non, still, though there were but a hope of success at the bottom, it should not be shrunk from.
“If there is no access to any Mexican port but from Spain direct, the visit will, on that supposition too, be matter of physical necessity. This, however, I should not expect to find to be the case: under the notion that, in the present posture of affairs, it would neither be in the wish, nor in the power of Spain, to keep shut all Mexican ports against all English vessels. But to be let into a port is one thing—to be admitted to travel to the capital 190 miles up the country, is another: and, in a port situated under the torrid zone, I should have no expectation of remaining many days alive. Vera Cruz in particular, has the reputation of being one of the most letheferous.
“To equip me for the enterprize, there are certain favours, which, in my own view of the matter, present themselves as indispensable, others as desirable.
“1. From some competent authority in Spain, a letter to the Viceroy of Mexico, recommending me to his protection, with an allowance to exist in the capital or its neighbourhood, during good behaviour.
“2. From ditto, a letter to the Governor of La Vera Cruz, for the purpose of engaging him to let me pass on to the capital immediately, without being obliged to stay at Vera Cruz a night, or not at any rate more than one night.
“3. Exemption of search for baggage. I should carry with me a little library; and though perfectly determined not to utter a syllable, whereby the Catholic faith might be assailed, or the purity of it sullied, there are but too many of my books that would be more or less in danger of not being able to abide the severity of its scrutiny:—‘English Statutes at large’—‘Comyn’s Digest’—‘Bacon’s Abridgment’—and an ‘Encyclopedia,’ for example. Is there any one of these publications that would stand the search of a Catholic inquisitorial eye? Examination may be performed at Mexico: not at La Vera Cruz, where, if I am kept during the process, I should die under it.
“Information, for which I cast myself upon two of Mr Allen’s attributes—his urbanity, and his omniscience:—
“1. Packet-boats, or other regular conveyance to Vera Cruz from Spain? whether any, and from what ports, at what times?
“2. Casual conveyances from ditto to ditto?
“3. Index expurgatorius? whether there be any from which it might be seen what books could not be lawfully imported into Mexico? Wicked books, such as ‘Rousseau’—‘Helvetius’—‘Voltaire’—‘Hollis,’ &c.; all such delicta juventutis, if I had any, I should leave on this side of the Atlantic.
“4. Map of Mexico, if with the roads, so much the better.
“5. Book or books serving to show the expense of travelling and living there: for example, by means of indications given of the articles manufactured in, articles imported into, and exported from Mexico, with their respective prices: together with the prices of the other necessaries and conveniences of life—house-rent, servants’ wages, assessed taxes, if any, &c.—anything of this sort, would, I suppose, be hopeless, even were a man in Madrid: a place which, perhaps, your lordship may not now revisit. If, however, anything of that sort should be within reach, and if Mr Allen would have the kindness to transmit it to me, with an account of the cost, it should be faithfully and thankfully repaid, to Mr Buonaiutti or any other person he will be pleased to name. Mr Horner makes my mouth water, with general conceptions of statistic treasures accumulated by Mr Allen, including (as supposed) much relative to Mexico, but supposed not to be now accessible.
“But the humble request is, that the transmission of any information that may have been obtained concerning things indispensable as above, may not be delayed by waiting for ditto in relation to any of the other heads.
“To avoid aggravating, beyond necessity, the burthen thus attempted to be imposed, I have thus far borrowed a less illegible hand, reserving my own for authentication, and for the concurrence of the respectful atttachment with which I have the honour to be, my lord, your lordship’s most obedient servant.
“P.S.—Were I to go to Mexico, I should take with me Mr John Herbert Koe, of Lincoln’s Inn, (known to—, and to everybody else that knows me,) and, perhaps, if permitted, one or two servants. In the permission, if given, this might, perhaps, be necessary to be mentioned.”
From this project, Bentham was ultimately dissuaded by the difficulties of giving effect to it, and by the representations of his friends.
To a gloomy and complaining letter of his cousin Mulford, Bentham replies in this amusing strain:—
[* ] Bonpland might have been properly quoted as a Frenchman, but not Humboldt.
[* ] Author of the “Inquiry into the Rise and Growth of the Royal Prerogative in England,” &c.