Front Page Titles (by Subject) Aphorisms Comprehensive and Concise. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Aphorisms Comprehensive and Concise. - 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.
Aphorisms Comprehensive and Concise.
All-comprehensive mode of division.—Applied continually by Bentham: the germ of it in Porphyrius’s Εισαγωγη to Aristotle’s Logic.
Eadem natura eadem nomenclatura.—Bentham.—A specific against obscurity and ambiguity in law language.
Ideis diversis vocabula diversa.—Bentham.—Counter-part to the preceding.
When sleeps injustice, so may justice sleep.—Bentham too; or
Intercommunity of jurisdiction universal.—Bentham.
On the 12th September, 1827, I went with Mr Bentham to see Mr Hill’s establishment at Bruce castle. He examined it in much detail. He saw everything looking orderly, and everybody seeming happy; so he was delighted with all. The old man on coming away wished to give a kiss to his hostess,—“Not before so many witnesses,” said she; “Then you sha’n’t have it,” answered Bentham, laughingly.
We went to dine with the Grotes at Hendon,—a most rare adventure. I forget for how many years he had not dined out of his house. His mind was full of the aberrations of the Spanish and Portuguese revolutionists, who were nearly as busy in checking the expression of public opinion as the despots they had superseded,—“Sad evidence of weakness, or of dishonesty, or both,” said he: “of weakness, in fearing that discussion which would be their best protection: of dishonesty, in repressing the outbreaks of opinion, lest it should go beyond them.”
Of Bentham’s style of conversation, and the manner in which he combined instruction with playfulness, I will give a few examples, recording what passed verbatim:—
Scene,—Before going to bed.
“Do you want a valet, in any shape?” He was beginning to undress.
“No! no! no! no!” louder and louder. “I have told you all the shapes in which I want a valet. Go on with your own business.”
“Do you know that Grote got turtle-soup, to honour your visit to-day?”
“It was very well for you,—it was wasted upon me: anything does for me.—I was sorry to see it.—It was a snug little place.”
“And the people so happy in it.”
“Yes! a most happy couple,—very happy, excellent creatures.—Never you mind me.—Go on with your own stuff. (I was reading at his table.)—There is nothing for you to look at. (Bentham generally showed me the work he had been doing in the day.)—Oh, how well I was off at Hendon for society! I was near the farmers’ rooms, and heard through the partitions the cheerfulness of the human voice.—Of how many things we talk! Like Cæsar with his four secretaries; but in his time, when writing was so slow, with their angular letters, it was not so difficult. Strange, that running writing should have been discovered so late,—and the Arabic numerals too.—What shocking perplexity in the Roman numerals!—It would have been better if the form had been duodecimal instead of decimal.”
“Why should not all intellectual ideas be communicated by figures,—as musical ideas are by notes, and arithmetical by cyphers?—Might there not be a written universal language if not a spoken one?”
“It is too late to talk on the subject now. It is worth serious thought: we will talk of it when we are vibrating in the garden.”
I mentioned the name of some German lawyer who had been calling on me.
“Ah! the Germans can only inquire about things as they were. They are interdicted from inquiring into things as they ought to be.”
Niebuhr’s Roman History was discussed. In his boyhood, Bentham would have thought that to prove the fabulousness, or non-existence, of such men as Romulus or Numa, was a poor service done to society. Afterwards he looked on, as public benefactors, all those who dispersed delusions, and made historical truth more clear. He referred to the Cloacæ of Rome, as evidence of the high antiquity of the city, as no doubt they are.
Something connected with the war in Greece, was referred to, and the name of Thrace came on the carpet.
“How angry I was in my boyhood with Xenophon, who, when he escaped from the remote parts of Asia, hired himself to an obscure king of Thrace. It was a sad termination. Hume, in his ‘Essays,’ made some use of Xenophon. He was a cunning fellow: he got the protection of the Church, by letting Church lands at Delphi; and so was respected by all the belligerent powers.”
“When did you first read Herodotus?”
“When I was at Queen’s College, Oxford. I took to it of myself—it was not suggested to me by my tutor. I was indebted to him (the tutor) for the Porphyrian Tree, which gave me the foundation of Logical Tactics.* It has been of unspeakable use to me. He gave us the diagram, and made us copy it, melancholy monk as he was. Herodotus amused me, though I read it for the sake of saying I had read it. I read through seventy folio pages in one day. My habit was, when I came to a word that was new to me, to clap it down. Of course the words set down, became fewer and fewer; and it was a great delight to me to read on through 50 pages, without finding a word to set down. Herodotus is very easy. Thucydides was the worst of all. Polybius hard too. I did not read either at school—no prose—nothing but Homer. Herodotus seemed a prodigiously great name—a swelling sounding name.”
“Won’t you tāke our tēa whĭle ’tīs hōt, Sīr!” said I, without perceiving I had given the words the cadence of verse; and he retorted—
“I’ll dō ăs I līke ăbōut thāt, Sīr! odd as it may seem to you.”
“Why did you play the tyrant over me the other day?” “How Sir?”—“You came in and excluded me from conversing with Fonblanque.” “No! I only came because I was summoned.”—“Yes! you were summoned to come, but not summoned to stay. You asked me about being my valet.—I checked your ambition, Sir! Had you been my valet, I should say to you: The nocturnal valedictory duties are three; or, as Major Cartwright would say; ‘three-fold’: 1st, The winding-up my watch—2d, The depositing of my watch in its proper place; and, 3d, The exudation of the candle from my bedroom. The world would come to an end, if any of these were omitted. There would be a horrible crash! They are together a trinoda necessitas.”
“The house was haunted the other night, either by thieves, or wind, or ghosts. There was a great noise. Knocks repeated near the cupboard, where the plate is kept. I thought it was useless for me to disturb myself; and as daylight always drives away the ghosts, and commonly the thieves, I rather wished for day, and it came. What alarmed me the more was, I thought Jack was gone. He surprised me when he came in. I mentioned it to Anne, who never confesses anything; and therefore I could not learn anything about it.”—“Was there not,” said I, “a report abroad that this was a haunted house?” “No, indeed, Mr B.! no, indeed! do not prejudice this house. It was No. 17 that was haunted, not No. 2; and No. 17 could not be let. Perhaps it was exorcised by the parish priest; for there has been no ghost there for twenty years.”
“Now let me tell you a ghost story!” “No, that shall you not. I have had too much plague with ghost stories. The judgment is sometimes enslaved by the imagination.”
Bo.—“Now, let’s to our work. A little auto-bĭography.”
B.—“No! that sha’n’t you. Bīography if you will, but no other ography, and that not now. I really don’t wonder at people quarrelling about opinions, when I feel what wounds a slight difference of pronunciation inflicts. But you must wait. I am always dilating. You are for proceeding to business. I must vibrate about a little.”
Bo.—“Have you seen Merrivale’s book on the Chancery Court?”*
B.—“I like that Merrivale. His book is a sort of half-way house. It will lead the people on. He is against codification in one line, and for it in another. He treats the poor stuff of Lord Redesdale with great gravity.”
Bo.—“The confused state of our laws baffles all foreigners who try to write about them.”
B.—“Dumont could never form any the least conception of our law. He was utterly incapable of doing so: so he avoided the subject as much as he could.”
Bo.—“So much the better, perhaps. It is well that philosophical principles should be disentangled from the intricacy of our law practice. Men will get hold of a sounder legal faith when released from the current creeds.”
B.—“Ay, but the heretics! I should have too much trouble in killing all the heretics. I had better kill myself.”
Bo.—“Did you ever take interest in the controversy as to the authorship of Junius?”
B.—“I think I heard that Lloyd was spoken of as the author of the Letters; but I never examined the subject. I used to imagine that Burke was the writer. He had motive enough for concealing it during George the Third’s lifetime. I met Burke once at Phil. Metcalf’s. He gave me great disgust. It was just at the dawn of the French Revolution. I imagined everybody would acknowledge it was desirable that a bridle should be put on despotic power. All that Burke retorted was in a word—‘Faction:’ and he was very angry at the idea of any bridle being put upon the king. Wyndham was also there. We spoke about Evidence. He did not relish my views, nor see that Evidence was but means to be made subordinate to an end,—truth and justice. Metcalf told me that Burke and Wyndham had a project for inviting me to their house. It was never realized. They discovered, perhaps, the train of my thoughts was of too popular a character. When Burke was shown the Panopticon project, he said, ‘Yes! there’s the keeper,—the spider in his web.’ Always imagery; but when Burke wrote the Annual Register, he did not mention the Panopticon among the useful suggestions of the day. I was wonderfully taken with his political pamphlets: their eloquence—their dignity—their superiority to others. At that time I was accustomed to contrast Wilkes and Burke, and to think of Wilkes as a dirty, rascally fellow, while Burke was everything that was noble and high-minded.”
Bo.—“Did you ever meet Lord North?”
B.—“Yes! once, in a narrow lane, with his daughter. It was when my father sent me a courting on a cock-horse. I was moved to speak to him, and to say, ‘Mine is an American horse that eats fruit;’ but timidity overcame me, and I said nothing.”
B.—“At one time of my life he was an object of great veneration to me. Several friends wished to establish an intimacy; but there was no special motive for it. He was against Radical reform of the law. He was against codification. He was both shallow and ignorant—a mere party man. He was a member of a chess club with Dr Fordyce. Fox had in him the spirit of gaming and of trickery. In his latter days he became fond of botany, which would have been to me a recommendation and an attraction.”
Bo.—“Did you ever see much of Wedderburn?”
B.—“I met Wedderburn at Lind’s* —a cold, starched fellow, frigid and proud. He was remarkably taciturn,—would give dinners, and not utter a syllable the whole time. The most tongue-tied, hesitating speech I ever heard in my days was one from him, in the Court of King’s Bench: and then he had a silk gown upon his back. He had a fine bass voice. Coldness and caution are common with lawyers. Blackstone was all caution and coldness. Blackstone’s status will remain,—his memory will remain,—but his Commentaries will be forgotten.”
Bo.—“But they gave birth to the Fragment.”
B.—“Was it not odd that Lord Mansfield took no notice of me? He talked of the Fragment in high strains of admiration: but he could not tolerate my popular tendencies. He might have liked my style better than my principles. I saw a letter written by Erskine when he was an officer in the army: it complained of insufficient pay. That letter was characterized by something different from common writing, though it had many defects, of which he afterwards got rid. When the Fragment was published, Erskine sought me out. One of our common acquaintances was O’Byrne, who was afterwards an Irish bishop; but in those days used to dangle about Dr Burton. This O’Byrne I remember driving an iron skewer through the hand of his black servant. Erskine I met sometimes at Dr Burton’s. He was so shabbily dressed as to be quite remarkable. He was astonished when I told him I did not mean to practise. I remember his calling on me and not finding me at home: he wrote his name with chalk on my door. We met, in 1802, going from Brighton to Dieppe. He did not recognise me, nor I him. He was rattling away about the king, and the books he read; but it was only at Paris that I discovered who my companion was.”
B.—“(General) Bolivar wrote to me very flattering letters. He said I had reduced matters of legislation to mathematical certainty. I introduced Hall to him when he went to Colombia, and Bolivar made him a colonel.”
“But are you aware that Bolivar has prohibited your writings? Their liberal principles are hostile to his despotic designs.”
B.—“His despotism cannot tolerate the greatest-happiness principle. He must put the judge out of the way before whose tribunal he trembles—and, unhappily, he has power to do so. Buonaparte was in the same state of mind. Talleyrand put into his hand, one afternoon, the Traités de Legislation: next morning it was returned to him, and Buonaparte said,—‘Ah! c’est un ouvrage de genie’—‘ ’Tis a work of genius;’ but never, as far as I know, did he mention it again: indeed it could not answer his purposes.”
“Had you ever any correspondence with Buonaparte?”
B.—“Not directly!—but when the Code Napoleon was projected, they wrote to me for assistance. Talleyrand always spoke favourably of me. He said of the Traité—‘Ils eclaircira bien des Biblioteques.’—‘They will throw much light upon libraries.’ When I went to Paris, he asked me why I had not gone to visit him? I dared not—I was not at home. He is, without exception, the coldest character I ever met with.”
Bo.—“How were you first introduced to Lord Lansdowne?”
B.—“It was in 1781. I was living in my dog-hole in the Temple,—in obscurity, perfect obscurity, when a person entered and said he was Lord Shelburne. He began to laud the Fragment most outrageously, and invited me to his house; but my bashfulness and my pride prevented my going there. At last, after many weeks, I went and staid some time. I was a great favourite with the ladies; and Lord Shelburne made several attempts to induce me to marry some member of his family.”
Bo.—“Why did he not bring you into Parliament?”
B.—“He almost promised to do so; and I reproached him for inconsistency towards me—not that he violated a positive understanding, but his conduct, I thought, was insincere. I wrote to him a letter,* and said there were two classes of men, the first, those who would put forward the really great and superior minds who agreed with them in opinion—and those who would only advance the crouching and inferior minds, who pretended to agree: preferring the subserviency of ignorance, to the support of high-minded intelligence, which refused absolute subservience. He said, that I had written just such a letter as Lord Bacon would have written to the Duke of Buckingham.
“His two principal men were Dunning and Barré. Dunning had fine talents, but very imperfect information. Barré no knowledge, but the knowledge of party,—he used only the language of party,—he had no desire to see reform or improvement in any shape. He understood nothing of the philosophy of government.
“I remember a curious partie quarré, consisting of Pitt, his elder brother, another, and myself. They stayed at Bowood some days.—I one day rode out with Pitt, and we talked over Indian affairs. I had just been reading an unpublished pamphlet,—and Bailey (an E. I. Director) said he wondered where I had got so much knowledge,—so much more than he had got. Yet I had only read that pamphlet, and really knew little about it. Pitt was like a great school-boy,—scorning, and sneering, and laughing at everything and everybody,—in terms of great insolence and pretence.
“I regretted prodigiously that I did not make a more intimate acquaintance with the Duke of Grafton. He might have been very useful. He was then much influenced by a Unitarian parson, one Roger Williams.”
Bentham, as I have mentioned above, suffered much from a cutaneous complaint, the itching of which caused a perpetual irritation. He said to me once, during the annoyance of this visitation, “Do you ever dream?—I dream of a city, the whole of whose inhabitants have no other enjoyments than seeking to free themselves from the suffering which itching occasions.—When I am in good health, I dream that I am a master among disciples.”
His gentle and loveable spirit vibrated to every little pleasantry, and responded to it with infinite good humour. One day, talking of his visit to France, in 1802, he said, “You know Brissot had been giving me reputation.” “Nay,” said I, “Brissot had lost his head.” “So! ho! you think you have hooked me. If his head were off then, I suppose his head was on once. You are sharp at detecting me; and if you prove, Mr Logician! that he was dead then, will that prove he was not alive before?”
He sometimes feigned to be in a violent rage. I once heard him shout out, “I cannot find the letter. Curses! fury! rage! despair! I am seriously apprehensive I have sent the villain away with the wrong letter!” In all this there was not the slightest real passion; it was intended to make cursing and swearing ridiculous.
When I told him that my mother’s father, who was a Church of England divine, would never, had he been living, have consented that his daughter should marry a Dissenter, he said, “So that, if your grandfather had not died before you were born, you never would have been born at all. I owe him hundred-weights of gré for dying.”
One day, when he “had been vituperating himself,” as he called it, for having forgotten something which, after all, he had remembered, he said, “Now must I put on hypothetical sackcloth and ashes.”
The wind had blown over the milk-pot. “Oh,” said he, “the milk-pot has quarrelled with Æolus, and Æolus has given him a cross-buttock and absolutely overturned him.”
When Rivadavia, the Buenos Ayres minister, dined at his table, he (a not uncommon trick of foreigners) spat on the carpet. Up rose Bentham, ran into his bedroom, brought out a certain utensil, and placed it at his visiter’s feet, saying, “There, Sir, there—spit there.”
When Bentham’s peculiar playfulness of conversation assumed an appearance of solemnity, it became irresistible:—
“Do you know Mr A., or Mr B.?”
“Now, I’m in a rage. I could throw you out of the window for asking whether I know this man, or that man; and forcing me to confess that I do not know them. Why do you lay traps for exposing my ignorance?”
“Lord E. is very angry at what you said of him.”
“He is very angry! Well, a man must not be allowed to do mischief, because he is very angry.
“When Orlando, the Greek Deputy, dined with me, I told him that Homer learnt his Greek at Westminster School. He stared, but did not understand the joke at all. He thought it was even a piece of gross ignorance on my part—ignorance, which politeness required him not to notice—and nothing more.
“I was a boy when I read my uncle Woodward’s monument. How little did I dream that I should live to be 80, and be lord of Queen’s Square Place! Ay! Lord Queen’s Square Place shall be my title. Some have profanely said Queen’s Place, which is very wicked.
“I never could swim—I never could whistle. I have no reason to complain. I am stronger now, than I was at the most vigorous period of life. I suffer nothing from sitting up late—nor lying in bed late in the morning.
“I now constantly dream at night, of what I have been occupied during the day. But everything presents itself in a delabré shape; and I have always fancies about my linen being out of order,—of a want of supply, and the impossibility of getting it.
“If a Bentham does not snore, he is not legitimate. My father snored, and my mother snored; and if my nephew does not snore, he is an impostor.”
Speaking of the number of men of the legal profession in the Congress of the United States, I said, “The lawyers will out-talk the non-lawyers.” “Yes,” answered he, “but by and by the non-lawyers will out-vote the lawyers. They will overturn them with the Book of Fallacies. All their nonsense, is it not written in the Book of Fallacies?”
There was a great drollery and humorous exaggeration in some of Bentham’s expressions, particularly when he was vexed. Once I found he had mislaid a paper. “Now,” said he, “I am in a state of hypochondriasm and rage. The devil must have conveyed the thing away.”
Dr Macculloch annoyed Bentham by a not uncommon trick of opening his pocket-handkerchief wide before his host. “Nay, Doctor, nay! put up that flag of abomination: cure yourself of that filthy, snuffy trick of yours.”
“What business has he to say ‘Grace?’ He has no ‘Grace’ at home. From what bishop has he received it?”
I have collected, almost at random, from my multitudinous memoranda, sentences of Bentham’s conversation, which, either for their sportiveness, their wisdom—or, in a word, their Benthamic character, appear to me to be worth preserving.
“I have made a list of names which, in English, mean judges, and have found out seventeen already.”
“The remedies for evils are often indicated by the character of the evil; but for many there is no remedy.”
“What a pleasant feeling it is to have the mastery of a whole subject!—to grasp it in one’s arms. And even supposing there were no great advantage in taking all-comprehensiveness, there are some all-comprehensive words which are excellent instruments—as good and evil—the genera generalissima. One gets forward with a firm tread—benefits and burthens—and service correspondent to benefit. These fill the field. Acts, positive and negative; but if you confine yourself to the stock of words commonly in use, you will be in the state of the Chinese. Without new words, you cannot have new ideas to any considerable extent. Newton did almost everything by one new word—‘Fluxions’—he introduced a new element—the element of motion. I was at a fault myself when I stumbled upon ‘utility:’ and this was imperfect till I found ‘greatest happiness’* in Priestley, who did not turn it into a system, and who knew nothing of its value. He had not connected with happiness the ideas of pleasure and pain.”
The expense of justice was the subject of conversation. “The present cost is intolerable, and wholly unnecessary,” he said: “a large part might be wholly suppressed—and another portion should be borne by the public. Punish the mala fide—encourage the bona fide suitor. Seek the best evidence first,—the evidence of the parties concerned,—the evidence of those who know most about the matter. Minimize by local judicature the charges of obtaining the best evidence: you thus avoid the cost of journey and of demurrage. The Court of Chancery examines defendants in the suits under its jurisdiction. Courts of conscience.—Courts of conscience examine parties as witnesses. These courts are badly constituted, from the unfitness of the Judges, and from their levying fees, which fall especially on the poor, who cannot pay for justice. But in this country, justice is sold, and dearly sold,—and it is denied to him who cannot disburse the price at which it is purchased.
“The expenses of suits should be defrayed by those who are in the wrong. They should fall heavily on those who are in the wrong with evil consciousness—and lightly on those who are mistakenly wrong.
“But now, the evils of expense are added to the wrongs of the injured; and injustice holds in its hands instruments of boundless vexation.
“Under a proper system, a small part of the expenses incurred in litigation would defray all the costs of justice.
“If, to be an Anti-Slavist is to be a saint, saintship for me!—I am a saint!
“I should like to invite a Yankee and a negro, a lord and a beggar, to my table.”
“Evidence.—In matters of evidence, a thing’s being true is of little importance, unless you can show it to be true. The knowledge of its being true will serve as ground for your own opinion, but not for the opinion of anybody else.”
“Statute Law.—Earl Stanhope, the queer man who died some time ago, said that he had done what no man ever did—he had read the Statutes at large. On turning them over, I found a curious fact, that in Henry the VIth.’s time the judges had laid a plot for getting all the land in the kingdom, (like the priests,) by outlawing all whom they liked—with great formalities always, but no grounds. The abuse was got rid of by somebody declaring that this should not be done. There was no indignation. It was a fine run for the attempt, when everything was in confusion, and the judges the only permanent authority. This is a curious fact to beat the heads of the lawyers with, when they talk of ‘the ancient common law,’ ‘virtuous judges,’ and so forth.”
“In Homer, Menelans is asked whether he was a pirate or robber! To suppose that a man had advanced himself by force was not taken amiss. In these days it is no reproach to ask, ‘Are you a lawyer?’—which is to say, Have you advanced yourself by fraud? But the time will come when it will be as disreputable to have made way by the arts of the lawyer, as it is now considered to have made way by the arts of the thief.”
1827—28. Æt. 79—80.
Opinions on Style, Collocation, and Accent.—Opinion on Contemporaries: Peel, Cobbett, Owen, Rammohun Roy. G. Dyer, Priestley, Napoleon, Eldon, &c.—His Secretaries.—Correspondence.—Neal.—Brougham.—Colonel Young and Lord W. Bentinck on East India Affairs.—Letter to the King of Bavaria.—Memoranda of Conversation on Miscellaneous Subjects.—Brougham’s Law Reforms.—Letter to Rammohun Roy.—Catholics and Dissenters.—Mina.—O’Connell and Law and Parliamentary Reform.—Felix Bodin.—Chamberlain Clark.
Bentham’s style of composition was the result of the most profound attention, and of a desire to make words the instruments for conveying the most correct notions of thoughts. For clearness of conception, Bentham was always employed in seeking clearness of expression. When language failed to present to him an appropriate instrument for the communication of his ideas, he hesitated not to create one. It has been said of him, that he used the English tongue ungracefully and harshly; and yet it would be difficult to find expressions more apt than those he employed for the enunciation of his views. His opinions on the subject of language always appeared to me both original and philosophical; and I shall therefore record them in the same shape in which, from time to time, they fell from his lips:—
“In the collocation of words, too little attention is paid to the sense. You have frequently to travel through a sentence before you come to the sense. The principal word of the sentence, the subject of what is predicated, should be presented to view in the first instance. Any word which is the subject-matter of a clause, should be embedded in the clause to which it belongs.
“The three sorts of class-qualifying, or modifying particles, are the negative, the limitative or restrictive, and the ampliative. To these the proper considerations of collocation should be specially applied.
“Another matter is to avoid interblending the description of the exceptions with the rule, which is an absolute torment to the reader. When exceptions are excepted, they can be arranged under the heads of 1, 2, &c.; and so be referred to over and over again, if necessary.
“No impropriety of language is ever wilfully committed, but for the sake of poetry.
“Tabular views are crutches to help on my crippled faculties. Artificial hands to stand in stead of natural. My natural faculties were so weak that they wanted all these supports.
“If I had been born to a despotic throne, I would have had two prisons built for those who mispronounce the ì, by introducing it after the place it occupies, as you do noeis, (noise;) or before, as Jack does in tiune, (tune.) For punishment, you should be tied together, back to back, Mazentius like; or as nature has tied her Siamese twins.
“In the Edinburgh Review, the words ‘Frappant proof’ are employed. The popular or fashionable neology imposes not the labour of obtaining conception of new thoughts.
“Accent is of great importance in pronunciation. The word which presents the greatest demand for attention, should be the word of emphasis. In composition, the subject-matter should be announced as soon as possible—at the beginning of the sentence—so will the matter become more prominent and clear.
“There is a wicked habit of putting the accents on wrong syllables, on wrong words, on adjectives and adverbs instead of substantives, and in compound nouns on the unimportant, instead of the important word.
“I cannot tolerate your dēsignate—dēmonstrate. All etymology of late—all prosody is confounded. So, again, you put the adjective before the substantive, giving the adjective the emphasis, though it is the least important. You say hundred weight, instead of hundred weight. To make a dactyl saves the time indeed, but confuses the meaning. Again, in two substantives, why farm-house, instead of farm-house, which contrasts with farm-yard. We may as well do as the French do—an equal accent for all words. I hate, too, your i—intruding itself before u—produce, news—prodiuce, niews. I do not like to think of all the wickedness of pronunciation. It will (with great gravity) bring the world to an end.”
He one day said, “William Belsham is a passionate, undiscerning historian.” “Undiszerning?” I asked. “No, Sir: I said no such thing. I wish all heretically-pronouncing persons had but one neck—and then—”
On another occasion, “I hate your sneaking z, its dizzing sound. The s has only a transitory sibilance—to hear these things is one of the sufferings old age dooms man to undergo.”
“I use a substantive where others use a verb. A verb slips through your fingers like an eel,—it is evanescent: it cannot be made the subject of predication—for example, I say, to give motion instead of to move. The word motion can thus be the subject of consideration and predication: so the subject-matters are not crowded into the same sentence,—when so crowded they are lost—they escape the attention as if they were not there. In codification everything is of importance. When I have written my code, I shall give the reason for the different formulæ—example—‘exceptions excepted.’—In the common way they are huddled together—one in the belly of another; in my form they come one after another, and the reader is invited to consider whether there may not be other exceptions.
“Peel’s manufacturers have taken in hand the endeavour to do away with some of the common repetitions and surplusages, such as the enunciation of different sexes,—the singular and plural, and so forth: but they do not see to the bottom of it. There are many cases where both singular and plural must be used, where the predication is either individual or collective.
“I have received a report from the United States on the disbanding of the army, which is just my slang, — the words, ‘Public-Opinion Tribunal’ — ‘sanctions,’ and so forth. It shows how much more real power a democratic government really possesses for a good end.
“What a whimsical collocation is this—(I do not remember the author.) ‘His exertions to relieve the king from his habitual vices, which were probably well intended, and proceeded from a sincere regard to his welfare’—a substantive should never be introduced between a relative and its antecedent.
“In a great many instances, ignorant people, instead of instructed people, have set the tone of pronunciation. I am sorry the world is not made of combustible matter, that I might set it on fire—hollow the earth—fill it with gun-powder—give me a match—what a noble fire-work it would make in the firmament!
“ ‘And into chaos pulverise the world.’
There! a line from the finest tragedy that was ever written—Chro-non-hoton-tho-lo-gos—a line of which is full of emphasis, though it only consists of a name—
“ ‘Aldiborontiphoscophornio.’ ”
Bentham rendered many services to the English language by the invention and adoption of new words and locutions. Some of these have already become classical, such as international, codify, codification, maximize, minimize, maximization, minimization, and many besides.
Others, such as forthcomingness, anteprandial, uncontradictable, though not accepted by public opinion, will, hereafter, when their value is felt, be probably recognised as useful auxiliaries to thought.
Some of his peculiar phrases were merely humorous and grotesque. His rule, as observed above, was, instead of a verb alone, to employ generally a noun in conjunction with it, for the purpose of dividing them for convenient use; and he frequently burlesqued his own theory. He would say “make-ringtion,” instead of “ring” the bell.
In his choice of words, Bentham was most particular. When I said to him once, “Did nothing of the sort occur to you in after-life?” “What do you mean by after-life?” he retorted. “Use no preposition, when you can find an adjective.”
He would use the phrases, “opulent mutton,” for “rich mutton;” “virtuous soup,” for “good soup;” “plausible potatoes,” for “tolerably good potatoes.”
Bentham excused the employment of his parenthetical style, by the argument, that a parenthesis enables a writer to avoid those objections to a general principle, which grow out of a particular exception.
Bentham’s opinions of some of his contemporaries, I record in his own words:—
“Peel is weak and feeble. He has been nursed at the breast of Alma Mater. Like the greyhounds of a lady I know, which were fed upon brandy to prevent their growth, so he feeds upon old prejudices to prevent his mind from growing. He has done all the good he is capable of doing, and that is but little. He has given a slight impulse to law improvement in a right direction.”
“The Whigs, during their short reign, instituted a Chair of Medical Jurisprudence at Edinburgh, which Canning left out as of no use. That was Oxford! How shallow! Canning and Peel are birds of the same feather.”
“Cobbett is a man filled with odium humani generis. His malevolence and lying are beyond anything.”
“Robert Owen begins in vapour, and ends in smoke. He is a great braggadoccio. His mind is a maze of confusion, and he avoids coming to particulars. He is always the same—says the same things over and over again. He built some small houses; and people, who had no houses of their own, went to live in those houses—and he calls this success.”
“Rammohun Roy has cast off thirty-five millions of gods, and has learnt from us to embrace reason in the all-important field of religion.”
“George Dyer’s book on the Constitution, is full of cringes and congés upon paper. A book without a subject or an object.”
“Dr Priestley was no favourite of mine. I thought him cold and assuming. He annoyed me by treating Dr Fordyce as an ignorant man. Now, I worshipped Dr Fordyce on account of his chemical knowledge. He knew everything that was then known. Dr Priestley assumed that he had made discoveries which were no discoveries; for example, the muriatic acid in a gaseous shape. He professed to have found it, but it was found by Van Hamel two hundred years ago.”
“I had once a good opinion of Napoleon: and as a French citizen I voted for his being Consul for life. I do not distinctly remember the grounds which induced me to do this: I thought it was the least evil.
“Buonaparte’s Code was only for despots. Talleyrand said my law projects were works of genius, but not adapted for purposes of tyranny.”
“Brougham.—Insincere as he is, it is always worth my while to bestow a day on him.
“I shall try to subdue him, and make something of him. I shall see whether he has any curiosity to assist in tearing the established system of procedure to rags and tatters.
“I am going off the stage. Brougham keeps on. When I am in the grave I shall have the advantage over him. He will, perhaps, disappoint me. Nothing so bad to be conceived of any man for which I am not prepared from any man.”
Bentham was much delighted with Brougham’s phrase, “The schoolmaster is abroad.” How comprehensive,—he said,—how expansive—how eloquent—how appropriate that word, abroad!
“Judge Richardson would have gone farther with law reform, but he was stopped by the Attorney and Solicitor General.
“B— says, that it is understood that Best makes all the rout he is making in order to be troublesome, so that he may get to be Chancellor of Ireland, with a peerage.”
“The Bishop of Llandaff, in the Lords’ debates, (of 16th May, 1817,) insinuating that Catholics’ oaths are not to be trusted,—think of this, and contrast with it the proof given in ‘Swear not,’ of universal perjury in Oxford men, and indifference to perjury in Cambridge men.”
“One day I met Eldon at Wilberforce’s. He had got into a controversy with a man, who was greatly his inferior, on the subject of law reform; and Eldon had a triumph. I took no part in the argument, but ventured on a joke or two, of which Eldon took no notice. I do not think he understood them.
“Eldon’s eloquence is gossiping. Ellenborough’s is commanding: it is fierce and atrocious, the object of my abomination.
“There is a pretty Tory trinity of Scott’s. The two lawyers and Sir Walter.”
Bentham thus estimated the character of Sir W. Jones: “He was considerably above the par of lawyers; but his mind was narrow, and his tout-ensemble disagreeable.”
I mentioned to Bentham that Sir R—W— was going to Florence. “He can do no good here—he can do no harm there: so let him go,” was his reply.
Speaking of a gentleman, whose usefulness had been greatly diminished by a too earnest pursuit of his own particular objects, Bentham said, “He is wholly under the influence of narrow interested feelings, antipathy and selfishness included. He hates the ruling few; but he does not love the subject many.”
“Lyseen’s book on Italy is a very curious book. In talking of their superstitions, it appears by one line, as if he believed them—and another, as if he scorned them; but the facts he has collected are most valuable, and scattered over the book in prodigious numbers.”
“The Pursuits of Literature are sad trash, written in the worst spirit by a trumpery author.”
“D— is close as an oyster. He should be called Osterius, like the man in Fleet Street, who wrote his name in huge letters, and took so much merit to himself for having reduced the price of oysters. He is close, and will be close to the end of his life.”
“B—, why does not B— avail himself of the facts I brought forward? Did not Lord Tenterden turn a blind eye, and a deaf ear, to them? It is natural the Judges should seek their own interest. See Lord Eldon, how he sets Acts of Parliament at nought; and the others practising monstrous extortions. If there had been any incorrectness in my statements, O I should have had it thick and threefold!”
Bentham had a succession of secretaries, many of whom have been distinguished in various professions after they left him, and of their different characters he often liked to talk. This is a sketch of one or two of them, verbatim from his lips:—
“C.’s father was a mechanic of the gentleman class, at Birmingham. He invented a pump for the navy, with some improvements. He engaged in partnership, made many pumps for the government, and much money out of them. My brother’s acquaintance with the father, led to my connexion with the son, who became my amanuensis. The father was a very interesting personage, and he had a beautiful house at Greenwich, whence there was a high and expansive view, and I had hope of having it for my Panopticon,—a magnificent instrument with which I then dreamed of revolutionizing the world. C. had two sons, Charles, the oldest, and Edward. They distinguished themselves at Westminster School. Charles married very early, a lady with a good fortune. His misfortune was, his getting acquainted with a man who was a drunken fellow, and he caught from him the contagion of drunkenness. Edward came to me. He was a remarkably placid, kind-hearted young man,—most remarkably so,—vastly kind and sensible. He had a disposition to study. I inoculated him with my fondness for chemistry, which I had acquired by looking into German books occasioually. He became fond of chemistry, and taught himself German. I communicated to him my brother’s notions, and my own, on the subject of posology, as to the means of forming a conception of a proposition without a diagram, on which the ideas were only individual, so that a man might have the individual without the general ideas.* He attended to this, and studied Hamilton’s Conic Sections, and went through the whole without the use of a diagram. I could not keep him long, and to my great regret indeed. Parting was a great grief to me. He put his going on his mother. I suppose he was ennuyé. He must needs go into the army, and went to the Cape, and other places. The army did him no good. He afterwards got hold of Southey, who bedevilled him entirely. He deteriorated sadly. He was quartered in Scotland, where he became acquainted with the family of a rich physician of the name of W—. Mrs W— had no children, but she had a niece, whom she brought up as if she had been her daughter. C. found such favour in their sight, that he married this niece. In process of time they quarrelled. His temper was totally changed.—I owed to him my acquaintance with Dr Macculloch, in 1794. As I said, he married this woman. I was musical,—she was musical,—and he was desirous of our meeting. I had then begun to shut myself up, and I declined it. Some eight or ten years ago he called to see me, for the express purpose of converting me to servilism. He had heard of my having intercourse with the U.S.; and spoke in terms of the utmost insolence, contempt, and abhorrence of the U.S. He assumed that I was quite gone wrong, and that a few words from him were to convert me. I gave Macculloch to understand, that there was no great use in his coming again. I thought it not unlikely, that if he came to live with me I could reconvert him, but there was no time for that. He talked with the utmost respect and affection of what I was, but said I had sadly fallen off. He hoped I should see matters in their proper point of view, and abandon those extravagant and mischievous notions with which I was impregnated. His father had inherited an estate of £500 a-year, from an ancestor of the name of Smith,—and had the estate called Sandhurst, purchased by government for the military college. He gave me once a loaf, which reminded me of my boyhood, and I kept it till it grew green, during Panopticon distress.”
“—’s eldest brother had no introduction to me. He became, I believe, a purser in a small vessel, which, touching at a watering-place in Kent, he met Mrs H. and married her. She had £400 to £500 a-year. Her only daughter died in her arms, who intended to have left her a large portion of the estate, but before the pen could be put into her hands, she died.”
“— — came when his brother went. He was a quick, ready fellow, but had no judgment. My brother used to say, ‘His mind is the child of your mind,’ but no! he is of no opinion, or of anybody’s opinion—but he is quick and has plenty of business. He lived here five summers, while I was at Ford Abbey with his gang of relations, during which I allowed him £100 a-year, but I could not endure his having all the mob here, and I put an end to it. He got acquainted with a family of the name of —, the father a lieutenant in the navy. They were of good family, and had some property. He was very glad to be admitted, and married one of the daughters. He has a monstrous number of children.
“There was a man of the name of —, who had a patent of some sort. In Devonshire was a mine of marble, which he bought, and went on working this mine of marble. — had such an opinion of it, that he took an interest, and engaged his brother to sell his wife’s dowry for £2000 to invest. I adventured, and lost £8000, and £2000 of my brother’s. Place said it would have succeeded, if properly managed. I believe the money, after all, was not paid for the mine, and the man went out of his mind.”
“My brother made acquaintance with the father of the —’s—a man of cleverness and experience, and a head on his shoulders. He got an appointment in one of the dock-yards. He had two sons, W— and T—. I took W— first, who was with me two or three years. He was forward, but cold, yet I once drew tears from his eyes. He became reporter to the Chronicle, which was his making. T— was a good boy, who died young. They had a cousin, whose name was H—, and who lived with me the first and second years of my being at Ford Abbey—a queer fellow: a stiff, innoxious, inoffensive creature, like the master of a college—starched, and fit for a parson. He went to Cambridge—tried for a fellowship—failed—took orders—and is now a curate at P— ;—his father, an opulent tradesman, having bought a living for him.”
[* ] The system of dividing all subjects of analysis into two numbers, and no more, at each stage of division, maintained by Bentham to be the only truly exhaustive system. See it mentioned repeatedly in his Chrestomathia and Logic, in vol. viii. The Porphyrian Tree is found in almost all old editions of the Organon, attached to Porphyry’s Introduction.
[* ] Letter to William Courtenay, Esq., on the subject of the Chancery Commission.
[* ] Vide supra, p. 59.
[* ] See above, p. 229.
[* ] The passage Bentham refers to is in the Essay on Government, 1768, beginning of Section II. See Rutt’s Edition, vol. xxii. 13. See a reference to it in vol. xxiv., p. 35-36; with reference to the use of the expression by Beccaria, see above, p. 142.
[* ] See this process described in Works, vol. viii. p. 156.