Front Page Titles (by Subject) The King of Bavaria to Bentham. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
The King of Bavaria 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.
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.
The King of Bavaria to Bentham.
It was only in the course of the month of August that I received the letter you addressed to me from London, on the 20th December, 1827, by which you have kindly sent me your work, entitled Codification Proposal. I thank you much for your attention. I have communicated these writings to the Commission charged with the projects of Legislation, which will not fail to avail themselves of the knowledge of an author so enlightened, in all which may be applicable to our states, our constitutions, and our usages. Receive the expression of my gratitude, and that of the sentiments of esteem, with which I am, &c.
“Munich, 10th Oct., 1828.”
The following are memoranda from Bentham’s conversation in the years 1827-8:—
Speaking of public men, hostile to good government, Bentham said: “The enemies of the people may be divided into two classes. The depredationists, whose love of themselves is stronger than their hatred to others; and the oppressionists, whose hatred to others is stronger than their love of themselves.”
“Malice is a murderous instrument in the hands of a cursed lawyer, by which he may commit his murders in the name of the law.”
“In defensive force the principle is, no doubt, involved, that attack may be remotely necessary to defence. Defence is a fair ground for war. The Quaker’s objection cannot stand. What a fine thing it would have been for Buonaparte to have had to do with Quaker nations!”
“How did I improve and fortify my mind? I got hold of the greatest-happiness principle: I asked myself how this or that institution contributed to the greatest happiness—Did it contribute?—If not, what institution would contribute to it?”
“I am never disposed to revenge a deed of injustice done to myself; but to another, when done, I should punish the perpetrator by dashing him against the wall.”
“In law, a tax is a prohibition to every man who cannot pay the tax. This is understood in trade, but seems not to be understood in anything else.”
Law and Lawyers.
“The Roman law is a parcel of dissertations badly drawn up: the views of the Roman lawyers were, however, more expanded than the views of the English lawyers.”
“The principle of justice is, that law should be known by all: and, for its being known, codification is absolutely essential.”
“What a strange state of legislation it is when a case for a shilling is called penal—and, it may be, for a man’s whole property, and then it is civil. I cannot use the word capital crime. Why not mortal?”
“Wherever you see the word void, there is rascality for the cursed lawyers—and this in all its conjunctions. It is a sacrifice of the ends of justice to the ends of judicature: so nullity,—so badness.”
“Simple taxation to the amount of the sinister benefit of the lawyers, would be as nothing in comparison to the present evil: it would be merely depredation to the amount, without denial of justice.”
“The late Francis Horner mentioned to me (1806) a case he knew of, in which thirteen representations, one after another, were made to the Lord Ordinary. Representations are papers put in merely for delay, in the same form of words, and there is a fee on each to the Judge’s clerk. What is any such representation but a bribe? What does bribery lose of its baseness by being unpunishable?”
“What can be done with lawyers? Hold up rascality, and what then? Demonstrate, and you get no answer,—but if there be the slightest flaw in your arguments, it is laid hold of, and becomes an object of public attention.”
“Under the present system of refusing the evidence of unbelievers, any man has the power of conferring pardon by declaring himself an unbeliever. This may be done in a multitude of ways. The king may send a man to murder another, and afterwards pardon him. This is absolute power over the life of every subject. This was done by a late statute, and in order to get rid of an absurdity, they chose to deprive the public of a security.”
“My project would be, to have a black-book, clearly printed, containing the record of all offences. My lord brother* would figure there for defending the old statutes for attainder of blood. In a newspaper the impression is transitory—evanescent; but in such a book, published every year, the infamy would be permanent. Horne Tooke had taken note of the people that had deserved ill of their country, and it was used as evidence of high treason, and that he meant they should all be massacred.”
“Pleadings are a most perfect nuisance,—to be expunged altogether: written pleadings are of no more use in a court than they would be in a necessary-house. Now, suppose this foolish system were applied to the evidence given before the House of Commons: they would have to wait one year for every answer, and the answer would have to wait another year for elucidation.”
“Deontology.—Aristotle’s virtue, fortitude, is a virtue or a vice according as applied. You must know the nature of the case in which a man has to give exercise to the quality, before you can decide on its being a virtue or not,—but when I was thirteen I was already too cunning to be taken in by that.”
“They talk against suicide. And yet there is not a text in which it is prohibited. But how little do Christians care about the commands of Christianity. Was ever a text more clear than that, ‘Swear not at all,’—but it has been cavilled away by glosses and meanings which in no other case would be listened to for a minute.”
“Utility was an unfortunately chosen word. The idea it gives is a vague one. Dumont insists on retaining the word. He is bigoted, old, and indisposed to adopt what is new, even though it should be better.”
“It is sometimes necessary to write a whole book, in order to work out a single truth, which may be expressed in a single sentence. In literature, like philosophy, there is often a result of simplicity, which is got at by elaborate reasonings.”
“I have done my part for Law Reform. The subject is more likely to be taken up when I am dead, and I shall reap the profit of it, even in the way of reputation. No doubt, possession is better than expectation—but expectation of happiness may be happiness.”
“Fanny Wright told me Socrates was pure as an icicle. I answered that it was my misfortune to read Greek, and to know better. What I read of Socrates was insipid. I could find in him nothing that distinguished him from other people, except his manner of putting questions. This would have been good, had it been explained why; but the devil a bit of an explanation was there. For didactic purposes, it is good for bringing forward the appropriate subject of speculation.”
“Antiquarianism is the natural resource of aristocracy. All its memorials are monarchical and aristocratic.”
“I never could endure a commonplace. I am not equal to it. I could not make a speech, of the worthlessness of which I was conscious.”
I once recommended Bentham to read some book; and he said: “By daylight, I have something else to do—by candlelight, I cannot see.”
“I never read poetry with enjoyment. I read Milton as a duty. Hudibras for the story and the fun: but Hudibras ended in nothing—but an Epistle to the Widow.”
“I should like a collection of verses from the simplest to the most complex. There is much to be done yet with language. Now, first take a substantive—then a substantive and adjective—then a substantive, adjective, and verb: and so on.”
I remarked to Bentham that he often wrote without looking at the paper on which he was writing. “Yes,” said he, “as on a stringed instrument, the mind takes in the whole piece by a volition—a complicated volition embraces the whole; but if there are staccato notes—if the passage is interrupted or difficult, then a separate volition or act of the mind is wanting: if four or five consecutive notes follow, the manner of producing each note separately from the rest, is not thought of.
“I cannot write in the ordinary way. It would fatigue me. I hold the paper in my hand, which rests on the table, and thus get on much faster. I write about 16 pages a-day. I have a great abhorrence of waste, yet I am profuse in the use of paper. I had rather give twopence, than waste a penny.”
“Between sleeps, I cannot do much in the way of invention, not having the signs before me. I am troubled by tunes, or by the recollections of past events. These recollections are always plaguesome; for, if the events were painful—painful must be the memory of them: and if pleasurable, the pleasure is departed. The putting aside one’s thoughts, is the great instrument of peace. At night, I cannot easily solve a problem, though it does not long remain a difficulty. I apply to it one of my keys—such as this: the good and evil produced by the different classes of offences, enables me to look for the proper remedy. There is always some nostrum for the case.”
“When I was looking into old MSS., I expected to find the names and writing less and less legible as they were more and more ancient; but, going backwards from Elizabeth’s time, the writing is more and more intelligible.”
“What remarkable letters are these of the Earl of Essex! They might have been written at the present day.”
“The taking the money from the Canadians by the English Government, in order to do them mischief, is just like the story in Count Fathom, where the beautiful lady in the coach-house has her pocket picked, and the money is employed for her own seduction.”
“The Hebrew is a fine language for the expression of simple ideas. It wants the inflections which result from men’s throwing their thoughts about them.”
“Were not pen, ink, and paper necessary to writing, writing would be a very agreeable thing; but pen, ink, and paper are never disposed unanimously to obey the writer’s mandates,—there is generally something amiss with one or other of them.”
“My ‘idleness’ is to do that which does not belong to the order of the day. Anything which presents itself with a particular demand for recordation, I set down, if it present itself with an apt expression or method. Now, my order of the day is one of the three codes. When not busied with these, deontology, logic, and language, occupy my thoughts.”
“Few things are more wanting than a code of international law. Vattel’s propositions are most old-womanish and tautological. They come to this: Law is nature—Nature is law. He builds upon a cloud. When he means anything, it is from a vague perception of the principle of utility; but more frequently no meaning can be found. Many of his dicta amount to this: It is not just to do that which is unjust.”
“In England, the most expensive plan is always preferred: 1st, because economy would set a bad example; 2d, because ignorance has no means of judging but from expense.”
“When I was made a Bencher, I accepted the rank, as I thought it would be the means of saving me from persecution. They were some time in choosing me, and I was some time—I believe six months—in accepting.”
“The American colonies really said nothing to justify their revolution. They thought not of utility, and use was against them. Now, utility was the sole ground of defence. What a state the human mind was in, in those days! I was not then sufficiently advanced in the study of government to show the true grounds of opposition; that a country could not be well governed by one so very far from it; that appeals are an instrument of despotism in the hands of the rich against the poor. It seemed no part of duty to excite enmities from one set of men against another set of men; for by exciting enmity, you destroy all the effects of your deliberate counsel.”
“The Danaides filling with water, vessels full of holes, are alike the emblem and the prophecy of the Wisdom of the Ancients, about which Bacon talks. They but anticipate the endeavour to gorge the appetites of the ruling few with the elements of felicity taken by unpunishable depredation from the subsistence of the subject many.”
“A proper device for ‘wisdom of ancestors,’ would be a man with eyes behind, and none before.”
“Polemics are a pretence to know things essentially unknowable.”
“Nemo omnibus horis sapit, is the best elucidation of non omnes possumus omnia. The mind cannot be permanently kept on the stretch.”
“The principle of pensions of retreat is so obviously wrong, that I wonder it should not have been more frequently attacked. The assumption is, that the more you give for service, the better service you will have. Now, independently of salary, all public offices confer power which is not to be had out of them,—yet out of them there are no pensions of retreat, nor are they found necessary for securing the best services.”
“When the Insolvent Debtors’ Court was set up, I expected no good from it, except the discharge of debtors, and I have not been disappointed. I thought they had neither the will nor the power to make a good thing of it: not the will, for they had not the interest,—not the power, for they had not the machinery. But the failure is much greater than I had any idea of.”
“Costs can only be cured by local jurisdictions—justice accessible everywhere. It is now the interest of attorneys to have as many witnesses as they can. They get paid for attendance, examination, and so on, all of which might be avoided by examination by the judge. They have also more evidence than can ever be heard, as matter of precaution. Character-evidence has no check. You might go on to examine evidence of the character of the evidence giver, and so on ad infinitum. It is all vague; so good character is no evidence against a fact, and bad character is worse—it is vague assertion without a specific fact.
“Expenses ought not to be thrown on the parties. Would the public bear it? They ought to bear it. The nonlitigants have the benefit of that protection which the litigants pay so dearly for.
“In every case, the injured man who pays costs, suffers an aggravation of the injury.
“Of what use are all these petty peddling reforms of the law? the abuses must be swept away in a mass.
“Our laws are made by judges for the benefit of judges.
“I should support juries at the cost of my life. They are a check upon the despotism of the judges, who are only the instruments of the despotism of the king,—though, in a proper judicature, neither would be wanting.”
“In one of Frederick of Prussia’s projects, there is a foolish declaration, that he would have all law-suits ended in a twelvemonth. Fixation of penalties, and fixation of time, are a prodigious source of evil, which I am combating with all my might. Frederick, by fixing twelve months, gave a sort of license for any suit to last as long as this.”
“Deontology—In writing my Deontology, I took the virtues as referred to by Aristotle—traced such of them as would blend with mine, and let the rest evaporate.”
“The distinction between pleasure and happiness, is, that happiness is not susceptible of division, but pleasure is. A pleasure is single—happiness is a blended result, like wealth. Now, nobody would call a rag wealth, and yet it is a part of the matter of wealth.”
“A good system of morals, would give the practiser of them the pleasures of sympathy and the benefits of friendship. It would teach him to refrain from annoying others.”
“Revenge is a dear bought, uneconomical pleasure. It purchases everlasting hatred at the price of a moment’s gratification. Consider when a wrong has been done, if exposure would prevent its repetition. If so, it is an act of self-regarding prudence; but the exposure should be temperate, prudent, and appropriate to the occasion.”
“The classification of the virtues resolves itself into four: pure self-regarding prudence, extra-regarding prudence, negative-effective benevolence, positive-effective benevolence, or the benevolence accompanied with or followed by beneficence. For a man to take care of himself, is prudence—of others, is benevolence; and these two heads exhaust the subject. There is benevolence on a small scale, and benevolence on a large scale. In treating the subject, take the simple cases first, the complicated afterwards. The pleasure of effective benevolence, on the widest scale, few are susceptible of—it is a choice and aristocratical pleasure. You must show, how, by consulting the interests and happiness of other persons, pain may be avoided—pleasure created.
“The great difficulty is the mistaking the adjacent for the permanent interest. An atomic speck upon the eye, will cover an island. The mistake may be seen in a thousand instances. A man cohabits with a woman. He obeys the impulse of interest, and gets diseased. Esau gets a mess of pottage. He obeys the impulse of interest, and loses his birthright. M— makes the same mistake in gathering together his hundreds of thousands.”
“On how many occasions do we give pain, when we might give pleasure?
“Every act of kindness is, in fact, an exercise of power, and a stock of friendship laid up; and why should not power exercise itself as well in the production of pleasure as of pain? If you do not draw down friendship, you alienate enmity.”
“Remember we do not exercise, or ought not to exercise, even a besoin in vain. It should serve for manure. Tread not on an insect.”
“Deal as scantily towards yourself as you please, but do not deal so towards other people.”
“There are many religious people who had rather see men miserable than innoxious. Unhappiness is the instrument by which they would make us angels; but the brutes are often interested in corruptions—out of them they gain influence and reputation.”
“Logic.—What is the use of the dialectic part of logic? Is it not a parcel of stuff that leads to nothing? The nomenclature which shows the relation of one proposition to another in the way of reasoning? I remember when reading, even at thirteen or fourteen, that I could learn nothing from the examples given, which are generally sad nonsense; and I asked myself ‘Cui bono?’ and could give myself no answer. In writing, the thing is to get the whole of the subject before you.”
Bentham frequently spoke of the value of logic, and of the undeserved neglect into which the study had fallen in later times. He insisted on its universal application to all the purposes of art and science. “From a given point, as that of a triangle,” said he, “a man may make excursions into all parts of the field of thought—he may apply the true principles of logic to the whole domain of knowledge.”
“I have been influenced through life by short texts, which were impressed on my memory in boyhood. Among them the favourite have been the three words from Thucydides, which Clarendon has made the motto to his history:—
“ ‘ϰτῆμα ἐς ἀεί.’
That verse of Lucan:—
“ ‘Nil actum credens dum quid superesset agendum.’
The line of Homer:—
“ ‘οὐϱανῷ ἐστήϱιξε ϰάϱη, ϰαὶ ἐπὶ χθονὶ βαίνει.’
With its Latin translation:—
“ ‘Ingrediturque solo et caput inter nubila condit.’
“I have endeavoured to bring two elements into my writings—invention, and correctness; and have kept the quodlibet cum quolibet constantly in view.”
“Who would not be comfortable, if it depended on his own will?”
“The humility of the English church is, to be clad in purple and fine linen, and to live upon turtle, venison, and pineapples.”
“What an occasion of felicity on the part of the inhabitants of New South Wales is the introduction of the pumpkin!—yet I could not tolerate those blue-bottle flies which blow the meat even while it is trundling on the spit. But New South Wales is the place to go to and live at for ever, without disease. I am reconciled to the loss of Panopticon when I think of the mass of happiness that is being created there. Wentworth may in time become a good minister of justice. If the people be attacked by a military force, they must retreat into the interior to the other side of the Blue Mountains.”
“In our system, all that can add to the opulence and wealth of the ruling few, is made provision for; but the happiness of individuals is not thought of.”
I have before mentioned Bentham’s dislike to the maxim—“That nothing but favourable things should be told of the dead.” One day he said to me, “ ‘Gloria in excelsis!’ To talk of De mortuis nil nisi bonum, is as much as to say, De excelsis nil nisi bonum. Who ever heard of any mortui that were not excelsi? This maxim is one of the inventions of despotism: it perpetuates misrepresentation of the ruling few at the expense of the subject many; it employs suppression instead of open lying, for the purpose of deception; it would shield depredation and oppression from exposure; and when it is too late to prevent misdoings by present punishment, would protect the misdoers even against future denunciation and judgment. Aristocracy gets all the benefit of the maxim; for the poor are never honoured with unqualified posthumous praise. And thus, the world bestows its foolish confidence on those who always betray it. Thus, all distinctions are levelled, but those of wealth and prosperity. Thus, the fallacy becomes an instrument in the hand of tyranny. Thus, in the two Houses of Parliament men are always flattering one another: the most opulent, the most extravagant, and thence the most rapacious. Witness kings, who get the greatest portion of this flattery; and in the same spirit judges are always for punishing, with the greatest severity, those who utter anything to the disadvantage of kings.”
“Nobody need say a word to show the worthlessness of the Whigs as a party. They have been shattered to pieces a thousand times. But that is no reason you should quarrel with any one of them. You are running your head against a post, where he is concerned: and he is running his head against a post, where you are concerned.
“The Whigs may be in a situation not to advocate all that is desirable; but that is no reason why others should dissemble their sentiments, and consent to be slaves, because the Whigs find it for their interest to be so.”
“I wonder how any pleasure can be found in descriptions of pictures, or descriptions of music. Pictures are to be seen—music is to be heard; but to write about them, gratifies neither seeing nor hearing.”
“O that I could decompose myself like a polypus. Could I make half-a-dozen selfs, I have work for all.”
“The beauty of Parmesan cheese is its innocence: of other cheese, its corruption.”
“It is very desirable for the purposes of government, that a register should exist of all the sailors in the merchant sea service, in order to know what the radical strength of this portion of the national defence is.”*
“In all cases of oppression, care must be taken that the oppressed shall not be subjected to the uncertainty of redress, and the certainty of after vengeance.”
“Invention and memory often operate at the expense of one another.”
“Lord L. is hardly a man to regain the ground he has lost. The toes of his amour-propre have been terribly trod upon.”
“They say Tom Moore’s poetry has offended the king.—Kings are fair game, and sharp sportsmen cannot help attacking them.”
“Many of Peel’s projects are merely for the creation of new offices with large salaries.—The places will fail, but the salaries will have to be paid; and then there comes a cry against reform, as the cause of the unnecessary salaries.”
He spoke with great satisfaction of an article in No. 2. of The Jurist, on Grand Juries. “It is capital,—but the last sentence is opposed to everything that precedes it,—a conclusion hostile to the premises. Grand Juries should be preserved according to the old receipt for preparing cucumbers,—‘Pepper them, and salt them, and — throw them to the dung-hill.’ ”
“I have helped to cure myself of my fears of ghosts, by reasoning thus:—Ghosts are clothed, or not clothed; now, I never saw, nor fancied I saw, a ghost without clothes: so if there be ghosts of men, there must be ghosts of clothes too; and to believe this requires a farther stretch of belief, and farther evidence and authority.”
“ ‘Pour aimer les hommes il faut en attendre peu.’ This sentence of Helvetius has been a real treasure to me.”
“I wish, instead of the Ballot, which is vague, the word Secrecy-of-Suffrage were used. In truth, representation requires only four things to be perfect—Secrecy, Annuality, Equality, Universality.”
“The value of money is, its quantity multiplied by the felicity it produces.”
“What Bacon did was to proclaim—‘Fiat experimentum;’ but his own knowledge of Natural Philosophy was ignorance.
“What Locke did, was to destroy the notion of innate ideas.
“What Newton did, was to throw light on one branch of science.
“But I have planted the tree of Utility—I have planted it deep, and spread it wide.”
[* ] Lord Colchester.
[* ] See Constitutional Code, Book ii. chap. x. sect. 16.