Front Page Titles (by Subject) Bentham to the Duke of Wellington. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 11 (Memoirs of Bentham Part II and Analytical Index)
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Bentham to the Duke of Wellington. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 11 (Memoirs of Bentham Part II and Analytical Index) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 11.
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Bentham to the Duke of Wellington.
“Queen’s Square Place,Westminster.
Think of the confusion into which the whole fabric of Government would have been thrown, had you been killed; or had the trial of you, for the murder of another man, been substituted in the House of Lords to the passing of the Emancipation Bill!*
“I told you I was your well-wisher. Even in the common form of a letter I never speak unadvisedly. I now prove myself so.
“The circumstance that induces me thus to put myself forward is this:—For the entire extinction of this most pestilential practice, I have a plan, of the success of which, I have little more doubt than of my own existence. It is grounded—partly on experience furnished by this country; partly on experience furnished by another country; partly on the attention I have, for between sixty and seventy past years, been paying to the springs of action in human nature; partly on the acquaintance I have made with the penal code, and the system of judicial procedure, as they are, and as they ought to be, in all their details.
“If there be that man upon the face of the earth, in whom self-sacrifice, and so much more than self-sacrifice, to no imaginable good purpose, are less excusable than in any other, it is yourself. In the first place, in your case, what symptom of deficiency in personal courage would be your utter refusal to engage with any man in any such contest? Yes: if, for the first time, you had just been taking in hand a pair of colours. In the next place, even supposing it conclusive proof of such an infirmity, would it have rendered you incompetent, or any other man competent, to conduct the business of Government? In what shape, either to yourself, or to your country, would any evil be produced by an imputation of that sort, comparable to that which would be produced by your sudden death?
“T’other day, O’Connell was with me. Amongst other things, he gave me his history in relation to duelling. About a dozen years ago, it happened to him to kill his man.† He declares himself, in private as well as in public, and (strange as it may seem to many of us) as far as I can judge, with sincerity, to be a believer in the religion he professes in public. Not without visible signs of emotion, did he speak to me of the catastrophe. The effect produced by it on his mind was (he said) such, that he made a vow, and that vow was—to make atonement for the transgression: and that atonement consisted in the determination never to engage a second time in the like contest; but to submit to any insult or indignity, how atrocious soever, rather than seek or accept of satisfaction in that shape. Yes: and to make this determination matter of general notoriety; and to this his determination he had hitherto maintained, and ever resolved to maintain, the most inviolable adherence.
“Not so much as five minutes had the report of the occurrence reached me in this my Hermitage, when I sat down to write the scribble, which, in the original, would not have been legible to you: in the meantime, what I hear is—that instead of being the challengee, which would have been too bad, you were actually the challenger, which is still worse. Friends, forsooth!—How narrow must have been the views and minds of friends, by whom advice, with such effects in the train of it, could have been given!
“These friends—in name, profession, and appearance; to whom were they so in reality? To yourself, to the king, to Great Britain, to Ireland, to the human species at this present time? To the same species at any future time?—Put to each of them these questions: and take note of his answers.
“In the United States, I am neither unknown nor unheeded. The President, and the present Finance Secretary, were my familiar friends. Propensity to duelling is, in that country, the cardinal vice. In that country, still more than in Ireland, the plague in that shape rages. If I live two years, or at the utmost, three years longer, I shall be, in no small degree, disappointed, if I do not see the plague (as the Bible phrases it) ‘stayed.’
“For my own part, in former days, I thought I saw some benefits from it to mankind, and committed the mention of them to writing; and, if I misrecollect not, to the press.* On further consideration, I have arrived at the persuasion, that they amount to little, if anything; and that, at any rate, they are, in a prodigious degree, outweighed by the mischievous effects; of which I am prepared to give a list.
“Mere insensibility to danger of pain and death is a virtue which man possesses in joint-tenancy with the bull, the bear, and their challenger—the dog.
“Now then, if to personal and physical, you add moral courage, I will tell you what to do. Go to the House of Lords. Stand up there in your place, confess your error, declare your repentance; say you have violated your duty to your sovereign and your country; and promise, that on no future occasion whatsoever, under no provocation whatsoever, in either character—that of giver, or that of accepter of a challenge, will you repeat the offence.
“Here am I, leader of the Radicals, (in that character, at least, am I, and I alone, every now and then, spoken of,) leader of the Radicals, more solicitous for the life of the leader of the Absolutists, than he himself is! What paradoxes, what prodigies, has not the field of politics given birth to of late!”
I am sorry that I cannot find the Duke’s answer to this letter: but it was immediate; for Bentham sent a rejoinder on the following day.
“Q. S. P., 23d March, 1829.
“My dear Duke,—
Opened this moment this note of yours. I must at you once more. I am an Englishman. More than that, I have my designs upon you. I want to make you do what Cromwell tried at, and found it was too much for him. I cannot afford to lose you. Your country remains plunged by you into a danger you seem not to be aware of; I am.
“This moment you present yourself to my mind’s eye with a brace of bullet-holes,—not in the skirts of your coat, but in your body: dupe to some rascal, who has looked to it as a ladder to his ambition or a feast for his vengeance. If one is not enough, others may follow: this in any number.
“Think not this is mere fancy: for in aid of imagination, in comes memory. Three cases it presents at the same moment,—O’Connell once more; Colonel Burr’s; and Target Martin’s.
“First, as to O’Connell’s. What I did not mention before is this. O’Connell was sure of his mark. He had made himself so in an odd way. In his part of the country reigns a commonwealth of dogs: their practice was to attack men on horseback, biting the horses’ heels.
“Think not this incredible. A similar commonwealth had place years ago, and probably has still, at Constantinople. Anno 1785, it made war upon me there: fortune saved me. O’Connell travelled with pistols, and practised with them upon those dogs, till he became expert as above. Hence the contrition spoken of in my last.
“2. Colonel Burr’s case. Colonel Hamilton stood in the way of his ambition. Burr determined to put him out of the way. He too had made himself sure of his mark. Not confession this, but boast. I had it from himself. Anno 1807, or thereabouts, he was my guest for months.†
“3. Target Martin’s. John Wilkes got him christened by this name: the import you see already. In this Martin’s case, it was an affair of speculation. How to use pistols, he had learnt from his target: whom to use them upon, from the case of St Becket, in Hume’s History. George the Third was his Henry the Second.
“4. Another case comes in this moment. Adam’s,—Lord Commissioner Adam’s case. Shooting at a great man by his leave, then figuring away and making a friend of him. Speculation this in another shape.
“Speculations, such as they are, I have likewise,—but, so it is, it has never happened to them to take exactly this turn. Should it ever, you see already how I should proceed, taking you to practise upon. Common Law offers me, as you will see, her license. When my target had holes enough through it, I should look back into the newspapers, and say to you, or of you, something in the style of what Lord Winchelsea said—‘A brace of balls you would put into the skirts of my coat: another brace I should put into your body. Here am I, then, a great man; you a dead one. Now, then, for this my greatness, what should I have to pay? At the outside, the cost of a year’s lodging in a comfortable apartment, in a handsome stone building called a prison, with a pleasant garden to it.’ This punishment is what, as above, I call a license.
“With reminiscences such as these in his mind, could a man do otherwise than I have done, and am thus continuing to do? Had I not, I should, in case of your falling a victim, as above, to rage or speculation, read my own condemnation in my own Penal Code. In it stands a class of offences designated by the title of Negative. It runs through all the other classes. Omission to do something from the want of which comes an evil; such as is produced by this or that written act; in which way murder may be committed as surely as by sword or pistol. By omitting to administer food, a jailor, for example, has murdered his prisoner—a nurse her child.
“ ‘England expects every man to do his duty.’ This done, I have done mine. Whosesoever head any blood of yours may fall upon, one there is upon which none of it shall fall—and whom it is you once more see.
“P.S.—Respect for your time has substituted to a lengthy letter this abridgment. My social affections are warm: the promptitude of your attention had called forth the garrulity of old age.”
Bentham had a box inscribed by him, “1829, Laudatoria aut Exhilarantia,” in which I find this letter from O’Connell:—
“28th May, 1829.
“My revered master has given me great satisfaction by his ‘Despatch Court.’ Would it were instituted tomorrow! I return the entire manuscript: some portion I am unable to decipher; but I have read the rest, and derived great pleasure from the perusal. It must be—there must be a Despatch Court. There is a pressing and daily increasing necessity for such an experiment, and the experiment once made, every court will soon become a Court of Despatch. We must not, however, lose sight of the right of appeal. As a general rule, it must be preserved, though the experimental Despatch Court may be without appeal. No page. Blank is left for the uses of appeal.
“I have consumed some time struggling for my seat for Clare. I hope it is not time lost. I am certain it has enabled me to be, in disposition and from conviction, more independent of party of every kind in the House. I expect to be returned for Clare again. I expect it confidently. Now for Utility—Utility—Law—Church—Finance—Currency—Monopoly—Representation. How many opportunities to be useful!
“I leave this city for Dublin on Saturday morning. Let me have a line by the post, to say whether you can allow me to go to you at a quarter before seven on Friday the 29th, and to remain with you till eleven. You must, in that case, give me some fish, as I do not eat meat on Friday. Any one kind of fish, I am entirely careless which—I have a most orthodox dislike to every kind.
“I do most fervently hope that you will live to see the British Isles blessed with your Code. My humble efforts shall be most persevering to attain that most useful object.
“I will not express—indeed, I could not express—my affectionate veneration to you. It increases as the period when I can start forward in the race of legal utility approaches, and becomes more certain. Luckily, the New Chancery Bill and Justice of Peace Bill are postponed until next session. Much has been made of more untoward materials. With the greatest respect, your to-be-useful disciple,” &c.
[* ] In allusion to the Duke’s duel with Lord Winchelsea on the 21st March.
[† ] Mr D’Esterre, of the Dublin Corporation, who challenged Mr O’Connell for calling that body a beggarly corporation.
[* ] See Works, vol. i., p. 378.
[† ] See preceding vol., p. 432.