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Bentham to the French People. - 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 French People.
“Queen’s Square Place, Westminster,London,August, 1830.
‘Your predecessors made me a French citizen. Hear me speak like one.’ So said I, anno 1793. So say I now, anno 1830.
“I have written, and I have written. I have written, and I have torn.
“I had then been more than twenty years occupied in the study of what belongs to the happiness of nations;—thirty-nine more years have been added to those twenty. I was then somewhat known among you: I am at present, I hope I may say, somewhat better known. There are those who have said to me—‘Speak now again to these your fellow-citizens: what has these forty years been your right, is now become your duty.’ Hearing this, I took up the pen.
“Circumstances have been changing every day—circumstances continue changing every day—circumstances will change every day; but principles remain unchanged. It is from them I speak to you.
“A proclamation of La Fayette lies before me. It is that which was issued by him on accepting the command of the National Guards of Paris. Date of it, August . . . . In this behold my text—at any rate my main text. In it I read these words:—‘Parisian energy has reconquered our rights. . . . . Nothing is definitive but the sovereignty of those rights.’ Thus far the veteran hero whom it so delights me to call my friend. Now for an observation which to some may appear a trifling one.
“Rights are fictitious entities—the people real ones. Realities, on this occasion as on all others, realities I prefer to fictions—even the most innocent ones. Realities—I understand them better. But should my friend say to me—‘Our fellow-citizens will understand us better if we say rights’—even so let it be. Let us say what we will, our meaning is the same.
“Think you this is a question of mere words? Not it, indeed. I will tell you why I say people. In ‘the Sovereignty of the People,’ I behold a locution which, even in the sink of corruption from which I write—even in this seat of ill-disguised despotism, has, at public dinners, been for years a not unfrequent toast. It comes before ‘the King;’ and not for these many years, if ever, has any servant of the king dared prosecute for it.
“So much for the Commandant of the Parisian National Guards and his Proclamation.
“Now for the Lieutenant-general of the Kingdom, and his.
“ ‘Attached by inclination and conviction to the principles of a free government, I accept beforehand all the consequences of it.’ This delights me: this is good sense: this is good logic. ‘All rights must be solemnly guaranteed, all the institutions necessary to their full and free exercise, must receive the developments of which they have need.’ This, though in letter-press it stands antecedent to what is said as above of principles, is, in reason, one great consequence of it; but to ‘developments,’ I should have preferred modifications, or, to speak out, changes.
“Now for interpretation: from words I pass to symbols. ‘I hastened,’ (says in that same document this same functionary,) ‘I hastened,’ (so and so,) ‘wearing those colours, which, for the second time, have marked among us the triumph of liberty.’ Here there is one change, and that a speaking one. And what is it that it speaks a second time, if not that which it spoke the first time—the Sovereignty of the People?
“While writing what I have been tearing, I had before me another text—‘the Charter is a truth.’—Charter?—I do not like—I never liked the sound. Charters and the Sovereignty of the People cannot have existence, in the same place, at the same time. Admitted into the Chamber of Legislation, I behold the Sovereignty of the People throwing the Charter out of the window.
“Oh, would but some prosperous breeze blow it over to London! I should pick it up with transport—stick it on my hat, and cry—Charter for ever! Yes: this refuse of France would, for England, be a feast. Behold here (I would say) Magna Charta the second! Magna Charta the first has been long worn to nothing—trodden under foot by our Holy Brotherhood—the Lawyers. Before this clear and ably-fashioned reality, that miserable fiction—matchless Constitution—that maleficent phantom, which every corruptionist makes for himself—makes for his own purposes—makes, on each occasion, out of his own leaven—would flee away screeching, and drown itself in our Thames.
“ ‘Let no evil ever be lessened. Let every existing evil (as does all evil, unless nipt by remedy) receive continual increase.’ This is what is meant by—for incontestably this is included in—that which is said by those who say, ‘Let us have no change.’ ‘Let all evil be perpetual,’—this would be too much to say; this is what in those same words they dare not say. They therefore change the words: which done, they say, ‘Let us have no change;’ and out of these words they make an established principle.
“There you have the principle: now, think of the consequences. What, if this had been the principle when William the Second of England kept laying waste the country, to convert it into hunting-grounds? What, if when Louis the Fourteenth of France laid waste the Palatinate to make a frontier of it? What, if having by Louis the Eighteenth been put into a charter, and by a successor of his that same charter declared to be a truth, that declaration were to become law: and that law an immutable one? the ceremony of an oath having, moreover, as by Art. 74. of the same charter, been called in, and supernatural terrors added to all natural ones, for the pious purpose, and in the pious hope, of preserving for ever all evil from diminution,—wrong, in all shapes, from all remedy? ‘Le Roi et ses successeurs jureront, dans la solemnité de leur sacre, d’observer fidèlement la présente charte constitutionelle.’
“Behold here, my fellow-citizens, one of the rocks, which in many places and many times,—perhaps in all places, and at all times, when occasion presented itself,—men, old in power, and men new in power, have joined in splitting upon.
“Let things as they are continue unchanged for ever, has, in all places, and all times, been the cry of all those who, reaping good for themselves from the evil done by those same things to other men,—good, in justification of which no direct and undeceptious argument was to be found,—sought refuge for it in this fallacy.
“Nor was this fallacy without an outward show of truth. ‘All change produces preponderant evil,’—this would be too manifestly false,—to all eyes, too clearly so,—to be advanced by anybody. But, ‘All change produces evil,’—this, it cannot but be confessed, is little less than true. But, ‘All change produces preponderant evil,’—nothing less than this would serve to preserve from the reproach of maleficence, universal and perpetual maleficence,—the no-change principle.
“So much for power when old. Now for power when new.
“This constitution is perpetual and unchangeable. Such, in these terms, or what is equivalent to them, (for there is not time to look for them,) was the declaration of our first National Assembly. Add to this, so of every other.
“Altogether natural is this: for, to every man in power, natural is a mixture of intellectual and moral weakness,—of folly and maleficence. For, mark well, my fellow-citizens, the propositions that are involved in it.
“1. No change that can possibly have place in the state of things, or in the state, conduct, and disposition of men, can be such as to render it contributory to the greatest happiness of the community, to make any change in the changes which we have been making for that purpose.
“2. We, who compose the majority of the body to which we belong,—we are to such a degree wise, that there exists not any the smallest probability, that, at any future point of time, those who have then succeeded to us will be equally so.
“3. We are, moreover, to such a degree good that there exists not any the smallest probability that, at any future point of time, those who have then succeeded to us will to wisdom equal to ours, have added goodness equal to ours.
“So much for 1791, or thereabouts. Now for 1822, or thereabouts. Then came the Spaniards, with their constitution. More modest they than we were. In their view years, during which the state of things and persons would be so sure to continue without change,—not more than four: years, during which matchless goodness would be so sure to continue in union with matchless wisdom, not more than the same number: all this while, provided the body were but called the same, no matter how different the individuals.
“Farewell, for the present at least, my beloved, my now so much more than ever admired, fellow-citizens. I have done what I have felt to be in my power, towards laying the foundation, a necessary foundation for all future good, for remedy to all existing evil. I have blown up (I hope you will think I have) the dead-weight I saw the ground encumbered with,—the no-change principle.”
Rammohun Roy brought to England the following Letter of Introduction to Bentham from a highly valued correspondent:—
“Calcutta, 14th November, 1830.
“My dear and venerable Friend,—
This letter will be presented to you, or transmitted, waiting your leisure, by no less a person than the distinguished Rammohun Roy.
“You have heard of him often from me, and from others, and know that he is one of the most extraordinary productions of the ‘march of intellect.’ A Brahmin of the highest order, and therefore an aristocrat by birth; one of the privileged class, and a man of easy fortune by inheritance; deeply learned in Sanscrit, Arabic, and everything oriental; he has, nevertheless, unassisted, and of himself, been able to shake off prejudice of almost every kind, and to give his natural understanding fair play.
“If I were beside you, and could explain matters fully, you would comprehend the greatness of this undertaking. His going on board ship to a foreign and distant land—a thing hitherto not to be named among Hindoos, and least of all among Brahmins. His grand object, besides the natural one of satisfying his own laudable spirit of inquiry, has been to set a great example to his benighted countrymen; and every one of the slow and gradual moves that he has made, preparatory to his actually quitting India, has been marked by the same discretion of judgment. He waited patiently, until he had, by perseverance and exertion, acquired a little but respectable party of disciples. He talked of going to England from year to year since 1823, to familiarize the minds of the orthodox by degrees to this step, and that his friends might, in the meantime, increase in numbers and in confidence; as it was of the utmost importance to the preservation of his rank and influence with the Hindoo community, who care less about dogmatics than observances, that he should continue one of ‘the Pure,’ and should not be suspected of quitting Hindooism for any consideration of a personal nature. He has externally maintained so much and no more of conformity to Hindoo custom, as his profound knowledge of their sacred books enabled him to justify—relaxing, however, by little and little, yet, however, never enough to justify his being put ‘out of the pale.’ I need not say that in private it is otherwise, and that prejudices of all sorts are duly contemned by our philosopher. But so important does he judge it to the efficacy of his example, and the ultimate success of his honourable mission of experiment, that he should maintain the essentials of his Brahminical sanctity—that even in the flagrant and outrageous act of making this voyage and sojourn, he is contriving to preserve appearances to a certain point, which he considers sufficient to save his Caste, so that on returning, he may resume his influential position against the abuse and calumnious reports which the whole tribe of bigots will not fail to raise against him while in England, and when he comes back. He now judges that the time is come, and that the public mind is pretty well ripe for his exploit; and he embarks in two or three days in the Albion, for Liverpool; where he has friends and correspondents in Cropper Benson, and others of liberal feeling.
“The good which this excellent and extraordinary man has already effected by his writings and example, cannot be told. But for his exertions and writings, Suttee would be in full vigour at the present day, and the influence of the priesthood in all its ancient force; he has given the latter a shake, from which, aided by the education and spirit of bold inquiry gone forth among the rising nations of Hindoos, it never can recover. I need hardly tell you that the liberalism of such a mind is not confined to points of theology or ritual. In all matters involving the progress and happiness of mankind, his opinions are most independent; and he is, withal, one of the most modest men I ever met with, though near fifty years of age; and though he is the most learned and enlightened of his countrymen and nation, and indeed has held that position for the last fifteen or twenty years, and has received praises enough to have turned the head of any other man alive.
“It is no small compliment to such a man that even a Governor-general, like the present, who, though a man of the most honest intentions, suspects every one, and trusts nobody, and who knows that R. M. R. greatly disapproves of many acts of government, should have shown him so much respect as to furnish him with introductions to friends of rank, and political and Indian influence. Either they will find him intractable, and throw him off, or they will succeed in what no one hitherto has succeeded—in beguiling or bending the stranger.
“A stranger, however, he is, and of such sort as has not before appeared among you; and he will stand in need, doubtless, of all the kindness and attention that friends here can procure for him. You have weightier and other matters to occupy you; nor are your habits such as to enable you to be of service to R. M. R. in the ordinary way. Yet I felt assured you would like to see and converse with my Indian friend; and, indeed, I recollect you expressed such a wish. For the rest, you will probably make him over with his credential to our friend, Bowring, and the reprobates,* and Stanhope.
“I most truly rejoice to hear and to see printed proofs that you continue to enjoy your accustomed health, strength, and spirits. No one among all whom you know wishes more truly and earnestly than I, that you may continue to enjoy those blessings for the sake of us all.—Your affectionate and attached friend.”
[* ] Bentham’s Secretaries.