Front Page Titles (by Subject) Bentham to Earl Spencer. (Extracts.) - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 11 (Memoirs of Bentham Part II and Analytical Index)
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Bentham to Earl Spencer. (Extracts.) - 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 Earl Spencer.
“August 16, 1793.
“No doubt but that the effect of such an alienation upon the value of the rest of your lordship’s property in that neighbourhood, is an object that has as strong a claim to consideration, as the amount of the price obtainable for that particular part; nor should I be at all surprised, if that effect should at first blush be apprehended to be prejudicial. For my own part, I have no such apprehensions: nor will your lordship, I hope, when the particulars of the plan, as far as this question is concerned, have been more fully laid before you. The persons of the prisoners will be altogether out of sight, not only of any house at present existing, but of any house that can ever be built upon any other part of your lordship’s estate. The whole thousand will be enclosed in a single building of 140 feet diameter: that building, so far from being an eyesore, will, I hope, I may venture to say, be an ornament to the neighbourhood; not less than the rotunda at Ranelagh is, to which it will have a considerable degree of resemblance.
“It will be completely enclosed by walls, with guard-houses on the outside, occupied by guards, who by the height of their situation will be enabled to observe, not only what is doing within, but what is doing without, to a considerable distance; who of course can be sent to, or even called to, at a much greater distance than the situation of the ground and other objects may, in every instance, admit of their commanding with their eye: and who of course will have orders to lend their aid at all times, and during the night time more especially, to put a stop to any misdemeanour that may be attempted within the circle of their cognizance, and to apprehend the authors: I say, during the night time; for the plan of management requires the walling to be well lighted all round, without as well as within. The neighbourhood, therefore, being watched and guarded, and even in some degree lighted, at the expense of the establishment, will, instead of suffering in point of security, be greatly benefited. On the other side of each of the two roads which bound the premises on the east and on the west, the land, I observe, is occupied by gardeners, whose ground, as such, being unenclosed by walls, must at present be in a considerable degree exposed to depredations. These grounds would receive an immediate benefit by the protection afforded them by the watch-houses.
“Though I am not at present in the Commission of the Peace, yet having been bred to the bar, and having succeeded about a year and a half ago to the estate of my late father, who was in the Commission for two counties, I may, without much presumption, suppose it not unlikely that, if I thought fit (and in such a situation I should think fit) to have my name inserted for Surrey, it would not be rejected; and in that case, and in that situation, I may leave it to your lordship to judge whether the neighbourhood would be likely to find me negligent of their service.
“Before I quit the subject of security, give me leave to assure your lordship, that any further measures, which might suggest themselves to your lordship in this view, would not find me backward in adopting them; nor is it a small expense that would prevent me.
“So much with regard to security.—Is the establishment likely to present anything disgustful or unpleasant to the neighbourhood?—Your lordship may soon judge.—Adopting, in their fullest energy, the ideas of Howard with regard to the importance of publicity, it is part of my plan, as your lordship may have observed, and indeed the main pillar of it, to give the establishment such a face as may attract to it persons of all classes, but particularly of the superior ranks of life, whose inspection, as such, would afford the most powerful check to mismanagement: on Sunday, in particular, it would be my endeavour to render it, by means of the chapel which is enclosed in the centre of the building, a sort of place of public entertainment suitable to the day, like that afforded by the Magdalen, and the Asylum. Your lordship will judge how far it would be possible to carry on any such plan, if the establishment, or anything belonging to it, were ever suffered to be in the smallest particular an object of disgust.
“It is in that view, as well as in the view of making the residence to which I have doomed myself the more comfortable, that I should make a point of giving to the place, considered at large, what embellishment it may be susceptible of: nor does it appear to me that it would be a departure from the true spirit of the institution, if, while with reference to the class of persons for whose correction it is designed, it is seen to have the properties of a prison, and an establishment for forced labour—to the neighbourhood, and to the passengers it should wear the aspect of a Ferme ornée.
“Allow me here to represent to your lordship how much reason the neighbourhood will have to rejoice at the change of plan which, in the room of three men of rank, subject to no control but what has reference to the prosperity of the establishment itself, and they not resident, substitutes a single individual like myself. By an article which I took care to insert, I am subjected, as your lordship may have observed, to be removed or censured by the Court of King’s Bench in a most summary way, at a minute’s warning: and by the terms of that article, should I ever recede from any of my engagements, whether as to those points in which the neighbourhood, as such, would be interested, or any other, there is not that individual so obscure, who might not make his appearance in court, in person, and without any expense, and, face to face, call me to account for the failure.
“But along with the good company (it may be supposed) may come bad: and will come, were it only to visit their friends in durance.—No such thing, my lord. See them they may, indeed, but not hold the smallest converse with them, unless I please: such is the construction of the building. No man who does not come decently clad, will be admitted: every man will be liable to be searched, were it only that he may not conceal any instruments of hostility or escape: every man will be liable to be questioned as well as searched, if I or mine see cause: nor can any man get in at all, without presenting himself to his examiners. To the officers of the police the establishment will be open of course, and thither they will come at times not foreknown, if there be any prospect of prey, while to a malefactor who is once within my gates, escape will be impossible. Under these circumstances will a man, whose conscience accuses him of a crime, come and plunge into the net?—Impossible. He has everything to fear, he has nothing to gain by it.—In Newgate and other prisons, upon the common footing, containing criminals as yet untried, men of similar characters cannot be excluded, because, before trial, no man may be precluded from concerting his defence with whomsoever may present themselves in the character of his friends: neither can they be subjected to examination in the way of questioning, because such examination would be inconsistent with the freedom of admission which is deemed essential to that purpose. No, my lord—the last place in which a felon at large will think of trusting himself, of his own accord, will be my Penitentiary House.
“Allow me here to mention a circumstance which, in this point of view, may perhaps appear to your lordship tolerably conclusive. If, setting aside the contriver of the plan, one man more than another should be supposed to have a just view of its probable effects in this as well as other particulars, it should be Mr Nepean, who has had so much occasion to consider it. T’other day in conversation—‘I want a little bit of ground,’ says he, ‘in the country, within reach of London, to build a house upon:—do you happen to know of any such thing?’—‘Yes,’ says I, ‘I do: there is a board up, advertising ground to be let on a building lease, close to the premises, just on the other side of one of the roads that bounds them.’—‘Oh—is there?’ says he, ‘then I will go and look at it: it’s just the spot for me: its vicinity to the Panopticon would be a recommendation to me.’
“No wonder, indeed, if people enough should be found, who, hearing that felons were to come among them, as report might say, hearing that it is no great distance, and knowing nothing as yet of those circumstances of the plan which would render that vicinity an advantage instead of a prejudice, no wonder they should be more or less alarmed at it: nor, considering the differences of men’s tempers and casts of character, is it possible to say that there should be nobody who, even after hearing everything that could be urged to dispel such apprehensions, might remain dissatisfied. But in estimating the effects of the measure upon the value of your lordship’s estate, the true question is, as your lordship’s discernment will, I make no doubt, acknowledge, not what may be the notions of a few individuals for a moment, and before the true nature and effects of it can have been known; but what will be the sentiments and feelings of the public in general, after those effects have been indicated by experience. In proportion, therefore, as I may have succeeded in dispelling any apprehensions that may have presented themselves to your lordship at a first glance, previous to a knowledge of the circumstances, in that proportion I shall have succeeded in rendering your lordship indifferent to what may be the apprehensions of the neighbourhood, or anybody else, under the same disadvantage. Will any such apprehensions, supposing them formed, have any duration?—No, my lord—so far from flying from the spot, builders will flock to it, were it only for the benefit of the protection afforded by the guard.
“But let me admit, for argument’s sake, (and it is only for argument’s sake,) that the neighbourhood, and even, in particular, the value of your lordship’s estate would ultimately be rather prejudiced than served by the establishment—will your lordship’s candour allow me to inquire whether, under the particular circumstances of the case, that would be a just motive for opposition, or present, to a person in your lordship’s situation, a prospect of opposing with success?
“The materials for judging have, in some particulars, not presented themselves yet to your lordship’s view: allow me to perform that office.
“Publicity, as I have already observed, is of the very essence of the institution: it is with a special care to that advantage, that the spot in question was made choice of. And by whom made choice of? Not by the supervisors only, but by the most respectable and competent body that could be devised: a body composed of the twelve Judges, with the addition of the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker, and the first Magistrate of the metropolis: of these fifteen, fourteen, (as Mr Bowdler, one of the appointed supervisors, informed me,) or at least thirteen, actually signed the instrument of approbation: and if it went without the signature of the other, or the two others, it was—not because he or they disapproved of it, but because, after so great a majority, the person or persons in question not being on the spot, it was thought not worth while to delay the measure for the sake of adding their signature to the rest.
“Another circumstance may, in this view, be very material for your lordship’s consideration. Before this place occurred, another (not to mention two that are not to the present purpose) had been made choice of: viz. a spot much nearer Wandsworth, and so near, that its vicinity, and the disgust that the inhabitants conceived on that account, (your lordship will remember the plan then in contemplation was one which presented none of the antidotes above stated,) was made a ground of objection. This ground of objection was accepted as conclusive by the very tribunal I am speaking of: such was its becoming tenderness for the feelings of individuals: and by that very same high and considerate tribunal was the choice of the very spot now in question confirmed, without a dissenting voice, as being free from the objection which had put a negative upon the other. The rejection itself appears by the report which I enclose: the reason of it as above stated, (a matter which must be known in the neighbourhood, I mean in Wandsworth,) I had from the supervisors, and the difference is indeed apparent on the face of the present spot. For, my lord, what are the buildings that (except in the way of distant prospect as London may be) are in sight of it? Two or three cottages of no value, and a public house that would make a fortune by the choice. Did your lordship’s agents (I should have said those of the late earl) make any objection then? I never heard they did: but if they did, they were overruled. The choice, your lordship will have the goodness to observe, is not now to be made: it is a res acta: in succeeding to the estate, your lordship found it with this obligation lying upon it. The only questions there can be, (I rely upon your lordship’s goodness for forgiveness, if zeal has betrayed me into error,) the only questions, at least, I can see, are that which regards the time, and that which regards the price: and even this latter was no question, until, out of respect for justice, it was made so by me.
“Your lordship, then, will have the goodness to consider how the case stands, with regard to the place in question. The Penitentiary establishment is determined on by Parliament. The spot for the reception of it, it is determined, shall be a spot in which vicinity to the metropolis, and to the river, should be accompanied with that degree of elevation which is deemed essential to the health of so numerous an assemblage of persons, so subjected to confinement: this decision is given, with respect to the sort of place, by a subsequent committee of the House of Commons, with respect to the individual place. By that same committee, (see the Report of 1784,) in confirmation to that given by the twelve Judges, added to the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker, and the first Magistrate of the metropolis, the measure had already been sanctioned, and the price of the place assessed, under the act of Parliament by the verdict of a jury. An improvement is afterwards devised in this system,—an improvement deemed such in spite of predilection and every personal motive,—by the very persons (for such is their generosity and public spirit) whom it throws out of office. It is deemed such, and as such adopted and patronized by an administration, with whom the author had not the honour of the most distant previous connexion, or any prospect of connexion, whatsoever. This improvement cannot, any more than the original plan, do without a spot to rest upon. The building to be erected, in conformity to this improvement, must then be set down in some neighbourhood, possessed of the above-mentioned advantages. What then is to be done? Shall the establishment be turned off, on account of this improvement, from a more eligible to a less eligible neighbourhood? or, for want of a neighbourhood that might like to receive it, is it to be supposed that an establishment of such public importance will be set aside altogether?
“A prison cannot exist, but it must exist in some neighbourhood: it cannot exist in a town, but it must exist in a crowded neighbourhood,—a neighbourhood beyond comparison more exposed to the objection supposed, than the place in question can be:—is there, then, no such thing as a prison to be built anywhere?
“How was it with regard to the immense House of Correction at Clerkenwell? Is there anything like a reason for apprehending that such a prison as the one proposed, can be more incommodious to the distant inhabitants of Battersea and its neighbourhood, than the actually existing one must be to the inhabitants of the contiguous House of Correction in the crowded neighbourhood of Clerkenwell?
“No man, give me leave to say, my lord, can be more sensible than I am, to the abuses to which the maxim, that private interest should give way to public, is liable, and is but too frequently made subservient—as if the public were made up of anything but individuals: no man who would be more resolutely bent against making himself an instrument of such abuse in any case, and, above all things, in a case where an interest of his own was so visibly concerned: it is a subject I have made a study of, and considered under all its faces. But in the present instance would it be any real injury to any individual?—would there be so much as any real damage? Is the damage, if any, such as can be set in comparison with the public benefit? Does it exist in any assignable shape? Is it of such a nature as to have any claim to indemnification?—Indemnification then it will have.
“With regard to your lordship’s suspicion, that a part of the land in question may prove to be upon lease, I rather think your lordship will find the fact to be otherwise: (not that it is at all material, as your lordship will see presently.) In the course of a visit to the spot, I happened, a short time ago, by accident, and without my seeking, to fall into conversation upon the subject of the Penitentiary plan, with one of your lordship’s tenants; a gardener of the name of Glenie, who did not know the relation I bore to it. Beginning the conversation, (for he avowed a suspicion of me on that score,) he mentioned it as a remarkable circumstance, that no part of the land, either is now upon lease, or has been for these two hundred years. His own part he spoke of as being forty acres: (being the upper part on which the building would be placed,) and he applied the same observation to the remainder in equal quantity, (which agreed exactly with the quantity detailed in the inquest of the jury.) With respect to his own part, I think he can scarcely have been otherwise than correct, in regard to a circumstance in which he was so highly interested; and that is the only part for which I should have occasion, before Parliament had time to do its office.
“I set out with observing, that lease or no lease is immaterial to the present purpose: and so your lordship will find it to be. Why? Because the actual immediate possession is equally out of your lordship’s power as landlord to grant, whether there be or be not a lease, as I well knew: that must depend at any rate upon the occupying tenants. Without their consent, to whom I well knew I must have to apply for it after all, that of the landlord, would, in point of law, be unavailing: since a tenant, styled a tenant at will, is not so far at will, as that he can be removed, or his exclusive possession infringed upon, without a certain interval of notice: and with the consent of the tenant on the other hand, a man might have the use he wanted, were the landlord ever so averse. So far, then, as immediate possession is concerned, it was the respect due to your lordship, and to what appeared to me to be the rules of propriety and decorum, and not any necessity in point of law, that was the motive of my humble application to your lordship, to whose decision in that particular, the same considerations will command my submission: and your lordship will be pleased accordingly to recollect, that in the very sentence in which the request was made, I added, that it was not any formal act that I stood in need of troubling your lordship with, for that the purpose would be equally answered by a simple acquiescence.
“To satisfy your lordship of the concurrence spoken of on the part of the gentlemen who had been appointed supervisors, I take the liberty of enclosing a letter or two just returned by the Archbishop of York, together with one I happened to have by me, expressive of the spontaneous support of a respectable and learned friend, an old connexion of the archbishop’s, and who may not improbably fall within the sphere of your lordship’s acquaintance. I hope the good archbishop will pardon the liberty I may perhaps take of adding his own kind letter to the rest.
“To show your lordship the state of the business in respect of the land in question, I also send a Report of a Committee of the House of Commons of the year 1784. The estimates it contains of the expense, your lordship will be pleased to observe, are for 900 prisoners only, and my house is to contain 1000. Actual expense I believe was scarce ever known not to exceed the estimated, especially in public works; and neither that of furnishing, nor that of stocking, is included. Your lordship will have the goodness to return the Report, as it is not mine but Sir Charles Bunbury’s; (upon second thoughts I fear it must be a copy for the present, the printed original being in Mr Nepean’s office, from which things are not to be got in a hurry.) Give me leave to add, that though this is the last public testimony of the Penitentiary system’s having been kept in mind, (and, consequently, the land that had been appropriated to it,) yet it never actually has been out of the mind of Administration. It was not more than a twelvemonth before my plan in its original shape had been sent to Mr Pitt that the late Mr Blackburn, the architect, had an audience of him on that subject, as well as of the then Lord Chancellor, as Blackburn himself told me.”