Liberty Matters

My Dinner with Jeremy

Since our recent exchanges regarding James Mill have been rather high-minded and serious, I want to inject a note of levity, which David Hart’s welcome posting of Bentham’s Auto-Icon prompts me to do.
In 2006 the Bentham Project at University College London sponsored a conference to celebrate the bicentenary of John Stuart Mill’s birth.  I, along with a small contingent of Mill scholars, was asked to attend and to present a paper, which I duly did. The end of the conference was marked by a dinner at UCL. When I entered the dining room I saw the Auto-Icon at the head of a long table. Philip Schofield, director of the Bentham Project, had arranged for me to sit at Bentham’s left and Peter Singer at his right.  “Why am I accorded this singular honor?” I asked Philip. To which he replied, “I’ve known you long enough to surmise that you won’t be bothered by having dinner with a dead man.” I’m not entirely sure that he was correct. It was a bit disconcerting, to say the least.
In his will Bentham stipulated that he, or rather his preserved corpse, be present at all meetings of the UCL College Council. The minutes of these meetings are to include the words, “Mr. Bentham present but not voting.” Not many have his morbid sense of humor. Thank heaven for small favors.