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To escape from the imputation of meditating destruction to mankind, a man must disclaim every thing that puts him above the level of a beast.
A plan proposes a wrong end ; or the end being right, proposes a wrong set of means. If this be what a man means, can he not say so ? Would not what he says have somewhat more meaning—be a little more consistent with the principles of common sense—with common honesty—than saying of it that it is theoretical—that it is speculative?
All his writings are a practical commentary upon these views; and we may instance more particularly his Panopticon, and one of his latest productions, a letter addressed to the Commission for Inquiring into the State of the Law of Real Property, on the Subject of a General Register, printed in the Appendix to their Third Report. Not contented with suggesting a general plan of management, he inquires into the most minute financial details, and obviates every, the most trifling, physical obstacle to the realization of his ideas.
These are the qualifications which enabled him to select and store up the materials of thought, and to mature them into comprehensive and sagacious plans : we have now to advert to these characteristics which determined the mode of their enunciation. Nothing can be more absurd than the idea that Bentham’s writings are dry, outré, and repulsive. In virtue of their subject they are not to be understood without the exertion of continuous and painful attention ; but those who are able to bring this power to their perusal will encounter no other difficulty. Bentham devoted his faculties to the elucidation of the science of legislation, and his first great endeavour is to make himself clearly understood. He observes the most strict precision of language. He is technical, for otherwise no man can be accurate ; but his technicalities are based upon scientific views and the nature of his subject, not upon slovenly and meaningless hereditary usage. In treating of details, he keeps constantly in view their reference to the whole structure, and refers to what has been already said, or to what yet remains to be told at every step of his progress. Yet this anxious striving after perspicuity and completeness never interferes with the manly dignity of his nervous style. Beyond any writer of the day, he possesses that most necessary ingredient of true and resistless eloquence, the power of condensing all the bearings of his subject into one brief survey. His words are weighty and imposing as oracles. In his illustrations he evinces a rich flow of fancy, and frequently a quick sense of the beautiful. His flow of humour, when he gives way to it, is worthy of Butler, and his sarcasm is withering. And on every occasion, these powers, which of all are the most apt to run riot and carry away their owner, are kept in the most strict and beautiful subordination to the end they are directed to attain.*
A few specimens of Bentham's style are here added, less by way of justifying what has been said than of inviting attention to the writings, of which they are scarcely fair specimens. The following fine piece of declamation may not unjustly be called the sledge hammer.
Alive to possible-imaginable evils, dead to actual ones, eagle-eyed to future contingent evils, blind and insensible to all existing ones,such is the character of the mind, to which a fallacy such as this can really have presented itself in the character of an argument possessing any the smallest claim to notice. To such a mind, that, by denial and sale of justice, anarchy, in so far as concerns nine-tenths of the people, is actually by force of law established ; and that it is only by the force of mo. rality,-of such morality as all the punishments denounced against sincerity, and all the reward applied for the encouragement of insincerity, have not been able to banish, that society is kept together ;—that to draw into question the fitness of great characters for their high situations, is in one man a crime, while to question their fitness so that their motives remain unquestioned is lawful to another ;—that the crime called libel remains undefined and undistinguishable, and the liberty of the press is defined to be the absence of that security which would be afforded to writers by the establishment of a licenser ;—that under a show of limitation, a government shall be in fact an absolute one, while pretended guardians are real accomplices, and at the nod of a king or a minister by a regular trained body of votes black shall be declared white; miscarriage, success; mortality, health; disgrace, honour; and notorious experienced imbecility, consummate skill ;—to such a mind, these, with other evils boundless in extent and number, are either not seen to be in existence, or not felt to be such. In such a mind, the horror of innovation is as really a disease as any to which the body in which it is seated is exposed. And in proportion as a man is afflicted with it, he is the enemy of all good, which, how urgent soever may be the demand for it, remains as yet to be done; nor can it be said to be completely cured of it, till he shall have learnt to take on each occasion, and without repugnance, general utility for the general end, and, to judge of whatever is proposed, in the character of a means conducive to that end.
* We must be understood as speaking here of Bentham's more finished writings. Even in his Sibylline leaves, however-his rude jottings--the internal lustre of the diamond sparkles through its rough outer coat.
Bentham's power of moral portraiture may be inferred from this passage:
Here and there a man of strong appetites, weak understanding, and stout heart, excepted, it might be affirmed with confidence that the most indigent and most ignorant would not be foolish enough to wish to see a complete dissolution of the bonds of government. In such a state of things, whatsoever he might expect to grasp for the moment, he would have no assured hope of keeping. Were he ever so strong, his strength, he could not but see, would avail him nothing against a momentarily confederated multitude ; nor in one part of his field against a swifter individual rava. ging the opposite part, nor during sleep against the weakest and most sluggish : and for the purpose of securing himself against such continually impending disasters, let him suppose himself entered into an association with others for mutual security; he would then suppose himself living again under a sort of government.
Even the comparatively few who, for a source of subsistence, prefer depredation to honest industry, are not less dependent for their wretched and ever palpitating existence than the honest and industrious are for theirs, on that general security to which their practice creates exceptions. Be the momentary object of his rapacity what it may, what no one of them could avoid having a more or less distinct conception of, is, that it could not exist for him further than it is secured against others.
So far is it from being true, that no Government can exist consistently with such exposure, no good Government can exist without it.
We subjoin the following as a specimen of how his mind could at times revel in grotesque imagery.
According to Bishop Warburton's Alliance, the people in the character of the church, meeting with all themselves in the character of the state, agreed to invest the expounders of the sacred volume with a large share of the sovereignty. Against this system, the lawyers, their only rivals, were estopped from pleading its seditiousness in bar. In Catholic countries, the churchmen who compose holy mother church possess one beautiful female, by whom the people are governed in the field of spiritual law; within which has been enclosed as much as possible of profane law. By Protestants, on holy mother church the title of Whore of Babylon has been conferred : they recognise no holy mother church. But in England, churchmen, a large portion of them, compose two Almæ Matres Academia-kind Mother Academies or Universities. By ingenuity such as this is, out of “lubberly postmasters' boys” in any number, one “ sweet Mrs. Anne Page” is composed, fit to be decked out in elements of amiability to any extent. The object and fruit of this ingenuity is the af. fording protection to all abuses and imperfections attached to this part of the official establishment. Church being so excellent a being, none but a monster can be an enemy, a foe, to her : Monster, i. e. anarchist, Jacobin, leveller, &c.
To every question having reform or improvement in view as to this part of the official establishment, the answer is one and the same“ You are an enemy to the church :" for instance, among others, to such questions as follow : ). What does this part of the official establishment do, but read or give further explanation to one book, of which more explanation has been given already than the longest life would suffice to hear ? 2. Does not this suppose a people incapable of being taught to read ? 3. Would it not be more read if each of them, being able to read, had it constantly by him to read all through, than by their being at liberty some of them to go miles to hear small parts of it ?
Sarcastic bitterness :
There is a particular sort of grin--a grin of malicious triumph-a grin made up of malicious triumph with a dash of concealed foreboding and trepidation at the bot. tom of it--that forms a natural accompaniment of this fallacy, when vented by any of the sworn defenders of abuse : and Milton, instead of cramming all his angels of the African complexion into the divinity school disputing about predestination, should have employed part of them at least in practising this grin, with the corresponding fallacy, before a looking-glass.
Proportioned to the difficulty of persuading men to regard a plan as otherwise than beneficial, supposing it carried into effect, is the need of all such arguments or phrases as present a chance of persuading them to regard it as impracticable : and accord. ing to the sort of man you have to deal with, you accompany it with the grin of triumph, or with the grimace of regret and lamentation.
There is a class of predictions, the tendency and object of which is to contribute to their own accomplishment; and in the number of them is the prediction involved in this fallacy. When objections on the ground of utility are hopeless, or have been made the most of, objections on the ground of practicability still present an addi. tional resource. By these, men who, being convinced of the utility of the plan, are in ever so great a degree well-wishers to it may be turned aside from it : and the best garb to assume for the purpose of the attempt, is that of one who is a wellwisher likewise.
Till the examples are before his eyes, it will not be easy for a man who has not himself made the observation to conceive to what a pitch of audacity political improbity is capable of soaring : how completely, when an opportunity that seems favourable presents itself, the mask will sometimes be taken off ;---what thorough confi. dence there is in the complicity, or in the imbecility of hearers or readers.
Was the feeling of contempt ever more powerfully expressed than in his illustration of the folly of debating the question of Reform with men who, by their solemn oaths, and their desire to maintain their sta. tus in society, are bound to uphold the present system, in all its rottenness?
To a man thus circumstanced, to talk reason would have something ungenerous in it and indecorous ; it would be as if a man should set about talking indecently to his wife and daughter.
Here close we our first lecture on the writings of our great master.
THE HOWDIE.-ANENT BAIRNS.
(Continued from page 714, vol 1.) ALTHOUGH I have not in the foregoing head of my subject mentioned every extraordinary han’ling that came to me, yet I have noted the most remarkable ; and made it plain to my readers by that swatch of my professional work, that it is not an easy thing to be a midwife with repute, without the inheritance from nature of good common sense and discretion, over and above skill and experience. I shall now dedicate this second head, to a make-mention of such things as I have heard and known anent the bairns, that in their entrance into this world, came by the grace of God through my hands.
And here, in the first place, and at the very outset, it behoves me to make an observe, that neither omen nor symptom occurs at a birth, by which any reasonable person or gossip present can foretell what the native, as the unchristened baby is then called, may be ordained to come through in the course of the future. No doubt this generality, like every rule, has an exception; but I am no disposed to think the exceptions often kent-speckle ; for although I have heard many a well-doing sagacious carlin notice the remarkables she had seen at some births, I am yet bound to say that my experience has never taught me to discern in what way a-come-to-pass in the life of the man was begotten of the uncos at the birth of the child.
But while I say this, let me no be misunderstood as throwing any doubt on the fact, that births sometimes are, and have been, in all ages, attended with signs and wonders manifest. I am only stating the truth as it has fallen out in the course of my own experience ; for I never misdoubt that it's in the power of Providence to work miracles and cause marvels, when a child is ordained with a superfluity of head-rope. I only maintain, that it is not a constancy in nature to be regular in that way, and that many prodigies happen at the times of births, of which it would not be a facile thing for a very wise prophet to expound the use. Indeed, my observes would go to the clean contrary; for I have noted that, for the most part, the births which have happened in dread and strange circumstances, were not a hair's.breadth better, than those of the commonest clamjamphry. Indeed, I had a very notable instance of this kind in the very first year of my setting up for myself, and that was when James Cuiffy's wife lay in of her eldest born.
James, as all the parish well knew, was not a man to lead the children of Israel through the Red Sea, nor she a Deborah to sing of butter in a lordly dish; but they were decent folk; and when the fulness of her time was come, it behoved her to be put to bed, and my helping hand to be called for. Accordingly I went.
It was the gloaming when James came for me ; and as we walked o'er the craft together, the summer lightning ayont the hills began to skimmer in a woolly cloud: but we thought little o't, for the day had been very warm, and that fabbing of the fire was but a natural outcoming of the same cause.
We had not, however, been under the shelter of the roof many minutes, when we heard a-far off, like the ruff of a drum or the hurl of a cart of stones tumbled on the causey, a clap of thunder, and then we heard another and another, just like a sea-fight of Royal Georges in the skies, till the din grew so desperate, that the crying woman could no more be heard than if she had been a stone image of agony.
I'll no say that I was not in a terrification. James Cuiffy took to his Bible, but the poor wife needed all my help. At last the bairn was born ; and just as it came into the world, the thunder rampaged, as if the Prince of the Powers of the air had gaen by himself; and in the same minute, a thunder-bolt fell doun the lum, scattered the fire about the house, whiskit out of the window, clove like a wedge the apple-tree at the house-end, and slew nine sucking pigs and the mother grumphy, as if they had been no better than the host of Sennacherib ; which every body must allow was most awful : but for all that, nothing afterwards came to pass; and the bairn that was born, instead of turning out a necromancer or a geni, as we had so much reason to expect, was, from the breast, as silly as a windlestraw. Was not this a plain proof that they are but of a weak credulity who have faith in freats of that kind ?
I met, likwise, not in the next year, but in the year after, nearer to this time, another delusion of the same uncertainty. Mrs. Gallon, the exciseman's wife, was overtaken with her pains, of all places in the world, in the kirk, on a Sabbath afternoon. They came on her suddenly, and she gave a skirle that took the breath with terror from the minister, as he was enlarging with great bir on the ninth clause of the seventh head of his discourse. Every body stood up. The whole congregation rose upon the seats, and in every face was pale consternation. At last the minister said, that on account of the visible working of Providence in the midst of us, yea in the very kirk itself, the congregation should skail: whereupon skail they did ; so that in a short time I had completed my work, in which I was assisted by some decent ladies staying to lend me their Christian assistance; which they did, by standing in a circle round the table seat where the ploy was going on, with their backs to the crying mother, holding out their gowns in a minaway fashion, as the maids of honour are said to do, when the queen is bringing forth a prince in public.
The bairn being born, it was not taken out of the kirk till the minis. ter himself was brought back, and baptized it with a scriptural name; for it was every body's opinion that surely in time it would be a brave minister, and become a great and shining light in the Lord's vineyard to us all. But it is often the will and pleasure of Providence to hamper in the fulfilment the carnal wishes of corrupt human nature. Matthew Gallon had not in after life the seed of a godly element in his whole carcase; quite the contrary, for he turned out the most rank ringing enemy that was ever in our country-side ; and when he came to years of discretion, which in a sense he never did, he fled the country as a soldier, and for some splore with the Session, though he was born in the kirk ;-another plain fact that shows how little reason there is in some cases to believe that births and prognostifications have no natural connexion. Not that I would condumaciously maintain that there is no meaning in signs sometimes, and maybe I have had a demonstration ; but it was a sober advice that the auld leddy of Rigs gave me, when she put me in a way of business, to be guarded in the use of my worldly wisdom, and never to allow my tongue to describe what my eyes saw or my ears heard at an occasion, except I was well convinced it would pleasure the family,
“ No conscientious midwife,” said she, “ will ever make causey-talk of what happens at a birth, if it's of a nature to work dule by repetition on the fortunes of the bairn;" and this certainly was most orthodox, for I have never forgotten her counsel.
I have, however, an affair in my mind at this time ; and as I shall mention no names, there can be no harm done in speaking of it here ; for it is a thing that would perplex a philosopher or a mathematical man, and stagger the self-conceit of an unbeliever.
There was a young Miss that had occasion to come over the moor by herself one day, and in doing so she met with a hurt ; what that hurt was, no body ever heard ; but it could not be doubted that it was something most extraordinar; for, when she got home, she took to her bed and was very unwell for several days, and her een were bleart with greeting. At last, on the Sabbath-day following, her mother foregathert