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PART II JEREMY BENTHAM (1748–1832)

CHAPTER I
BENTHAM's LIFE AND LITERARY ACTIVITY

IN the preceding essay we have seen the nature of the relationship of Beccaria's life and work to the continental movement, and the indebtedness of Bentham to his predecessor. We have seen what a great effect was produced by a slender volume issued anonymously by a young man, shrinking from contact with the world, and to what extent the success it achieved was due to the circumstances of the time and to the intrinsic worth of the treatise. Now the continental reform movement, accelerated by the efforts of men like Montesquieu, Beccaria, Voltaire, Rousseau, and the Encyclopaedists, is represented in England by a reform movement that was urged on by the herculean efforts of Bentham, whose marvellous series of writings, destined to accomplish so much in England, occupies—though it is the creation of one man—no mean place by the side of the whole collected body of kindred works produced by a host of continental writers. Of such a man as Bentham, of such works as his, we cannot know too much. Jeremy Bentham was born in Red Lion Street, Houndsditch, on February 15, 1748 (new style). His great-grandfather seems to have been, in the time of Charles II, a prosperous pawnbroker in the City of London; and there both his grandfather and his father, Jeremiah, practised as attorneys. It appears that his father was at first a Jacobite, and then became an adherent of the Hanoverian dynasty." His mother, Alicia Grove—the gentlest and most affectionate of women and the most devoted of mothers —was the daughter of a small tradesman at Andover. The marriage of Jeremy's father was always looked upon by his grandparents as a mésalliance and as an unfortunate mistake. Young Bentham showed an extraordinary precocity. Even in his tenderest years his fondness for books was remarkable. On one occasion he was found reading a folio edition of Tindal's translation of Rapin's Histoire d'Angleterre. In his fourth year

* Bentham's Works (Ed. Bowring), vol. x, p. 2

he began Latin; and at the age of five was already known as
“the philosopher.” A year or two later he began French; and
soon Fénelon's Télémaque absorbed his attention, and offered
him an inexhaustible source of pleasure and instruction. This
book, indeed, appears to have had an important formative
influence on his life. In later years he wrote: “That romance
may be regarded as the foundation-stone of my whole character;
the starting-point from whence my career of life commenced.” "
He thought the work had implanted in his mind the seeds of
later moralising; and if he is to be taken literally, he said " he
discovered in it (as, for example, in regard to the discussion in
Crete on the best forms of government) the earliest gleams of the
principle of utility—that potent principle whose uncompromising
application by himself and his disciples, in their criticism and re-
form of institutions, was to contribute so much to the destruction
of the work of generations and to the foundation of a new order
of things. The worthy attorney recognised the early intellectual
power of his young son, and, with an eye on the woolsack, in-
judiciously tried to keep away from him merely amusing books
and to stimulate the unformed mind with serious works; but his
reading was none the less desultory, including history, biography,
and romances, among which were Voltaire's Histoire de Charles
XII and Candide. He also showed early a taste for music; and
at the age of six he could scrape a minuet on the violin. He
frequently visited relatives in the country, where he acquired a
love for gardens and flowers. This attachment to music and
flowers he retained throughout his life, and it proved a source of
joy and relaxation to him in his extraordinary consecration to
literary work. During his early life stories of horrible phantoms
were inflicted on him by the servants of the household—as was
also the case with Romilly. And neither of them had throughout
their lives entirely got rid of the baneful effects. Though their
reason was emancipated from belief in ghosts, their imagination,
by involuntarily conjuring up diabolical visions, sometimes caused
them much torment. Long after in his old age, Bentham, speak-
ing of these fears implanted into his early nature, marked as it
was by nervous susceptibility, would say: “Though my judgment
is wholly free, my imagination is not wholly so.” "
In 1755 he was sent to Westminster School. He was small

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for his age, of delicate health, and of acutely sensitive and nervous disposition. Therefore he was not inclined to take part in the boys' games. But he made rapid progress in his studies, especially in Greek and Latin; he could write letters in Latin before he was eleven. In after years he observed that Westminster represented “hell ” for him—whilst Browning Hill (where his grandmother lived) was his “paradise” — that the instruction there was “wretched,” that the fagging system was a “horrid despotism,” " that his industry, however, enabled him to escape the birch— a notable achievement in those days. Ties of intimacy and companionship he failed to form. In his schoolboy days the world was, apparently, as much a solitude to him as he deliberately chose to make it at times in later life, when he liked to be described as the hermit of Queen's Square Place. His aversion from his fellow-pupils gradually led him to conceive a feeling of contempt for them. One cannot help hazarding the conjecture that had he had a wiser father (rather than one who, as the son himself says, was ever “bragging” of his accomplishments, and was always talking to him and to others of his powers), and a more sensible bringing up, certain extreme inconsistencies in his character, so conspicuously manifested later, might possibly have been prevented: the possession of a really affectionate disposition coupled with a pronounced indifference to the affection of others; the desire of intercourse with such congenial souls as Trail, Wilson, Dumont, Romilly, James Mill and others, added to such a strange indifference as led him to drop them one after another, with but little compunction, and sometimes even with a sneer; the marked egotism and arrogance shown in his serious scientific expositions together with a torrent of imputations on and abuses of others.” On January 6, 1759, his mother died. The following year, at the age of twelve, he matriculated at Queen's College, Oxford. He subscribed to the Thirty-nine Articles with great reluctance; and this act left a painful and enduring impression on him. Notwithstanding certain failings such as those just indicated, he possessed the great fundamental qualities of truth and sincerity. Matters of conscience he took very seriously, and not with the levity of the conveniently accommodating minds of men ready to trim and adapt themselves to the dictates of self-interest. All his life he remembered with

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