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a political writer, in a pamphlet (Remarks on the principal acts of the thirteenth parliament of Great Britain) which defended the acts of ministers in regard to the American colonies. Bentham states that he was prejudiced against the Americans by reason of their fallacious arguments, and that from the first he regarded the Declaration of Independence as a hodge-podge of confusion and absurdity, in which what ought to be proved is throughout taken for granted." It is at about this time, when Bentham was twenty-six years old, that he says his was “truly a miserable life.”” But his mind was now concentrated on his great project. He was busy in 1776 with what he called his capital work, under the originally intended title, The Critical Elements of Jurisprudence;” and here, in the first important example of independent authorship, we already see how his literary labour was constantly interrupted and distributed. Before completing one work, he would start another, and before he got far with this he would take up a third, and so on continuing to the end in a seemingly capricious manner. In reality, he was anxious to make sure of his ground. A doubtful point in the composition of a treatise would bring him for the time being to a standstill, and soon after he would commence a more comprehensive work on the same subject, leading up to and solving what was before doubtful. Sometimes the finished manuscripts were kept by him for two or three years before they were printed, and sometimes, again, their publication was delayed for a period after the printer's work was at an end. Moreover, most of his considerable productions were not published by himself, but were left to the zealous care of friends and disciples, who not infrequently transcribed the materials, rewrote, edited, arranged them, and prepared them for printing and publication. Consequently, in relating the history of his works a certain overlapping of dates is inevitable. Thus, before finishing The Critical Elements of Jurisprudence he began the composition of his noteworthy Fragment on Government, published it, then returned to the former, worked at it for some time, collected materials for something else, then had The Critical Elements of Jurisprudence printed in 1780, but did not publish it till 1789. And this promiscuous activity was occasionally still more varied by his engaging in quite different work, which, no doubt, offered an acceptable diversion—as, for example, the translation in 1777 of some of Marmontel's Contes Moraux. When he commenced writing The Critical Elements
* Works, vol. x, pp. 57, 63. * Ibid., p. 84.
*A convenient bibliography of Bentham's works will be found in A. Siegwart, Bentham's Werke und ihre Publikation (Bern, 1910). A brief classification of his
works, based on a method of arrangement adopted by Von Mohl, Staatswissenschaft, iii, 607, is given in Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. Bentham, ad fin.
of Jurisprudence he was twenty-eight years of age; and he now
describes himself as seeking and picking his way, overcoming prejudice and nonsense, making a little bit of discovery here, another there, and endeavouring to put the little bits together. The Fragment on Government,” published anonymously in 1776, was a remarkable and incisive criticism of Blackstone's Commentaries, and more particularly of his views on government. In many respects the year 1776 was a memorable one. With the American Declaration of Independence it marked the inauguration of a new political epoch, and offered a striking example of the fermentation and the more or less visible revolt that were being manifested in many parts of the world. The publication of Gibbon's first volume of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire signalised a departure in historical science, and the issue of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations constituted a conspicuous landmark in the sphere of economic speculation. Bentham's volume, though it did not create such a profound impression, vigorously proclaimed the necessity to apply scientific methods to problems of government and legislation. The main object of the author was to show Blackstone's hostility to reform, and to lay bare the confusion, the errors, and the fallacies in which the whole of the vaunted Commentaries abounded. Bentham had in his earlier days noted the Oxford professor's illogical reasoning, sophistry, and disregard of facts in his endeavour to establish his antiquated theories; and now the critic's esteem was by no means increased for one who, he thought, was “always eager to hold the cup of flattery to the lips of high station.” “In the course of a life,” says Sir R. K. Wilson,” “which had been divided between the society of an Oxford college and practice as a barrister, Blackstone had acquired a considerable store of miscellaneous erudition, a mastery of elegant language, and ideas in some points of really enlarged benevolence, together with a marvellous faculty for putting plausible glosses on ugly facts, sometimes for making words supply the want of facts, and for flattering or coinciding with the characteristic weaknesses of the society among which he moved. It was the fruit which might naturally have been expected from a system of university education which began with perjury, which offered its chief prizes for exercises in adulation, which systematically repressed every movement towards independent inquiry, and while subordinating substance to ornament, ended by doing almost as little for the latter as for the former.” Bentham's Fragment, which is singularly free from those terminological excesses and stylistic blemishes that mark his later works, is an excellent specimen of a polemical treatise. It makes a firm stand against the prevailing theories in politics and jurisprudence, so imbued with formalism and unmindful of reality, and seeks to cut away the bonds of tradition and authority. War is declared against the “Demon of Chicane,” as well as against “Judge and Co.” Blackstone's doctrine of a compact between king and people, ignoring as it did the cabinet and the complete transformation in the relations between sovereign and parliament, was dissected and shown to contain more fiction and verbiage than reality; and to all this as well as to the ideal schemes of mixed government, lauded by him and acclaimed also by Montesquieu, the critic applies his crucial test of utility, of general happiness, and triumphantly shows the underlying fallacy and absurdity of the entire flimsy fabric of the academic apologist. The anonymous publication was at first foolishly attributed by some to Lord Mansfield, by others to Lord Camden, by others again to Dunning (afterwards Baron Ashburton). It was pirated in Dublin; and most of the five hundred copies were sold, though without profit to the author. Attacks and denunciations were, of course, provoked." When Bentham heard that Wedderburn described the book as “dangerous,” he wondered how utility could be dangerous. On later reflection he concluded that the explanation of this puzzle was that what is useful to the governed is not necessarily useful to the governors. Mansfield was reported to have said that in some parts the author of the Fragment was awake, and in others asleep. Bentham thereupon suggested that perhaps he was thought to be awake in the parts where Blackstone, the object of Mansfield's personal “heart-burning,” was assailed, and asleep when Mansfield's own despotism was threatened. Camden expressed contempt for the author; Dunning only “scowled ” at him; and Barré (afterwards paymastergeneral under Lord Shelburne), soon after receiving a copy of
* Works, vol. i. pp. 221–295. * History of Modern English Law (London, 1875), pp. 134, 135.
the book, returned it, saying he had “got into a scrape.”
In 1775–6 Bentham was examining the fundamental principles
... of penology, and wrote his Rationale of Punishments and Rewards.
But, conformably to the author's peculiar ways explained above, it remained in manuscript form for some thirty-five years, and was first published at Paris by Dumont in 1811, under the title of Théorie des peines et des récompenses. In the English form it did not appear till 1825. In 1778 appeared his pamphlet entitled View of the Hard Labour Bill, in reference to a bill 1 introduced into parliament by William Eden (afterwards Lord Auckland), who had had the approval and assistance of Blackstone. In his tract Bentham applies the fundamental principles of his penological theory to the examination of the legislative scheme on the one hand, and to the organisation of a regular penitentiary system on the other. The plan of the architecture and management of a convict prison set forth in the bill was subjected to a severe criticism. It seems that Blackstone afterwards sent the critic a note describing the tract as “ingenious,” and adding “ that some of the observations had already occurred to the patrons of the bill, and many more were well deserving their attention.” The measure was passed in 1779, empowering the building of two penitentiaries, under the supervision of three superintendents. Howard, John Fothergill (physician and Quaker philanthropist), and Whatley (the treasurer of the Foundling Hospital) were appointed to carry out the experiment. A site was at first selected at Battersea, about which they were unable to agree; and on the death of Fothergill in December 1780, Howard resigned. The failure of this project led subsequently to Bentham's elaboration of his extraordinary “Panopticon” scheme, which, as we shall see later, involved its ingenious contriver in a great disaster. The publication of the Fragment on Government is noteworthy, in Bentham's life, for more than its trenchant onslaught on the Blackstonian theory. It attracted the attention of Lord Shelburne (afterwards Marquess of Lansdowne), whose friendship Bentham secured, and on whom the writer's influence was henceforth very great. Lord Shelburne sought out the author, in 1781, at his chambers in Lincoln's Inn; and the relationship thus established was regarded by the latter as a compensation for his failure at the bar. “He raised me,” said Bentham, “from the bottomless pit of humiliation. He made me feel I was something.” The same year Bentham, thus restored to good humour and spirits, paid a visit to Bowood, where he met some of the leading notabilities of the time, such as young William Pitt and his elder brother Lord Chatham, Lord Camden, Dunning, Colonel Barré and others. Pitt, then twenty-two years of age, was afterwards described by Bentham as a very good-natured fellow, but a little raw, showing in his conversation nothing of the orator. “I was monstrously frightened at him,” he observes, “but when I came to talk with him, he seemed frightened at me.” ” (The author himself was then thirty-three.) Lord Camden, the ex-Lord Chancellor, was, in the view of Bentham, a hobbledehoy and devoid of polished manners, the tone of his address being marked by “coldness and reserve.” Dunning (the future Lord Ashburton), who had held the office of Solicitor-General, was regarded by him as a narrow-minded man and a mere lawyer. Bentham was nothing if not critical. He did not see what ideas he could have in common with these politicians. “All the statesmen,” he thought, “were wanting in the great elements of statesmanship ’’; they were always discussing “what was,” and never, or seldom, “what ought to be.” ” It appears that sometimes they made a little fun of the shy and sensitive guest.” The ladies, however, were very considerate to him. Shelburne made him read his “dry metaphysics” to them; * and they evidently bore the —to them—novel infliction with truly feminine submission. Lady Shelburne, in particular, showed herself favourably disposed to him. She even allowed him the “prodigious privilege " of admission to her dressing-room; and though outwardly haughty, she was in reality mild enough to indulge in “innocent gambols” with her sister Lady Mary Fitzpatrick (wife of Stephen Fox, afterwards Lord Holland). Occasionally he wrote letters to the ladies “in the tone of elephantine pleasantry natural to one who was all his life both a philosopher and a child.” “ It is especially worthy of note, as a fact throwing light on Bentham's real character and disposition, that in her last illness he was one of the only two men she would see; and that after her death (1789) he was the only man to whom her husband (then Lord Lansdowne) turned for consolation.
* See infra, chap. ii, sect. ii.