Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

preferred a retired life to a political career. Bentham accepted the reply with frankness and in a friendly manner. In March 1792 his father died, leaving his property equally to his two sons. Jeremy's portion consisted of the house, etc., at Queen's Square Place, Westminster, and of landed estate producing some five or six hundred pounds a year. For the remainder of his long life—save for a short period—he lived at Queen's Square Place. He particularly delighted in the garden, which contained the small house once occupied by Milton.” And now, thanks to his augmented income and to the engineering skill of his brother, he was ready to set forth his penitentiary views in the form of the grand Panopticon plan. For a long time Bentham had been interested in prison reform, which the self-sacrificing labours of John Howard had so forcibly shown to be a matter of urgent necessity. (After the American Declaration of Independence transportation to America had, of course, become impossible.) With respect to Howard's writings on prisons, Bentham thought they supplied a rich fund of materials, but that a quarry was not a house; they contained rules or suggestions for prescribing rules, and various recommendations the reason of which was not always apparent, but there were no fundamental principles, and no systematic order. “My venerable friend,” he continued, “was more usefully employed than in arranging words and sentences; his kingdom was a better world—the labours of the legislator or the writer are as far below his as earth is below heaven.” ” We have already referred to the attempt at some solution made by Blackstone and Eden's bill (1778), the criticism of Bentham (1779), and the early failure of the project (1780). Bentham now hoped to solve the problem with his unique scheme, providing for the erection of an extraordinary house of detention. He first got his idea of such an “inspection house ’’ during his stay with his brother in Russia. A building of this character had been planned by the latter to facilitate the superintendence of his Russian shipwrights; and Bentham apparently thought there was but little difference between shipwrights working voluntarily for pay and convicts working compulsorily in penal servitude. Why should not, then, a similar plan be applied to prison organisation? Numerous letters were at once despatched to his friends in England on the subject, and after his return it occupied his attention for many years, and provoked a good many tracts, pamphlets, discussions, communications with friends, statements and appeals to members of parliament, and to the ministers concerned, and even to the king himself. Bentham was very sanguine as to the results of his project. He begins one of his writings on the subject thus: “Morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused, public burthens lightened, economy seated as it were upon a rock, the Gordian knot of the poor laws not cut but untied, all by a simple idea in architecture.” ” In 1791 he printed an account of the Panopticon,” and sent a description of it to George III. It was to be a circular or polygonal building, containing cells on every story of the circumference, and so arranged that by means of a number of reflectors every part could be visible from the centre. The inspector, occupying a lodge in the centre, and concealed from the prisoners, would himself be able to see them all and give directions without having to quit his post—an arrangement calculated to beget “the sentiment of an invisible omniscience.” In addition to this architectural conception of central superintendence, Bentham made a proposal for contract management, as opposed to trust administration, conformably to his theory described by him characteristically as the “interest-and-duty-junction-prescribing ” principle. That is, a contractor was to undertake the maintenance of the prisoners at a fixed sum per head, and keep for himself whatever profits might accrue from their labour, the nature of which was left to his choice. As the amount of profits would depend, to a large extent, on the orderliness and industry of the prisoners, the governor would therefore teach them the most profitable trades, and give them a part of the profits as an inducement to diligent labour. Thus he would combine in his own person the characters of magistrate, inspector, manager of a manufactory, and head of a family. Further, the manager was to insure the lives and safe custody of all who were placed in his charge; in other words, he would be liable to pay a sum for every one, beyond a certain average, lost to the prison by death or by escape. Finally, to emphasise the responsibility of the director and keep a check on his doings, authorised magistrates were to have access at all times to the Panopticon, and the public at certain hours. This was the essential organisation that was to achieve the glorious objects so hopefully contemplated by our ingenuous author Forwarding a copy of the scheme to his friend Brissot in Paris, he described his Panopticon penitentiary as “a mill for grinding rogues honest, and idle men industrious.” . When Burke was shown the plan he turned towards its author, saying: “Yes, there's the keeper—the spider in his web!” Dr. Parr—a sort of Whig Johnson—who was, in the words of Romilly, Bentham's “profound admirer and universal panegyrist,” did his utmost to obtain the sympathy of Charles James Fox with the scheme and the author. Pitt also was favourably impressed; he examined the models at Bentham's house, and promised to secure a practical trial for the project.” In March 1792 Bentham laid a proposal before the government, offering to undertake the custody of a thousand convicts on the Panopticon system. Parliament viewed the scheme with favour, and passed an Act in 1794 * which adopted it, and sanctioned the acquiring of sites for penitentiary houses. Meantime Bentham had been making preparations; and though his income was less than six hundred pounds, he had spent by September I794, as he said,” six thousand pounds, and continued to spend at the rate of two thousand a year. The government made him a grant of two thousand pounds, which was required to keep together the men he employed. His brother Samuel had designed machinery for working in wood and in metal. Instead of working a steam-engine it was thought best to utilise the hands of ...) victs, and so to combine business with philanthropy. Next came, difficulties in getting a suitable site; the one obtained under the provisions of the Hard Labour Act of 1779 being for some reason rejected. Bentham was almost in despair. Wilberforce had throughout stood by him; and his zeal and sympathy were a striking contrast to the procrastination of Pitt and the illmannered conduct of lesser men. The great abolitionist, in an entry in his diary, 1795, described “poor Bentham ” as “dying of sickness of hope deferred.” In 1797 a committee was appointed, which received evidence as to the Panopticon from Bentham's friend, Patrick Colquhoun (a notable London police-magistrate, devoted to reform), and a report in its favour was proposed by a friend of Samuel Bentham. Accordingly, two years later a site was bought by Jeremy for twelve thousand pounds at Millbank;

* Works, vol. xi, p. 81. * Vol. iv, p. 121.

* Works, vol. iv, p. 39. * Vol. i. pp. 498–503.

* Vol. x, p. 226. * As to the Panopticon penitentiary, see further infra, chap. iv, sect. iii, in fin. * 34 Geo. III, c. 84. * Works, vol. x, p. 301.

I

but the warrant for the remaining sum of one thousand pounds (to buy out the tenant of one piece of land) never came, as the king had refused the sign manual to complete the purchase. For a time Bentham struggled on, making appeals in every promising quarter, but in vain. Finally, in 1811 a committee reported against the entire scheme, intended to confer on private individuals such wide powers as the control of education, and the liberty to impose permanent marks on the inmates for personal identification, and especially condemned the principle of drawing profit from the labour of prisoners. Indeed, both in gaols and workhouses “farming ” had led to gross abuses. A different plan was therefore recommended, which resulted in the establishment of the Millbank penitentiary (1816). Bentham's disappointment may well be imagined. Through the dilatory measures of officialdom, through the unbusinesslike methods of the authorities in allowing him to go so far and implicate himself in great expenditure and liability, Bentham found himself left in the lurch and impoverished. “Never was anyone worse used than Bentham,” wrote Wilberforce; “I have seen tears run down the cheeks of that strong-minded man through vexation at the pressing importunity of creditors and the insolence of official underlings, when, day after day, he was begging at the Treasury for what was, indeed, a mere matter of right. How indignant did I often feel when I saw him thus treated by men infinitely his inferiors.” However, in 1813 Bentham received a sum of twenty-three thousand pounds as compensation for his heavy losses. “Oh! how grating,” exclaimed he, “how odious to me is this wretched business of compensation! Forced after twenty years of oppression—forced to join myself to the Baal-peor of blood-suckers, and contribute to the impoverishment of that public to which, in the way of economy, as well as so many other ways, I had such well-grounded assurance of being permitted to render some signal service.” Notwithstanding the opposition he met with, and his complete failure to realise his longcherished project, he none the less wrote a defence of it, of which part was published under the title of History of the War between Jeremy Bentham and George the Third. By one of the Belligerents." Bentham believed that the scheme failed chiefly because of the king's dislike for him. “As to the criminally offending part of the nation,” he writes sardonically in a passage that will give some indication of the effects of his disappointment, “no tamer of elephants had a better-grounded anticipation of the success of his management than I had of mine, as applied to the offending school of my scholars. Learned and right honourable judges I would not then have undertaken—I would not now undertake— to tame; learned gentlemen in full practice I would not have undertaken to tame; noble lords I would not have undertaken to tame; honourable gentlemen I would not have undertaken to tame. As to learned judges under the existing system, I have shown to demonstration . . . that (not to speak of malevolence and benevolence) the most maleficent of the men whom they consign to the gallows is, in comparison with those by whom this disposition is made of them, not maleficent, but beneficent.” Although Bentham's expectations were frustrated, it must be admitted—and we shall see this more clearly in a subsequent chapter—that he remains one of the greatest pioneers of prison reform, and a worthy successor to the immortal Howard. The Panopticon scheme had by no means monopolised our author's attention. Indeed, the decade 1790–1800 was one of the most fertile periods of his literary activity, and saw the production of some of his most notable works. In 1792 he wrote Truth v. Ashhurst, or Law as it is contrasted with what it is said to be,” which was a trenchant review, in the form of a running commentary, of the constitutional doctrines laid down by Mr. Justice Ashhurst in a charge to the grand jury of Middlesex. In his panic-stricken aversion from the French Revolution, the judge had eulogised the English laws; and his charge had been published under the auspices of the then Constitutional Association and widely circulated. Bentham's resolute hostility to Jacobin methods did not in the least lessen his antagonism to English superstitions and effete traditions: “Why is it,” he asks, “that in a court called a court of equity, they keep a man his whole life in hot water, while they are stripping him of his fortune?” To urge reforms publicly at this time, especially in the pungent language of the vigorous critic, was rash; so that the pamphlet was not published till some thirty years later. It was Romilly who had counselled discretion, and thus helped, as he did on other. occasions, to avert disaster so carelessly courted by Bentham. In August 1792 the honour of French citizenship was, on the motion of his friend Brissot, conferred on him by the expiring

* Works, vol. xi, p. 96.

* Works, vol. v., pp. 231 seq.

« AnteriorContinuar »