Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

National Assembly. On the same occasion a like distinction was bestowed on a few other distinguished foreigners, who had served the cause of liberty—Wilberforce, Clarkson, Priestley, Washington, Paine.” The September massacres followed. On October 18 the honour was communicated to Bentham, who, in a polite reply, remarked that he was a royalist in London for the same reason that would make him a republican in France, and concluded with a calm argument against the proscription of refugees.” It would be interesting to know how the Convention took the letter of citizen Bentham, their would-be guide and instructor. Next followed the war and the Reign of Terror. Violent measures were repugnant to him; and so we find him writing to a friend on October 31, 1793, expressing his wish that Jacobinism were extirpated. “Never,” comments a friendly critic, “was an adviser more at cross-purposes with the advised. It would be impossible to draw a more striking portrait of the abstract reasoner, whose calculations as to human motives omit all reference to passion, and who fancied that all prejudice can be dispelled by a few bits of logic.” " In reference to the question of national taxation, various plans suggested themselves to him, such as those involving the improvement of the system of patents, the reorganisation of joint-stock companies, etc. In 1793 he offered his services to Dundas, the Home Secretary, for the drafting of statutes; and he incidentally observed that he could legislate for Hindostan, if legislation were wanted there, just as easily as for his own parish. About this time were written and printed (but not published till 1795) two remarkable pamphlets. The first was entitled A protest against law taxes showing the peculiar mischievousness of all imports which aggravate the expense of appeals to justice.* It is an excellent example of our author's best style, of his close, logical, and forcible reasoning; he easily demolishes the object of his hatred. He declares that taxes on commodities for consumption fall on bodies of men fully able to protect themselves, whilst taxes on justice fall on the oppressed and ruined, who are condemned to weep alone in holes and corners. It was calculated that the cost of an action to recover a trifling sum amounted, on the plaintiff's side alone, to about twenty-four pounds; and at the time Bentham launched his criticism, an increase of the taxes on legal proceedings was imminent. Even to those who had the means to pay, urged he, such an imposition was grievous enough; to poorer people it amounted practically to a denial of justice. Magna Carta says that justice shall be denied or sold to no man; whereas to nine-tenths of the people it is denied, and to the remaining tenth it is sold at an unconscionable price. The second pamphlet is Supply without Burden, or escheat vice taxation, being a proposal for the saving of taxes by an extension of the law of escheat, including strictures on the taxes on collateral succession comprised in the budget of 7 December, 1795.” This is also a notable specimen of political argument. In the case of a man dying intestate and leaving only distant relations, Bentham proposed to draw the line at degrees beyond which marriage is permissible. Whilst the laws of succession prescribing the devolution of an intestate's property on members of his family conformed to the principle of utility, the exclusion of more distant relatives would impose no hardship on anyone, and would at the same time add to the resources of the national treasury. Supply without burden, exclaimed Bentham, is victory without blood. In 1796 Bentham urged the desirability of an amicable understanding with France, and suggested that an attempt should be made to achieve that end. He even proposed that he and Wilberforce should be despatched to France to conduct the necessary negotiations. In 1798 we find him corresponding at great length with his friend Patrick Colquhoun, in regard to plans for the amelioration of the metropolitan police system.” The latter, besides issuing numerous pamphlets, had three years before published his noteworthy work, Police of the Metropolis, a valuable source of information, to which subsequent writers have been much indebted. Various other matters occupied Bentham's attention at this time; of which the most important was the question of the poor laws. In the latter half of the eighteenth century the poor law was marked by serious maladministration and abuses by justices. The strict principles of the Elizabethan law were gradually relaxed. The labour test was being set aside, and outdoor relief in money was given to the able-bodied as well as to the infirm. The workhouses were managed badly. Gilbert's Act, 1782, intended as a palliative to relieve the distress caused by the recent war, recognised outdoor relief, ignored the workhouse test, and therefore conduced greatly to engender pauperism. The government had come to look upon the poor laws as a means of preventing discontent from developing into despair and revolution. In 1795 poor rates were used to supplement wages, —a practice which of course brought about an enormous rise in the amount of poor rates levied. Measures that were palpably ill-advised were favoured, even by responsible ministers. In 1796 Pitt actually introduced a bill proposing to supply cows to respectable paupers. But this project was afterwards abandoned, owing chiefly to the forcible criticism of Bentham, who was almost the only one to grasp the entire condition of things, to detect the defects, and suggest feasible remedies. The manuscript of his brilliant Observations 1 on the bill had been submitted to its promoter (early in 1797), who was no doubt enlightened by the luminous argument. (It appears that the manuscript remained unpublished till 1838, when Edwin Chadwick, the able poor law commissioner, had it printed as a pamphlet for private circulation.) Bentham denounced alike plans favouring “equalisation,” and those savouring of “sentimentalism.” He insisted on a rigid application of the labour test, the separation of incorrigible vagrants from the “deserving ” poor susceptible of improvement by educational processes, and the alteration of the settlement system, which, first devised in 1674, had prevented the emigration of superfluous labour from over-populated districts. As usual, he was not satisfied to remain a merely destructive critic. In the autumn of 1797 he made public a scheme, Succedaneum to Pitt's Poor Bill, which appeared in Arthur Young's Annals of Agriculture.” He suggested that a uniform national system should be established under the control of a non-official board, acting on a contractual basis (as in the Panopticon scheme), that beggars and other vagrants should be placed in workhouses and made to work, unless they could find security that they would engage in labour elsewhere, that “Frugality Banks" should be organised, and the transfer of small sums from place to place facilitated. In everything his wonderfully fertile mind descended to the utmost details, even suggesting, for example, the materials of which paupers' beds should be made. And despite the impracticability of some of his multitudinous suggestions, he remains one of the most eminent pioneers—as is shown clearly by the provisions of the Act of 1834—of poor law reform, and the source whence ideas and plans were afterwards derived for many relative institutions. “. . . His ideas as to the treatment of paupers,” says Sir John Macdonell, “are marvellous, considering the time when they were propounded, and the dangerous nonsense which was in fashion among his contemporaries.” " Next Bentham helped in the drafting of a bill, which eventually became the Thames Police Act, 1800. He also prepared a scheme for the prevention of forgeries. In November 1800 he contributed a letter to Cobbett's Peter Porcupine, on the most convenient method of taking the census; and the authorities availed themselves of some of the hints thrown out by him. Further, he made a proposal for converting stock into Annuity Notes, which would be better than the Exchequer Bill system, and which would confer a benefit also on small holders. Now we come to an important date—1802—in Bentham's career. For over a quarter of a century he had been pursuing the occupation of author and social reformer. He had met some of the leading politicians, writers, and philanthropic workers of the time; his name was known also abroad; and he had certainly made his mark. But his reputation was not yet by any means widespread. He avoided society, preferring to live the retired life of a literary hermit; he was satisfied with a limited circle of friends, including men like Wilson and Romilly, themselves of retiring disposition. To Fox he declined to be introduced, on no other ground than that he had “nothing particular to say” to the distinguished statesman; and he thought that to be “always a sufficient reason for declining acquaintance.”? However, the era of Bentham's fame was now to begin. And the initial impetus was due to the former Genevese pastor. We have already seen how Dumont was introduced to Bentham, whose manuscripts captivated his attention. By his zealous care he was able, in the spring of 1802, to give to the world the remarkable Traités de legislation civile et pénale, in three volumes issued at Paris. The work was in part a translation of Bentham's unpublished manuscripts and of some of his published writings, and partly also a clear, systematic, logically arranged exposition in Dumont's own simpler language of the legislative doctrines advocated by the great apostle of utilitarianism. It comprised “Principes du code civil,” “Principes du code pénal” (which will be analysed in a later chapter), “Principes de législation,” and other matters. It was in fact a comprehensive survey of a wide field, hitherto but little examined, and never with such insight and originality. English jurisprudence—European and American, too —is greatly indebted to Bentham's ideas. Many ameliorations in the modern system of law and legal administration are directly traceable to the reasoning of the hermit of Queen's Square Place. His point of view was wellnigh revolutionary. He thrust aside the mere technicalities of law, the factitious and irrational maxims, masquerading as creatures of enshrined wisdom, he put away the fictions so beloved of the judicial pedant, and rejected those unreal phantasmal entities of law as being an obsession destructive of the true interests of the community. To him law was no mystery, but a simple, intelligible, practical means to a realisable end. A particularly valuable portion of the work is his treatment of the foundations of penology. At a time when what is now rightly considered a petty offence was punishable with death, it needed no little daring to urge openly, vigorously, persistently, doctrines of a revolutionary character. What kind of doctrines these were and the nature of the proposed transformation we shall see later. The success of this publication was immediate and extraordinary. Copies soon found their way to many lands and to the most distant shores. When Dumont visited St. Petersburg in the following year, he sent home enthusiastic accounts of Bentham's increasing reputation.” The work had a considerable. circulation in Russia, where digests and codes were in course of preparation; and it was thought Bentham's treatise would furnish therefor the essential guiding principles. A Russian translation too was ordered. The book was taken up in Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, United States, and even South America; and in all these countries legislators and draftsmen sought aid from the Traités. Bentham quickly acquired renown, and came to be classed with Bacon, Newton, and Adam Smith— “each the founder of a new science.” ” In our own country there were carping critics and prejudiced opponents. The Edinburgh Review in an article on the work treated it—to use the words of Dumont—with “scandalous irreverence.” ” The re

* Works, vol. x, p. 281. * Ibid., p. 282. * Stephen, op. cit., vol. i., p. 199. * Works, vol. ii, pp. 573-583.

* Works, vol. ii, pp. 585–598. * Vol. x, p. 329.

* Works, vol. viii, pp. 440–461. * Cf. Tracts on Poor Laws and Pauper Management, in Works, vol. viii, pp. 361-431.

* Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. Bentham. * Works, vol. x, p. 62.

* Works, vol. x, pp. 406, 410, 413. * Cf. ibid., p. 419. * Ibid., p. 415.

« AnteriorContinuar »