Jeremy Bentham

The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 6: January 1798 to December 1801

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Editor’s Note1326To William Wilberforcec.5–7 May 1798 (Aet 50)

Dear Sir

By the answer of Mr Long (for the Treasury) to the Chairman of the Committee of Finance2 you will find that 'their Lordships have always felt a disposition to carry into effect the Contract intended etc. whenever a proper spot … could be obtained.that Great difficulties have occurred in endeavouring to procure the possession of ground fit for that purpose … and that their Lordships are ready to enter into the Contract with Mr Bentham whenever the preliminary difficulties above referred to are removed.' These difficulties being altogether of the Treasury's own creation, as I had the honour of stating to their Lordships (vivâ voce at the Board held on Tuesday last3) in the most respectful manner but in terms not to be misunderstood (nor was the position attempted to be contraverted) and this sort of readiness having now continued for five years wanting three months, you will judge what degree of assurance I can have pg 28of its not continuing five years longer or untill death or the compleat and notorious ruin of my fortune, or some improper manifestation of impatience on my part, or in short mere lapse of time, shall have furnished some occasion or pretence, for laying the business avowedly and finally on the shelf. The Treasury Answer being thus unsatisfactory upon the face of it, and I being called upon by other Members of the Committee besides Mr Thornton and even urged to come forward and be examined for the purpose of clearing up the mystery, I find myself under a not very comfortable dilemma. If I give the picture [of] the conduct of the Treasury to me in its genuine colours, it exasperates them, they deny everything that has no other proof than my own assertion, and make it a pretence for crushing me: If I keep back any part, or draw a curtain over any part, I forego so much of my title to that protection which the Committee are (I flatter myself) disposed to afford me.

And 'Mr Bentham' (concludes Mr Long after saying that 'Their Lordships are ready to enter into the Contract whenever the preliminary difficulties above referred to are removed') 'And Mr Bentham on his part has always expressed his readiness to do the same.'—After this certificate of Mr Bentham's readiness given by their Lordships, what can be more natural, not to say unavoidable, on the part of the Committee, than to ask this Mr Bentham, what information his experience has afforded him in regard to the readiness thus declared on the part of their Lordships, and in the event of his giving a correspondent certificate on his part, to enquire how it should happen that under this mutual readiness on the part of both parties to co-operate in the execution of a great public measure, the measure should thus have been remaining without execution for these five years, the fortune and prospects of one of the parties being all the while driving to ruin by the delay?—In answer to an examination of this tendency, a part of that I should have to say would be—that after the adoption of my plan as declared to me and my Brother by Mr Pitt in person at my House (present also Mr Dundas) as stated in my letter to Mr Nepean of 30 March 1794,4 of which Mr Thornton has the rough draught, the negotiation came of course to be carried on solely with one or other of the Secretaries on the part of the Treasury, and generally speaking Mr Long —that my demand of the land at Battersea which I had found already appropriate to the Penitentiary system according to that modification of it which I had found still on the carpet, had been pg 29acceded to by a marginal note which I still preserve under the hand of Mr Pitt—and that after having been suffered to remain myself with that persuasion for near a twelvemonth, when the Bill came to be framed which now forms the Penitentiary Contract Act of the 7th July 1794 it was announced to me in a visit by Mr Lowndes5 that a clause must be inserted in it giving the Treasury the option as between that Land and any other 'as proper and convenient'— that I no sooner heard of the intended change, than I remonstrated against it as a violation of a fundamental article—an article the violation of which would subject the whole measure to that sort of danger which I then stated by a prediction which has been but too fully verified—that while the Bill was still in the Commons, (June 1794) I received at my own House a visit from Mr Long to inform me of and congratulate me upon the consent of Lord Spencer, whose opposition, though the whole neighbourhood was up in arms, was the one real obstacle—that after this, and while the Bill was still depending, Mr Long in conversation at his chamber told me that what Lord Spencer had said was to such an effect that his Lordship 'could not in honour do otherwise than consent'— that finding the Bill lying asleep for weeks in the Lords, after having been saved from death in the Commons by the accidental presence of two private friends of mine, I found that Ld Spencer's notions of honour were different from Mr Long's—that he had been at work upon the Bill, and that the Chancellor6 at his instigation had given some intimation which in the Parliam⟨ent⟩ office had occasioned a qn to be put which I saw—that af⟨ter⟩ this I found myself for weeks at a total stand—Letters unanswered—Audiences unobtainable— that at length, by way of saying something, Mr Long told me that the circumstances relative to the land were a good deal out of Mr Pitt's recollection and he wished therefore to have the benefit of the recollection and the opinion of Mr Dundas—(as if he had no medium but myself through which he could be apprised of it)— that at last after a long course of incessant attendance and sollicitation, I obtained a promise from Mr Dundas (then no longer in the Home but the War department) that if I would draw up a Memorial praying the execution of the Act, address it to the Treasury and send it to him, he would transmitt it officially to the Treasury— that thereupon I did frame a Memorial, dated 16 August 1794, in which (having by that time seen reason to suspect that Ld Spencer pg 30had retracted his consent, and that that retraction was the obstacle that stopped the business) I supported my claim to the ground by arguments at large—which Memorial bearing date 16 Aug. 1794 was accompanied by a long letter dated that or the next day,7 addressed to Mr Dundas—that notwithstanding the most persevering sollicitation I was unable to prevail upon Mr Dundas to take any notice of the Memorial, till 26 Septr. when he returned it me with a letter in which he declined transmitting it on the alleged grounds of prolixity and want of temper8—(N.B. The want of temper consisted in my concluding with begging leave to decline proposing any other land, looking upon any such proposal as hopeless, for the reason there assigned—the prolixity was produced by the consciousness of the necessity of heaping up argument upon argument for the purpose of forcing that conviction which in the event was forced, upon an unwilling mind—there is not a tittle in it which I should have any objection to see published, or which after a lapse of near four years I see any reason to retract.)—that seeing an opening left notwithstanding for getting the substance of the Memorial transmitted if I were to abridge and soften it, and having obtained his promise that it should be transmitted if these objections were done away, I accordingly prepared another Memorial, which after submitting it for castration to Mr Long I addressed to Mr Dundas in a letter dated 31 Octr,9 and heard of his having transmitted it accordingly within a day or two afterwards—that from the 31 Octr to the 30 Deer being two months, was spent in besieging Mr Long and Mr Dundas, on which latter day Mr Long told me, with marks of satisfaction and in the most explicit terms, that there were no difficulties about fixing upon Battersea Rise, unless it were the apprehension of the price, and that Mr Dundas to whom Mr Pitt had referred the matter would report in my favour, but wanted some of the Reasons I had before given him, to refresh his memory—but, upon my shewing him an intended Letter of mine to Mr Dundas, accompanying a printed paper of Reasons drawn up on a former occasion with some Mss addition, in which letter I alluded to the good news communicated to me the day before by Mr Long, he Mr Long desired me to omitt that part— not because it was not true, but because he was unwilling it should be known that he had been so communicative to me. I accordingly suppressed (as I think) the whole letter, and sent only the paper of Reasons.10—that still besieging Mr Dundas and Mr Long, on the pg 31Friday before the 12th of Jany. 1795 I caught Mr Dundas as he was going into his Office in the Horse Guards, whereupon he said to me —'I have just been saying to Mr Long, which I have often said before as well to him as to Mr Pittthat it is impossible to change the Land'—(meaning to take any other land instead of Battersea Rise)—that in my letter to Mr Dundas of the 12 of Jany.11 above mentioned, I remind him of this conversation—tell him that I am told Mr Pitt wants only to hear from him to that effect, but that he has not heard, and beg of him that whatever Mr Pitt requires for that purpose may accordingly be done—that after that I continued in a state of uncertainty and incessant sollicitation till the beginning of May 1795 when Mr Long sent for me and announced to me in form at his Chamber in the Treasury Mr Pitt's having fixed upon Battersea Rise as the spot for the Penitentiary House—a fact which I alluded to in a letter of the 1st of June to Mr Dundas12 in which it is also stated that the Appointment of me as Feoffee for Battersea Rise, was transmitted by White to the Treasury for signature the Saty. three weeks preceding—that this notification thus deliberately given has never to this hour been countermanded—and though at some time unknown to me there can not now be a doubt but that a resolution was taken not to abide by it, yet I should never have had any intimation of the change, had it not been for Lord Spencer himself, who about the beginning of Septr 1795 at the time when the Law business relative to the Contract was going on, and when after long discussions about the Contract I had looked upon all difficulties as removed, one day that my Brother was with him about naval business, told him of his fixed determination not to part with the land, at the same time offering other land of his in Battersea Parish instead—that even after my brother understood from Ld Hugh Seymour13 that Lord Spencer had consented to withdraw his opposition— which opposition notwithstanding continued as determined and as efficacious as before—that on the beginning of Feby. I learnt from Mr Long by dint of incessant sollicitation, that the engrossed Draught of the Contract in a state of readiness for signature was lying upon Mr Pitt's Table (it went to Mr White the preceding Septr. as appears by letter to Mr Wilberforce of 11 Apr. 17⟨…⟩14)— that on the 3d of March it was still lying there as I had occasion to mention in a letter of that date to the Sollr. General15—that pg 32in April 1796, (after having in the course of 2 years and f on 6 different occasions received assurances, in several of the instances solemn and official, extorted by mere dint of ⟨…⟩ ⟨…⟩16 seeing reason to conclude that the Draught would never be signed, nor yet perhaps the determination not to sign it ever announced to me, I wrote a letter on the 18th of that month to Ld Spencer17 to open a negotiation with him on the subject—that the negotiation continued with him and his steward till the 27th of August 1796 when he informed me by letter of that date18 that unless I could compell him to give me Battersea Rise he would neither give me that nor the land he had offered me through my Brother, and of the Map of which he had given me a copy which I have.19

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Notes

Editor’s Note
1326. 1 BL VI. 582–5. Autograph. Docketed: '1798 May / Panopt / J.B. Q.S.P. / to / Wilberforce / or / Hy Thornton / Returned by H. Thornton.' From internal evidence it appears that the letter was written between 5 and 7 May: Bentham refers to Long's letter to Abbot of 4 May. Bentham commonly used Wilberforce as an intermediary between himself and Henry Thornton.
Editor’s Note
2 Long wrote to Abbot on 4 May, sending him a draft of the intended contract between the Treasury and Bentham, and a copy of a warrant for issuing Bentham £2,000 to enable him to make preparations for the proposed penitentiary. The remainder of the letter is summarized by Bentham. It is printed in full in Twenty-eighth Report, p. 364.
Editor’s Note
4 Letter 954. Evan Nepean (1751–1822), under secretary at the Home Office 1782–94, under secretary in office of Secretary of State for War 1794–5, first secretary of the Admiralty 1795–1804; created bart. 1802.
Editor’s Note
5 William Lowndes, parliamentary counsel to the Treasury 1789–98, when he became chairman of the board of taxes.
Editor’s Note
6 Alexander Wedderburn, 1st Baron Loughborough (1733–1805), later 1st Earl of Rosslyn; Lord Chancellor 1793–1801.
Editor’s Note
8 Probably letter 998, though that is dated 21 September 1794.
Editor’s Note
10 Correspondence, v. 106 n.
Editor’s Note
13 Lord Hugh Seymour (1759–1801), a lord of the Admiralty 1795–8, viceadmiral 1799.
Editor’s Note
14 Probably letter 1136 (see Correspondence, v. 211); the year was 1796.
Editor’s Note
16 Words obscured by binding.
Editor’s Note
18 Probably letter 1168, though that is dated 29 August 1796.
Editor’s Note
19 The following sentence is written in the left-hand margin in red ink: 'Even the getting the terms of the Contract adjusted at the Treasury cost me upward of two years incessant sollicitation though the substance of them had been acceded to a year before by Mr Pitt, and by his order the details settled within a few days after by Mr Nepean.'
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