Jeremy Bentham

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

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pg 431Editor’s Note1654To Samuel Bentham18–19 August 1801 (Aet 53)

Sunday Aug. 16.1801

S.B. Portsmouth to J.B. Q.S.P.

1. 'The legal conveyances did not come till yesterday evening, and as you require that they should be signed and sent so as to be in Town by tomorrow, I have dispatched them accordingly:—'

2 . 'but as the perusal and discussion of those papers previously to my signing them unavoidably excited the idea of caution in my taking any steps for alienating any property which might eventually have come to my children now that I have three of them, it seemed very desirable that I should have something to shew as a reason for my taking this step, and which might remain on record as my justification to my children who may hereafter hear that the property in question might eventually have come to them.'

3. 'Therefore although I know that long ago I consented to the sale of this estate, and that even if I had not assented to it in compliance to your wishes, you had the power of disposing of it away from me by will …'

Answer by J.B.

2. Out of your own family I do not see the smallest probability of your children's ever hearing any such insinuation, as that their Father was imposed upon by their Uncle. If in your family any such insinuation should ever be conveyd to them I do not see much probability that any thing I could say on this or any other occasion should have the effect of justifying either the one or the other in their eyes. To my eyes what you have done does not appear to stand in need of any justification to any body. As to justification of my part in the business—to the world if necessary to my own character, yes: but as far as their comfort is concerned, better I should remain unjustified in their opinions in such a case, than justified.

But if a justification were necessary, so compleat an one is contained in the beginning of the next sentence, that I can not help wishing it had been considered as rendering any other worse than useless. 'Long ago you consented to the sale of this estate' (viz: in pg 4321792 before these children were born, or yourself so much as acquainted with their mother) and now in 1801 the giving effect to this consent to be made matter of 'discussion' and to excite the idea of caution as to the taking any steps for the fulfilling of the engagement? if their notions of morality are what I could wish them to be, and such as those of their father used to be, or at least to my eyes used to appear to be, they will regard the absence of all such caution as being more consistent than the presence of it, with the rules even of prudence. As to propertyalienated it is, and would have been in any case—caution or no caution—along with some of other people's: without sowing there is no reaping: but there are other things that as well as property have their value—such as esteem and affection—which I hope will not be alienated but which such caution, so circumstanced has a much stronger tendency to alienate than to preserve. I could point out to you a pretty many thousand pounds which the Grandfather of these children alienated from both his children. His Grandchildren will I hope have the goodness to pardon him, as one at least of his children does: but if not, there is no help for it.

As to 'compliance with my wishes'—the object in view being to justify you in the eyes of your children from the imputation of improvidence your recollection might I should have thought have furnished them with a rather more satisfactory account of the matter, (and if without any recourse to me for the refreshing of it it would have been but so much the better) than what these words have a tendency to convey. You might have told them, that your arrival in England in 1791 found their Uncle in possession of about £90 a year, with about a thousand pounds in the funds, on which you might have claims to the amount of about £2 00 , a little more or less: that at the time of the death of their Grandfather in March 1792 this £1,000 was pretty well disposed of by Father and Uncle in Father's mechanical inventions (at […? ]2 etc.) and journeys and projects and company keeping in Dover Street3 all with a view to Father's mechanical or other projects, and partly in expectation of remittances from Russia which never came.—that when death came, and opening the will (contents equally unknown and out of the reach of all conjecture on the part of both Brothers) Father's share turned out to amount under the will (which then was naturally enough resorted to as the sole standard—and that rather a troublesome one to decypher) to no more clear than some such matter as a thousand pg 433pounds: that it being sufficiently understood that any sum that could be raised by the sale of the disposeable part of the property whichsoever it belonged to would not be too much to be employ'd with advantage in these inventions, it was accordingly determined that the whole of such disposeable part should be put up to Sale by Auction, which it was accordingly in 1793, excepting an inconsiderable article or two belonging solely to Uncle, which was sold afterwards: that this disparity in disfavour of the indisputably best-beloved of two both sincerely and dearly beloved Sons, (whether the result of family pride, or experience of the difference of their characters in respect of economy, or caprice, or whatever other cause it may have been ascribable to) was among the standing topics of affectionate pleasantry between the two Brothers: Uncle, as was well known to the whole family, having never used any exertions of his with reference to Father's share, to any other end than that of enlarging it, with reference to which, (on such occasions as supply when abroad, and matrimonial projects at home) they had neither been lukewarm nor unfrequent, nor in every instance unsuccessful: that the having on all occasions a common purse, in lieu of the two separate ones thus measured out with so much seeming care by Grandfather, was another topic of affectionate pleasantry between Father and Uncle: that in regard to expences purely personal, the niggardliness of Uncles was a standing topic of pleasantry to Father; the improvidence of Father's a correspondent topic of pleasantry —but of equally kind and good humoured pleasantry to Uncle: that the money as fast as raised went to the common Bankers, where after discharging the common household expences, and particular personal ones, as above, it was drawn for by Father's draught (he having unlimited and uninspected authority for that purpose) and employd by him in defraying the charges of his mechanical inventions upwards of £500 being expended for the mere patents;4 that during this enjoyment of the property appropriated by law, but common in fact to every purpose Uncle would not unfrequently banish himself from his own house, that Father with his particular company might be more at ease in it: and that if this did not happen more frequently, it was not for want of known and unfeigned willingness on the part of Uncle: and that Uncle, observing that even questions about progress, or presence exciting the idea of a disposition to wish for pg 434answers of such questions, seemed to be productive on the part of Father (as was natural) of a sort of involuntary dissatisfaction, would keep himself out of the way at Hendon for weeks or months together, without any other cause so determinate as that of leaving Father at his ease.

To this you might add, as the result of the disposal of the produce of the respective shares in the estates thus by mutual agreement engaged for sale, as the result with reference to the fortunes of the two Brothers, as far as hitherto it has been established: that Father in return for his £1000 or whatever more it may be once paid, has got an Office of some consideration with £1250 a year5 (subject to taxes) and farther hopes: Uncle, a reduction from about £700 or £800 a year more or less, to about £286 (also subject to Taxes though not so high: out of which £286, £90 is rent from Father, payable at the only period at which in the nature of things a debt from Father to Uncle can be payable—viz: at Father's own convenience, a period which from unfortunate circumstances does not seem in any great hurry to arrive): and that as to the rent of the ground from the Penitentiary Contract, besides that it is subject to charges and to account, although it bids fair for amounting to about £380 a year, yet that hope has not yet been realized, and the incumbrance of a lawsuit threatens it. N.B. The above £286 supposes me to receive and retain all the money received or receivable under the conveyance in question as well as all other conveyances, after payment of the joint debts, of which presently.

In point of law you may inform them without much danger of deceiving them, that in consequence of the public advertisement of all the disposeable estates promiscuously, those in which Father had an interest as well as those in which Uncle alone had any interest the Auction, and the Sale of considerable parts of them in consequence, the joining in the Recovery for the known purpose of such sale, and the joining in the conveyance of several of them accordingly, by several successive Acts, you are and all along have been bound, in as far as any man can be bound to join in a sale, to join in the conveyance in question, and any others that can be tendered to you by me for the purpose, to the extent of the promises comprized either in such Recovery, or in such Auction.

You may likewise inform them as to the matter of law, that in virtue of two Bonds on which we joined to Lindegren for securing pg 435the repayment of two sums amounting together to £1,200 principal money,6 borrowed for and expended by you upon your said inventions— that £1200 swelled now to about £1600 by interest—we stand jointly bound to him for the payment of the said £1,600: that in consequence, by force of law, whichsoever of us pays him the whole, has a claim upon the other for reimbursement to the amount of half = £800: that in point of fact, as soon as I have received wherewithal in consequence of this conveyance you have been executing, I shall pay him his £1,600: that by payment of this £1,600 I shall acquire a right of arresting you for the £800, which right I shall not fail to exercise, with the vigour with which in my dealings with you I have never failed to exercise my rights: unless you should be before hand with me, being on the spot, and pay Lindegren before I can get at him, in which case you may send me to the spungeing house instead of being put into it yourself. When you are in the Spungeing House or out upon Bail, then will come some pretty amusement for the lawyers to settle whether you having joined in three conveyances, and thus disposed of every thing you had to dispose of, I had a right or no to call upon you for this £800: so much more of my money having gone upon your inventions than of your's. But as I hate the lawyers still worse than I do you, I shall not give them any such pickings: but as soon as I have the Bond shall either give it up to you or enter upon it the having received satisfaction for your share of it, or do whatever else you would wish me to do, though writing what I write now will after all fully answer the purpose.

You will observe that the question whether you were bound to join in this conveyance, is one thing: the question whether you have a claim to any and what part of the money received under it is another: were you entitled to ever so much, you would not have been the less bound to join in the conveyance, under the circumstances above stated.

S.B.'s Letter continued, and so much of it as relates to the conveyance in question, concluded.

'Though etc (as above) yet considering my present circumstances, I would beg of you to write me a letter, dated previously to my signature, stating the expediency and necessity of my compliance, in any manner you please—stating in short the real reasons. This letter I should then keep to shew my children that I have not in this case given them an example of improvidence.'

pg 436J.B. in answer

Here accordingly the letter is—such as it is—with the 'reasons' such as they are—or at least a part of them: and such as you desired them the real reasons: being the only sort of reasons it is customary for me to give. What is more here is the real date, 18 August 1801 instead of what for a reason altogether incomprehensible to me you desire, viz: a false one. What these poor children could be the better for being thus deceived with a false date, or their Father for so deceiving them, is more than I can imagine. Under the circumstances above recalled to your memory, the only incident that I can dwell on with satisfaction, as being of a nature to do honour to you in the eyes of your children (were they ever to hear of it) or any body else is this very circumstance that you wish me to conceal—viz: that signature came first, and a desire to be informed of the grounds on which it was applied for, afterwards. My notion and my hope is, that they will never be put to any such task as that of hearing any thing about this business: and that the memory of this task which their Father has set their Uncle, and which Uncle at the expence of so much miserably employd and wasted time has gone through or at least is going through only because Father set it him, will evaporate without being transmitted to these innocents. It is for Father's recollection therefore and not for their information that he (now he is upon dates) mentions another date, which is Father's having called upon him, a fortnight or three weeks before he left town, to tell him of Alexander's visit about the conveyances, and of his (Father's) readiness to do whatever was to be done to them, as a thing of course. It was after this assurance that second thoughts recommended hesitation, on pain of improvidence: but I can not reckon this as among the instances in which second thoughts are best.

Your children, unless they should any of them become unhappy enough to wish they had never been born, will never see cause to impute improvidence to you on the score of whatever you did then (Ao 1792) towards raising the money so applied. Without the money no inventions: without the inventions, no display of them to Nepean and Ld Spencer: without the display of them to Nepean and Ld Spencer, no Inspector-General-ship: without Inspector-General-ship no marriage: without marriage no children, or at least no such children as they.

Had Father and Uncle parted, as soon as the land had been shared under the Will etc., and Father gone back to his Regiment in Russia, besides that they would not have been born, I can not think, supposing them afterwards to have been born, that they would have had much more of this land than they will have now. What Father pg 437had all along conceived from the time of his first setting foot in Russia—and expressed and acted upon, viz: that capital might be employ'd with greater advantage there than here, he would have conceived and acted upon, on this supposed occasion: at parting, he would have left a power of Attorney with Uncle for selling of this land, together with as much other land as Uncle might have given him: which power would have been executed, and the money remitted to Russia without loss of time. Beyond Russia I will not undertake to follow it.

I never yet understood that you had framed any such hypothesis, as that you should stake no part of your own property upon your own inventions, as long as there was any of mine left to stake upon them, or that you should stake any thing less than the whole, so long as what I staked, which at all events would have been the whole disposable part, was at its minimum several times the amount of yours: if you have, let me know as much, and then it will be time enough for me to speak to it: at present I am galled and vexed at the thought of two or three da⟨…⟩ ⟨…⟩ ⟨…⟩7

The call thus made upon me has led to a discovery on my part, which, surprizing as it is, will not make any difference with respect to the propriety of your taking the step you have done.

The will8 gave ⟨…⟩ what is called an Es⟨…⟩ Tail, (to me and the heirs of my body,) with another Estate Tail after it to you: both comprising if I recollect right the whole of the Estates near Waltham Abbey. The first estate tail to me gave me the power of converting it into one Estate in fee, capable of being sold, upon my doing what is called suffering a Recovery, in which under the Will as aforesaid it was not necessary you or any body else should join: so Alexander and Jessops Conveyance now says: it was however for some reason or other I forget what thought better by Benson9 that you should join: and so join you did. It never entered into my conception any more than into yours that my father, lawyer as he was, would think of attempting in his will a power from which he stood precluded by his own Marriage Settlement: I know that neither ⟨…⟩ Mothers fortune, (at the marriage in particular, for she had more afterwards,) entitled her to any great matters in that way, nor did my father's circumstances enable him to do much without prejudice to future projects. The Settlement went with the other Deeds to Mr Browne's; pg 438nor have I any recollection of the contents if I ever read it through, except a confused one which this instant strikes me, about some repugnancy between that and the Will (taken I believe by report from the lawyers) in regard to the Estate at Eastwood.10 18 Aug. Upon further recollection, I believe there were at different times several supposed discoveries and counter discoveries, for which you were some times a few hundred the richer, sometimes do. the poorer: ⟨…⟩ as the difference at its maximum was not of a nature to produce any practical effect, it was mentioned or not but never seriously enquired into, not being worth enquiring about.

Now upon looking into the Draught of the Conveyance which is before me and which is the same as you have been executing, with only the addition of the observations of the Lawyers in the margin, it appears that parcel of the whole Estate sold by me for £5000 was under that Settlement in virtue of which it came between us, unentailed, and thereby capable of being sold by each. The total quantity of all sold is 170 Acres: the parcel in settlement as above is 28 Acres per Draught of Deed, 24 as per Deed itself: if instead of 170 Acres the quantity had been 168, 28 / 24 / the part in which we are jointly interested would have been 1 6 th / 1 7 th /. A sixth / seventh / of £5000 is £833:6:8 / £714 /. Half of that (416:13 / £357 /) is your share. The Deed itself I had never set eyes on till this day Wednesday Aug. 19th now that it is returned executed by you.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1654. 1 BL VII. 497–501. Autograph. Docketed: '1801 Aug 19 / JB — SB.' Addressed: 'Genl Bentham.' The first page is written in columns, with the quotations from Samuel's letter of 16 August on the left, and Jeremy's reply on the right.
Editor’s Note
2 Illegible.
Editor’s Note
3 Jeremy and Samuel rented apartments at 2 Dover Street, Piccadilly, in December 1791 (Correspondence, iv, p. xxv).
Editor’s Note
4 Samuel Bentham took out four patents in the 1790s: 26 November 1791, 'Planing wood' ; 12 April 1793, 'Making fire-irons'; 23 April 1793, 'Mode of working wood, metal, and other materials'; 24 January 1795, 'Method of performing and facilitating divers manufacturing and economical processes'. (Bennet Woodcroft, Alphabetical Index of Patentees of Inventions, 1854, p. 39.)
Editor’s Note
5 On 25 March 1796 Samuel had been appointed to the new office of inspector-general of naval works. The salary was £750 a year, and an additional £500 a year was paid to him individually. (Maria S. Bentham, Life of Sir Samuel Bentham, p. 118.)
Editor’s Note
7 The remainder of the sentence runs into the margin and is obscured by the binding. At the head of the next page (the last page of the letter) Bentham wrote in red ink: '19 Aug. Tues. This half sheet was written before the rest.'
Editor’s Note
8 For Jeremiah Bentham's will, see Correspondence, v. 178 n.
Editor’s Note
9 Probably William Benson, barrister, of 9 Lincoln's Inn New Square.
Editor’s Note
10 The next sentence is an interlined insertion.
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