Jeremy Bentham

The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 7: January 1802 to December 1808

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pg 117Editor’s Note1726From William Wilberforce3–4 September 1802

Broomfield Septr 3d 1802

My dear Sir

I have run over your packet very hastily—It has found me lying under an arrear of business which I am impatient to clear away, but I would not wait the full time you allowed me to keep your papers, in order tofind a Day of Leisure, which Experience has instructed me tofear might disappoint my hopes. Witht farther delay therefore I will express to you what occurs to me on this hasty perusal— Excuse any marks of precipitation which my Letter may contain and impute them to my being obliged to write hastily, if just now I write to you at all—Yet I honestly confess to you, I am tempted to lay down my pen at the very outset from a fear lest you should misconstrue my motives, and lest my advice should be wholly thrown away—But I will persist—If witht Effect, it will be a Satisfaction to me, that I have acted with Rectitude and Kindness in makg the Endeavour—

It is but too natural for any one, who has been for so long a period as you have been, a Sufferer from that 'Hope deferred which maketh the Heart sick'2 tofeel acutely and to express himself warmly—But He will yet allow a person who has a sincere and deep Sense of the hard treatment he has sustained and both on public and personal Grounds a cordial Wish to see the actual accomplishment of his long meditated plan, to speak to him with that frankness, to which only, the Epithet of friendly can be justly applied—I might return your papers with a short note of acknowledgement with less trouble than it will cost me to say what I am pg 118about to communicate, and as from my indifft Health and little Leisure, my time is by far that possession of which I am most covetous, you may judge from the Share of it which I willingly allot to you, that I am much interested on your Subject—That you should lose a little of your temper too, after havg lost so much of your time and money, is not be wonder'd at—I fear had I been in your Situatn I might not have bore my Ill Usage with so much Philosophy; at least I am sure I should not, except from being enabled to calm my Mind by those soothing as well as consoling cordials which Religion alone can furnish. But let me honestly ask you what is now your object, and let me earnestly conjure you to consider whether both on personal and still more on public Grounds, you ought not to adopt a difft tone and course of Conduct from that which you seem disposed to assume.

The objects of your personalities,3 are the D of Portd Mr Pitt Rose Long Addington and Ld Belgrave and Lord Pelham—Now I will not argue with you concerng the Justice or Injustice of your Censures in the Case of some of these Gentn: But can you doubt, that it will be with the World a suffict answer, of which every man's own Mind will anticipate the actual Suggestion, that Mr Pit havg the whole Machine of Govt to superintend, during a period, such as never before was witnessed in the History of this Country, may be forgiven if he neglected one Subject, tho of Importance, which was not within his immediate Department—you cannot have lived so long in the World witht knowg how superficially Men inquire and how much they judge from formed prejudices and preconceived opinions in all these cases wherein Individuals state that they have been injuriously treated in their transactions with Governmt But I will speak out—Mr Pitt's real faults in this matter are two—1st and chiefly—Procrastination 2dy Suffering himself too much to be influenced by some of his friends, Lord Spencer I chiefly allude to, whose Land was to have been compulsively purchased from him for the Site of the Panopticon—By the way, it is only Justice to Lord Spencer to say, that probably it was owing to his agents, thro' whom great Men like him see and hear, as well as speak, that Influence was used to prevent the origl agreemt abt the Land from being fulfilled. He is a liberal generous man with the high Spirit of a Nobleman and would not have resisted, I think, unless misinform'd and misled—Nor had he probably any Idea that he was stoppg the work and that Land wo'd not easily be found elsewhere—But how do you treat Mr Pitt—you speak of him as tho' He had been fully pg 119aware of all the delay that would take place in Consequence of his procrastination (whereas it is the very nature of that disease to infuse a Hope of Sure and perhaps early but only not of immediate performance) and still more as if he had been aware of all the Sufferings and Losses which would fall on you in Consequence of it—Now can anythg be more unjust—a thousand parallel Cases might be put to prove it so;—but this is needless—my Object is only to convince you, that people will not be soforward as you may suppose to impute it to Mr Pitt as a Matter of extreme Blame, that He put off your Affair from Year to Year, as little intendg it, no doubt, as you yourself did—For the D of Pd I will say nothg; nor will I say anythg agt him Your ludicrous Caricature of him might excite a laugh at his Expence, but it would do you yourself a real Injury, by conveyg an Idea, that you were writg more from the feelings of Resentment or to gratify the Sensations of a lively Genius, or to gain the praise of a witty Satirist, than to obtain tardy Justice for yourself, and for the public an Establishment of great Usefulness and even indispensable Necessity—I will fairly own to you, that I shall be silent on the D. of P's Subject because he has behavd so very ill in a transaction in which I have unintentionally been a party concern'd, that I have long and seriously doubted and still doubt whether I can be excused from makg his Conduct the Subject of Parliamy Discussion—As for Messs Rose Long Vansittart Addington / I mean the Secy of the Treasy / etc.—What will People think? Why that the principals in their departments not havg made up their Minds on your Buss they had been the immediate Instruments in putting you off from time to time and perhaps that they had sometimes deceived either themselves or you or both by not opening their Eyes to what was likely to be the Consequence of admitting any procrastination at all, in a Case where there already had been too much delay and when the Grounds of decision were clear and satisfactory.

But people will, as they ought to do make allowances for Men in their Situations overburthend with Business, worried by Suitors of all Sorts, liable like the rest of the World to be out of Spirits or out of Humour, to be peevish from a fit of the Cholic or the Headach— Remember my dear Sir that the very Circumste of all these difft Men havg treated you so ill, will of itself make agt you. Remr their friends will say they had no private Interest in preventg Mr B's Scheme from going forward—They had etc etc but there is no End of what I might say—Observe only I have said nothg of the private Characters of these Gentn nor have I spoke in the Language of private Good-will, which I bear for all of them; but I will declare, pg 120that after a long and intimate Knowledge of them all, I believe them men of Integrity Good Nature Liberality not without thr faults, but in a Situatn wherein an angel could not give univl Satisfaction— But I must say a few Words abt Ld Belgrave tho' I really recoil from the task I have undertaken of expressg what has occurr'd to me on your Packet, for tho' I scribble en Galop my time is nearly consumed and my fingers wearied and yet I have scarce made a Beginng. My only doubt I see will be whether to throw my incomplete Remonstrance under the table, or to send it, or rather 1 10 th of it, for I shall not get thro' 1 10 of what I wish to say, in its crude and unfinish'd State—Ld Belge is one of the best and most amiable Young Men in this Kingdom, of talents too, which, had not his high Birth and ample fortune been in the way, by dampg Exertion; would have made him distinguished in any line in which he had sought for Eminence—Now you yourself say, that his Surveyors assured him his property Wod not suffer in Value from your Panopticon—In fact I am persuaded He wod be influenced by no such Considn—but He too easily believed the Panopticon wod be a bad neighbour!— And is that a Mistake for which all Respect, all Regard, should be banish'd and you shod hold him up as far as in your power to ridicule, the severest punishment to an ingenuous Mind—But farther—you speak with Levity at least if not ridicule of his religious Character4—where any Man by the Inconsistency of his Conduct with his profess'd principles, gives just ground to suspect him of Hypocrisy, let him be charg'd with it; But let him, by whom the charge is bro't, be careful lest a Suggestion is excited, that it is not Hypocrisy but Religion which is the real Subject of Offence— and is it for Mr B. the Reformer of the Vitious, (and in no Charr has he to me ever appeard in a more amiable or a more dignified Light than when exercisg the Resources of his ingenious Mind for so laudable a purpose) is it for him to laugh at any one as a propagator of Xty—Excuse me my dear Sir—if I feel a little warmly—I have often fought your Battles with Warmth—I mean still to do so and the very same Motives which prompt me so to do, generate that Warmth with which I must condemn the Style and Spirit in which you have resented the Error of a most respectable and truly amiable Character, on whom in these days, as I verily think, this Country may look with more Hope and Confidence than on any other Man living for the greatest of all Services, the Elevatn of the Moral Standard and the preservation of our Manners and Habits from that taint of practical Infidelity in all its varied forms of Vice and pg 121dissoluteness which is the true Jacobinical Contagion, the most pernicious plague that can infect Society—

But I must draw towds a Conclusn a word or two of the prest Chr of the Exchr5 and of Ld Pelham.

They will be excused if they delayed the first entire year of their Adminn to put the finishg Stroke to your Buss which was renderd remember a Matter of greater difficulty and more labour to investigate, from the very delay and the numerous proceedings of past times—And what do you expect to get by any publicatn or any hostile proceedings of the Spirit and Color to which I am objectg. Remr my dear Sir—It is above all other Things to be kept in Mind—that when once you threaten a Man, in these days of modern Honour, you make it in the highest degree difficult for him to comply with your Wishes, because you render him liable to the Imputation of havg complied from Intimidation—Unless a Man has more than ordinary Magnanimity or more than common principle, He cannot bring himself, when bullied, as he would call it, to do that, which otherwise he might have done witht Unwillingness— Indepy of all the Sophistry of Honour, there is a real Objectn to complying when Threats have been used, bece you render it likely that they will be resorted to in other Cases as the Expedient by which the desir'd Object will be most surely obtained—from Experience I speak when I assure you, that it does require more firmness than can be well summon'd up except on Xtian principles to hold on the same Course one would have done, if such a vile Imputatn had not been made tofasten on ones Adherence to it. But accordg to the common way of thinkg and judging in the World, believe me, from the very moment of your havg been known to use to any of these Gentn the Language of Intimidation, they would be justified in stopping Short—

Now what will you have gaind when on a cool and subsequent review you compute your Acquisitions—The Character of an acute clever biting Satirist? The Revenge of great and undeserved Injuries? The former you do not want—The latter (I will not stop to ask how far a just Object of pursuit)—you will not obtain—But what becomes of the Panopticon all this time? I have argued on personal Grounds merely, but I cannot suppose you to have become indifferent to the accomplishment of a Plan which in itself of the highest public Utility, a Monument more truly glorious to the Genius and perseverance and Public Services of its accomplishes than any with which it falls to the lot of almost any Man to be honour'd by the pg 122favour of Providence, a plan which in itself I say deserving this high Eulogium, may still more he the Means of changg our long established System in all that regards Criml Justice, and will be a precedent taking it in all its Bearings and Connections aboundg in more Lasting and important Benefits than almost any which any one could devise—And yet as I believe, by the Course you are pursuing, you are not only blasting whatever Prospect there may be of effecting your plan, but opposing an almost insuperable obstacle in the way of establishg any similar Institutn—Whereas I cannot but entertain a persuasion (I should say a confident persuasion if after all I have witnessed I durst be confident) that if you will take your Measures with Prudence, Judgment, moderation and temper, the next Session of Parliament will not pass away witht Your bringg the long Suspended Buss to its termination.

Saty Morng—(I was interrupted—and I now resume my pen—) Give yet one other trial and if it prove in vain, then I will no longer try to avert or suspend the Storm you threaten, but in the Effect of which perhaps even then, you will find that you deceive yourself—I assure you most solemnly that in what I have written to you, I have been influenc'd by a strong and sincere Regard for the accomplishmt of the Object and by Motives of friendly Concern for you, accompanied by an Apprehension that your long continued Ill usage may a little have warped your Judgment on the one hand, may have kindled too keen a desire of Vengeance, and have made you desperate of the Success of any further Endeavours—My Advice would be, that you should yourself go on with the same diligence you have already used, to obtain whatever Informatn may tend to shew the Evils of the System of Boty Bay NSW (Here I can give some Aid) or in any other way furnish argumts in favr of Panoptn—That when Parlt meets, a few of your friends and of Any Gentn who have made these Matters the Objects of their attention, should hold a Council of War and consider What Course it will be best to pursue—I will myself gladly assist and give you all the aid I can; I wish I durst hope it would be of any great Effect—I am sure however that this plan is the only one likely to lay the foundations of the Panoptn— You hazard nothg by pursuing it bece you may after the trial of it, resort to your own. I dare say you think that I was grown cool abt your Buss but really I never have been so, but when any one has such a Multitude of difft things as I have, all clamorous for that time which like any other insufficient Supply is dealt out to them at short allowance, He too naturally neglects Matters however important which are not brot before him and in which He is not the principal party—I grew almt ashamed to see you, and I was quite pg 123hurt, whenr We met, from the Consciousness that you had suffered so much from Men for whom I felt a friendly regard—

But I must stop—I shall wear out your patience, witht adding to my own—I will only say one thg which I forgot to mention before; that you have many Connections and friends, (the Speaker Ld Redsdale6 etc. etc.) who will proby assist as your friends if you do not assume an aspect hostile to the last and prest Administration, but who if you do, will shun you as tabood, and not say a Word in favour of the great Object—

Hoping that I shall yet shake Hands with you in the Centre of the Panopticon, and lay the top Stone with a Huzza I remain

  • My dear Sir
  • Yours very sincerely
  • W Wilberforce

I have been forcd to scribble, in order to save time—I wish I may be legible, but you will excuse the Hieroglyphical nature of my Characters

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1726. 1 Bentham MSS, King's College, Cambridge, 89, fos. 1–16, Autograph. Docketed: '1802 Sept 3 and 4 / Panopt / Wilberforce Broomfield / to / J.B. Q.S.P.' Printed, Bowring, x. 391–5.
Bowring introduced the letter thus; 'Bentham sent to Wilberforce his statement of the grievances to which he had been subjected on the subject of Panopticon; and in answer to the inquiry whether he should publish, Wilberforce replies:' Wilberforce was in fact commenting on Bentham's correspondence with Bunbury, and on the marginal contents of 'Panopticon versus New South Wales': see letter 1720 n. 1. Bowring also quoted in a footnote a passage from R. I. and S. Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce, 5 vols., 1838, ii. 71, recording Wilberforce's sympathy with Bentham over the treatment he had suffered.
Editor’s Note
2 Proverbs 13: 12.
Editor’s Note
3 See letter 1717.
Editor’s Note
5 Henry Addington.
Editor’s Note
6 Sir John Freeman Mitford (1748–1830), solicitor-general 1793–9, attorney-general 1799–1801, speaker of the House of Commons 1801–2; appointed lord chancellor of Ireland and created Baron Redesdale, February 1802.
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