Jeremy Bentham

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

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Editor’s Note1738To Sir Charles Bunbury3–4 October 1802 (Aet 54)

Q.S.P. 3rd Octr 1802

Dr Sir

It is an item in my list of misfortunes, that my expedition to Paris, on which I went, not on the spur of curiosity, but by order of one physician (as well as to see another) should have deprived me of the opportunity of profiting by your kind visit.

As to Ld Pelham, on the 19th August 'at all events' (says he) 'I will … endeavour to get something settled about the Penitentiary business before the meeting of Parliament': at this time there was but one thing to be previously 'found out', which was 'what steps had been taken by the Treasury': a precaution necessary to guard pg 141against the danger of giving 'false hopes': i:e: prospects, the realization of which, if they were favourable, might come to be prevented by steps taken in that quarter, and operating as barrs. That source of obstacles being unproductive, other regions, how remote soever (the more remote the better) (now, or some-day—you know what day—a little anterior to the 30 Septr 1802) are to be explored, and a conversation with the 'Chancellor'—and (as if it were possible that should not be sufficient) with 'the Judges' i:e: the 12 Judges (for which of the whole venerable body would it be proper or decent to pass by with neglect if any number of them are to be called in to consultation?)—is to do the business. And, supposing them unanimously ready to give an opinion without documents, on a question of great extent to which their thoughts have never been conducted, and that opinion favourable, then comes the 'reading through my books'—a task for which his Lordship never will find leisure, and which I no more thought of imposing on him, than Ainsworth did the reading through his Dictionary.2

To the Lord Chancellor alone, if my recollection of the legal language on that subject does not deceive me—to the Lord Chancellor alone without the 12 Judges or any of them, or any other colleagues belongs the 'keeping of the King's conscience.' Were the mode and topic of conversation to depend upon me, it is in that character only that I should wish to trouble him upon the business, and my question would be—Are engagements taken by Ministers according to law, and in execution of the law—and to the fulfilment of which no assignable specific bar, either in law, morality or policy, has been produced—are such engagements binding or not binding, in conscience upon the said Ministers and their Successors?

Another question which (not to overload a luminary of the law whose time is well known to be so abundantly overloaded already) might with safety (I think) be trusted to the 12 Judges is—whether an imperative Act of Parliament,3 having for its object the conduct of the Commissioners of the Treasury for the time being, and taking upon itself accordingly to direct the conduct of the said Commissioners, is binding upon the said Commissioners?

These are only two points which, judging from the Act of Parliament, and assuming it to be necessary to trouble these learned and reverend persons upon the business, I should regard it as either pg 142profitable or pertinent to propound to them: as to Ld Pelham if I were tofind him less anxious to repel their attention from those points than I should be to attract it to those same points, it would be a very agreeable surprize to me.

By a conversation I have just been having on the subject with Sir Evan Nepean, I find that in the last of the two conversations which Mr Addington, on his own seeking, had had with him on the same subject, he (Mr Addington) mentioned his having it in contemplation to turn the business over intirely to Mr Vansittart. Ld Pelham's conversation with you as above was (I am inclined to think) of a fresher date. The cause of Mr A's applications to Sir Evan was the suggestion of a person I had applied tofor that purpose. The ground Mr A put it upon was that of an intirely new project, which nobody had ever heard of till that moment. Eyes being thus hermetically sealed every where, what is there that can ever open them but a handspike, a handspike to be applied to them in Parliament?—So powerful are the principles of self-delusion, men work themselves up into a sort of persuasion that by shutting their own eyes, so it be hard enough, they can shut the eyes of the public and of Parliament: and it is in this persuasion that they are running tantwhivey,4 if not in the road to ruin, at any rate in the road to shame.

All this while the principal and (to confess the truth) the only necessary purpose for which I took pen in hand remains unmentioned. It is grounded on what passed between yourself and Ld Pelham on the subject of Indemnification'. It was a natural and in a manner necessary consequence of your kind sympathy and regard for my individual interest, that on the occasion in question you should mention it: it is at the same time the very proposition they would all be eager to catch at, seeing consent to relinquishment involved in it. But it is a matter my mind has been made up tofor years; and my determination has been never to accept of any compromise. I have been sounded on the subject more than once and from different quarters, and my answer has been uniformly the same. If my remnant of life be sufficient, one or other of two services (the best it is in my power to render) the public (I have long determined) shall receive from me: the benefit of the Panopticon plan, or the benefit of the check that will be given to improbity on the part of future Ministers, by the example of the shame that will have been entailed by it on the characters of the present set and their immediate predecessors. To be short (for the paper warns me) I write this to beg a favour of you: and that favour is th⟨at⟩ you will pg 143have the goodness to write this my determinat⟨ion⟩ to Ld Pelham, and to acquaint him that what you so kindly suggested on the subject was purely your own idea, and without authority from me, and that I beg never to hear any thing from him or any body on that subject.

  • Your's most truly and gratefully
  • J B.

PS. I have laid in a stock of health and spirits, and am opening trenches with all possible diligence. I returned from the great nation last night.

4th Octr 1802.

P.S. 2nd It may perhaps be not amiss, if you were to give his Lordship to understand (as the truth is) that his intention of consulting with the Chancellor and the Judges on the subject of the eligibility of the establishment so long ago and so repeatedly pro- nounced eligible by Parliament has made it in my view of the matter, a point of common prudence as well as justice, for me to submitt to the same highly respected quarter my own state of the question as between that same establishment and New South Wales: and that for that purpose I expect to have sent to the press by tomorrow that paper of which he has already seen the marginal contents,5 and which I should have supposed would on the present occasion have had a rather better claim to the honour of his perusal than the greater part of the books which he has the courage to think of reading through—

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Notes

Editor’s Note
1738. 1 BL VII. 635–7. Copy. Docketed: '1802 Octr 3 Sent the 4th / Panopt. / J.B. Q.S.P. / to / Sr C. Bunbury Barton.'
Editor’s Note
2 Robert Ainsworth (1660–1743) was the compiler of Thesaurus linguae latinae compendiarius (1736).
Editor’s Note
3 The reference is to the Penitentiary Contract Act of 7 July 1794 (34 Geo. III, c. 84). See Correspondence, vi. 56 n.
Editor’s Note
4 'at full gallop'.
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