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 Note1759To James Neild23 December 1802 (Aet 54)


Dropping in at Sir Charles Bunbury's t'other day, I found on his table your interesting book on prisons,2 which he said you had presented him with. For a particular purpose of a public nature, the pg 169complexion of which the inclosed as yet unpublished tract3 will explain to you, it is at this moment particularly material to me to be informed of the number of prisons throughout England and Wales that have been rebuilt or received improvements according to the ideas of Blackburn4 or my old friend Howard.5 Without any other introduction than that of a name which possibly may not be altogether unknown to you, in this line of public service, I take the liberty of inclosing to you a paper with a few names of such improved prisons, in hopes of your doing me the favour to return it with such additions (I believe they will not be very numerous ones) as the commanding view you have taken of the subject will have enabled you to make; distinguishing if there be any, those in which the improvement has taken place or commenced since October 1799.6 A second letter to Lord Pelham is almost in readiness, and a copy shall wait upon you as soon as any one goes into any other hands than his Lordships.

Another favour which you could do me, and which just occurrs to me is to set down such names as occurr to you of persons in whom you have had occasion to observe any particular degree of attention to the fate of prisoners but more particularly Convicts: a class with which my labours are more especially connected. Mr Wilberforce, Mr H. Thornton, Mr Moreton Pitt,7 I mention to save you the trouble of writing them, they being my particular friends. Sir H. Mildmay8 I was apprized of by your book.

These names of persons may perhaps be most commodiously given by a mark put to them in some printed list of Philanthropical Society9 men for example, or the Members of that Society which has pg 170the benefit of your own beneficent and intelligent exertions. Of these latter my own you will think ought to have been among the number: but the misfortune of having advanced above £10,000, as traders say, in the Convict line, necessarily diminishes a man's exertions of all kinds in other ways.

As the press waits for the number of improved prisons, the sooner you could return me the paper with the additional articles in question, the more you would oblige me. I have the honour to be

  • Sir
  • Your most obedient Servant
  • Jeremy Bentham

The other paper of persons names, if at all, at your leisure

James Neild Esqr

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1759. 1 BL VII. 675–6. Autograph draft. Docketed in red ink: '1802 Decr 23 / Panopt. / J.B. Q.S.P, / to / Neild Cheyne Walk / Chelsea / Improved Prisons?'
James Neild (1744–1814) worked as a jeweller for over twenty years and retired with a fortune in 1792. He became a JP in several counties and was high sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 1804. He visited and reported on prisons throughout Britain, and his major work was State of the Prisons in England, Scotland and Wales, 1812.
Editor’s Note
2 It is clear from a note which Bentham made in pencil on letter 1756 that the work in question was Neild's Account of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Society for the Discharge and Relief of Persons imprisoned for Small Debts, 1802.
Editor’s Note
3 Letter to Lord Pelham.
Editor’s Note
4 William Blackburn (1750–90), the architect to whom, in 1782, the commissioners for penitentiary houses had awarded the first prize for a design for a male prison. It was never built, but several of his later plans, which attempted to incorporate prison reforms suggested by John Howard, were put into effect, notably in Dublin and at Gloucester Gaol. (Correspondence, iv. 172 n.)
Editor’s Note
6 The Duke of Portland, in his letter to the treasury of 14 October 1799 (Correspondence, vi. 261 n.), had referred to 'the spirit of improvement which now so universally prevails' in the administration of the county gaols.
Editor’s Note
7 William Morton Pitt (1754–1836), MP 1780–1826 (see Correspondence, v. 189 n., vi. 343–4). He was to publish in 1804 A Plan for the Improvement of the Internal Police of Prisons.
Editor’s Note
8 John, Howard (1726–90), the prison reformer, had first met Bentham in 1778 after the publication of the latter's A View of the Hard-Labour Bill (Correspondence, ii. 105–8).
Editor’s Note
8 Sir Henry Paulet St. John-Mildmay, 3rd baronet (1764–1808), MP 1796–1808. His role as an investigator of prison conditions is mentioned in Neild's Account (n. 2 above), p. 307.
Editor’s Note
9 The Philanthropic Society had been founded in 1788 to promote the prevention of crime.
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