Jeremy Bentham

Luke O'Sullivan and Catherine Fuller (eds), The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 12: July 1824 to June 1828

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pg 332Editor’s Note3318To Robert Peel26 March 1827 (Aet 79)

Q.S.P. 26 March 1827

Sent, according to announcement, with Compliments from Mr J. Bentham; who forbears writing, on the title-page, a name, which might render it offensive to eyes, under which it might happen to Mr Peel to feel inclined to place it.2

Should it happen to be Mr Peel's wish to see the properties of clearness, correctness, comprehensiveness, conciseness, compactness and symmetry given to the rule of action,—in pages from 74 to 94, (though p. 75 requires some amendment,) may be found the promptest means of judging what sort of promise, information from the source in question would afford of being conducive to that end.3 The Chapter is Ch. VI. Mr B.'s reading has not yet reached the end of it.4

According to Mr B. and those who think with him, an adequate as well as authoritative definition of every thing men are liable to be hanged for, or otherwise punished for, is a sine quâ non in a penal Code: and, of what is in endeavour, an all-comprehensive set of these same definitions, together with a correspondently adequate assortment of remedies, is composed the Penal Code, about which, with the assistance of the author of this Volume, he is occupied. Nothing of all this have Mr Peel's Collaborators or Sublabourers so much as professed to do: whether it is or is not in their power, is best known to themselves. 'What shall we do to be saved,'5 is a question which, 1827 years ago, was thought a not unreasonable one: nor will pg 333the degree of reasonableness, it should seem, be much varied, whether 'from being damned' or 'from being hanged' are the words with which the ellipsis is filled up. No such information, however, if willing, was Lord Hale able to give, while hanging men for larceny, or women for witchcraft.6 But hanging men for they knew what, would be theory: hanging men for nobody knows what, is practice; and how bad a thing theory is, and how good a thing practice, no one, who has had the advantage of sitting at the feet of Lord or Lady Eldon,7 can be at a loss to know.

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Editor’s Note
3318. 1 Peel Papers, BL Add. MS 40,393, fos. 65–6. The first paragraph is autograph; the remainder is in the hand of Colls, except for the two sentences noted below and minor corrections to the punctuation in the hand of Bentham. Endorsed: 'March 26. 1827 / Jer. Bentham Esqe / Thanked 29 / Sending a work of / his own.' An autograph draft of this Letter, dated 26 March 1826, is at UC, xi. 258, and a copy in the hand of Colls, dated 26 March 1826, and headed by Bentham 'Copy / J.B. to Peel. Original sent as / per date', is at xi. 259. An earlier autograph draft, dated 26 March 18[28], is at UC, xi. 257. An autograph draft of another letter to Peel written on the same day forwarding a copy of George Bentham's Outline of a New System of Logic, and commenting on Peel's remark that he retained his opinion that magistrates should receive £800 per annum (see Letter 3307), but which appears to have been discarded in favour of the present Letter, is at UC, xi. 263.
Editor’s Note
2 Bentham was sending George Bentham's Outline of a New System of Logic which he had mentioned in Letter 3306.
Editor’s Note
3 The following two sentences are in Bentham's hand.
Editor’s Note
4 'Ch. VI. Exposition.—The various modes enumerated and compared with Dr. Whately's species of definition' is in fact at pp. 74–96.
Editor’s Note
5 See, for instance, Matthew 19: 25, Mark 10: 26, Luke 18: 26, and Acts 16: 30.
Editor’s Note
6 Sir Matthew Hale (1609–76), Chief Baron of the Exchequer 1660–71, Chief Justice of King's Bench 1671–6, presided over the last trial for witchcraft in England when two women were convicted, and subsequently hanged on 17 March 1665: see Howell, State Trials, vi. 687–702. Somewhat in contrast to what Bentham suggests, it is recorded that on one occasion Hale persuaded a jury to acquit, and thus save from execution, a man charged with burglary: see E. Foss, The Judges of England, 9 vols., London, 1848–64, vii. 112.
Editor’s Note
7 Elizabeth Surtees (1754–1831), had married John Scott, the future Lord Eldon, in 1772.
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