Jeremy Bentham

T. L. S. Sprigge (ed.), The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 1: 1752–76

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Editor’s Note95To Jeremiah Bentham14 October 1772 (Aet 24)

Hond. Sir

It gives me great satisfaction to find that the small specimen which you have as yet seen of what I have in hand, has met with your approbation: that being the case, one great end of it is answer'd. Having occasion to say something to the Public on the subject of that abstruseness of which you take notice, and which I see, must /from the causes which you mention/ to a certain degree remain after all my efforts to clear it away, I will not anticipate any thing on that behalf at present—In the mean time, excuse the liberty I take in supposing that with regard to some parts that abstruseness may possibly appear greater to you in common with others of your former profession, than to men at large, as, besides having a new language to acquire, you have the old one to unlearn. As to myself, if I had waited till I had been immersed in the depths of practise, I am satisfied I should never have had ability, even if I had had inclination, to engage in the design.

The great point is, to conciliate the suffrages of the Masters of the Science, of those who, as the French expression is, give the 'ton': which is not to be done, in an eminent degree, but by eliciting such Truths, as shall be both new and interesting, not only to others but to them. For such Truths one must often dive deep; they are not pg 155to be gather'd on the surface. Others I believe there will not be wanting, which may find easier access to popular apprehension, by touching upon some string of the affections: and these may help draw in the rest. With others, this may be a point of prudency, with me it is a matter of necessity—I cannot rest till I feel myself every where at the bottom—I cannot go on with what is before me, while I have any thing behind me unexplor'd—I feel myself to have acquired to a considerable degree that pleasing and uncommunicable sensation—Thus only can one hope to keep clear of those inconsistencies, into which I see my predecessors, (as far as I have predecessors) humble servants for the most part to Authority, and to one another, falling evermore.

Forgive me Sir, if I declare simply, and once for all, that till this great business is disposed of, I feel myself unable to think of any other—The Will is here out of the question. Whatever may be the case with others, I find it impossible with me to bring the powers of invention to a mechanical obedience to the good pleasure of that faculty—The sense of necessity, which may set them to work in some, strikes me motionless—I am in this respect like David; I can 'give no melody in my heaviness.' In the track I am in, I march up with alacrity and hope: in any other I should crawl on with despondency and reluctance—If I am not likely to succeed in a pursuit in which I am engaged with affection and with strong presentiments of success; much less am I where both are wanting: I mean situated as I am at present—any tolerable share of success in such an undertaking as mine, you are sensible, must needs work a considerable revolution.

It was, I own, a little disappointment to me, to find along with my Mss, and the Ten you were so kind as to send me, nothing in your hand. I rummaged them over and over, and thought there had been a mistake.

The News you tell me about the Barracks, is comfortable indeed—I hope that source of your anxieties will soon be stopped up—Down with the Red-Coats! Lord North and Liberty for ever!2

pg 156I congratulate my Friend Charles3 on his new Amours: in this, as in every thing else he undertakes, I am satisfied he will come off with eclat: let him pray stoutly, if not to Venus, at least to Aesculapius and Minerva, to be propitious to him.

I just now learn, that a neighbour who lives but a Door or two off has just had a practical Lecture on Criminal Law read to him, which is not much to his liking: some Rascals got in last night, and took every Apple out of his Garden*—I have fortunately housed the greatest part of my Landlord's—

With sincere respects to my Mother and Brothers, believe me to be

  • Dr. Sir     Your dutiful and affectionate Son
  • Jere:y Bentham                     

Chertsey Oct. 14 1772.

I believe it will not be many days, before I pay one visit more to Town before the Term.


* The Common Law, you know, as it stands at present, is so complaisant to such Gentlemen as these, as to give them leave: I think there has been no Statute inflicting a Punishment for taking fruits; tho' there are for Trees and Roots—my Definition, would hook him in.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
95. 1 B.M. I: 242–243. Autograph. Docketed by Jeremiah Bentham: 'Fils Jeremy / Lr. datd. Chertsey Surry Octr. 14 1772.'
Addressed: 'To / Jeremiah Bentham Esqr. / Queen's Square Place / Westminster / Single Sheet.' Postmark: '16 OC'.
Editor’s Note
2 We do not know what Jeremiah Bentham's news about the barracks was, but the following passage from Bowring (x, 71–72) perhaps throws some light on the matter: 'I find, in the handwriting of Bentham's father (dated 1773,) "Verses by a young gentleman of Oxford, on the report of a design to make barracks for recruits of the building in St James's Park, adjoining to the garden of Jeremiah Bentham, Esq., in which is erected a temple to the memory of Milton, whose house it was, and where he lived when he wrote his immortal poem of Paradise Lost.
  •                  Peace to these shades!
  •                  where once our Milton trod— Where yet his spirit reigns, a guardian god!
  •                  Far off let Mars his crimson standard rear—
  •                  Divine poetic peace inhabits here.
  •                  Where hireling troops, with wanton license stray,
  •                  Milton's free spirit would disdain to stay.
  •                  Hence then, stern god! and other mansions choose;
  •                  Be those reserved for Milton and the Muse!"
'No doubt Bentham was the author of these lines. The adjoining of the barracks to his hermitage troubled him to the end of his days. His studies were sometimes interrupted by the cries of the soldiers who were flogged in the barrack-yard; and I have often heard him speak with the utmost indignation and horror of that most unnecessary penalty, whose infliction was so frequently called to his mind by the suffering of its victims.'
It seems in fact unlikely that Bentham was the author of the verses: 'a young gentleman of Oxford' would have been an inappropriate description of him in 1773.
Editor’s Note
3 Charles Abbot: see letter 68, n. 4.
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