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 Note123To Joseph PriestleyNovember (?) 1774 (Aet 26)On Electricity


Inclosed herewith is a Theory of the Electricity of the Atmosphere. The Author's name and address you will see on the first page—An ingenious and worthy man, with whom I formed a slight acquaintance in one of the summer months. The paper I unwittingly unwarily engaged to trouble you with before I had read it through. I doubt you will not find it calculated to throw much light upon the subject. It has been shewn to Dr. Franklin, who returned it as far as I could gather, with such a compliment as was suggested only by pg 209politeness. After a hasty perusal on the spot I offer'd an objection or two, which the Author seemingly acquiesced in: but was still unwilling to give up the thought he had flatter'd himself with, of having it submitted to your inspection. The relation you bear to this branch of Science, as adopted father of it, subjects you, I doubt too frequently to addresses still less calculated than this to pay you for the trouble of attending to them. You have learnt, I suppose, to familiarize yourself to this sort of homage, which is flattering in the intention, however troublesome in the /method in which it/ manner it takes to shew itself. Tis on this consideration probably more than any other that I ought to depend for your favourable acceptance of a few hints of my own on a different subject, herewith also inclosed. The studies which /gave occasion/ produced it were taken up during the moments snatched from a pursuit as heterogeneous to the subject of it, as the most distant of those you find means so happily to combine.

The paper on Electricity, when perused, you will be pleased to return to me with such answer as you think proper to give to it, unless you think to put it to any further use. It may come by the Penny Post directed to me at George's Coffee House Chancery Lane.

I leave it to your philanthropy and address to let down if necessary as gently as possible the amour-propre of a well-meaning and ingenious man: and have the honour to be with perfect respect Sr.

  • Your most obedient humble                  
  • Servant Jeremy Bentham                  

The paper on Electricity I am sorry to own, has lain by me these 3 or 4 months. The delay has been owing partly to a wish to communicate it previously to a friend or two, and partly to other causes that you may imagine.

If you think the disposition that has produced you this trouble worth rewarding, you will let me know what subject you are preparing to instruct us upon next.

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Editor’s Note
123.1 B.M. I: 324–325. Autograph draft. Docketed by Jeremy Bentham: '1774 I.B. to Dr. Priestley.'
The paper Bentham refers to was by Dr John Simmons (see letter 129, n. 1). Letter 125, dated 14 November 1774, reports that Simmons's paper has been left for Priestley at Lord Shelburne's, presumably along with this letter.
Not much is known of Dr Simmons. In 1775 he published at Rochester An Essayon the Cause of Lightning. … A letter by him on Nitrous Air was published in theSt. James's Chronicle in October 1775, signed simply 'J.S.—s.' and dated from Chatham (see letter 144, n. 2). He is mentioned in several letters as a visitor to the Davies household. Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), the famous chemist and theologian, was known as 'Proteus Priestley' on account of his many interests. In 1772 he had resigned as minister of a Leeds chapel to become librarian to Lord Shelburne, with the duty of furnishing information on topics arising in Parliament. His main scientific achievement was the isolation and recognition of various gases, including oxygen (dephlogisticated air); after meeting Benjamin Franklin in 1766, he also made important experiments in electricity.
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