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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 NoteEditor’s Note1777To Benjamin Hobhouse15 January 1803 (Aet 54)

Dear Sir

Herewith (but I know not as yet through what channel) you will receive two printed but unpublished Letters to Lord Pelham contain- pg 189ing a comparative view, taken by the light of experience as well as reason, of the several modes of disposing of convicts, confronted respectively with the several acknowledged ends of penal justice.

It will be truly unfortunate for the public if the insignificance of the private concern (which I wish it had been possible to keep entirely out of sight) were to deprive the subject of the benefit of that attention on your part which its importance if regarded in a purely public view could scarce fail (I think) of securing to it.

On the question of importance, a better witness could scarcely be wished for than the Atty Genl as by a letter of his2 of which a copy is annexed: but the testimony would lose no small part of its force, if it were not understood that among the statements of which he speaks there are abundance which can not but be seen to reflect disgrace, in no inconsiderable degree, on the late administration, to say nothing of the present.

Among the conclusions are—that the penal Colonization system is, in every point of view, so bad—in experience as well as in principle—as to be absolutely untenable: an opinion I had heard pronounced in the most decided terms even by men of law firm friends to administration:—that the Hulks are if possible still worse: a point established not by reasoning only but by incontrovertible documents—that the penitentiary system, after trial in different States, has already been found to succeed beyond expectation: in Pennsylvania in particular striking off near 7/8ths of the first-rate crimes, besides the whole of the expence.3

I preferred addressing this to you in the country for two reasons: it would find you (I imagined) the more at leisure: and in case of any concurrence in sentiment, you might do me the favour, perhaps, to mention some other persons, to whom copies might be sent, before Parliament met, under an expectation of finding on their part a similar concurrence.

The mention made of my name in Parliamt t'other day, was neither sollicited by me nor so much as expected. It may or may not have met your eye: some Newspapers as if studiously suppressed the mention of it.4

pg 190With very sincere respect permit me to subscribe myself Dear Sir etc.

P.S. The parcel containing the two pamphlets in question [was] left this afternoon at the Golden Cross Charing Cross and directed for you at Cottles House near Bradford Wilts

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Editor’s Note
1777. 1 BL VIII. 9–10. Autograph rough draft. Docketed: '1803 Jan 15 / Panopt. / J.B. Q.S.P. / to I Hobhouse Cottles House Wilts.'
Benjamin Hothouse (1757–1831), MP 1797–1818, was to be secretary to the board of control, autumn 1803–May 1804; created baronet 1812. For a letter from him to Bentham in 1790, see Correspondence, iv. 124.
Editor’s Note
3 Bentham's Second Letter to Lord Pelham contains much information about the success of the penitentiary system in Pennsylvania.
Editor’s Note
4 In The Times of 18 December 1802, the report of the debate of the previous day on the third reading of the Convicts Transportation Bill did not include any mention of Bentham. In the Morning Chronicle of 18 December, however, Sir Charles Bunbury was reported to have said, at the conclusion of an argument in favour of the establishment of separate prisons for different classes of prisoners: 'He was sorry that the Penitentiary House, so admirably chalked out by Mr. Bentham, had never been put into execution; he trusted, however, that Ministers did not lose sight of it.' There was another mention of Bentham later in the report of the same debate: 'Mr. H. Thornton, as a Member of the Committee of Finance, was very anxious to see the admirable plan of Mr. Bentham put into execution—a plan which that Committee thought well deserving the consideration of the House, and which they earnestly recommended to be carried into effect. He was sorry that the weighty cares of a long war had prevented Government from attending to these improvements; but now that peace was re-established, he indulged a hope that these plans would be forwarded by an Administration who seemed well disposed to promote and accomplish such objects.'
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