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Jeremy Bentham

The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 8: January 1809 to December 1816

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Editor’s NoteEditor’s Note2116To Sir Samuel Bentham24 April 1811 (Aet 63)

24 Apr. 1811. Wednesday.

Abercromby (the Honble James) M.P. (son of the General2 whose widow he being killed in Egypt was made a Peeress in her own right with succession etc3) being a Member of the Penitentiary Committeepg 133 is the person to whom the charge of Panopticon was committed by Romilly. Having just been with me on that business, he asked me in the way of conversation whether in a call I had made a few days ago at his House, I had observed a man who went out as I went in. On my answering in the negative That says he is Johnson—the famous Smuggler and Prison-breaker.4 He then proceeded to state to me what Johnsons business with him was.

By this Johnson an offer had been made to Government—viz to somebody in Office—but I do not know, who, to make an attempt to destroy Bony's fleet in the Scheldt etc; stating that the plan he meant to pursue for that purpose was Fulton's:5 which you can not but have heard more or less of.

From principles of sentimentality, this Mr Government had refused to give him any encouragement. But not being easily abashed, he had addressed himself to certain individuals of the mercantile class who were disposed to assist him, in case any probable prospect of pecuniary advantage could be found: and for that purpose the plan was to fit out a Privateer.

What brought him to A. was to learn from him as a lawyer6 (what the opening that led him to A. was I did not learn) what probability of remuneration might be derived from the provisions in the Prize Acts and Proclamations.

In answer to the objections on the score of sentimentality he produced parallel cases which are in daily practice. A. was going to mention them—or some of them; but they are so obvious, that to save migration I stopped his mouth.

Now then suppose it could be so managed—what say you to the taking a part in this business—in the way of advice? viz. as to the most effectual and secure mode of proceeding etc.

You have it in contemplation I understand to come to town ere long. A. can not but know where to meet with the man. He at my desire would I make no doubt direct him to Q.S.P. at which placepg 134 you might meet him, in any way you liked: I present, or not present; cognizant or not cognizant.

You see there is no time to be lost. Whether you approve or disapprove of this idea answer me by return of post.

For my part not only on the score of patriotism, but on 〈…〉 of humanity I can not but look upon it with 〈…〉 favourable eye. Drowning is the easiest of all Deaths. If this man fails and perishes, he can be better spared than a better and less mischievous man. As to retaliation it can not be but that they who are first at assault will be best prepared for defence. In all our military inventions, the advantage is to the first practiser. After that all nations are upon a par: and the more destructive the particular operation, the less destructive war so carried on has been found to be upon the whole.

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Editor’s Note
2116. 1 BL VIII. 512–13. Autograph. Docketed: '1811 Ap 24 / JB-SB'. Addressed: 'To / Sir Samuel Bentham / etc etc etc / Queenborough /Sheerness.' Readdressed: 'His Majys Dock Yard /Sheerness.' Stamped: 'AP / C / 24 / 811'.
Editor’s Note
2 James Abercromby was the third son of Lieut.-Gen. Sir Ralph Abercromby (1734– 1801), who had died of wounds received while leading the British forces at the battle of Alexandria.
Editor’s Note
3 In recognition of her husband's services, Lady Mary Anne Abercromby was created Baroness Abercromby of Aboukir and Tullibody on 28 May 1801.
Editor’s Note
4 'Captain' Thomas? Johnson (1772–1839) was imprisoned in 1798 following an affray with Revenue officers. He escaped and received a pardon after he offered to pilot the expedition to Holland led by Sir Ralph Abereromby in 1799. In 1802 Johnson was again imprisoned, this time for debt, and charged with further smuggling offences. He escaped and was pardoned for a second time when he piloted the Walcheren expedition in 1809.
Editor’s Note
5 Robert Fulton (1765–1815), American civil engineer, inventor, and painter. After recommending the use of a submarine and torpedoes to the French, Pulton advised the British in 1804 to use his craft to attack the French fleet. A raid on Boulogne was unsuccessful owing to the failure of Fulton's torpedoes to explode. He returned to the United States in 1806.
Editor’s Note
6 James Abercromby was called to the bar in 1801.
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