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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 NoteEditor’s Note122To John Lind5 October 1774 (Aet 26)

One word, my dearest friend, in the midst of the anxiety that my own foolish sensibilities have brought upon me, about the Book. I have looked it over—I have found juster sentiments in it, that is sentiments more correspondent to my own (for that is all that any man in such a case can mean) than I have yet seen anywhere in print. At the same time, I have found in some places the sentiments expressed otherwise than I could have wished, in others the sentiments themselves different from those I saw reason to entertain. I have remarked what seemed to me the following imperfections. The stile too much agitated—running too much into interrogations and exclamations. Too much pathos in it in some places for an attack upon a work which in its nature is not pathetic. Not so uniform as could be wished: vibrating too quickly between a vein of invective which supposes commotion, and a vein of Irony which supposes tranquility. Scarce any part of it so light, so Voltairian as many of your papers on other subjects that I have pg 205seen. That legereté is the quality of a mind at ease. A mind to be at ease, must feel itself master of the subject. You are not yet exercised enough in it to be so, and you have too much discernment to fancy yourself so when you are not. Pardon the comparison; your manner of treating it is much like what mine was two or three years ago. You are teaching while you are learning: you have instruction to seek yourself, while you have correction to give him: you have your own ideas to form, while you have his to censure: In pushing him down the hill, you have to climb up it yourself. Were you already up, you could take a commanding view of the field, choose your ground beforehand and combat him with more advantage. This makes you in some places take larger compass than perhaps is necessary. I have always found it so myself. Leading ideas, principles, take up many more words in their first disclosure than are sufficient to contain them afterwards. This Locke has seen, has intimated in his preface: and his own work as he acknowledges, and as itself proves, is an example of it. Without Locke I could have known nothing. But I think I could now take Locke's Essay and write it over again, so as to make it much more precise and apprehensible in half the compass. The circuits you take to matters collateral to the principal subject seem in some places too wide and too long continued. You stick not close enough to his words: you put a sense upon his words, and draw inferences from that sense after you have expressed it in words of your own: in this you are some times much too bountiful; and by such unmerited bounty expose yourself to censure. If he had a sense, that sense might be put into other words: but the truth is he had none; and so departing from his words you depart from everything. If your inferences run counter to his own words, it is your fault and will be laid to you: if his own words run counter to his own words, it is his fault and will be laid to him. What you should do therefore is to rake up his words from all quarters, drag them to the light together, and drive them bang against each other. What I write now is from memory, and as things struck me in the general: I will not answer for being exact; I cannot nor will you expect I should in the compass of a letter support my observations by particular examples. Nor can I answer for it absolutely that every observation I have seen cause to make is includable in the heads that I have mentioned. At the same time, few alterations occurred to me that could be made in the compass of a line or two. Your wish, I am persuaded, is sincerely for my opinion. I give it you as sincerely. For the sake of your present satisfaction my endeavour would be to represent pg 206it as favourable to the book as it would warrant: for the sake of your future more lasting satisfaction not a tittle more so. This then is my opinion concerning the probable success of it: supposing it finished as began without further alterations or amendments I think it is a work by which something might be gained to gain by, supposing it printed at your own expence: I think it is a work which deserves that it be gained by I think for example that it is much better, much more instructive, bulk for bulk, than the short treatise on Obligation for which Payne gave a hundred Pound. But I do not think it a work, take it in its present state that would fulfill the expectations that would be entertained of a man known to be the Author of the Polish Letters or of Ibrahim to the Haje.2 All this while you ought to look upon me as a very incompetent representative of the public judgment from the particular circumstances in my case that tend to make the merits of it appear less to me than they are. The principal merit of the observations in it, novelty, a merit that it will have with the public, is a merit that is lost upon me: who have now been for so many years poring over the subject, and as you know, have fallen in almost every part, into the same train of thinking.

Not bearing (you know my severity to myself and my affection to you which make me treat you as I would myself) not bearing I say, to set my fiat, such as it is, upon anything in the success of which I was so much interested that fell short of the model of perfection I could make to myself, this is what I have done. The shortest way of letting you know how I would have it in any passage I thought would be to endeavour to make it as I would have it myself. I had no notion at first of going on regularly; but I was drawn in insensibly, and have now written in quantity half or two thirds for ought I know (or more) as much as yours amounts to. In short, I have fleshed myself in the game, and have taken a fancy to the sport. In consequence of this the following proposals have come in my head to make to you: you shall see what I have done, and then determine. Take what I have done, if you happen to approve of it more than of your own, go on with it upon that plan, consider the whole as your own, most heartily will you be welcome: or else 2dly let me go on with it under your inspection, and with your corrections, and let profit or loss be equally divided between us, or 3dly if you approve of neither of these, I believe I shall be tempted to go on with it on my own account keeping it back pg 207half a year if you think that enough, that it may not hurt yours. its parent, to which it will have been so much indebted. Think not that if I were to execute the remainder, the half of the profit and of the reputation if there is any would be more than in strictness is your due: it would have been just as impossible for me to have done what I have done without the encouragement and assistance I have had from you, as for you to have done it. In such case, if owned to any body, it must be spoken of as our joint concern.

This I have written upon a sudden impulse, in the midst of my pushes at our common adversary, currente calamo between the hours of 12 and ½ after 1. The subject-matter turned in my thoughts at intervals for these 4 or 5 days. In the midst of it was brought me another letter. I have not open'd it: nor will I open it till I have dispatched this. I am afraid to open it. I am afraid to find I have injured you: I am afraid to find I have not. And yet it is in itself but a small matter, worked up and magnified by my foolish sensibilities. I tremble at the thoughts of having offended you: for never mortal loved another, if I don't you. Many things I now recollect are in my last that are expressed much otherwise than I would wish them: for I had not time nor sang-froid to ponder my expressions. Cautions made to look like threats: many other things very harsh, far otherwise than I meant, because I knew not how to soften them. Believe me if there is any thing in it inconsistent with the sincerest love and esteem for you, it is no true picture of my mind.

Thanks ten thousand thanks to you, my dear Master, for the news from Barker,3 for the news itself, and for the haste you made in communicating it to me, knowing how it would please me. For how it would please you know too well, for me to need to tell you.

Que puis-je dire a ma maitresse? rien, jusqu'a ce que les choses se soient un peu eclaircies. C'est ce que j'attends impatiemment de ce que je tiens en poche.

Wednesday Octr. 5th 1774.

I have got a Horse pro tempore; en attendant till I have one given me for good and all. You told me you would meet me on my return. This will go from Southampton tomorrow: it will reach you on Friday. By that time I shall be at Whitchurch. A letter sent by the Post would not reach me till Sunday. Appoint time and place pg 208of meeting. If you appoint Sunday evening, your letter must come by a Coach that goes through Whitchurch: there is one inns behind St Clements, another at the Bel Savage Fleet Street. Ay, send it thus at all events and to make up a packet, send me the News-papers of the whole week. You gave me hopes of your stretching as far as Demezey's Hartford Bridge. (35½). If so that would suit me

excellently. A good house 〈…〉 〈…〉 〈…〉 〈…〉 〈…〉4

I have now open'd the dreaded letter. I can say to it but two words. Forgive! Forgive! Duty to Mistress—with the handsomest apology you can make her for my silence.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
122. 1 B.M. I: 322–323. Autograph. Docketed (by John Lind?): 'Whitchurch —1774. / Bene / Critique on Comments on Commentaries.'
Addressed: 'To / John Lind Esqr. / Lamb's Conduit Street No. 65 / London.' Stamped: 'Southampton'. Postmark: '7 OC'.
On Cover: 'My brother […?] not. he is well.'
This letter is published in The Education of Jeremy Bentham by C. W. Everett, p. 72, and most of it also in Everett's introduction to his 1928 edition of the Comment on the Commentaries.
Apparently Lind had begun work on a critique of William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–69). He lent his draft to Bentham, who was inspired thereby to write his Comment on the Commentaries which first saw the light
in Everett's edition of 1928. The Fragment on Government published in 1776 was in fact a fragment of this work.
Bentham was evidently afraid that he had offended Lind (and perhaps Lind's wife-to-be)—possibly by something said in the missing part of letter 121. His anxiety may have had some connection with Mary Dunkley; but of this we have no positive evidence.
Editor’s Note
2 This work by Lind has not been traced. It may have appeared in a newspaper or magazine, but seems not to have been separately published.
Editor’s Note
3 Presumably the merchant captain whom Bentham had met at Land's—cf. end of letter 106. Probably the news was information about East Florida (cf. letter 101, n. 3 and letter 134).
Editor’s Note
4 Hidden by B.M. binding.
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