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Jeremy Bentham

The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 2: 1777–80

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Editor’s NoteEditor’s Note365To Samuel BentHam7–20 June 1780 (Aet 32)


Who would have thought, my dear Sam, that I should have had to date my letter from such a scene of desolation! Will you pg 462believe your own eyes when I tell you that London is in the position of a beseiged town. If I open my windows, I see two fires before me at a view: one is the King's Bench Prison, the other is somewhere to the Eastward. How many more there may be God knows—

When I wrote the above, I thought to have given you a narrative—But there was no finding a time for it.

2 Oars = Sweeps

It seems that Oars are used on board of our small ships of war. In the Whitehall Evening of 23d. Oct. 1779 mention is made of their being used onboard the Atlanta of 16 guns. They are called Sweeps. This I find upon looking over my Index—I forgot to mention it at the time.

3 Mirrors burning

An apparatus of proposed as a kind of fire-arms—Each soldier to carry one—Buffon to melt lead at 120 feet distance used 400. See Brydone's Travels in Sicily and Malta I. 284.2

4. Mortars

Mortars at Malta made by hollowing out the Rock. The charge a barrel of gunpowder at a time ib. 330. You have no rocks I believe that would do any where in the Russ. Dominions. Anderson says he has heard of such a thing being at Gibraltar.

5. Scheele. Heat and Light—Inflam. Air.

The translation of Scheele is not out yet, but will be soon.3 His positions according to Bergman are, 1. that the matter of heat is nothing but respirable air combined (intimè) with a determinate portion of phlogiston: 2. that inflammable air is resp. air combined with a greater proportion of phlog: and 3. that light again consists of the same elements only the proportion of phlogiston greater still. pg 463And that the hepatic air (of which Bergman) consists of sulphur dissolved in the matter of heat by the intermediation of phlogiston. These positions Bergman says agree admirably with the phoenomena hitherto known—de volcanis p. 101.4

June 20


I agree with you and Plesch. perfectly in some of your remarks, and do not disagree with you in any. It shall be new-doctored according to the best of my poor abilities in conformity to your good pleasure. Perhaps you may have it by next time I write. The letters to the other people whom you mention you shall likewise have time enough for me to have the benefit of your observations. You will find them fieres enough for you I imagine. After all, is it not a cursed thing that I must not say to that woman what is true, because other people in whose mouths perhaps it might not be true, might perhaps be for saying the same thing.5

Parcel for S.B.

Here's another plague has happen'd about your things. Mair6 was applied to about them by Wilson to give him notice when the fleet would sail. Mair chose not to say a syllable about the matter till Sunday on which day he called on W. and told him that the fleet was allready gone down to the Nore that it was uncertain whether a parcel would be sent after them, but that however he would try, if it was sent to his country house in Cloak lane Dowgate-hill. On that day there was no such thing as sending it. For you are to know that Q.S.P. an age ago had been making a rout about the curvators, and nothing would serve him but he must have them unpacked for him to pore over and sit in judgement on. Being completely tumbled I did not choose to trust to any repackage I could give them, but determined to send them to Mrs. Ramsden7 for that purpose. I thought the later this was done the better, in order that whatever other things there might be might go with them. Of pg 464course they were not packed up on the Sunday when the intelligence from Mair was given me. Sunday you know, nobody at work. Yesterday morning however they were sent with directions for them as soon as packed to be forwarded to Mairs, directed to Sr. James, with only a B upon the lid. Whether they will go, God knows: however there they are to take their chance. There is a possibility of their reaching you before this letter: in that case you will have been apprised of them by the box's containing a number of little parcels with your name on them.

Contents are as follows, upon recollection.


1. Curvators
2. 2 pr. Shoes according to last order.
3. Cake Blacking.
4. 1 box of tooth-powder.
5. 1 piece of Ca-outchou[?] in form of a vast french bean pod.
6. Silver compasses
7. Cypher seal
8. Some more small pieces of varnished copper Sheath.

  1.   1. Bergmans opusc. Vol. 1

  2.   2. Wilkins's secret and swift messenger.

  3.   3. Books on Land-Surveying.

  4.   4. Valesnod[?] sur la defense de l'eau dans les Machines etc. 4to.

  5.   5. Pringle and Cook on the health of Seamen

  6.   6. A book with tables for measuring Timber.

  7.   7. An old book of mine containing a number of arithmetical and other tables, with Geography and the Lord knows what all—a sort of pocket-book.

Code 200 pages. I have got in all 224, but the last 8 not yet corrected: there wants about 16 more of the last chapter but one.

I find I have got your diamond pencil—Mrs. G. picked it up out of the shavings that were taken out of the box when I sent it to be packed up at Ramsden's.

There are two more convoys go to Petersburgh in the course of the summer.

I am writing now from the City Coffeehouse, where I am drinking tea with Anderson and a friend of his after having been to Gordon's Nursery to enquire about Dr. Kruse's seeds. This gave me an opportunity of going over that beautiful spot, one opportunity I am always glad to embrace. The following is a copy of what Gordon wrote down in answer to your queries.8

pg 465

£    s.   d.

2 Bushel red clover

2 -  8 - 0

2 Bushel winter tares with yellow blossoms

0 - 10 - 0

1 Quarter Black Oats

1 -  4 - 0

1 Quarter Barley

1 -  4 - 0

1 Quarter Wheat

2 -  8 - 0

1 Bushel Nicol's Pease

0 - 10 - 0

1 Bushel Horse-beans

0 -  4 - 0

1 Peck Turnip-seeds /12 lb/

0 -  6 - 0

2 Pound large Scotch cabbage

0 -  8 - 0

1 Bushel Rye-Grass

0 -  3 - 6

1 Peck Rib Grass

0 -  2 - 6

1 Bushel Suffolk grass

0 -  1 - 6

4 Bushel St. foin or Esparcette

0 - 16 - 0

All the above except the last article, Gordon says will grow at a year old—But the last article he says must be fresh sown; so that the last years will not do for the next sowing season.

Gordon has lately enriched his collection greatly; guess how? The Congress had employ'd a man to make a collection of American plants and seeds to make a present of to the French King. The cargo was taken by the Captain of a Privateer a friend of Gordon's.

Gordon's shop is in Fenchurch Street: but the commission if any may come to me if it be of any convenience to Dr Kruse.

Priestly, Treenails—Pipe-staves. Pigeon.9

There is a man near Guildford has a kind of engine for making tree-nails. They are made true to a hair, I am told, by an instantaneous stroke—Staves for Barrels are also made in the same manner.

I called at Nairne's this morning. He has tried the experiment with the Pigeon according to your letter from Amsterdam: but it did not succeed. Nothing like the appearances you mentioned took place.10


Priestly is going to quit Ld. Shelburne. I do not find that there is any quarrel. He is going to settle in or about Birmingham and to dedicate his time altogether to philosophical physical pursuits. A subscription is to be made by some opulent individuals to defray the expence of his experiments. Ld. Shelburne according to ⟨previous pg 466agreement⟩ continues P part of his allowance. I think it is to be £150 pr. annum.

In a post or two you shall hear about my German translation—I must put up the letter—Good night!

Mulford comes up to town this week to settle your business with Q.S.P.

Tuesday night—June 20th—from Wilson's chambers.

I believe we shall go to Thorpe again for the summer.

We are all mighty happy about the taking of Charles Town11: and it looks as if party-rage had been extinguished with the Protestant fires. The opposition in both houses joining unanimously in complimentary addresses.

I was a military hero for a night—patrolling the Streets under arms.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
365. 1 B.M. III: 57–58 Autograph. Docketed: 'June 20th 1780.'
Addressed: 'Samuel Bentham Esqr. / at his Excellency Sr. James Harris's / Petersburgh.'
§1 must have been written on 7 June, when the King's Bench Prison was set on fire. The last sentence of this letter shows that Bentham himself played a brief part in keeping law and order.
Editor’s Note
2 A Tour through Sicily and Malta. In a series of letters to William Beckford, Esq … From P. Brydone F.R.S., London, 1773.
Brydone discusses a possible military device in which mirrors are used to set fire to enemy fortifications. He mentions an experiment made by Mr Buffon. In a letter dated 14 Octr. O.S. 1780 (see letter 378, n. 1) Samuel says he does not think burning mirrors would serve as useful weapons comparable to fire-arms, but that 'such implements might make the sun serve for culinary purposes, and thereby render wood for fuel unnecessary, the scarceness of which is the chief impediment to the peopling and cultivation of the immense deserts beyond the Dnieper.'
Editor’s Note
4 This refers to the first of the two papers mentioned in letter 345 at n. 10. There is a footnote on Scheele on p. 101.
Editor’s Note
5 Pleshcheyev and Samuel had evidently proposed changes in the letter with which Bentham was to present the Introduction to the Empress. This probably occurs in the lengthy deleted passage about Code mentioned in letter 300, n. 6.
Editor’s Note
8 Bentham and Anderson had been to Gordon's nursery garden to ascertain the prices of the seeds which Anderson was recommending Samuel's friend Dr Kruse to purchase. The list here is the same as Anderson's previous one with the prices added (see letter 360, n. 8).
Editor’s Note
9 To remind himself how to continue.
Editor’s Note
11 Charlestown had surrendered after a six weeks' siege on 12 May.
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