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Jeremy Bentham

The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 4: October 1788 to December 1793

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Editor’s NoteEditor’s Note825To Caroline Vernon[?]mid-December 1791 (Aet 43)

December, 1791

Lord Lansdowne gives me pain. A friend of mine, who is intimate with Madame Helvetius,2 having put into my hands a couple of remarkable letters of her husband's, in which he condemns his friend, Montesquieu, for his aristocratical principles, predicts the immediate success of the Esprit des lois,3 and its subsequent downfall, as well as the prevalence of democratical principles, I communicated them, as a literary curiosity, to Lord Lansdowne. They interested him, and, as a proof of it, 'they ought to be translated into English, and published with a commentary,' says he,—'suppose now you were to do it.'4 'There are friends of ours, my lord, who could do it better—they are more in the habit of doing such things.' 'What, Mr. V——?'5 'the same' 'Ay! see what comes of my proposing it: if anybody else had proposed it to you, pg 348or nobody, it might have been done. What, I suppose, if your orders were to come from Warwick, then perhaps it would be done!' 'O yes!—to be sure—that or anything else.' 'What! then you are serious?'—'Quite so,—that is, first the petition goes from hence to Warwick, then orders from thence to Ampthill,6 then other orders from thence to Dover Street, and then the business is done in a trice. But the orders must be particular, and tell me what it is I am to do, otherwise, how am I to know whether I do right'—'Oh, no, you know what to do well enough.' 'Indeed! not I'—then a look of dissatisfaction. 'Well, as you will, you know I have no interest in it—not I.' 'My dear lord, my wish is to comply with yours; but then I must know what it is distinctly; else, what can I do?' 'I have no interest in it.' This was the very language on a former occasion, when my intractableness brought me into a disgrace, from out of which I am not yet perfectly recovered.

Now, my dearest and most respected friends, suffer me to call you by that name—help me, pray do, to satisfy him, which you can, if you please; and which you will, if you believe me, that I regard him with the same tenderness as ever.7 Suffer him not to fancy himself that I am of the number of those, who, upon the first rebuff that any wish of theirs happens to meet with, think themselves licensed to forget past kindnesses, and to fly off from their best and kindest friends and benefactors.

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Editor’s Note
825. 1 Bowring, x, 270–1. An incomplete draft is in U.C. IX: 93. It is headed 'To Miss V. Dec. 1791' and ends with the words 'This was the very language on a former occasion when my …' The final paragraph is missing altogether in this draft.
Editor’s Note
2 Bentham had a high opinion of Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715–71), from whose writings he derived some of his utilitarian ideas. The widow was the gifted Anne Catherine, comtesse de Ligniville d'Autricourt (1719–1800), whose house at Auteuil became the rendezvous of many celebrities. The correspondence of Helvétius was included in his Œuvres complètes (7 vols., Deux-Ponts, 1784), i, 209–97, and in another edition (5 vols., Paris, 1795), v, 103–220.
Editor’s Note
3 'Esprit des lois' is inserted in Bentham's hand in the draft: Bowring mis-spells the last word 'Loix'. Bentham had mixed feelings about Montesquieu, and considered that the popularity of his De l'esprit des lois (1748) would not last (see Bowring, x, 143).
Editor’s Note
4 There are double quotation marks in the draft of this sentence, but not in the remainder of the paragraph, which is largely the report of a conversation with Lord Lansdowne. To make clearer who is speaking single quotation marks have been inserted.
Editor’s Note
5 Probably Benjamin Vaughan.
Editor’s Note
6 'Ampthill' inserted in Bentham's hand, in the draft.
Editor’s Note
7 Bentham fears that his 'intractableness' may have offended Lord Lansdowne and asks for the good offices of the ladies of Bowood.
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