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Jeremy Bentham

The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 5: January 1794 to December 1797

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Editor’s Notepg 22Editor’s Note954To Evan Nepean30 March 1794 (Aet 46)

Queen's Square Place Westminster March 30th 1794

The season is so far advanced, while the condition of the Panopticon plan, as far as I can collect, is so much worse than stationary, that I find myself under the necessity of requesting the favour of you to represent to Mr Pitt and Mr Dundas, how inevitably the final fate of it depends upon its receiving the sanction of Parliament before the Session is at an end.

It was some time before the close of the last Session, that, at the conclusion of an audience you had the goodness to obtain for me from Mr Dundas, after speaking of some official communications that remained to be made to other members of the Cabinet, you were pleased to add—'And in the mean time Mr Bentham you may be making your arrangements.' Mr Dundas, who was at your elbow, hearing and, as it seemed to me, signifying concurrence, though as yet not otherwise than by looks.

It was a considerable time after that, but still a considerable time before the close of the then subsisting Session, that I was honoured by your means, with a joint visit from Mr Dundas and Mr Pitt. What passed on that occasion it is the more necessary I should state to you, as it was in your absence that it passed, for you may remember that you left them at my house. 'Have you taken any arrangements (said Mr Dundas to me) in consequence of what passed t'other day?'—'No, Sir, I have not: I did not look upon myself as sufficiently warranted to take any material step in that view without receiving a more express authority than I have as yet been favoured with.'—'Very well then, now you will,' replied Mr Dundas: and added Mr Pitt, 'there are some matters of detail which pg 23remain to be settled, and which you will settle with Mr Nepean. I have given him what papers I had for that purpose.' This at the very conclusion of the visit: this in my Garden under my study window: Mr Pitt standing close to Mr Dundas, my Brother close to me.

The plan having been thus accepted, it appeared as far as my Brother and I could judge, to be the wish of both gentlemen that the execution of it should be speedy: upon my mentioning six months as a term within which we were not altogether without hopes of seeing the building in a condition to receive some at least of its inhabitants, some marks of satisfaction, if my Brother's observation did not deceive him, were visible in the countenance of Mr Pitt. It was in consequence, as I conceived, of those dispositions, that when the Articles were, as I understood, all settled between you and me, and every thing agreed on, you urged me to engage for the completion of the business within that period, under a penalty of £5,000. My answer was, that it was so evidently my interest (to say nothing of my wish) to give it every degree of expedition in my power, that I saw no need of penalties. Upon your observing that the insertion of such penalties was as much in course as the levying them, where no wilful default appeared, was unexampled, I did submitt, I believe, to bind myself accordingly, not to six months indeed, but however to a year.

It will be sufficient here to glance at a variety of subsequent incidents—at the failure of the different views we had separately entertained, of beginning the business without the necessity of a recourse to Parliament—at the failure of the negotiation with Lord Spencer—at the putting off of the business for that Session—at the assurances I received from you, with authority to make use of them, (which I did to his Lordship) that a Bill for the purpose would be brought in early in the present Session—at your recommendation to me to have a Bill prepared in readiness—at the assurance you were pleased to give me that the money I had required in advance was ready at any time, and would be put into my hands the instant the articles were signed, which they could be the instant a consent had been signified by Lord Spencer, or the requisite authority obtained from Parliament.

Trusting to grounds of expectation which to me seemed so unequivocal, I did 'take such arrangements' as it was in my power to take, for making up by my exertions for whatever delays the business had met with, or might meet with, from other quarters. I sacrificed, in spite of the incessant reproaches of my most confidential friends, the plan of gradual and successive establishment I had pg 24settled with my Brother for his numerous inventions, and which was suited to the nature and extent of my private fortune. The number of workmen has accordingly been at least doubled:—a considerable House and Manufactory has been added to what you saw:—Materials for the perfected erection have been laid in: a part of it has even been put together. Patent has been added to Patent (an object of itself of between 600 and 700 pound:) while the term allotted to the exercise of those dear-bought privileges has been mouldering away. The duration which in my calculations I had assigned to this forced disbursement is on the point of elapsing: I can continue it no longer. As little can I now retreat into the original plan of limited expenditure. A person with whom I had agreed for the sale of an estate which was to fetch me about £7,000 has within these few days declared off: the circumstances of the times have left the execution of the agreement, he says, no longer in his power: the Sale of other estates I had allotted for the purpose is becoming more and more precarious. As to borrowing money upon them, there are circumstances which render it rather a difficult, and at any rate a tedious business, had I ever so much time to attend to it: and as to loans of favour, you may judge how far the failure of a great and apparently eccentric project, is an auspicious period, for making experiments on a large scale, upon the confidence of friends. On the other hand, money which had been lent me by persons of very ample ability for the declared purpose of my keeping it untill those estates should have been disposed of, is now on a diminution of that ability called in, although the estates remain unsold, and, for I know not how long, unsaleable.

Meantime my Brother, whose offer, to save the public 25 per Cent in the article of woodwork for the Navy, the Earl of Chatham was pleased to reject on the declared ground of his attachment to the Russian service, has lost by his confidence in his Lordship's Brother, his Regiment in that service: a provision which was not worth as little as £2,000 a year to him, and which was all he had to live upon. I have more than once had occasion to speak of such an event as probable: I have, as you may perhaps remember, sollicited, and sollicited in vain, a word or two, by which I conceived it might have been averted. Within these few days accident led me to the discovery of its having taken place, I can't tell when, spite of my Brother's endeavours to conceal it from me. As to the Russian Minister here, who was most zealously his friend, he has not been able to look him in the face this twelvemonth.

Under these circumstances, Sir, you will not be surprized to hear, pg 25that adjournment and abandonment will be two words for the same thing. My own economical plans have so absolute a dependence on my Brother's mechanical ones, that without his assistance, even with money at command, it would be impossible for me to go on, at least upon any terms like those agreed on: and for his part you will, I believe, allow, that it will be high time he were in Russia, trying to get back, if possible, a part of the bread he has been led to forfeit, and beginning the same sort of game at Petersburgh, that after two or three years rather unexpected practice, I have just done playing at Whitehall.

Upon receipt of your official answer, or rather upon the non-receipt of it within a week, for events that are absolutely inevitable will not wait for others that have been found so eminently precarious, my new 'arrangements' will begin to be 'taken', not such as I was twice spontaneously authorized to take, but such as a power much stronger obliges me to take: a collection of Workmen, such as, I believe (especially after the course of instruction they have had) are not to be matched in London, nor consequently in the World, will be paid off and dispersed: the Houses which you saw, together with others which you have not seen, will be shut up: and if you happen to know of any body whom a place, like that I am dating from, might be likely to suit, I should be much obliged to you if you would have the goodness to recommend it. I have the honour to be,

  • with all respect                               
  • Sir, your most obedient                   
  • and humble Servant                  
  • Jeremy Bentham.                

  • Evan Nepean Esqr
  • etc. etc. etc.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
954. 1 P.R.O., H.O. 42/29, unnumbered fos. Autograph. Docketed: 'Panopticon Proposal Supp.t'. In B.L. V: 503–6 is an autograph rough draft, docketed: '1794 Mar 30 / Panopt / J.B. Q.S.P. / to / Nepean Whitehall / Dundas and Pitt's authorisation stated / No staying beyond the Session / S.B.'s regiment gone.'
Additional note, in red ink, at end of draft: '1798 or 99 / Returned by Mr Henry Thornton by letter.' This suggests that Thornton was shown this draft, perhaps because Bentham had kept no other copy.
In H.O. 42/29, with the letter of 30 March 1794 are two other documents, the first in Bentham's hand:
  1. 1. 'Proposal for a new and less expensive mode of employing and reforming Convicts'.

  2. 2. 'Supplemental Elucidations, 1793 June 8.' This is endorsed: '30 March 1794. Dom'.

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