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‘From a Good Scheme to a Better’: The Itinerancy of Jeremy Bentham, 1769–1789

  • JAMES BURNS (a1)
Abstract

Bentham was convinced throughout his adult life that law reform in both theory and practice was his vocation. As a deliberately briefless barrister he set out in the early 1770s to establish jurisprudence on the principle of utility. From the first, however, he was repeatedly diverted from this central task. Confronted by the authority of Blackstone, he wrote, without completing, his Comment on the Commentaries, and turned within that context to the specific theme of his Fragment on Government (1776). In the later 1770s he took up the subject of punishment as his principal theme (dealing with an immediate problem in his 1778 View of the Hard-Labour Bill). His Theory of Punishment was projected as his contribution to the siècle des lumières, in which he would stand beside Hume, Helvétius, Voltaire and d'Alembert. That contribution, however, took yet another form when he decided in 1779 to enter (though he did not in the end carry out his intention) the Berne competition for a penal code. For the next ten years he wrestled with the text and eventual destination of his ‘Code’ – still incomplete when the French Revolution took Bentham's attention elsewhere.

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1 In The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham [CW] (Oxford, 2010).

2 The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham [Correspondence], in CW, vol. 1, p. 293 n. 12. Here and throughout, the original orthography (including the use or non-use of accents) has been preserved except where clarity required modification.

3 The first title also appears as ‘Critical Elements of Jurisprudence’ – ‘my capital work’, as Bentham calls it in a letter to his father on 1 October 1776 (Correspondence, in CW, vol. 1, pp. 328–9).

4 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 1, p. 367. The accumulated MSS were, of course, used from the 1790s onwards by Etienne Dumont in his recensions of Bentham's works.

5 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 42.

6 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 64, 67–8, 72.

7 For Bentham's correspondence with Eden in late March and early April 1778 see Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 90–3.

8 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 149–50. Blackstone's letter seems not to have been preserved.

9 Bentham to d'Alembert, Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 115–18, with a ‘P.S.’ on pp. 121–2 in which Bentham says ‘Voila deux mois et davantage qui se sont ecoulés, et ce paquet n'est pas encore depeché.’ The problematic relationship between Bentham's ideas and those of d'Alembert is discussed by the editors of Jeremy Bentham: De l’ ontologie et autres textes sur les fictions (Paris, 1997), pp. 197, 204–5 and nn.

10 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 68–9 and n. 4.

11 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 100.

12 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 169–70.

13 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 246.

14 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 248–53.

15 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 287.

16 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 319–20, 334.

17 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 407–8n.

18 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 397. It may be more accurate to say that the German translation was not completed and does not seem to survive in any form.

19 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 409, 411.

20 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 417, 418.

21 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 417.

22 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 427.

23 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 442.

24 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 470–1.

25 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 480.

26 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 477–8.

27 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 482–3.

28 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 482, 488, 496–7, 507–9, 518–19.

29 Cf. Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2i, p. 19 n.1.

30 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 488.

31 Cf. Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, pp. 488–9 n. 18.

32 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2, p. 504.

33 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 2i, pp. 24–7 (Bentham to Shelburne, 18 July 1761, with draft texts in pp. 28–30 and in nn. 4, 5, 8 on pp. 26–9).

34 CW, vol. 3, p. 24. In the draft letter (University College London Bentham MSS [cited below as UC], lxix.114), Bentham glosses ‘first’: ‘tho’ first in dignity not first in the order of deminstration’.

35 Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, in CW, p. 281 n.

36 CW, vol. 3, pp. 26–7.

37 Further on in this draft (p. 27) the flattering tone becomes even stronger: ‘my ideas will receive a polish from such further questions as your Lordship may be pleased to put to me’.

38 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 28. A marginal note here reads ‘See also Indirect Legislation’.

39 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 45–8; & cf. editorial introduction, p. xxi.

40 Comment/Fragment, in CW, pp. 524–5. In conversation with Bowring, Bentham interpreted this episode as having ‘endeared’ him to Shelburne because his independence ‘was so different to the universal spirit of those about him’ (524 n. 3).

41 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, pp. 123–30; also Appendix E in Of Laws in General, in CW, pp. 304–11. This is a heavily corrected draft: the version finally sent has not been located. This evidence has of course been crucial for successive editors of the text – Everett (1945), Hart (1970), and Schofield (2010).

42 Of Laws in General, in CW, pp. 312–13.

43 Correspondance universelle sur ce qui intéresse le bonheur de l'homme (Neuchâtel, 1783), vol. i, p. 57.

44 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 171. Letters from Bentham to his brother dated 28 January and in late April 1783 are missing.

45 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 179: the dating of this letter is uncertain.

46 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 183.

47 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 193.

48 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 225.

49 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 254.

50 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 278.

51 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 312.

52 Correspondence in, CW, vol. 3, p. 320. Bentham wrote several letters to Lansdowne during his journey, but only one written during his sojourn in Russia has been found.

53 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, pp. 343, 344.

54 For these, and similar letters to other correspondents, see Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, pp. 345–457.

55 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 475.

56 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, pp. 490–1.

57 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, pp. 513–14.

58 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 518.

59 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 524.

60 UC xcix. 180.

61 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, pp. 545–6.

62 UC xxxvi.1–146; xxxvii.1–142.

63 Richard King acted as Bentham's agent during his stay in Russia.

64 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, pp. 524–5.

65 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, pp. 526–7.

66 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 532.

67 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 544–5.

68 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, pp. 547–8.

69 This letter is known only from the part printed by Bowring. The tenor of Wilson's comments on the Defence has to be inferred from Bentham's reply in late August.

70 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, pp. 559–60.

71 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 615.

72 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 3, p. 619.

73 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 4, pp. 15–16.

74 Correspondence, in CW, vol. 4, p. 34.

75 In the Ashburton letter the list of chapters begins with ‘Ch. 18 (dismembered from Chap. 17) Jurisprudence its branches’.

76 Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, in CW, p. 28.

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Utilitas
  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
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