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  Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), by Henry William Pickersgill, 1829 Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), by Henry William Pickersgill, 1829
Bentham, Jeremy (1748–1832), philosopher, jurist, and reformer, was born on 4 February 1748 in Church Lane, Houndsditch, London, the eldest of the seven children of Jeremiah Bentham (1712–1792), attorney, and Alicia Woodward Whitehorne (d. 1759), the eldest daughter of Thomas Grove, a mercer of Andover, and Alice Woodward. He was baptized on 14 February at St Botolph's, Aldgate. Of his siblings, only his youngest brother, , survived early childhood, and his mother died when Jeremy was eleven.

The various branches of the Bentham family were descended from a common ancestor, Thomas Bentham (c.1513–1579), who was born at Sherburn in Yorkshire and became bishop of Coventry and Lichfield in 1559. The bishop's grandson, Francis Bentham (d. 1670), a draper from Stafford, migrated to London, and established the London branch of the family. Francis's son, Bryan (b. 1627), was Bentham's great-great-grandfather, and his son, also Bryan (b. 1657), was master of the Clothworkers' Company.

Bentham's grandfather (1685–1741) and father, both named Jeremiah, were prosperous attorneys in London with extensive investments in property, some of which may have been acquired through the grandfather's marriage in 1706 to Rebecca Tabor, a member of a well-established Essex family. Bentham's father had numerous interests in the City of London and, for example, was involved for more than fifty years in securing the future of the Sir John Cass Charity located in Aldgate. At his death a silver cup, commemorating his father's service, was presented by Bentham to the trustees in accordance with his father's will.

Less is known of Bentham's mother, Alicia Whitehorne, who was a young widow when she met Jeremiah Bentham at Buckholt Acres, a place of entertainment near Epping Forest. Jeremiah fell deeply in love, disappointing his parents, who had greater ambitions for their son. Alicia was a kindly woman whose early death deprived Bentham and his younger brother of an important source of family affection which his father's second marriage to Sarah Abbot (née Farr), the widow of John Abbot, a clergyman and fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, did not provide. Alicia's own mother, Alice Woodward, was the daughter of William Woodward (c.1640–1703), rector of Baughurst in Hampshire. Alice Woodward latterly lived with other Grove relatives on an estate at Browning Hill, near Reading. The house had an extensive library, much loved by the young Bentham, which had been established by his grandmother's brother, Thomas Woodward, a London bookseller. His paternal grandmother resided mainly in a country house at Barking, Essex, which the Bentham family often visited at weekends.

Early life and education

Bentham's upbringing and early education was dominated by his father, who sought to develop his talents and produce not only an attorney like himself but also a future lord chancellor of England. Bentham was undeniably precocious, and his intellect was encouraged by his father in a way that resembled the education of John Stuart Mill a generation later. He began to learn Latin at the age of three, and while at Oxford in 1761 (aged twelve or thirteen) was translating for his father the first book of Cicero's Tusculanae disputationes. Through his father's friendship with William Markham, then headmaster of Westminster School, he was enrolled there at the age of seven in 1755. He became a king's scholar, before leaving for Queen's College, Oxford, in 1760 at the age of twelve. He was unhappy at both institutions. Not only was he much younger than the other pupils, he was also small in stature, and physically weak. He had many interests, such as music (he became proficient on the violin, harpsichord, piano, and organ), natural science, and reading, and played battledore (a kind of badminton). But for the most part he was isolated and lonely, living under the crude and often unreasonable authority of his father. In this early period he became thoroughly familiar with the classical authors and the Bible. By the age of ten he could write in both Greek and Latin, and he acquired a reputation at school for writing verses in these languages. He was also known as ‘a little philosopher’, and, when pushed and prodded by his father, he would reluctantly display his precocity.

At the age of sixteen in 1764 Bentham took the degree of BA, and in 1767 MA. According to Thomas Southwood Smith in his lecture delivered over Bentham's remains in 1832, he was the youngest graduate known at either Oxford or Cambridge. Following the route mapped out by his father, Bentham then turned to the study of law. In 1763 he took his place as a student in the court of king's bench, Westminster Hall, and was admitted to Lincoln's Inn. He returned to Oxford to attend the lectures given by William Blackstone, first Vinerian professor of English law, which were eventually published as the Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–9). Like his colleagues he first attempted to take notes, but was soon prompted to reflect critically on what he had heard. In Blackstone he found a notable opponent against whom he wrote a series of works at different periods throughout his life. Early, unfinished, and unpublished writings, like the ‘Elements of critical jurisprudence’, from which his major early work on Blackstone, the ‘Comment on the commentaries’ (unpublished until 1928), was itself an unfinished digression, owed much to the systematic arrangement which Blackstone gave to English law.

In 1769 Bentham was admitted to the bar and moved from chambers in the Middle Temple to Lincoln's Inn, where he continued to live until the death of his father in 1792, when he inherited the family home at Queen Square Place, Westminster. Through his father's remarriage in 1766, he acquired two stepbrothers, one of whom, , became speaker of the House of Commons and later Lord Colchester. Although Bentham and Abbot became political allies, especially over the project for the panopticon prison, they were never close friends, and Bentham actively disliked his stepmother. Mainly for this reason, he continued to live in chambers at Lincoln's Inn. Nevertheless, despite assistance from his father, he did not actively engage in the practice of law, and it seems that Charles Abbot rather than Bentham himself took up the sort of career envisaged by his father.

Early writings

Despite his essentially tory and Anglican upbringing, Bentham soon became a child of the Enlightenment. Even at a young age he had considerable philosophical ambitions. He drew on such writers as John Locke, Charles-Louis Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, David Hume, Joseph Priestley, Claude-Adrian Helvétius, Jean le Rond d'Alembert, and Cesare Beccaria, and produced work of undoubted originality. He sought to develop a new logic of the will to supplement what he called Aristotle's logic of the understanding. His writings on language, eventually called the theory of fictions, represented an important departure from the earlier work of Locke and his followers in the eighteenth century. Although he took the idea of utility as the foundation of morals from Hume, he gave the principle a more prescriptive dimension and linked it more closely with pleasure and pain.

By the early 1770s Bentham wrote at length on numerous topics under headings such as ‘Preparatory principles’ and ‘Elements of critical jurisprudence’. These works were never completed and remain among the voluminous collection of his manuscripts at University College, London. His friendship with the political writer John Lind, whose family had professional dealings with Jeremiah Bentham, and who had returned to England in 1772 following a period in the service of the king of Poland, led to a number of collaborative efforts, including Bentham's work on Blackstone. Bentham took some material from his ‘Comment on the commentaries’ on the nature of government and political obligation, and published it anonymously in 1776 as A Fragment on Government. This slim volume examines a few paragraphs in the Commentaries and offers a masterly analysis of Blackstone's failure to think systematically about crucial themes concerning government. While Bentham was content to point out the confusions in Blackstone's thought without developing his own ideas at any length, he none the less gave the first formulation of the principle of utility as the foundation of his system as well as some indication of the direction of his thought on themes such as sovereignty, the social contract, submission, resistance, and fictions.

Bentham's main ambition, however, was to create a complete code of laws which he eventually called the pannomion (from the Greek meaning ‘all the laws’). He worked on various parts of the pannomion throughout his life but never managed to bring it to completion. Much of his writing during this period focused on penal law, stimulated perhaps in 1777–8 by the competition announced by the Oeconomical Society of Bern for a ‘Plan of legislation on criminal matters’. The theoretical starting point was Montesquieu's insights into crime, punishment, and liberty in books 6 and 12 of De l'esprit des lois (1748), Beccaria's great work on crime and punishment, Dei delitti e delle pene (1764), the fourth volume of Blackstone's Commentaries, and William Eden's recent and influential work, Principles of Penal Law (1771). Bentham's writings were highly original, partly because he sought to create a philosophical system which he could bring to bear on hitherto largely emotive issues of crime and punishment. Some of this material appeared in the chapters on punishment and offences in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (written in the 1770s, printed in 1780 but not published until 1789). Other aspects of his writings on penal law were first published in two of the recensions of Bentham's works prepared by Étienne Dumont, Traités de législation civile et pénale (1802) and Théorie des peines et des récompenses (1811). These works were to establish Bentham's reputation as the most important European writer on crime and punishment after Beccaria.

At this early stage in his long career Bentham devoted much time to thinking and writing. But his life was more active and engaged than this account of his early philosophical work would suggest, and this was partly due to the close connection between his philosophical theory and the strategy of reform which emanated from it. For example, his interest in crime and punishment was stimulated not only by his reading but also by the crisis caused by the end of transportation to America due to the War of Independence, by the unsatisfactory state of the prison hulks on the Thames, and by the failure of the widespread use of capital punishment to deter crime. Bentham first entered this debate with his pamphlet A View of the Hard Labour Bill (1778). This has been credited with some influence on the seminal Penitentiary Act of 1779, which had been introduced by reformers such as Charles Bunbury, Gilbert Elliot, and William Eden, with Blackstone and the prison reformer John Howard providing assistance in drafting the act. Bentham wrote lengthy, detailed comments on each clause of the act, employing his method of using the detailed examination of laws and institutions as an instrument of reform.

At the time of the American War of Independence, Bentham supplied material for several pamphlets written by Lind attacking the ideas of the noted dissenting clergyman Richard Price. The occasion enabled Bentham to clarify his thinking about liberty. He realized that there were two distinct ideas of liberty, one negative and the other more positive. By the former he meant simply acting as one pleased without restraint or constraint from any other person or institution such as government. This simple idea of liberty as the absence of coercion was, he believed, often confused with the idea of civil liberty which depended on the authority of the state to protect the individual from the interference of others in society. This latter idea of liberty required positive action through legislation and its enforcement. So as not to confuse the two ideas, he called the second ‘security’, which he then made the main object of the civil law and an important component of both his utilitarian system and his later constitutional theory.

During the 1770s Bentham developed numerous interests: he corresponded with Joseph Priestley on chemical experiments; published in 1774 an English translation of Voltaire's Le taureau blanc; worked on a translation of the first volume of Les Incas by Jean François Marmontel; and by the end of the decade was revising for publication a rough translation of The Usefulness of Chemistry by a Swedish chemist, Torbern Olaf Bergman. In the middle of all this activity he fell deeply in love with Mary (Polly) Dunkley (b. 1757) from Colchester, whom he met during a visit to Lind's sisters. Dunkley, the orphaned daughter of an Essex surgeon, lacked a fortune, and Bentham's father strongly opposed the relationship. For a time Bentham considered supporting himself by writing, but he abandoned his plan and the relationship eventually ended.


Bentham's relationship with his brother was always close, but it developed as Samuel grew up into a devoted concern for his welfare. In 1778 at the age of twenty-one, having also attended Westminster School, Samuel completed an apprenticeship to William Gray, master shipwright, first at Woolwich and then at Chatham, and sought to follow a career as a naval architect. The two brothers shared numerous interests and a common temperament, both being full of creative energy. But Samuel could not find a satisfactory outlet for his proposals and schemes in Britain and considered going to India. Bentham despaired at the thought of losing his only close friend and relative: ‘O my Sam, my child, the only child I shall ever have, my only friend, my second self, could you bear to part with me?’ (Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, 2.222). A plausible alternative to India was Russia, which had increasingly become an object of attention to British entrepreneurs and travellers. Catherine II, empress of Russia since 1762, had a growing reputation in Britain as an enlightened ruler, committed to reform and the advancement of talent.

Both Benthams came to believe that in Russia their talents would not go unrecognized, and Bentham hoped that his special gifts for legislation and codification might be noticed by Catherine and her circle. The brothers began to cultivate every friend and acquaintance connected with Russia. Their father, however, was not initially in favour of the plan. He approached a Mr Randal, senior partner in a firm of shipbuilders, to obtain a post for Samuel, but by this time the brothers were strongly committed to their project and had amassed some eighty letters of reference and introduction to smooth Samuel's path. Among these were several written by William Petty, earl of Shelburne (created marquess of Lansdowne in 1784), to whom Samuel was introduced through Bentham's legal acquaintance, the exchequer judge Francis Maseres. This contact was to bear fruit for both brothers, and Bentham kept Shelburne informed of Samuel's activities by sending him excerpts from Samuel's letters. Samuel left Britain in August 1779 to begin an odyssey in Russia which lasted for nearly twelve years until his return in May 1791.

Bentham's close association with Shelburne began in July 1781 when Shelburne visited him at his chambers in Lincoln's Inn. Shelburne borrowed a copy of A Fragment on Government and invited Bentham to spend part of the summer at Bowood, his country house. After some hesitation Bentham visited Bowood and established a relationship with Shelburne which lasted for many years. He depicted his involvement with Shelburne and his family over the next eight years as among the happiest days of his life. Accepted into this highly intellectual household at the centre of national politics, he enjoyed the conversation and took part in the domestic life of a great country house. There he met and fell in love with Caroline Fox (b. 1767), a niece of Lady Shelburne. Although they enjoyed each other's company, and met later on several occasions, Bentham's offer of marriage in 1805 was politely refused. Bentham advised Shelburne on numerous topics, and secured several offers of assistance for his brother and himself. He made numerous important contacts through the Lansdowne circle, most importantly his introduction to Dumont and the development of his relationship with the legal reformer Samuel Romilly, whom he had previously met.

At this time Bentham was also preparing to travel to Russia to join his brother. He began the arduous journey in early August 1785 and in February 1786 arrived in Krichev in the Crimea, where Samuel was in the service of Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potyomkin. The two brothers were joyfully reunited after a separation of five and a half years. Bentham's period in Russia (approximately twenty months until his departure in the autumn of 1787) revealed some differences in temperament between the two brothers. If Samuel was gregarious and sociable, Jeremy tended towards introversion. While Samuel travelled extensively throughout Russia, Jeremy hardly left the tiny village of Zadobrast, several miles from Krichev, where he lived in a cottage assigned for Samuel's use, not even to see Catherine pass through Krichev in January 1787, or to visit St Petersburg or Moscow. Bentham found in his Russian retreat the opportunity for uninterrupted intellectual activity. He worked on penal and civil codes, and produced a French version of what would eventually become his Rationale of Reward (1825). In early 1787 he wrote Defence of Usury, a critique of Adam Smith's reluctance to advocate free trade in money in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). The Defence was prompted by a report that the British government was about to issue new restrictions on rates of interest. It was dispatched to his good friend George Wilson for publication, and eventually became a highly influential economic essay.

The most important work of this period was inspired by Samuel, who had devised a scheme of an ‘inspection house’, a circular building with an observation post in the centre from which a few skilled craftsmen could supervise the work of unskilled men. Bentham saw numerous possibilities in Samuel's invention, particularly its application to prisons, hospitals, and schools, as well as to industrial enterprises. He wrote a series of letters during 1786, entitled Panopticon: or, the Inspection-House, which were sent to London but which were not published until 1791.

French Revolution

When Louis XVI announced in autumn 1788 that he would call a meeting of the estates-general for May 1789, Bentham, who had returned from his journey to Russia in February 1788, like many Britons, became fascinated by the unfolding events in France. His connection with Lansdowne's circle, which now included Dumont (who had become tutor to one of Lansdowne's sons in 1785) and Romilly, placed him in a good position to use the marquess's contacts to advance various projects in France. He had already attempted to make contact with noted philosophes, such as d'Alembert, André Morellet, and François Jean, marquis de Chastellux, and had made a useful friendship with Jacques-Pierre Brissot, whom he had met through François-Xavier Schwediauer.

In the summer of 1788 Dumont and Romilly visited Paris for two months, where Dumont met Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau. That autumn Bentham drafted a number of essays dealing with the situation in France, including an open letter to Mirabeau criticizing the decision to employ the constitution of 1614 for the estates-general, and another short essay criticizing the defence by the Breton nobility of that arrangement. The latter essay represents Bentham's first collaborative effort with Dumont, to whom Romilly had given the essay to correct Bentham's French.

The major work begun at this time was his ‘Essay on political tactics’, a comparative study of French and English parliamentary procedure. At the same time Bentham composed an essay on representation which was linked to this work on legislative procedure. He received strong encouragement from Lansdowne, who invited Bentham to use the extensive library in Lansdowne House (his London residence), discussed numerous issues with him, and put him in contact with leading figures in France. Bentham rekindled his earlier brief correspondence with Morellet by sending him (via Lansdowne's son John Henry Petty, Lord Wycombe) a manuscript of the ‘Essay on political tactics’ to see if he might oversee a translation. Another copy was sent to Madame Necker. Bentham had hoped that it might be published in French before the estates-general met, but that hope was soon dashed. Although Morellet had found a translator, little progress was made on it, and Bentham began to lose interest. Only a brief article listing six principles concerning parliamentary debate was published by Mirabeau in the Courier de Provence, and even then without acknowledging Bentham as the author.

Two other works received greater recognition in France. During 1790 Bentham was mainly living at Dollis's Farm in Hendon, Middlesex, where he had stayed since returning from Russia (though he kept his chambers in Lincoln's Inn). In April, with Bentham and Dumont working in adjacent rooms in Lansdowne House under the supervision of the marquess himself, he addressed a letter to the president of the national assembly and sent a hundred copies of a French version of the first part of ‘Draught of a new plan for the organization of the judicial establishment in France’. The letter appeared in the Journal de Paris and instalments of the ‘Draught’ in Mirabeau's Courier de Provence. Bentham heard little about the fate of this work, however, until October 1791, when he learned that Jean-Philippe Garran de Coulon, a member of the national assembly, had cited Bentham's work, praised it highly, proposed that a committee of the national assembly should examine the ‘Draught’, and that Bentham should be invited to communicate his ideas on civil law. When Bentham learned of these proposals, he sent Garran copies of his ‘Essay on political tactics’, an extract from ‘Panopticon’ in French (prepared by Dumont), a promise to send the English version, and an offer to establish a panopticon prison in France. On 13 December 1791 Garran showed Bentham's extract from ‘Panopticon’ to the assembly, which voted to mention Bentham's offer in the procès-verbal, with a recommendation that a committee should examine the extract and that it should be printed.

Meanwhile, events in France did not favour the adoption of Bentham's ideas and plans. Following the death of Mirabeau and the increasing violence, the Lansdowne circle tended to become disillusioned with the revolution. During 1792 numerous French refugees were sent by Dumont, Romilly, and the political reformer Benjamin Vaughan to Bentham at Queen Square Place, which he had inherited on the death of his father. In October, Bentham, together with other reformers and philanthropists, was made an honorary citizen of France. In accepting the honour Bentham mentioned the refugees and called for greater tolerance of those who opposed the new regime.

Bentham's writings for France achieved no immediate results. No proposal was adopted and no panopticon prison appeared in revolutionary Paris. Bentham's experience with France revealed in a dramatic way the difficulties of adapting complex arguments and proposals to changing political circumstances. Even arrangements for translating and publishing his writings became problematic. The French Revolution also affected Bentham personally. For the first time, albeit in essays he never published and could even have forgotten, he adopted radical principles in favour of representative government, near-universal suffrage, the secret ballot, and annual assemblies. But he soon reacted strongly against the course of the revolution. One essay of this later period was Bentham's denunciation of the declaration of rights of man and the citizen, published posthumously in English as ‘Anarchical fallacies’ and containing Bentham's famous remark that natural rights were ‘simple nonsense’ and natural and imprescriptible rights, ‘nonsense upon stilts’. Not until 1809–10 did Bentham begin to write in favour of radical parliamentary reform in Britain, and not publicly until the Plan of Parliamentary Reform appeared in 1817.

The French Revolution by no means absorbed all Bentham's attention at this time. In 1789, urged by George Wilson and others, he finally published An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. He merely added a final chapter in the form of a ‘Concluding note’ in which he briefly indicated a range of issues contained in the question ‘What is a law?’. These issues were dealt with at length in a further work, written in 1780–82 (just after An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation was printed) but left unpublished until 1945, and eventually called Of Laws in General, when it was republished in 1970 as part of the new Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham. Bentham may have decided to publish the Introduction following the appearance in 1785 of William Paley's Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, which bore a superficial resemblance to Bentham's book in its use of the idea of utility. But Bentham was also aware of the imperfections of his own work. It was written as an introduction to a penal code which remained unfinished and unpublished. The discussions of the psychology of human action (the logic of the will) and the principle of utility, though profound and revolutionary, were highly compressed. The ‘Concluding note’, and the previous chapter on the distinction between penal and civil law and on the demarcation line between private ethics and the sphere of legislation, were brief indications of Bentham's thinking which had not yet been brought to fruition.

The first six chapters of the Introduction have often been taken as a concise statement of Bentham's principle of utility. They contain several important aspects of the utilitarian doctrine, such as the emphasis on the classification and measurement of pleasure and pain, the belief that utility is the only principle which can provide an objective foundation for morals and legislation, as opposed to other principles such as moral sense, common sense, understanding, rule of right, fitness of things, law of nature, law of reason, right reason, natural justice, natural equity, good order, truth, and the doctrine of election. Nevertheless, this brief work fails to capture the full meaning of Bentham's principle which emerges in other works, especially the emphasis on secondary principles such as security and equality, which indirectly advance the greatest happiness; and the emphasis on equal distribution, captured in part in John Stuart Mill's dictum (Mill, Utilitarianism, 5.36), taken from Bentham's Rationale of Judicial Evidence, that ‘everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one’.

Panopticon prison

Bentham's trip to Russia, his involvement in the Lansdowne circle, and the French Revolution had led to his involvement in other issues apart from philosophical jurisprudence. For example, he wrote a series of letters, published in the Public Advertiser in May and June 1789, entitled ‘Letters of Anti-Machiavel’, criticizing the hostile attitude towards Russia adopted by the Pitt administration. In 1793 he published A Protest Against Law Taxes attacking a move by the Irish chancellor of the exchequer to impose a tax on legal judgments. But the most important and absorbing of his interests at this time became the panopticon prison project. The panopticon letters, written in Russia, were partly stimulated by an announcement in the St James' Chronicle that transportation would soon be resumed, and that plans for a new house of correction in Middlesex were being solicited. The letters were sent to Bentham's father and to George Wilson in England, but neither were as enthusiastic about the plan as the two brothers. The letters remained unpublished for several years after Bentham's return from Russia, in spite of the interest in the project in France.

One attempt to build the panopticon stemmed from Lansdowne's initiative in August 1790 in sending a copy of the unpublished letters to Sir John Parnell, chancellor of the Irish exchequer. Parnell was favourably impressed, and by the end of the year the book was being printed in two parts, while Bentham actively prepared several postscripts. However, by the spring of 1791 Parnell's initial enthusiasm had greatly diminished, and with the failure of the French initiative Bentham began to concentrate his attention on building the panopticon prison in London.

A number of other factors led Bentham to take this course. On his return from Russia at the age of forty, and his involvement with Lansdowne and his circle, Bentham began to come to terms with his own personal ambitions. In August 1790 he wrote a long letter to Lansdowne accusing him of a betrayal of faith in not returning him to parliament for one of his pocket boroughs. Perhaps Bentham was upset that his stepbrother Charles Abbot had already been offered a seat. Perhaps it was simply frustration at the lack of success of his own projects. ‘Do you really then think me’, he wrote to Lansdowne, ‘incapable of every thing but proposing impracticable projects, and throwing out odd ideas that would not have occurred to any body else? Is good … absolutely synonymous to impracticable?’ (Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, 4.167). Lansdowne replied by saying that he had been unaware of Bentham's parliamentary ambitions, and had thought that Bentham had placed great value on his independence. He also promised that he would bring him into parliament at the first opportunity, a promise that Bentham did not take seriously.

With the return of Samuel from Russia in May 1791 to an uncertain future, Bentham began to see the panopticon project as the vehicle for realizing the ambitions of them both. When he sought to establish the panopticon in Ireland, he did not envisage himself as the contractor–governor. In November 1791, however, in a letter to William Pitt he suggested that he might develop the panopticon scheme himself. His brother was also to be closely involved, and within a month of his return to England Samuel began to devote himself to the panopticon project. When Bentham inherited Queen Square Place and sufficient funds to live comfortably there, he continued to press on with panopticon when there was no obvious financial reason to do so. In moving into his father's house, he seemed to take on his father's ambitiousness for himself, and QSP, the nickname the Bentham brothers had used to refer to their father, appeared ubiquitously at the top of virtually every letter Bentham subsequently wrote.

In the long silence following his letter to Pitt, during which time the two brothers installed a model of the panopticon in a room in Queen Square Place, Bentham began to win over political allies, such as Reginald Pole Carew, William Wilberforce, and Sir Charles Bunbury. By May 1792 the home secretary, Henry Dundas, had taken an interest in the project and in September visited the display at Queen Square Place. Despite Dundas's approval little happened for nearly a year. In May 1793 Bunbury, who was one of the commissioners appointed under the 1779 Penitentiary Act with the power to acquire land, spoke in the House of Commons about the scandals surrounding transportation to Botany Bay, the state of the hulks and gaols, and recommended Bentham's plan to the government, as one where ‘well regulated prisons calculated to reform offenders, and to convert the dissolute and idle into good and industrious subjects, would be provided at a cheaper rate than vessels in the Thames’ (Semple, 109–10). Dundas and Pitt eventually visited Queen Square Place together in July and asked the two brothers to make the appropriate arrangements to proceed with their plans.

For the first time Bentham saw a clear road ahead. But he could not have realized how far the war with France would absorb the energies of leading figures. Nor could he have foreseen the legal complexities in which he would soon be enmeshed. Bentham thought that with the votes of two of the three commissioners under the act of 1779, Bunbury and Thomas Bowdler, the scheme might go ahead on the Battersea site which had been selected for a prison in 1782. But John Reeves, a legal adviser to the government, argued that a new act would be necessary, as the 1779 act applied to a public institution to be run by public officers, and not to one privately run, as Bentham envisaged. Thus the land at Battersea Rise could not be compulsorily purchased under the act.

Bentham then approached the two owners of the Battersea Rise site to see if they might sell the land without compulsion. The freehold on which George John, second Earl Spencer, held long leases was owned by the see of York. Bentham wrote to his father's friend and his own old headmaster at Westminster School, William Markham, then archbishop of York, from whom he received a cautious response. From Earl Spencer he received determined opposition to any plan to deprive him of this land.

The new bill was introduced by Dundas in May 1794 with the sole purpose of securing the land for the prison. But Spencer's faction in parliament opposed the bill, and inserted an amendment so that alternatives to the Battersea Rise site might be selected. Bentham was told that the bill had been passed on condition that the Battersea Rise site was not selected, and thus Bentham met with a serious rebuff from Spencer. To complicate matters, Spencer was appointed at this time to the post of first lord of the Admiralty, and Samuel's appointment as inspector-general of naval works in 1795 brought him into close and friendly contact with the Spencer family.

The Penitentiary Act of 1794 gave the Treasury the task of acquiring the land and negotiating the contract. But many of those sympathetic to Bentham's project had moved on to other posts, especially Dundas, who was by then wholly absorbed in the war with France as secretary at war, and Evan Nepean, who became secretary to the Admiralty. Those who were responsible for implementing the act, George Rose and Charles Long together with a number of others, who might be regarded as ‘Pitt's men’, were unenthusiastic or even hostile to the project. Others who might have come to Bentham's assistance favoured other principles of management and architecture.

Negotiations concerning various locations for the prison ran into numerous difficulties, as few wanted a prison on or near their estates, and the whole idea of public inspection depended on the prison being situated on an accessible and convenient site. For a brief period, when Long offered Bentham the Salisbury estate at Millbank, and Bentham actually acquired the land in November 1799, it seemed that the project would go forward. But Pitt resigned in 1801 without authorizing the prison, and the Addington administration kept Bentham waiting until 1803 before saying that the government was unwilling to fund the project. The Treasury considered panopticon again in 1811–12, when Bentham was still willing to be governor, but in October 1813 he finally gave up all hope and accepted £23,000 in compensation.

Economics, administration, and the poor laws

The panopticon prison scheme absorbed a good deal of Bentham's time between his early forties and mid-sixties, and might have broken a less resourceful person. Yet he managed not only to generate an extraordinary amount of activity and correspondence to advance the scheme from one year to the next but also to pursue a number of other projects to which he devoted equal enthusiasm and energy. During 1796 and 1797, partly stimulated by the scarcity and increasing expense of food and the growing debate about the treatment of the poor in England, he began to write at length on poor relief, and composed a number of works which, mainly through Edwin Chadwick, had some influence on the reforms of the nineteenth century. He opposed proposals to abolish poor relief and replace it with private charity; for Bentham, a reliance on private charity would almost certainly lead to the death of many impoverished people. He supported the public provision of relief but, in order to avoid excessive expenditure and the decline of incentives to work, he insisted that those unable or unwilling to work for their own subsistence should not be better off than those who did. In addition, he extended the panopticon idea to encompass a system of ‘industry houses’ run by a joint-stock company to house the indigent and make provision for them to labour and through labour to acquire the virtues of frugality, sobriety, and industry. The industry houses would also be used to provide a range of welfare services for the working poor. Part of this material was published in a series of articles in Arthur Young's Annals of Agriculture in 1797–8.

A number of Bentham's writings on financial administration and political economy were produced during the 1790s and early 1800s. Partly owing to the struggles over panopticon, he had numerous friends with whom he could share his ideas or discuss their own ideas and projects. Pole Carew, for example, sent him his ‘Ideas on financial reform’ in 1798, while Bentham was developing his own thoughts on similar topics. Bentham came into contact with Patrick Colquhoun, whose works on the police and other statistical studies he greatly admired. He assisted Colquhoun in drawing up various bills, including the Thames Police Bill, which was enacted in 1800. Bentham also wrote extensively on economic policy and public finance. Among his most important writings were the ‘Manual of political economy’, written between 1793 and 1795, covering numerous topics in economics; Supply without Burthen, or, Escheat Vice Taxation (1795), which advocated the confiscatory taxation of remote inheritances; A Protest Against Law Taxes (1795), calling for the abolition of all taxes on legal proceedings; and ‘Circulating annuities’ (1799–1800), ‘Paper mischief’ (1800–01), and ‘The true alarm’ (1801), works intended to show the effects of the unlimited issue of notes by country banks. He also wrote an essay entitled ‘Defence of a maximum’, which criticized Charles Long's argument against the establishment of a maximum price for grain. Another work, ‘Institute of political economy’ (1800–01), attempted to define both the science and the art of political economy. Few of these essays were published, and many were hardly known prior to W. Stark's edition of Jeremy Bentham's Economic Writings (3 vols., 1952–4).

Bentham's status as an economist has never been fully explored. His early Defence of Usury reflects the influence of Adam Smith, whom he frequently praised as a great thinker. Classical economists, such as James Mill, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill, might be considered among Bentham's followers, but his idea of utility and related concepts also influenced neo-classical economists, such as W. S. Jevons and F. Y. Edgeworth. Economic ideas appear in many of his writings, and he was probably the first to see the importance of using the language and concepts of economics in place of highly emotive religious, moral, and political ideas. Such thinking lay behind his approach to punishment in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. The writings on panopticon and the poor laws reveal a different dimension of Bentham's use of economics. Here, in detailed considerations of management, accountability, and financial administration, he laid the foundations for the more politically oriented examination of bureaucracy in such later writings as Constitutional Code which he began in 1822.

Dumont's recensions

The publication in Paris in 1802 of the first of Dumont's recensions of Bentham's writings, Traités de législation civile et pénale, brought Bentham's ideas for the first time before a wide audience. Estimates in 1830 that 50,000 copies of the various recensions were sold in Europe and 40,000 in Spanish translation in Latin America testify to the importance of Dumont's work in giving Bentham an international reputation. The three-volume Traités contained numerous writings taken from Bentham's manuscripts, such as those on civil law concerned with justice and ‘Indirect legislation’ on the prevention of crime, which were not fully published in English until after his death, when they were retranslated for the Bowring edition of his Works (1838–43). The two important works on reward and punishment, written by Bentham in the late 1770s and early 1780s, appeared for the first time in Dumont's second recension, Théorie des peines et des récompenses (1811), and were then published in English as the Rationale of Reward (1825) and the Rationale of Punishment (1830), a half-century after they were written.

In Tactique des assemblées législatives, suivie d'un traité des sophismes politiques, published in 1816, Dumont used Bentham's manuscripts to create the substantial essay on the organization of legislative assemblies of which Bentham himself gave a brief indication in his ‘Essay on political tactics’ (1791). In addition, Dumont included a version of Bentham's writings on political fallacies in this recension, from which and with the use of the original manuscripts Peregrine Bingham later produced The Book of Fallacies (1824). Dumont published two other recensions, a work on evidence, Traité des preuves judiciaires (1823), and another on judicial organization, De l'organisation judiciaire, et de la codification (1828). In 1829–30 a substantial three-volume edition of the Œuvres de J. Bentham, jurisconsulte anglais, was published in Brussels, and it was reissued in 1832 and 1840. However much Bentham may have complained that Dumont's versions were not his own, he was grateful to Dumont for what he could not achieve alone, a growing international reputation based on highly readable editions of his works.

Law and law reform

Bentham devoted much time between 1803 and 1806 to writing about evidence and the related subject of judicial procedure. With the formation of the Grenville–Fox ministry in 1806, several of Bentham's friends joined the government, including Romilly, who became solicitor-general, and Lord Henry Petty, who became chancellor of the exchequer. The new government was supposedly sympathetic to reform, and Lord Grenville himself proposed the initiation of the reform of the system of civil justice in Scotland. Although the administration was dismissed in March 1807, the new government, with Lord Eldon reinstated as lord chancellor, indicated that it would press on with the reform of the Scottish courts.

Bentham published Scotch Reform in 1808 with a further edition in 1811. Although he was not encouraged to follow up his proposal to prepare a draft code for Scotland, his friend Francis Horner suggested some amendments to the Scotch Judicature Bill, based on Bentham's ideas. In 1808 Bentham printed another work on judicial procedure, the ‘Summary view of the plan of a judicatory, under the name of the court of Lords' delegates’, and circulated it widely among members of the House of Lords. This work was connected with Scotch Reform, but both represented only a small portion of the manuscripts Bentham actually wrote on these subjects.

Bentham's writings on evidence took longer to come to fruition. James Mill worked on some of the manuscripts between 1808 and 1811, when what was published posthumously in the Bowring edition as ‘An introductory view of the rationale of evidence’ was partially printed. Bentham's major work on evidence was edited by the youthful John Stuart Mill and published in five volumes in 1827, a task so difficult and demanding that it may have contributed to Mill's mental crisis which began soon afterwards. In these writings Bentham attacked what he called the ‘technical’ system of evidence and adjective law which was employed in England and which, in his opinion, led to obscurity in the law and unnecessary expense, delay, and corruption. Bentham recommended the ‘natural’ system of procedure where all parties were heard, all evidence admitted, cross-examination encouraged, and increased powers given to courts to obtain evidence.


As Bentham saw how little an impact his ideas on law reform actually were having, and as he reflected on the enormous amount of time and money he had invested in the panopticon project, he eventually was converted to political radicalism as the only means to achieve reform. For much of his career he had believed that he could deal directly with governments, that his proposals would receive a fair hearing, and that they might be adopted and enacted into law. The question of whether reform depended on the form of government was not a serious issue in his early writings. His brief flirtation with radicalism at the time of the French Revolution was soon abandoned. In 1809 he began to think seriously about parliamentary reform, including such radical doctrines as universal suffrage, the secret ballot, annual parliaments, and a representative system based on equal electoral districts, and he wrote at length on these and related topics. Some of the reasons for his adopting the radical mantle have already been mentioned, such as the failure of panopticon and his proposals for law reform. In addition, for the first time in fifteen years, political reform had become a topic of public debate, and Bentham shared in this renewed interest. At this time he also became close friends with James Mill, and they may have persuaded each other to advocate parliamentary reform.

Bentham's first public declaration of his radical position came only with the appearance of his Plan of Parliamentary Reform in 1817. Although Bentham's style was widely criticized, the work itself was favourably received. In 1818 he was thanked by a public meeting of Westminster householders for his support for radical principles. Thomas Wooler then brought out a popular edition which first appeared in instalments in his periodical, Black Dwarf, and was then reprinted as a book. In 1819 the Plan was followed by Bentham's Radical Reform Bill, which in turn became his ‘Election code’ when eventually incorporated into the Constitutional Code.

Bentham's reluctance to publish his radical views between 1809 or 1810 and 1817 was based partly on fear of prosecution. During the decade between 1815 and 1825, he developed radical critiques of the law (Truth versus Ashurst, written in 1792, published in 1823; Indications Respecting Lord Eldon, 1825; and Observations on Mr Secretary Peel's House of Commons Speech, 21st March, 1825, published in 1825), religion (Church of Englandism and its Catechism Examined, 1818; Not Paul but Jesus, published under a pseudonym, Gamaliel Smith, in 1823; and Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind, also published under a pseudonym, Philip Beauchamp, in 1822), and economy in government (Defence of Economy Against the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, written in 1810 but published in 1817; Defence of Economy Against the Right Honourable George Rose, written in 1810 but published in 1817). Bentham often published these against the advice of friends and colleagues, and had to choose radical publishers such as the Hunts, Richard Carlile, and William Hone who were willing to face prosecution. He also developed a close relationship with Francis Place, whom he met through James Mill in 1812, and with whom he made contact with other writers deeply involved in radical politics, such as John Wade, Thomas Hodgskin, and William Thompson. Place and Bentham also co-operated in a number of radical schemes such as the Parliamentary Candidates Society in 1831.

Education and philosophy

Bentham's interest in education stemmed from many sources, not least from his dissatisfaction with his own education in classical languages and religion. His Church of Englandism was probably conceived originally as an appendix to his book on education, Chrestomathia (chrestos meaning useful and mathos, knowledge or learning), and in it he attacked the National School Society, an Anglican body, for insisting on a major role for religion in the education of the poor. Bentham was also attracted to the monitorial system of education, whereby a master taught the older pupils and they in turn taught the others. Bentham agreed with Mill and Place that this system would be a means of providing inexpensive education for all children. But while the Anglican church paid lip service to the Madras system of Andrew Bell, Mill, Place, and the philanthropist Edward Wakefield favoured the system devised by Joseph Lancaster, which was non-sectarian in design, and opened the possibility of schools for all.

Although Bentham gave considerable credit to Bell as well as to Lancaster in Chrestomathia, he clearly wanted to exclude religion from his Chrestomathic school. The proposed exclusion was probably one reason for the failure of the school, as some potential backers would not support it without a religious foundation. The idea of the school was suggested by Place to Wakefield in the autumn of 1813. It was designed to provide secondary education for children of the ‘middling ranks’ (tradesmen and those of similar status) for whom no suitable education was available. Mill and Bentham readily joined the project, and Bentham generously offered a portion of his garden as a site for the school. Even though he was initially enthusiastic about locating the school in his garden, others expressed doubts that he would accept that arrangement once he had begun to consider the idea more carefully. David Ricardo had nearly completed negotiations in 1817 for a site in the centre of Leicester Square, when local shopkeepers threatened legal proceedings to prevent building there. Despite their hesitation the trustees of the school then returned to Bentham, and, as anticipated, protracted negotiations took place for two years between 1818 and 1820, when the project was finally abandoned. In conjunction with the development of plans for the school, Bentham began writing about education in spring 1814 in the work entitled Chrestomathia. The first edition was printed and privately circulated in 1815 with an edition actually published in 1816. In 1817 part II of the work was published containing an ‘Essay on nomenclature and classification’, which Bentham's nephew , the future botanist, translated into French and published in Paris in 1823.

Bentham's educational theory emphasized subjects such as mathematics, physical science, modern languages, economics, law, and music, as opposed to classical languages and religion, the staple diet of most schools at the time. If he favoured ‘useful’ learning, he was not narrow in his conception of what subjects were useful. It is worth noting that most of Bentham's important writings on logic and language were produced between 1813 and 1815, just as he was writing Chrestomathia and involved in the Chrestomathic school. Furthermore, after George Bentham completed his French edition of the extract from Chrestomathia on classification, he turned to Bentham's writings on logic and produced a work entitled Outline of a New System of Logic (1827), based in part on Bentham's ideas and published at Bentham's expense. A version of Bentham's writings on logic and language was published in the Bowring edition and became well-known in the twentieth century in the edition prepared by C. K. Ogden, Bentham's Theory of Fictions (1932). When one considers the philosophical material on language and classification in Chrestomathia, together with the writings on logic and language, plus such works as Table of the Springs of Action (printed in 1815 and published in 1817), in which he developed further his account of the logic of the will, the material on ethics under the heading of ‘Deontology’ written mainly between 1814 and 1816, the writings on fallacies (first published by Dumont in the second volume of Tactique des assemblées législatives, suivie d'un traité des sophismes politiques, 1816), and the substantial writings on evidence written between 1802 and 1812, it is clear that at the end of the panopticon project Bentham turned for a second period in his life to intensive work on philosophical and related issues and produced a major body of writings apart from the philosophical writings of the 1770s.


At an early age Bentham decided that if he had a genius for anything, it was for legislation. His early writings were directed at producing a penal code and ultimately a complete code of laws. He later pursued more systematically his career in codification (a word he invented) in a series of offers to leaders of various states. As chronicled in detail in Papers Relative to Codification and Public Instruction (1817), his codification odyssey began with a letter to the American president, James Madison, on 30 October 1811, the reply to which, owing to the intervening war with Britain, was not sent by Madison until May 1816. Meanwhile, working through Dumont, Bentham made contact with Dumont's fellow Genevan, Albert Gallatin, who had pursued a successful political career in the United States and travelled to London in April 1814 as an American representative to negotiate an end to the hostilities between Britain and the United States. Gallatin thought that Pennsylvania would be most sympathetic to Bentham's efforts at codification, and he wrote a letter of recommendation which Bentham sent with his own letter to the governor, Simon Snyder. In December 1816 Snyder placed Bentham's offer and Gallatin's letter before the legislature, but nothing came of this initiative.

Bentham then made contact with the American minister in London, John Quincy Adams, and they met on several occasions in spring 1817 before Adams left London in June to take up his post as secretary of state. Adams was to take with him copies of Papers Relative to Codification and Public Instruction, as well as ‘Circulars’ on codification and public instruction, and copies of the recently published Chrestomathia and Plan of Parliamentary Reform, which were to be sent to various officials and to each of the state governors. If a legislature agreed to accept Bentham's offer to codify the laws, Adams was to send other works by Bentham to the governor for use by the legislature. Bentham also drafted a series of letters ‘to the Citizens of the several American United States’ which he hoped would be widely circulated.

Adams did as he was asked, and Bentham eventually received news that his circular letters had appeared in a number of newspapers in the United States. In October 1817 he received a letter from William Plumer, governor of New Hampshire, who promised to present Bentham's offer to the legislature at its next meeting in June 1818, after which a committee was set up to consider it. Bentham also heard that it had been received by De Witt Clinton, governor of New York. But no state actually accepted Bentham's offer. Bentham believed that this was because most members of legislatures were lawyers and antagonistic to the threat to their livelihoods implicit in the codification of the law. The codification movement did not develop until later in the nineteenth century. The only example of partial success at this time was by the lawyer and diplomat Edward Livingston, who drafted a penal code for the state of Louisiana, based on Bentham's ideas, and then revised it for the federal government, but neither body adopted the code.

Bentham also pursued the possibility of codifying the laws of Russia and Poland, offering his services to Alexander I in January 1814. He redoubled his efforts in June of that year, when Alexander and Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, whom Bentham had met during an earlier visit to Britain in 1789–91, went to London. Czartoryski hoped to assist in the restoration of the kingdom of Poland with Alexander as sovereign and himself as viceroy. He presented Bentham's letter to Alexander at the congress of Vienna in April 1815. Alexander replied by telling Bentham that he would instruct the commission for the compilation of the laws, established in 1801, to direct its questions to him and by sending him a gift of a gold ring. Bentham was not impressed with this suggestion and returned the ring, explaining that he neither expected payment nor wished to answer specific questions, but wanted to draft a complete code for Russia which could then be accepted or rejected. With hopes dashed for becoming a legislator for Russia, he still believed that his offer might be accepted in Poland; but Alexander passed over Czartoryski when appointing a viceroy, and Bentham was again disappointed.

More promising than the United States, Russia, or Poland was Geneva, where in May 1817 two commissions were appointed to draw up a new penal code and a code of criminal procedure. Dumont was a member of the commission for the penal code and wanted the code based on Bentham's ideas. Bentham, however, wanted to draft the codes himself, and after much correspondence and a visit by Dumont to Bentham, one code, based firmly on Bentham's principles, if not drafted by him, was completed, but never adopted.

Early liberalism

Bentham's efforts at codification eventually became part of his involvement with early liberalism, especially in Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Latin America. This involvement began in 1820 when the liberal government in Spain came to power, and Bentham began to work in conjunction with two disciples, Edward Blaquiere, whom he met in 1813, and John Bowring, who was introduced to Bentham in 1820 by Blaquiere and who soon became an important figure in many aspects of his life. Blaquiere and Bowring were early visitors to Spain under the new regime, where they made contact with leading politicians and journalists and encouraged them to correspond with Bentham. Among his correspondents were José Canga-Argüelles, the finance minister, Augustin Argüelles, the minister of the interior, Count Toreno, deputy to the Cortes, to whom Bentham addressed his Letters to Count Toreno on the Proposed Penal Code (1822), José Joaquín de Mora, the editor of El Constitucional, who translated some of his writings into Spanish, and Toribio Núñez, librarian of the University of Salamanca, who published recensions of Bentham's writings, Espiritu de Bentham ó sistéma de la ciencia social, ideado por Jeremías Bentham (1820) and Principios de la ciencia social ó de las ciencias morales y politicas por el jurisconsulto Inglés Jeremías Bentham (1821).

Bentham was not entirely happy with the new government. When a law was passed by the Cortes in 1820 limiting freedom of speech and discussion, which led to the arrest and imprisonment of Mora, Bentham responded with On the Liberty of the Press and Public Discussion (1821); and when the Cortes approved a new customs tariff, Bentham wrote, in conjunction with Bowring, a strong tract on the advantages of free trade, Observations on the Restrictive and Prohibitory Commercial System (1821). In spite of his involvement with a number of Spaniards, and his acquiring a reputation as an early icon of liberalism, he never received what he sought most: an invitation to codify the laws of Spain. Although the Cortes approved a plan in October 1820 to build panopticon prisons throughout Spain, it was not until 1863 that one was established. With the fall of the liberal regime in 1823, all hopes for codification in Spain were lost.

In Portugal, however, where a new constitution based on the Spanish constitution of 1812 had been established in 1820, prospects appeared brighter. His ‘Letter to the Portugueze nation’ (included in Three Tracts Relative to Spanish and Portugueze Affairs, 1821) was translated into Portuguese. In 1821 a consignment of his books was received by José da Silva Carvalho, a member of the council of regency and later minister of justice, who presented these to the Portuguese Cortes, which on 13 April 1821 ordered them to be translated. Bentham then wrote again to the Cortes in November 1821 making a formal offer to produce penal, civil, and constitutional codes. The Cortes accepted Bentham's offer, and he proceeded almost immediately to draft material for Constitutional Code, and worked on related penal, civil, and procedure codes throughout the 1820s. Unfortunately, as in Spain, the regime fell. Although Bentham's efforts were not rewarded, the intensive work on codification in his last decade owed a good deal to the stimulus provided by the invitation from the Portuguese Cortes.

When the liberal governments in Spain and Portugal fell in 1823, Blaquiere and Bowring turned their attention to Greece, where the war against the Turkish empire had been waged since 1821. The two established the with Bowring as secretary, and Blaquiere was sent to Greece in March 1823 to observe conditions and present a manuscript of Bentham's ‘Observations’ on the Greek constitution of 1822 to the Greek government. Although the main object of the London Greek Committee was to raise and supervise a major loan for the fledgeling government, it also sponsored an expedition to Greece, led by Lord Byron and Colonel Leicester Stanhope, later the fifth earl of Harrington. Stanhope took with him an early manuscript draft of Constitutional Code which he presented to the Greek government in April 1824. He also established several newspapers which published brief extracts from Bentham's works. Nevertheless, even the westernized Greeks, like the future prime minister Alexander Mavrokordatos, were too absorbed in their struggle for survival to do more than thank Bentham for his efforts on their behalf. Many of these letters and testimonials from Spain, Portugal, Greece, and eventually Latin America were then printed in ‘Codification proposal’ (1822) and its supplements (1827 and 1830).

One of Bentham's important writings of the early 1820s, which was not published until 1995, was first entitled ‘Emancipation Spanish’, and then ‘Rid yourselves of Ultramaria’. This work followed Bentham's early pamphlet written for France, ‘Jeremy Bentham to the national convention of France’ (1793, published as Emancipate your Colonies! in 1830), but developed at length a highly sophisticated analysis of the disutility of colonies to both the mother country (in this case Spain) and the colonies themselves.

During the 1820s Bentham also cultivated several leaders of the newly independent countries of Latin America in the hope of providing codes, if they were desired. He opened a correspondence with Bernadino Rivadavia, later chief minister of Buenos Aires, when he went to Paris in 1818, and they met in London in 1820. When Rivadavia returned to Buenos Aires, he drew up a system of rules for the legislature based on Bentham's ideas. José del Valle, who was a member of the provisional government of Central America in 1821–2, secretary of foreign and domestic affairs of the Mexican empire in 1822, and a member of the ruling triumvirate of Central America in 1823–4, sought Bentham's help in 1826 in drawing up a civil code for Guatemala, and soon became a devoted disciple. Among other disciples in Latin America was Francisco de Paula Santander, vice-president of Colombia 1821–8, and subsequently president of New Grenada. In 1825 in the absence of the president of Colombia, Simón Bolívar, Santander issued a decree that Bentham's principles of legislation should be taught by professors of law. This was opposed by the Roman Catholic church, and following Bolívar's return in 1826, though Bentham thought him to be a disciple following a flattering letter received in 1822, he issued a decree in 1828 proscribing Bentham's texts in the universities. In spite of numerous followers throughout Latin America, from Argentina and Chile to Mexico, and the widespread use of his works, especially Dumont's recensions and translations of these into Spanish, Bentham was never invited to draft a legal code for any of the new states of Latin America. Nevertheless, there is no doubting his considerable influence on those who did establish the legal and political systems in these countries.

Last decade

The last decade of Bentham's life was highly productive on numerous levels. New editions of his early works, such as An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation and A Fragment on Government, as well as of Dumont's recensions were published. A number of the Dumont volumes were translated into English. Bentham was also surrounded by numerous friends, associates, and secretaries, who assisted him in publishing his various works. He now possessed a considerable international reputation, and many writers, politicians, and revolutionaries were eager to meet him and involve him in their various activities. Some of these ventures were new, as his attempts to assist the young unofficial ambassador from Tripoli, Hassuna D'Ghies, in overthrowing the government in Tripoli with the assistance of John Quincy Adams and the American government. This led to one of Bentham's most important political essays, ‘Securities against misrule’, concerned with the question of how to introduce political liberty into an absolute Muslim state. Other ventures were a continuation of long-standing concerns with codification and law reform. For example, he managed to publish the first of three volumes of Constitutional Code in 1830, and print most of the second volume. He also published a collection of papers on political and administrative reform in 1830, entitled Official Aptitude Maximized; Expense Minimized. None of the other codes were completed, though Richard Doane, his former amanuensis, produced versions of a procedure code and the whole of the constitutional code for the Bowring edition.

During the 1820s Bentham continued to advance the cause of law reform in Britain, and his papers contain considerable correspondence with a wide variety of political figures, including Henry Brougham, Sir Robert Peel, and Daniel O'Connell. Towards the end of the decade he attempted to establish a Law Reform Association which would include political figures who would not support radical political reform, but who none the less might lend their names to the urgently needed reform of the law. When the opportunity arose, he continued to press for reform. He intervened in the movement to reform land law and attempted to influence the real property commission of 1828, beginning with his review of Observations on the Actual State of the Law of Real Property by James Humphreys (1826), which appeared in the Westminster Review in 1826 and was subsequently published as a pamphlet in 1827. Among his last writings on the reform of judicial organization and procedure were Equity Dispatch Court Proposal (1830) and Lord Brougham Displayed (1832).

Bentham's interest in radical reform did not diminish. In 1823 he established and funded the Westminster Review as an organ of radical reform to oppose the tory Quarterly Review and the whig Edinburgh Review. Bowring became the editor, and although Longman & Co. initially agreed to publish the new journal, the firm withdrew because of the journal's radical position. A new publisher was found, and the journal was successfully launched. News that the Reform Bill was successful was eagerly brought to Bentham on 5 June 1832, the day before he died, and though he was ‘quite speechless and powerless’, according to George Bentham, he understood the news and was happy to receive it.

After the journey to Russia to join his brother, Bentham seldom travelled abroad. He made a brief trip to Paris in 1802 following the publication of Dumont's Traités de législation and returned in 1825 to obtain treatment for a skin problem (a kind of eczema) which had been troubling him. He received a warm welcome from many distinguished French writers and politicians. Bowring recorded that when he visited a French court the lawyers rose to greet him, and the president seated him at his right hand. He also visited his old friend the marquis de Lafayette, with whom he had been corresponding for many years, latterly via an attractive courier, the author Frances Wright. During the revolution of 1830 Bentham addressed the French in several works, arguing against the adoption of a second legislative chamber and against the use of the death penalty. He wrote as a ‘fellow citizen’ rather than as an Englishman. In February 1832 Bentham was reunited with another old friend, the French statesman Talleyrand, first introduced to him by Dumont in 1792. According to Bowring, who arranged the dinner at Queen Square Place, Talleyrand regarded Bentham as a genius from whom much had been stolen without acknowledgement, but who remained as rich as before.

During his last years, Bentham established a routine which he followed until shortly before his death. For many decades his main activity consisted of writing, and he would regularly write and revise up to twenty foolscap folios each day. He was assisted in this work by a number of young men who eventually went on to distinguished careers of their own, though often in the professions Bentham himself had so vigorously opposed, such as the law and the church. These ‘reprobates’, as he called them, would join him for the first half of his evening meal, when he often entertained a single or at most two or three guests. They would then depart so that Bentham and his guests could carry on their conversation. Apart from the summers spent at Forde Abbey between 1814 and 1818, he stayed mainly at Queen Square Place. Although he referred to his abode as the Hermitage and himself as the Hermit, he was not reclusive, but jealously guarded his time. He frequently took exercise and developed a kind of jogging which enabled him to exercise in a shorter time than his customary walks. He also enjoyed gardens and flowers and often walked in his own substantial garden, which contained Milton's house. His love of music remained throughout his life, and his home could boast the numerous musical instruments which he played.

Death and the auto-icon

Bentham died on 6 June 1832 at 5.30 in the afternoon at his residence in Queen Square Place. According to Bowring, he died with his head on Bowring's bosom and grasping his hand; no one else seems to have been present. In another account by George Bentham, he simply breathed his last in the presence of Bowring, Doane, the social reformer Edwin Chadwick, and himself. He had continued to write up to a month before his death, and had made careful preparations for the dissection of his body after death and its preservation as an auto-icon.

As early as 1769, when he was just twenty-one years old, he made a will leaving his body for dissection to a family friend, the physician and chemist George Fordyce, whose daughter, Maria Sophia (1765–1858), married Samuel Bentham. Bentham's main object was to advance the study of anatomy, and he is credited with drafting the legislation which formed the basis of the Anatomy Act of 1832. In 1824, following the publication in the Westminster Review of Southwood Smith's article entitled ‘Use of the dead to the living’, encouraging people to leave their bodies for dissection, Bentham began to entertain the idea of experimenting with the preservation of a human head. There is some evidence of consultations with John Armstrong and Edward Grainger of the Webb Street school of anatomy and medicine. During this period he considered the idea of a public dissection of his body and its subsequent preservation. A paper written in 1830, instructing Southwood Smith to create the auto-icon, was attached to his last will, dated 30 May 1832.

On 8 June 1832, two days after his death, invitations were distributed to a select group of friends, and on the following day at 3 p.m. at Webb Street school of anatomy and medicine, Southwood Smith delivered a lengthy oration over Bentham's body. Many friends, including Brougham, James Mill, and the historian George Grote, attended, and the audience was impressed by a violent thunderstorm which interrupted the proceedings. The printed oration contains a frontispiece with an engraving of Bentham's body partly covered by a sheet, made from a drawing by Henry William Pickersgill. The oration was a remarkable tribute to Bentham and his work, and Southwood Smith subsequently followed Bentham's instructions. Following dissection, the skeleton was wired together, and the head was preserved by placing it under an air pump over sulphuric acid and simply drawing off the fluids. The preservation of the head was successful in producing a head as hard as that produced in New Zealand by the indigenous people upon which Bentham based his own plan, but the face had lost all expression and was deemed unsuitable for display. A wax head was then made by Jacques Talrich, a physician who had taken up anatomical modelling with great success. Talrich based the wax head on several sources, including the bust of Bentham executed in 1828 by P. J. David d'Angers (now in Senate House Library, University of London), the painting of Bentham by Pickersgill (now in the National Portrait Gallery), and the silhouette on the mourning rings made by John Field. Some of Bentham's own hair was placed on the wax likeness, and the skeleton, padded out with straw and cloth, and wax head were carefully assembled by Southwood Smith in Bentham's own clothes, seated in a chair, with his familiar walking stick, Dapple. Bentham's own ‘Auto-icon; or, Farther uses of the dead to the living … From the MSS. of Jeremy Bentham’ fared less well than the auto-icon itself. Printed for the Bowring edition, it was excluded from the published version (with only a few copies surviving) as tending, in Bowring's eyes, to diminish rather than enhance Bentham's posthumous reputation.

During the period the auto-icon was in Southwood Smith's possession, little is known of its use or even of its location. When he gave up his consulting rooms in Finsbury Square in 1849–50, he offered it to University College, London. On behalf of the council, Brougham quickly accepted the offer, but the correspondence indicates that the auto-icon was not at Finsbury Square but at 36 Percy Street, the home of Margaret Gillies, an artist and intimate friend of Southwood Smith, who was also leaving her house. Even at University College the auto-icon was not prominently displayed until after the Second World War (during which it was evacuated to Hertfordshire), when it was placed in its familiar location in the South Cloisters.

There was more to Bentham's will than the auto-icon. As he had no children and Samuel Bentham had died in 1831, Queen Square Place was inherited by his nephew George Bentham and two of his sisters. Bowring, however, had been made sole executor of the will with instructions to produce and publish an edition of his writings. George Bentham had never liked Bowring. He shared with Mill, Place, and others the view that Bowring had acquired great power over Bentham's affairs which he preserved through flattery. George Bentham complained that Bowring was profligate in his expenditure on the new edition of Bentham's writings, the final result being a loss of £6000. He was also dissatisfied with other aspects of Bowring's management of the estate, especially as he was supposed to inherit what remained after Bowring's expenditure. When Jeremy Bentham had received £23,000 in compensation from the government after the failure of the panopticon prison project, he invested £10,000 in a quarry and cement firm, Grellier & Co., which went bankrupt in 1817. A further £10,000 had been invested in Robert Owen's cotton mills at New Lanark, with Bentham becoming the owner of a sixth-share of the firm. Bowring was about to settle for £7000 from the New Lanark investment, but George Bentham filed a bill in chancery and won a decision for £10,000. Nevertheless, he was unable to limit expenditure on the edition to the £2000 referred to in Bentham's will.

Despite the expense of producing Bentham's Works, the new edition did little for his reputation. Its eleven volumes were printed in a virtually unreadable two-column format with very small print. Bowring's biography of Bentham, which occupies the last two volumes of the edition, was poorly written and appears a hastily assembled collection of parts of letters and various anecdotes. Important works, such as the three books on religion, were excluded. With a few exceptions, those works produced from manuscript were poorly edited with numerous mistakes not only in transcription but also in the arrangement of the various texts. What appeared to be new in the Bowring edition were often English translations of the Dumont recensions. The remedy for these deficiencies is now in progress with a new edition in approximately fifty volumes with an additional fifteen volumes of correspondence.

Although historians have questioned Bentham's influence on the major reforms in government during the nineteenth century, his standing as a philosopher and jurist increased throughout the twentieth. He is widely regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism, which remains an important theme in contemporary moral and political philosophy. Bentham's positivist account of law has replaced that of his disciple, John Austin, as the more subtle, complex, and authoritative theory in this tradition, and he is generally recognized as one of Britain's greatest jurists. His theory of democracy has replaced that found in James Mill's Essay on Government and J. S. Mill's Considerations on Representative Government, and is now regarded as the classic utilitarian alternative to modern theories of participatory democracy. Among economists he is credited with important contributions to classical economics and especially with his insistence on the value of extending economic concepts to the fields of law and politics. He is also widely regarded as the founder of welfare economics, the creator of the theory of marginal utility, and the first exponent of cost–benefit analysis.

F. Rosen


The collected works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. J. H. Burns, J. R. Dinwiddy, F. Rosen, and P. Schofield (1961–) · J. Bentham, An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation, ed. J. H. Burns and H. L. A. Hart (1970) · J. Bentham, Of laws in general, ed. H. L. A. Hart (1970) · J. Bentham, A comment on the commentaries and A fragment on government, ed. J. H. Burns and H. L. A. Hart (1977) · J. Bentham, Constitutional code, volume 1, ed. F. Rosen and J. H. Burns (1983) · J. Bentham, Chrestomathia, ed. M. J. Smith and W. H. Burston (1983) · J. Bentham, Deontology together with a table of the springs of action and article on utilitarianism, ed. A. Goldworth (1983) · J. Bentham, First principles preparatory to constitutional code, ed. P. Schofield (1989) · J. Bentham, Securities against misrule and other constitutional writings for Tripoli and Greece, ed. P. Schofield (1990) · J. Bentham, Official aptitude maximized; expense minimized, ed. P. Schofield (1993) · J. Bentham, Colonies, commerce and constitutional law: rid yourselves of Ultramaria and other writings on Spain and Spanish America, ed. P. Schofield (1995) · ‘Legislator of the world’: writings on codification, law, and education, ed. P. Schofield and J. Harris (1998) · J. Bentham, Political tactics, ed. M. James, C. Blamires, and C. Pease-Watkin (1999) · J. Bentham, Writings on the poor laws, 1, ed. M. Quinn (2001) · J. Bentham, Rights, representation and reform: nonsense upon stilts and other writings on the French Revolution, ed. P. Schofield, C. Pease-Watkin, and C. Blamires (2002) · The correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, ed. T. Sprigge and others, [11 vols.] (1968–), in The collected works of Jeremy Bentham · The works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. J. Bowring, 11 vols. (1838–43), esp. vols. 10–11 · Jeremy Bentham's economic writings, ed. W. Stark, 3 vols. (1952–4) · S. Ikeda, M. Otonashi, and T. Shigemori, eds., A bibliographical catalogue of the works of Jeremy Bentham (1989) · A. T. Milne, ed., Catalogue of the manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham in the library of University College, London, 2nd edn (1962) · B. Parekh, ed., Jeremy Bentham: critical assessments, 4 vols. (1993) · I. R. Christie, The Benthams in Russia, 1780–1791 (1993) · J. Semple, Bentham's prison: a study of the panopticon penitentiary (1993) · F. Rosen, Jeremy Bentham and representative democracy: a study of the constitutional code (1983) · F. Rosen, Bentham, Byron, and Greece: constitutionalism, nationalism, and early liberal political thought (1992) · George Bentham: autobiography, 1800–1834, ed. M. Filipiuk (1997) · J. Dinwiddy, Radicalism and reform in Britain, 1780–1850 (1992) · T. S. Smith, A lecture delivered over the remains of Jeremy Bentham (1832) · C. F. A. Marmoy, ‘The “auto-icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, Medical History, 2 (1958), 77–86 · R. Richardson and B. Hurwitz, ‘Jeremy Bentham's self image: an exemplary bequest for dissection’, BMJ (18 July 1987), 195–8 · J. H. Burns, ‘Bentham and the French Revolution’, TRHS, 5th ser., 16 (1966), 95–114 · J. H. Burns, ‘Bentham and Blackstone: a lifetime's dialectic’, Utilitas, 1 (1989), 22–40 · M. Mack, Jeremy Bentham: an odyssey of ideas, 1748–1792 (1962) · R. D. C. Black, ‘Bentham and the political economists of the nineteenth century’, Bentham Newsletter, 12 (1988), 24–36 · M. Quinn, ‘Jeremy Bentham on the relief of indigence: an exercise in applied philosophy’, Utilitas, 6 (1994), 81–96 · M. Sokol, ‘Jeremy Bentham and the real property commission of 1828’, Utilitas, 4 (1992), 225–45 · W. L. Twining, Theories of evidence: Bentham and Wigmore (1985) · L. J. Hume, Bentham and bureaucracy (1981) · E. Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 3 vols. (Paris, 1901–4), trans. M. Morris as The growth of philosophic radicalism (1928) · C. Fuller, ed., The old radical: representations of Jeremy Bentham (1998)


BL, corresp. and papers, Add. MSS 29806–29809, 33537–33564, 37520 · King's Cam., letters and papers · Queen's College, Oxford, notes on William Blackstone's lectures · Trinity Cam., corresp. and papers · UCL, corresp. and papers · UCL, project |  Balliol Oxf., letters to David Urquhart · Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire, Geneva, Dumont Archive · BL, corresp. with Jabez Henry and others relating to international law, Add. MS 30151 · BL, letters to John Tyrrell, Add. MS 34661 · BL, letters to Nicholas Vansittart, Add. MS 31235 · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Sir Francis Burdett · Bodl. Oxf., letters to William Wilberforce · DWL, letters to Henry Crabb Robinson · NRA, priv. coll., letters to Reginald Pole Carew


T. Frye, oils, c.1761, NPG · British school, oils, c.1790, UCL · W. H. Worthington, line engraving, pubd 1823, BM, NPG; repro. in Bentham, Introduction to the principles · P. J. David (D. D'Angers), marble bust, 1828, U. Lond.; bronze copy, UCL · H. W. Pickersgill, oils, 1829, NPG [see illus.] · J. Field, silhouette, c.1830, NPG, UCL · D. D'Angers, bronze medallion, UCL · H. W. Pickersgill, oils, second version, UCL · J. Thomson, stipple (after W. Derby), BM; repro. in European Magazine (1823) · J. Watts, crayon drawing, Queen's College, Oxford · portrait, UCL