Introduction to the Study of the Works of Jeremy Bentham, by John Hill Burton

Section I.

Bentham’s Style and Method of Thinking.

The general reader is so accustomed to find subjects connected with politics and legislation, treated as the mere topics of passing criticism, that he is not prepared to see them dealt with as matter of elaborate reasoning and accurate analysis. Whoever reads the Works of Bentham should, however, take the task on hand with the condition, not of bestowing on them a mere casual perusal, but of studying them: and it is only in some of his lighter works, or in occasional passages of his more important ones, that those who adopt the former alternative, will find either instruction or amusement. He addressed himself to those who were prepared to bestow on the sciences of Government and Legislation the same rigid intellectual labour, without which no man ever expects to become a proficient in Mathematics or Natural Philosophy. It was his ambition to lay the foundation and to build the superstructure of a new system, by which the departments of thought, which had too long been the playthings of party spirit, passion, and prejudice, should be subjected to the rules of rigid philosophical inquiry; and those who do not come to the perusal of his Works, with minds prepared to follow him through a rigid and systematic train of reasoning, cannot be said to receive him in the capacity in which he presents himself to their notice. Mistaking the method in which the author professes to teach his doctrines, cursory readers have complained of his reiteration of truisms; and they would find the same character in the axioms of Euclid, if they perused them with the same spirit. They have complained that passages are obscure, intricate, and aimless; and they would find the same defect in the Demonstrations of Geometry, if they were hurriedly to read isolated portions of them. The Author’s aim was not to plead the cause of opinions unadmitted, or to render received doctrines more pleasing by ornament and illustration, but to demonstrate. It is only as a demonstrator that he can fairly be appreciated. And those who would judge of the legitimacy of his conclusions, must follow his chain of reasoning link by link. In performing such a task, impatient intellects will perhaps find a precision and minuteness of reasoning, which they would have been content to dispense with, and will see conclusions which they may think might have been leaped to, arrived at by systematic demonstration. But in submitting to this precision of intellectual exertion, they only subject themselves to the mental discipline, without which none of the more abstruse sciences can be mastered. Bentham found the whole field of morals and legislation crowded with fallacies which lurked behind slovenly expressions or incomplete arguments. He worked in perpetual fear of any fallacy finding a hiding-place in his own system; and he examined every word and every idea with scrupulous accuracy. It mattered not how unimportant might be the ground of deception: like a scrupulous merchant’s book-keeper, who hunts out an error about a farthing, he would not allow the most trifling defect in argument to escape correction, because the principle of overlooking any defect is a dangerous one.

It must be admitted that this characteristic — the keeping in view demonstration in preference to elucidation, is chiefly to be found in his later works. In those which he published early in life, there is more ornament and less of the character of severe logic. His mind was at all times rich in the produce of logical inquiry; but, in his earlier years, it was his practice to give the results of his reasonings, with the arguments generally and popularly stated, illustrated, and adorned by similes and examples; while in his more advanced years, he omitted no portion of the process by which he arrived at his conclusions, and indulged but slightly in rhetorical ornament. Of the habits of thinking, and of composition, which accompanied these distinct methods, some elucidation will be attempted farther on; but in the meantime it may be serviceable to give a few remarks on the peculiarities of the two very distinct styles which Bentham wrote at different periods of his life.

The characteristics of Bentham’s early style were, power, simplicity, and clearness. There was no writer of his age whose style had less of mannerism; and the absence of all peculiarity in that of his earliest work — the Fragment on Government, led those who naturally sought for the author of a work so bold and original among the names known to fame, to attribute it to various great men whose respective styles were strikingly dissimilar. It was not the least pleasing feature in these early works, that while the matter was wonderfully original, there was nothing in the manner of communicating it to startle the most fastidious taste. The Author’s great skill, acquired by untiring study, is exhibited in the facility with which he adapts the common language of our literature to philosophical purposes, for which it had never at any previous time been used. There is never any vagueness in the expression of the most abstruse propositions; and yet they are framed out of a nomenclature which had not been intended for the elucidation of distinctions so subtle. Indeed, it would not be possible to find in the English language a style better adapted, in every respect, to describe in clear terms that which is, of all things with which language has to deal, the least easily made clear — The operations of the mind. The reader who is acquainted with his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, his Panopticon, his Defence of Usury, and his other works written in the 18th century, will require no confirmation of this opinion. As an illustration may be acceptable to some readers, the following is taken at random — it is from the Defence of Usury:—

The business of a money-lender, though only among Christians and in Christian times a proscribed profession, has nowhere, nor at any time, been a popular one. Those who have the resolution to sacrifice the present to the future, are natural objects of envy to those who have sacrificed the future to the present. The children who have eaten their cake, are the natural enemies of the children who have theirs. While the money is hoped for, and for a short time after it has been received, he who lends it is a friend and benefactor: by the time the money is spent, and the evil hour of reckoning is come, the benefactor is found to have changed his nature, and to have put on the tyrant and the oppressor. It is an oppression for a man to reclaim his own money; it is none to keep it from him. Among the inconsiderate, that is, among the great mass of mankind, selfish affections conspire with the social in treasuring up all favour for the man of dissipation, and in refusing justice to the man of thrift who has supplied him. In some shape or other, that favour attends the chosen object of it through every stage of his career. But in no stage of his career can the man of thrift come in for any share of it. It is the general interest of those with whom a man lives, that his expense should be at least as great as his circumstances will bear; because there are few expenses which a man can launch into, but what the benefit of them is shared, in some proportion or other, by those with whom he lives. In that circle originates a standing law, forbidding every man, on pain of infamy, to confine his expenses within what is adjudged to be the measure of his means, saving always the power of exceeding that limit as much as he thinks proper; and the means assigned him by that law may be ever so much beyond his real means, but are sure never to fall short of them. So close is the combination thus formed between the idea of merit and the idea of expenditure, that a disposition to spend finds favour in the eyes even of those who know that a man’s circumstances do not entitle him to the means: and an upstart, whose chief recommendation is this disposition, shall find himself to have purchased a permanent fund of respect, to the prejudice of the very persons at whose expense he has been gratifying his appetites and his pride. The lustre which the display of borrowed wealth has diffused over his character, awes men during the season of his prosperity into a submission to his insolence, and when the hand of adversity has overtaken him at last, the recollection of the height from which he has fallen, throws the veil of compassion over his injustice.

The condition of the man of thrift is the reverse. His lasting opulence procures him a share, at least, of the same envy that attends the prodigal’s transient display: but the use he makes of it procures him no part of the favour which attends the prodigal. In the satisfactions he derives from that use — the pleasure of possession, and the idea of enjoying at some distant period, which may never arrive — nobody comes in for any share. In the midst of his opulence he is regarded as a kind of insolvent, who refuses to honour the bills which their rapacity would draw upon him, and who is by so much the more criminal than other insolvents, as not having the plea of inability for an excuse.

Could there be any doubt of the disfavour which attends the cause of the money-lender in his competition with the borrower, and of the disposition of the public judgment to sacrifice the interest of the former to that of the latter, the stage would afford a compendious, but a pretty conclusive proof of it. It is the business of the dramatist to study, and to conform to, the humours and passions of those on the pleasing of whom he depends for his success; it is the course which reflection must suggest to every man, and which a man would naturally fall into, though he were not to think about it. He may, and very frequently does, make magnificent pretences of giving the law to them: but woe be to him that attempts to give them any other law than what they are disposed already to receive! If he would attempt to lead them one inch, it must be with great caution, and not without suffering himself to be led by them at least a dozen. Now I question whether, among all the instances in which a borrower and a lender of money have been brought together upon the stage, from the days of Thespis to the present, there ever was one, in which the former was not recommended to favour in some shape or other — either to admiration, or to love, or to pity, or to all three; — and the other, the man of thrift, consigned to infamy.*

His later works — those written from the year 1810 downwards, exhibit a marked change in style; whether an improvement or a deterioration, the present writer, while endeavouring to explain the nature of the alteration, will not venture to decide. The symptoms of the change will be found in his works and correspondence of the early part of the 19th century, and the Letters to Lord Grenville, on the proposed Reform in the Court of Session in Scotland, printed in 1808, may be taken as a specimen of his style in its transition state. The prominent feature in the change arose out of a dissatisfaction with the ordinary terms of language, and their accepted arrangement, as a means of conveying, with that certainty and precision which the author aimed at, his new opinions, with their subtle subdivisions and distinctions. One of the means which he had recourse to, was the formation of a new technical nomenclature for his own purposes; this was a design which he had in view from the commencement of his career, but it was in after life that he gave his most extensive exemplifications of it. Its nature, and the uses to which he employed it, will be noticed farther on. But, independently of neology, the style, as developed in the construction of the sentences, was novel, and avowedly so. In his minute divisions, he had perpetual occasion to compare, balance, or contrast one proposition with another; and, looking upon language as the only means through which this could be accomplished, he judged that uniformity, in the structure of sentences, would make that very structure subservient to his purposes. His arrangement was such, that the predicate, the copula, and the subject — that distributive, limitative, or exceptional terms, if there were any — were all to be found in precisely the same parts of every sentence; and by this uniformity he was enabled, to a certain extent, to manipulate his sentences, as if they were Algebraic signs; a service to which he never could have applied the freedom and variety of locution, sanctioned by the ordinary rules of rhetoric. As an illustration of what is here attempted to be described, the following extracts, from a few notanda, explanatory of the leading principles of his opinions, may be adduced. If there be a certain degree of monotony, and even of repetition, in the sentences, it will be admitted, that they are admirably constructed for comparison with each other, and for enabling the eye to assist the mind in perceiving the principle of their connexion.

June 29, 1827.

  1. Constantly actual end of action on the part of every individual at the moment of action, his greatest happiness, according to his view of it at that moment.

  2. Constantly proper end of action on the part of every individual at the moment of action, his real greatest happiness from that moment to the end of life. See Deontology private.

  3. Constantly proper end of action on the part of every individual considered as trustee for the community, of which he is considered as a member, the greatest happiness of that same community, in so far as depends upon the interest which forms the bond of union between its members.

  4. Constantly proper end of action on the part of an individual, having a share in the power of legislation in and for an independent community, termed a political state, the greatest happiness of the greatest number of its members.*

One of his favourite, and most serviceable arrangements, was the employment of a verbal substantive with an auxiliary, instead of a verb. “I use a substantive,” he says, “where others use a verb. A verb slips through your fingers like an eel — it is evanescent: it cannot be made the subject of predication — for example, I say to give motion instead of to move. The word motion can thus be the subject of consideration and predication: so, the subject-matters are not crowded into the same sentence — when so crowded they are lost — they escape the attention as if they were not there.”

Much outcry has been made about the intricacy and obscurity of Bentham’s sentences. Those who bring the charge often forget that he demands severe thought as due to his subject, and that no form of phraseology would make a golden path to that which, in its very nature, requires a continuous process of abstraction. That Bentham’s sentences are complex, is, however, in many instances, true; but that they are obscure or dubious, is so much the reverse of the fact, that their complexity arises, in a great measure, from the anxiety with which he has guarded them against the possibility of their meaning being mistaken. So anxious is he that the mind should not, even for a passing moment, adopt a different understanding from that which he wishes to impress on it, that he introduces into the body of his sentence all the limitations, restrictions, and exceptions which he thinks may apply to the proposition broadly stated. He limits his meaning, in the most precise manner, by a circumvallation of well-weighed words. It is difficult for the mind sometimes to trace all the intricate windings of the sentence; still more difficult to have it, in all its proportions, clearly viewed at once; but, when this has been accomplished, it is at once clear that all the apparent perplexity arises from the skill with which the author has made provision that no man shall have a doubt of what he means to say. Take the following specimen from the Rationale of Evidence: the point under consideration is the extent to which a transcript may serve in evidence, in place of the original deed. Almost every sentence is complex; but when the reader has been at the trouble of abstracting his mind to the extent necessary for embracing its full meaning, he will allow that there can be no dubiety whatever as to what that meaning is — that it is clear and indubitable. The author is most careful, that, when he speaks of a possessor, it is understood that he does not mean also a proprietor; that the circumstance of his detention of the document being intentional, or unintentional, does not influence the question: that the extent of danger to which the original may be exposed by inspection, is limited, &c. &c.

When the original of a deed or other written document is so situated that the production of it cannot be effected without a more than ordinary degree of vexation, expense, and delay — lodged in some place between this and the antipodes, in the hands of some possessor, who, proprietor or not, does or does not choose to part with it or to bring it; — where such is the situation, or supposed situation, of a supposed or alleged original, at the time that an alleged transcript, or sufficient extract or abstract, is ready to be produced; — a question may arise as between the two documents, the alleged original and alleged transcript, (both certainly not being necessary, one perhaps sufficient,) which, if either of them, shall be admitted. Were both present, the admission of the transcript (unless it were for momentary provisional consultation, for the purpose or in the course of argument) would evidently be attended with some (howsoever little) danger, and with no use. A transcript, how little soever inferior in point of trustworthiness to the original, can never, so long as man is fallible, be considered as exactly upon a par with it. But the original is so circumstanced, that, rather than load the cause with the vexation, expense, and delay, attached to the production of it, it would be better to exclude it: nay, even although, to the prejudice of the side by which it should have been produced, misdecision were sure to follow. It ought therefore to stand excluded: and thereby the whole of the evidence from that source, were there no other remedy.

But the transcript — although, in preference to or indiscriminately with the original, it ought not to be produced — yet, rather than the evidence from that source should be altogether lost, and misdecision take place in consequence, might (if ordinarily well authenticated)— might, with much less danger than what is frequently incurred in practice, be (under the conditions above proposed) received instead of it. Nevertheless, mischief from misdecision ought at the same time (so far as is consistent with the regard due to the avoidance of preponderant collateral inconvenience in the shape of vexation, expense, and delay) to be obviated as effectually as possible. Accordingly, previously to execution, obligation (or at least liberty) ought to be in the hands of the judge, for taking from the party thus to be instated, sufficient security for the eventual reinstatement of the other party; in case that, within a time to be limited, the propriety of the opposite decision should have been made appear — the authenticity of the transcript, or its correctness or completeness with relation to the point in question, having been disproved.*

The following passages on the subject of unpromulgated laws, are given as an illustration of the difference between Bentham’s early and his later manner. The difference in the style will probably not be more remarkable than the similarity of the opinions:—

Written in the Year 1790.

Of the condition of him whose curse, I had almost said whose crime, it is to live under such laws, what is to be said? It is neither more nor less than slavery. Such it is in the very strictest language, and according to the exactest definition. Law, the only power that gives security to others, is the very thing that takes it away from him. His destiny is to live his life long with a halter about his neck: and his safety depends upon his never meeting with that man whom wantonness or malice can have induced to null at it. Between the tyranny of sleeping laws, and the tyranny of lawless monarchy, there is this difference: the latter is the tyranny of one, the other is the tyranny of millions. In the one case, the slave has but one master; in the other, he has as many masters as there are individuals in the party by whom the tyranny has been set up.

Tyranny and anarchy are never far asunder. Dearly indeed must the laws pay for the mischief of which they are thus made the instruments. The weakness they are thus struck with does not confine itself to the peccant spot; it spreads over their whole frame. The tainted parts throw suspicion upon those that are yet sound. Who can say which of them the disease has gained, which of them it has spared? You open the statute-book, and look into a clause: does it belong to the sound part, or to the rotten? How can you say? by what token are you to know? A man is not safe in trusting to his own eyes. You may have the whole statute-book by heart, and all the while not know what ground you stand upon under the law. It pretends to fix your destiny: and after all, if you want to know your destiny, you must learn it, not from the law, but from the temper of the times. The temper of the times, did I say? You must know the temper of every individual in the nation; you must know, not only what it is at the present instant, but what it will be at every future one: all this you must know, before you can lay your hand upon your bosom, and say to yourself, I am safe. What, all this while, is the character and condition of the law? Sometimes a bugbear, at other times a snare: her threats inspire no efficient terror; her promises, no confidence. The canker-worm of uncertainty, naturally the peculiar growth and plague of the unwritten law, insinuates itself thus into the body, and preys upon the vitals of the written.

All this mischief shows as nothing in the eyes of the tyrant by whom this policy is upheld and pursued, and whose blind and malignant passions it has for its cause. His appetites receive that gratification which the times allow of: and in comparison with that, what are laws, or those for whose sake laws were made? His enemies, that is, those whom it is his delight to treat as such, those whose enemy he has thought fit to make himself, are his footstool: their insecurity is his comfort; their sufferings are his enjoyments; their abasement is his triumph.

Whence comes this pernicious and unfeeling policy? It is tyranny’s last shift, among a people who begin to open their eyes in the calm which has succeeded the storms of civil war. It is her last stronghold, retained by a sort of capitulation made with good government and good sense. Common humanity would not endure such laws, were they to give signs of life: negligence, and the fear of change, suffer them to exist so long as they promise not to exist to any purpose. Sensible images govern the bulk of men. What the eye does not see, the heart does not rue. Fellow-citizens dragged in crowds, for conscience’ sake, to prison, or to the gallows, though seen but for the moment, might move compassion. Silent anxiety and inward humiliation do not meet the eye, and draw little attention, though they fill up the measure of a whole life.*

Written about the Year 1825.

Whatsoever good effects the portion of law in question may, in virtue of its matter, be intended or calculated to produce, the production of those effects will depend, in the instance of each individual on whom the law calls for his obedience, on the hold which it has happened to it to take upon his mind: viz. in the first place, upon the circumstance of the fact of his being apprized of the existence of the law; of the general matter of fact — viz., that on the subject in question there exists such a thing as a portion of law: in the next place, upon the degree of correctness and completeness with which, as often as any occasion comes for acting in obedience to, or in any other way in pursuance or consequence of, such portion of law, the matter of it is present to his mind.

To the production of any bad effects, no such notoriety is, in the instance of any portion of law, in any degree necessary.

For a man to be put to death in due course of law, for non-compliance with this or that portion of law, it is not by any means, in any case necessary, that either the matter of it, or the fact of its existence, should ever have reached his mind. On the contrary, whosoever they be to whom it is matter of satisfaction that men should be put to death in due course of law (and these, more especially among English judges and other English lawyers, are many,) the greater the extent to which they can keep from each man’s mind the knowledge of such portions of law to which, on pain of being put to death for disobedience, they are called upon to pay obedience, the greater the extent to which they can administer this satisfaction to their minds; and if the portions of legal matter to which this result is attached, had for their object the administering of this satisfaction to those from whose pens they issued, they could scarcely have been rendered in a more effectual degree subservient and conducive to that end, than they have been rendered by the form into which the matter of that, and all other parts of the English law have been cast.

True it is, that before any man can be put to death, or otherwise vexed for non-obedience to any portion of law, what is necessary is, that some person — nay, that divers and sundry persons, should be apprized, not only of its existence, but its contents; forasmuch as a man of ordinary prudence, such as are all those who are in the habit of taking each of them a part in an operation of this sort, will not engage in any such operation except in the persuasion, well or ill-grounded, of his being warranted in so doing, if not by the tenor of any real law, at any rate by the feigned tenor or purport of some imaginary law or rule of law, which for his justification and protection will be attended with this same effect.

But when the bearing a part in the putting of men thus to death, is of the number of those acts by the performance of which men are called upon to manifest their obedience, the production of an effect of this sort is not among those results which generally, openly, and avowedly, at least by the legislator, are held up to view in the character of the objects or ends in view ultimately aimed at: ultimately and absolutely good a result of this sort is not generally (for even here there are some exceptions) declared to be; relative, and that alone, is the term employed in giving expression to the point of view in which any such appellative as good is spoken of as applicable to such a subject:— that A should be put to death is good, is maintained, Why? That B and C may, without being put to death, abstain from the commission of acts of the sort of that, for the performance of which A is thus ordered to be dealt with.

But, independently of all reference to his style, there are certain peculiarities in the method of Bentham’s literary labour, which must be kept in view in relation to the appearance which his later works present. He who writes a book for the purpose of influencing the public mind, by, in the first place, securing the public attention, will in general be careful to use the accepted methods of making it attractive. If the matter he has to expound should be original, and perhaps repulsive, he will take care that the form in which it is presented shall have as little as possible of the latter qualification. There are arts, in drawing the public attention to books, acquired and handed down by long experience; and these, so far as he can, he will adopt. Above all, he will see that a great deal of what is passing through his mind in the course of composition, is matter which it will do more harm than good to his work to insert in it; and he will select, prune, and arrange, till the whole has a passable appearance. Above all, he will present a work which is ex facie finished, and containing all that, at the beginning, the author has announced that he is to give.

It will be at once understood that Bentham did not adopt these appliances, and the cause will be perceived, when it is stated, that in later life he prepared none of his works for the press. It was his opinion, that he would be occupied more profitably for mankind in keeping his mind constantly employed in that occupation to which it was supereminently fitted, and in which it seemed to find its chief enjoyment — ratiocination. He thought that while he lived in the possession of this faculty, he should give as much of the results of it to the world, as he could accomplish by a life of constant labour, temperance, and regularity; and he left it to others to shape and adapt to use the fabric of thought which thus came out continuously from the manufactory of his brain. Laying his subject before him for the day, he thought on, and set down his thoughts in page after page of MS. To the sheets so filled, he gave titles, marginal rubrics, and other facilities for reference, and then he set them aside in his repositories, never touching or seeing them again. It was his method to divide and subdivide his subject at the outset; and after having carried this subdivision to the utmost extent which he thought necessary, he would begin his examination of one of the branches of the lowest subdivision. Having exhausted the two branches of this ultimate division, he would then go back to one of the higher branches of division, which would lead him to a subdivision in another quarter; and thus, like the anatomist who first explains to his pupils the general component parts of the human frame, and begins his dissection at one of the extremities with the design of taking them seriatim and working towards the heart, he took care that, so far as he went, his analysis should be completely exhaustive. It happened, however, very frequently, that his psychological dissection went no farther than the extremities of the subject he had laid out for anatomizing. This is remarkable in the Department of Logic and Metaphysics. Under the general head of Logic, a complete analysis of all the powers and operations of the human mind had been intended; but the subject obtaining but a portion of his time in conjunction with the other vast projects which he contemplated, he was enabled only to leave behind him some fragments, of which a selection has been given under the titles Logic, Ontology, Language, and Grammar, in vol. viii. of the Works. They are specimens of the most finished workmanship, but still they are merely fragments. Perhaps the only extensive subject which the author completely investigated, according to the rigid method latterly adopted by him, was Evidence; and his work on this subject fills two of the closely-printed volumes in the collected edition. It is a larger work than Blackstone’s Commentary on the Laws of England. But there is another work — and, perhaps, the most boldly conceived of all his projects, which Bentham lived to complete — his Constitutional Code. The plan on which he is described as proceeding in his analysis is not here applicable, for the work is synthetic, not analytic. It is neither an examination of the principles on which laws are made, nor of those on which they ought to be made, but a substantive code of laws. It may be safely pronounced, that in no language does any other such monument of the legislatorial labour of one mind exist. Independently altogether of any question as to the principles of government developed, or the sagacity of the general plan; the completeness of the fabric — the accuracy of the proportion of all parts to each other — the total absence of any sort of incongruity in the relations to one another of such a quantity of things, great and small, which have to be fitted to each other to form a homogeneous whole — astonish the mind of the reader with the evidence that they convey of the comprehensiveness and clearness of the Author’s intellect.

The above remarks, bearing chiefly on the precision with which Bentham pursued his inquiries, would give an imperfect notion of his later writings without an allusion to one signal characteristic — the bursts of fiery eloquence with which he sometimes soars from the rigid logic of his usual system. It is when his subject brings him in contact with illustrations of suffering and oppression that the man thus breaks from the philosopher. Among some pamphlets which he wrote towards the termination of the reign of George III., when he believed the remaining liberties of the country to be in imminent danger, there are many such passages as the following:—

Yes! — you pillage them: you oppress them: you leave them nothing that you can help leaving them: you grant them nothing, not even the semblance of sympathy: you scorn them: you insult them: for the transgression of scores, or dozens, or units, you punish them by millions; you trample on them, you defame them, you libel them: having, by all you can do or say, wound up to its highest pitch of tension the springs of provocation and irritation, you make out of that imputed, and where in any degree real, always exaggerated irritation, a ground, and the only ground you can make, for the assumption, that, supposing them treated with kindness — all their grievances redressed — relief substituted to oppression, they would find, in the very relief so experienced, an incitement — an incitement to insurrection, to outrage, to anarchy, to the destruction of the supposed new and never-yet-experienced blessing, together with every other which they ever possessed or fancied.

Levelling! — destruction of all property! Whence is it they are to learn it? — what is there they can get by it? — who is there that ever taught it them? — whose interest is it — whose ever can it be — to teach it them? How many of them are there, who would, each of them, be so eager to lose his all? The all of a peasant — to the proprietor how much less is it, than the all of a prince — the all of him whose means of livelihood are in his labour, than the all of him whose means of livelihood are in his land? Who again is it, that, in your notion at least, they are at this moment so abundantly looking to for instruction? Is it not Cobbett? With all his eccentricities, his variations, and his inconsistencies, did he ever attempt to teach them any such lesson as that of equal division of property — in other words, annihilation of it? In the whole mass of the now existing and suffering multitude, think ye that one in a score, or in a hundred, not to say a thousand, could be found, so stupid, so foolish, as either of himself or from others, to fancy that, if without other means of living, he had his equal share in the whole of the land to-day, he would not, twenty to one, be starved upon it before the month were out? Oh! if the men, in whom — truly or erroneously — they behold their friends, were not better instructors as well as better friends to them than you are, or than it is in your nature to be, long ere this would the imputation you are thus so eager to cast on them, have been as substantially grounded as it now is frivolous.*

Bentham was singularly happy in the employment of lively, humorous illustrations. He took care that in their use fancy should never be allowed to take the precedence of reason; the logical proposition was formed before the ornament was added, and the purpose of the latter was merely to make it more distinct to the eye. He made war against a system which is too common — that of using a simile not as a means of making clear and palpable the meaning of an argument, but as a substitute for the argument itself. His own similes never divert the mind from the original reasoning — they only serve to make it more vivid. Thus, the sense of hardship experienced by rapacious judicial officers, on being deprived of an illicit source of gain to which they never should have been allowed access, is compared to the sense of hardship experienced by the shark who, having bit off one of Sir Brooke Watson’s legs, was compelled to leave the other in its place. “Under English law,” he says, “not to speak of other systems, the sort of commodity called justice, is not only sold, but, being like gunpowder and spirits made of different degrees of strength, is sold at different prices, suited to the pockets of so many different classes of customers.” Talking of the English system of pleading, and its anticipated adoption in Scotland, he says —“I have no more apprehension of seeing the Scotch nation submit to defile itself with any such abomination, than I have of seeing the port of Leith opened for the importation of a pack of mad dogs, or for a cargo of cotton impregnated, secundum artem, with the plague.” Again —

If a man comes and pleads his clergy, whatever goods he had, the king has got them. This being the case, having had your clergy, you are innocent, or, what comes to the same thing, you are forgiven. All this is very true; but as to your money, the king, you hear, has got it; and when the king has got hold of a man’s money, with title or without title, such is his royal nature, he cannot bear to part with it; for the king can do no man wrong, and the law is the quintessence of reason. To make all this clear, let it be observed there is a kind of electrical virtue in royal fingers, which attracts to it light substances, such as the moveables and reputed moveables of other men; there is, moreover, a certain glutinous or viscous quality, which detains them when they have got there.

Such are the grounds upon which the forfeiture of personal estate, in cases of clergyable felony, still continues to subsist.§

In relation to official men talking of appointments they have used every effort to obtain, as if they were innocent of all design in the matter, he says —“These are of the number of those gracious designs, which, till the very moment of their taking effect, are never known of. While the eyes of the right honourable person are, as usual, fixed on heaven, the grant is slipped into his pocket; and when, putting in his hand by accident, he feels it there, his astonishment is not inferior to his gratitude.”

The neology of Bentham — his construction of new words to serve his purposes — has been the subject of much attack and ridicule. This is not the place for discussing the question whether he has done any service to the language by this system of innovation, or whether the words he has coined ought or ought not to have received a more general admission into the current language of the age, than they have received; but it may be of service to the reader to explain the principles on which he proceeded in his fabrication of words, and the extent to which he has served the ends he had in view. It must be remembered that Bentham took up the position of a scientific inventor and discoverer in a new field of human knowledge — a field which, he maintained, had been left to the dominion of empirical discussion, and which thus displayed, both in the substance of all the reasoning that it produced, and in the nomenclature employed by the reasoners, the obscurity and confusion of mere popular and unscientific handling. He entered on the field of Morals and Legislation, as Linnæus did on the Animal and Vegetable kingdoms, and as Lavoisier did on the science of Chemistry — to analyze, and to introduce order and method; and, like these great men, he found that the popular nomenclature which had accompanied the vague notions of his predecessors, was insufficient in precision, and the other scientific requisites, to represent his own accurate and distinct classification. But he had difficulties to contend with which were not encountered by the pioneers of natural science. In their case, none trod the same path of investigation but such as were, like themselves, philosophers, who were prepared to view every improvement with scientific appreciation, and to take advantage of, instead of censuring, whatever tended to facilitate farther investigation, by the classification and arrangement of the knowledge already acquired. The difficulty which Bentham had to contend with was, that his subjects of inquiry were not monopolised by philosophical investigators, but related to matters of which all classes of the people — the learned and the unlearned — the scientifically precise, and the vaguely declamatory — are almost always thinking. The classification of plants is left to the undisputed control of the botanist: but every man is a classifier of offences, and duties, and legal obligations; nay, it generally happens, that, however little labour or thought he may have bestowed on the subject, every man deems his own classification the very best that can be made. Moreover, in the case of the operations of nature, the sinister interests which, being at war with the whole of Bentham’s system, are inimical to every branch of it, do not operate; and whoever has sufficient skill to accomplish the end, and will undertake the labour of making a serviceable nomenclature, in any new department of Nature’s works, is left the undisputed despot of his own system.

Whatever view may be taken of the abstract merits of Bentham’s nomenclature, to the accomplishment of his own ends it was indispensable; and the student will not have dipped very deeply into his works before he discovers how impossible it would have been to accomplish that precision of analysis, and that uniformity in all the proposed legislational reforms, of which the instances are so many and conspicuous, without the construction of a nomenclature specially adapted to the Author’s own use. A few examples will illustrate this statement. To maximise is a word of frequent occurrence. To maximise official aptitude, for instance, means — to raise that quality to the highest attainable pitch — and the author would have required to use all these words, whenever he wished to express such an idea, if he had not coined a word for his own use. To “raise” would not have done, for it expresses no terminus ad quem. “Increase,” “improve,” and “enlarge,” are subject to the same objection — they express increment, but not to the greatest practicable point. To “make perfect” would not express the meaning, which bears in gremio the understanding, that perfection is not attainable. — He found the rule of action, in matters where one nation was concerned with another, called the “Law of nations,” a term which intimated, not the purpose or use of the law, but its mere possession, as if it were the only sort of law which nations possessed. He called it International Law.— He found no word in the language suited to express a universal body of Law; for the word Code, which is generally employed, has nothing in it to express universality, and is, indeed, applied to particular departments of the Law —e. g. the Civil Code, the Criminal Code, &c. He therefore coined the word Pannomion from the Greek. — The adjective “civil,” as applied to law, he found possessed of various meanings, sometimes applying to all those portions of the law which are not ecclesiastical, sometimes to all those which are not penal, and sometimes to all those which are not military; and he found it necessary to discard it, and frame the distinctive term Non-penal.— The word “criminal” he found to be equivocally used. A criminal lawyer might mean a lawyer versed in the penal department of the law, or a lawyer guilty of crimes; a word so tainted with dubiety was useless for the Author’s purposes, and had to be discharged. — The substantive “right” he found employed, and mischievously employed, with an ambiguous meaning. Originally it signified that which the law sanctions — my rights are those privileges of action and possession, which are fixed in my favour by the existing law. If I dispose of goods by bargain and sale, I have a right to the stipulated price, and no other man has any rival right. If I am a member of the corporation of London, I have a right to vote for a Lord Mayor of London, but not for a Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, or a Mayor of Manchester. So, if I be registered on a qualification, in terms of the Reform act, I have a right to vote for a member of Parliament, but I have no such right if I be unqualified. But, by a confusion between this substantive, and the adjective right, which is the opposite of wrong, people applied the term their rights, not only to those privileges of which they were in possession, but to those which they thought they ought to possess — to those which it was right they should have. Hence came declamation about “imprescriptable rights,” “sacred and inalienable rights,” &c.; and the effect of the confusion was, that when people demanded new privileges, they spoke of them as their rights — as privileges to which they were entitled by law, but which were denied them. The confusion ended not in mere words; for men, acting as if their legal rights were denied to them, became filled with the violence, invective, and turbulence, with which an open refusal to enforce the fixed law is apt to fill every man’s breast.* It was a singular illustration of the equivoque of the word, that Blackstone should have divided his Commentaries into Rights and Wrongs, as if the substantives right and wrong were, like the adjectives of the same words, the precise opposites of each other. The word “rights” was employed in Bentham’s earlier works in its precise meaning as a counterpart to fixed obligations, when he examined the objects of the civil law; but in his later works, when he had established his own distinct nomenclature, it was discarded, and the whole body of the law was scientifically divided, as we find it in the introductory Book of the Constitutional Code. — The verb codify, and the substantive codification, have encountered much ridicule; but the subject to which they refer is as legitimate a source of laughter as the terms thus applied to it; for, except by means of such words, it would have been impossible for the Author, without much dubious circumlocution, to have urged the utility of codes of law, and to have pointed out the best means of constructing them. A code is a collective body of laws complete so far as it goes, and sanctioned, as covering the whole of its particular field, by the legislative authority. To perceive the difficulty of investigating the subject with Bentham’s scientific scrutiny, without a verb corresponding to the action of creating or making a code, let the reader imagine how incomplete would be any inquiry into the operation of making laws in detail, without a verb corresponding to that operation — viz., the verb to legislate, with its substantive Legislation.

There were two distinct classes of cases, in which Bentham found subjects of discussion to which no one had ever given names, and which, therefore, had he not himself come forward as godfather to them, would have remained undenominated. In the one he scattered his nomenclature here and there, whenever, in the course of his researches, he found operations and phenomena, which, though already known to be at work, had received no denominations. In the other he applied new names to the new machinery which, in his own constructional projects of legislation, he proposed to erect. The following may be adduced as instances of the former division of his nomenclature — In all operations connected with courts of law, the quality of being accessible or inaccessible to the purpose of fulfilling the decrees of the court, is sometimes a most important quality both in men and things. The Author perceived, that though the importance of the quality was admitted by every one whose attention was attracted to it, no one had given it a name; and as he had often to speak of it himself, he found it necessary to designate it, and he called it Forthcomingness. He found no term characterizing the use in one litigation of evidence which had been elicited for service in another, so as to distinguish it from evidence collected solely for the litigation in which it is applied — and he called the former Adscititious evidence. In evidence as furnished by writings, he found that the nomenclature of the law did not distinguish those writs which were prepared with the express end of serving as evidence, from those which, not being prepared with any such view, came, incidentally, and from the course of events, to be articles of real evidence — The one he called Preappointed written evidence, the other Casually written.

The other species of Nomenclature applies to the new offices and new functions, required for bringing the Author’s system of government into full operation. Such are the Functionaries: Judiciary Registrar, Government Advocate, Eleemosynary Advocate, and Local Headman; and the functions —Judiciary-power controlling, Communication-aiding, and Beneficent-mediation.* Here it was absolutely necessary that the Author should choose his own names; and the only question can be, whether he is successful in his choice.

To a complete scientific Nomenclature the Author found two qualities — the one necessary, the other expedient. The former is distinctiveness, and is exemplified in the use of words, which are restricted to the meaning assigned to them, and have no other meaning attached to them which can occasion a dubiety in their use. The other qualification is, that they should have, as distinct as possible, an etymological reference to the thing they are intended to express. There are two advantages in a good etymological nomenclature — it not only assists the memory and aids the judgment by the connexion between the word and the thing signified, but it forms a medium through which the various branches of a science or art may be seen in their connexion with each other. A very remarkable illustration of the power to create such a nomenclature is afforded by the Author’s Encyclopedical Table, and the accompanying treatise. It begins with Wellbeing, or Eudæmonics, and by subdivision, embraces most of the subjects of human knowledge in collected groups, giving to each a new and apt name. Thus, Natural History and Natural Philosophy are respectively represented by Physiurgic Somatology, and Anthropurgic Somatology: the one signifying the science of bodies, in so far as operated upon in the course of nature without the intervention of man — the other the science of bodies, so far as man, by his knowledge of the convertible powers of nature, is able to operate upon them. Of the unaptness of the previous nomenclature the Author says:—

Of the two words — the first an adjective, the other a substantive — of which the compound appellation Natural History is formed — it found, at the time of its formation, the substantive History already appropriated to the designation of a branch of learning, having for its subject those states of persons and things of all sorts, and those events of all sorts, that have been known or supposed to have had place in times past present time either being altogether excluded, or its history being but as it were a point, in comparison with the time of history which it closes. Adding the word natural, say Natural History, the result is, that, for the import, designated by this appellative, antecedently to the establishment of that usage from which it has received an import so widely different, we have this, viz., the natural account of those states of persons and things, and so forth, and of those events, and so forth, which had place in times past.

Now, with what propriety, to any one of the above-mentioned so aptly denominated divisions, of the branch of art and science itself thus unaptly denominated — with what propriety, to Mineralogy, to Botany, to Zoology — can the term Natural History, consideration had of its original and proper import as thus developed, be applied?

* * * * *

The branch of art and science, for the designation of which the compound appellation Natural Philosophy is in use, is that which has, for its subject, matter in general, considered in respect of such modifications as it has been made, or may be expected to be made, to undergo, by human art, under the guidance of human science: with the addition, perhaps, of such properties, as, by means of changes made in it by the application of that same mental instrument, have been discovered to have been already belonging to it.

Taken by itself, Philosophy is the love of wisdom. Adding the word natural, say Natural Philosophy, and, for the import designated by this appellation, antecedently to the arbitrary usage, established in this case as in that other — we have this, viz. the natural love of wisdom.*

But the Author, while showing an illustration of what may be accomplished towards a pure and apt nomenclature, admits, that in the majority of cases, the task of driving out the old empirical system of names would be, in many cases, impossible, and that the advantage would, in others, fail to compensate for the labour of the operation. It was, therefore, only where the absence of any nomenclature, or the palpable defects of that in existence, made it necessary for him to resort to his own mint, that he coined his words on the above principles. Thus, finding no word which indicated a professional assistant in the conduct of a law-suit, and which was confined to that meaning, he constructed the term Litigational Proxy, for employment in the Principles of Procedure. Instead of using such terms as “Action on the case,” “Assumpsit,” “Qui tam,” “Detinue,” &c., which, though use has made their meanings determinate, are not adapted to express the Author’s scientific division of Law-suits, he adopted such divisions as “Non-Penal and Penal,” “Simple and Complex,” “Original and Excretitious,” “Plurilateral and Unilateral,” “Summary and Chronical,” &c.

* Defence of Usury, Works, vol. iii. p. 17.

Works, vol. v. p. 1 et seq.

* Works, vol. x. p. 560.

Ibid. 569.

* Works, vol. vii. p. 379.

* Works, vol. iv. p. 397-398.

Works, vol. iii. p. 237.

His system, according to the principle of Bifurcate division to be afterwards noticed, was always to divide by two.

* Works, vol. iii. p. 475-476.

Ibid., vi. 134.

Ibid., v. 42.

§ Works, vol. i. p. 508.

Ibid., v. 286.

* See Works, vol. ii. p. 500 et seq.

Works, vol. ix. p. 8.

* See the Constitutional Code, Works, vol. ix.

Works, vol. viii. p. 63 et seq.

* Works, vol. viii. p. 69.

Ibid., p. 107.

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