Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)

English legal theorist and social philosopher best known as a leading advocate of utilitarianism and creator of the Panopticon penitentiary design.

JEREMY BENTHAM was born in London in 1748. He attended Queen’s College at Oxford University to study law and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in 1763 and a Master’s in 1766. Although called to the Bar in 1769, he never actually represented a client in court, and instead ‘devoted himself not to practising law but to writing about it, and to writing not about law as it was but about law as it ought to be’ (Dinwiddy 2).

Though primarily legal in nature, Bentham’s philosophy spanned a wide variety of social issues and areas of practice. His first major work, Fragments on Government, attacked Blackstone’s well-regarded theories about the preference for judicial precedence in common law; Bentham preferred the authority of the legislature in creating law. He was greatly interested in the moral theory of utilitarianism, and Lyons places him as a bridging link between the work of David Hume and John Stuart Mill in the development of utilitarian philosophy (5). His interest in the nature of crime led him to explore the power of the law, not just to punish actual crime, but also to deter future crime. The legislature, he argued, had ‘several ways of preventing misdeeds otherwise than by punishment immediately applied to the very act which is obnoxious’. In this vein, he also explored the nature of criminal punishment and proposed a vision of penal reform centered on the reform, rather than the punishment, of prisoners. His model prison, the Panopticon, took him sixteen years to develop, but was ultimately left unbuilt. Foucault suggests that Bentham’s Panopticon was not only ‘a project of a perfect disciplinary institution; but he also set out to show how one may “unlock” the disciplines and get them to function in a diffused, multiple, polyvalent way throughout the whole social body’ (208-9). Bentham also explored questions of judicial reform, law enforcement through police power, economic theory, animal rights, and constitutional codification. He left careful instructions before his death for his body to be preserved and displayed as an ‘auto-icon’; it is currently on display on the campus of University College London, whose founders, Edinburgh reviewers James Mill and Henry Broughman, were in different ways inspired by Bentham’s philosophy of utilitarianism.

In a January 1807 examination of proposed reforms to the Court of Session, Jeffrey referred to Bentham as ‘by far the most profound and original thinker who has yet been formed in that school of jurisprudence’. After quoting extensively from Bentham’s theories on judicial reform, the article notes: ‘We do not take all that Mr Bentham says here for the naked and simple truth; but we believe there is much truth in his statements; and that when the spirit of reformation has gained more strength and purity, it will alter many parts of that English system which is now held out as a model’ (ER 9:483, 485).

Brian Robert Wall, IASH, University of Edinburgh


John Dinwiddy, Bentham (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989).

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Trans. Allan Sheridan, New York: Penguin, 1991).

L.J. Hume, Bentham and Bureaucracy (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981).

David Lyons, In the Interest of the Governed: A Study in Bentham’s Philosophy of Utility and Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).

To Frances Horner (1 April 1803)

My dear Horner — I daresay the sight of my handwriting is as terrible to you as that on the wall was to Belshazzar; and it is just as well to tell you in the beginning that I do write principally for the purpose of dunning you. I have some right to dun too; not merely because I am the master, to whom your service is due, but because I have myself sent fifty pages to the press before I ask you for one. Hear now our state, and consider: — Brown has been dying with influenza, and is forbidden to write for his chest’s sake. De Puis[1] is dying with asthma, and is forbidden to write for his life’s sake. Brougham is roaming the streets with the sons of Belial, or correcting his colonial proofs, and trusting everything to the exertions of the last week, and the contributions of the unfledged goslings who gabble under his wings. Elmsley — even the sage and staid Elmsley — has solicited to be set free from his engagements. And Timothy[2] refuses to come under any engagements with the greatest candour and good nature in the world. Now, if you two fail utterly, I shall be tempted to despair of the republic. I would not have you comfort your indolence, however, with this despair. If you will send us thirty pages between you, I shall undertake for its salvation, at least for this campaign. And even if you do not, I am afraid we shall not die nobly, but live pitifully, which will be much worse. Trash will be collected, and I shall have the pleasure of marching in the van of Mr.—, and Mr.—, and Dr.—, and Mr.—, and I do not know who, that are ready to take your places beside me. Now, my good Horner, let me conjure you “by the consonancy of our studies,” and all other serious considerations, to deliver me from this evil; and refuse one dinner, or shorten two nights’ sleep, or encounter some other petty evil, to save us from this perplexity. You have many fair days before you to shine and sport in, and may be glad sometime to remember the exertions I ask of you, &c.

I hear of your talking about dung,[3] and of your making a great deal of money. Good. I wish you would let me into the secret. Remember me to Murray, whom I miss very much, and to Brougham. This place is in a state of terrible depopulation, quoad me at least. Do you hear anything of Hamilton? I daresay these alarms will send him home, or at least the Sanscrit books, which are still more precious to him than his own person.

God bless you Horner. When I am out of humour with my own lot, I generally wish to be you. Do not forget me, however; and we shall continue very good friends and rivals no doubt, though you have the vantage ground. — I am, always very faithfully yours.

P.S. — The wig arrived in great order, and I am resolved to mount it boldly next session.


[1] De Puis “A nickname for Dr. John Thomson” (HC).

[2] Timothy “Mr. Thomas Thomson” (HC).

[3] I hear of your talking about dung “In an appeal in the House of Lords” (HC).

Mungo Park (1771-1806)


PARK was apprenticed to a Selkirk surgeon in his teens and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh.  In 1793, he travelled as a ship’s surgeon to Sumatra.  In 1795, the African Association sent him to Western Africa to try to trace the route of the river Niger, as yet unseen by Europeans.  Park reached the river in July 1796, confirming that it flowed east, not west, and after an arduous journey back to the coast, returned to London the following year.  His Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (1799) became an instant classic.  Acclaimed as a hero, Park returned to West Africa in 1805 on a larger-scale government-sponsored expedition.  Of the 38 white men accompanying him, only seven survived to reach the Niger.  After shooting a number of tribesmen during their canoe journey down the river, Park and his remaining companions died in a hostile encounter with natives near Bussa.  His posthumous Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa in the Year 1805 (1815) contains a second-hand account of his death.   Brougham’s review offers a tribute to Park, calling him ‘a martyr’: ‘We … bid a mournful farewell to that … illustrious man … In Mungo Park … the world has lost a great man’ [ER, 24:490].  Subsequent explorers, including Park’s son, tried to piece together the circumstances of his disappearance, amid sporadic speculations that he remained alive somewhere in Africa.


To Robert Morehead (24 May 1802)

Edinburgh, 24th May 1802


My dear Bob — Worse and worse you see, in the way of regularity. This marriage, you think, will interfere with our correspondence; but I cannot think that yet, and would rather have you lay the blame upon circuits and sessions, and, above all, upon new houses and furniture for rooms. We came here, to Queen Street I mean, about ten days ago, and have ever since been in such an uproar with painters, and chimney-sweeps, and packages of old books, and broken china, that I have scarcely had time to eat my dinner, or to find out where my pens and paper were laid till yesterday. Then, you know, this is the beginning of our session; and, moreover, it is the time of the General Assembly of the Scotch National Church; (you apostate dog! where will you find anything so high sounding as that in your new religion?) And we have parsons and elders by the dozen, with their families, from St. Andrews, to entertain; and I have a cause to plead in the said venerable Assembly, and am to declaim, in the name of a Presbytery, against a poor sinner whom they have accused of profane swearing, and a habit of scoffing at religion, and great levity of behaviour; but I declare to you that I will plead it fairly.

But you are as great a delinquent as I am nearly, — not only to me (for I deserve nothing), but to all your other friends, as I understand, and you cannot have half my apologies. I hope you are quite well, however, and can only suppose that you are busy making your entré into the Church. Are you reverend yet, or not? or is there any chance of your being rejected, or of your changing your mind and drawing back? I do not much like the threat in your last, about not coming to Scotland for this summer, and hope the election will force you for a while among us whether you will or not. If you do not get a curacy immediately, I do not see what you can debate; for I am afraid, after you are once beneficed, you will practise the virtue of residence in a very exemplary manner; and that we shall see each other no oftener than you visit your metropolitan. There is something dolorous in the breaking up of long intimacies, and the permanent separation of those who have spent so much of their life together. We have spent too much of it together though, I am persuaded, ever to fall off from an intimacy, and shall speak to each other with familiarity, although we should not meet for twenty years to come. I can answer for myself at least, in spite of all the change that marriage is to make upon me. What the Church may work on you, I cannot so positively determine. I met with an old sonnet of yours this morning, on the first fall of snow in December 1794, which brought back to my mind many very pleasing recollections. Indeed, there is no part of my life that I look back upon with so much delight as the summer days we loitered at Herbertshire, in the first year of our acquaintance. I date the beginning of it from the time of your father’s death, and often call to mind the serene and innocent seclusion in which we then lived from the world. I should be sorry if I could not live so again, and am sure that I could be as pure, and as careless, and as romantic, if I had only as much leisure, and as pliant a companion.

I have nothing new to tell you of. Our Review has been postponed till September, and I am afraid will not go on with much spirit even then. Perhaps we have omitted the tide that was in our favour. We are bound for a year to the booksellers, and shall drag through that, I suppose, for our own indemnification; but I foresee the likelihood of our being all scattered before another year shall be over, and, of course, the impossibility of going on on the footing upon which we have begun. Indeed, few things have given me more vexation of late than the prospect of the dissolution of that very pleasant and animated society in which I have spent so much of my time for these last four years, and I am really inclined to be very sad when I look forward to the time when I shall be deserted by all the friends and companions who possessed much of my confidence and esteem. You are translated into England already. Horner goes to the English bar in a year. S. Smith leaves this country for ever about the same time. Hamilton spends his life abroad as soon as his father’s death sets him at liberty. Brougham will most probably push into public life, even before a similar event gives him a favourable opportunity. Reddie is lost, and absolutely swallowed up in law. Lord Webb leaves us before winter. Jo. Allen goes abroad with Lord Holland immediately. Adam is gone already, and, except Brown and Jo. Murray, I do not think that one of the associates with whom I have speculated and amused myself, will be left with me in the course of eighteen months. It is not easy to form new intimacies, and I know enough of the people among whom I must look for them, to be positive that they will never be worthy of their predecessors. Comfort me, then, my dear Bobby, in this real affliction, and prove to me, by your example, that separation is not always followed by forgetfulness, and that we may still improve and gladden each other at a distance. My Kitty is quite well, and very rational and amiable. If it were not for her I should run after my friends, and indulge my inherent spirit of adventure by a new course of exertion. But she is my brother and sister, my father and mother, my Sanscrit, my Sydney, and my right venerable cousin, as old Homer says in Andromache.

I dined at Murrayfield the other day. Write me very soon and tell me what you are doing and meditating, and especially when I am to see you again, and how. It is the sweetest weather in the world, and all are in ecstacy with our prospect, and our evening walks. Remember our number is 62. I see no new books of any consequence, and am sadly behind with my task for the Review. I have been more impeded by the law than I had reckoned upon. Cath. sends her love to you, and hopes you will bring her a pair of gloves when you come down. She is going to Herbertshire, she says, some time this autumn. — Believe me always, my dear Bob, yours most affectionately.

To Francis Horner (9 April 1802)

Dear Horner,

I have been cutting at my quill for these five minutes, pondering with the most intense stupidity what apology I should make for not having written to you before. The truth is, though it is anything but an apology, that I have written none of my reviews yet, and that I was afraid to tell you so. I began to Mounier, however this morning; and feel the intrepidity of conscious virtue so strong in me already, that I can sit down and confess all my enormities to you. I must first tell you about the Review, though, that you may be satisfied that it holds the first place in my affection. We are in a miserable state of backwardness, you must know, and have been giving some symptoms of despondency; [end p.248] various measures have been tried, at least, against the earliness of our intended day of publication; and hints have been given of a delay, that I am quite afraid would prove fatal. Something is done, however; and a good deal, I hope, is doing. Smith has gone through more than half his task. So has Hamilton. Allen has made some progress: and Murray and myself, I believe, have studies our parts, and tuned our instruments, and are almost ready to begin. On the other hand, Thomson is sick: Brown has engaged for nothing but Miss Baillie’s plays; and Timothy has engaged for nothing, but professed it to be his opinion, the other day, that he would never put pen to paper in our cause. Brougham must have a sentence to himself; and I am afraid you will not think it a pleasant one. You remember how cheerfully he approved of our plan at first, and agreed to dive us an article or two without hesitation. Three or four days ago, I proposed two or three books that I thought would suit him: he answered with perfect good-humour that he had changed his view of our plan a little, and rather thought that he should decline to have any connection with it.

I forget to tell you that I ran away for three days to the Circuit at Glasgow, where I recruited Birkbeck, and Lockhart Muirhead, and my friend Dr. Brown for our review. They are all so lately enrolled, however, that I doubt if we can expect any active service from them for our first number. Birkbeck talks of going to France in the summer; and Brown I am afraid will have but little time to spare from his patients and his botany. We are most in want of a German reviewer at present; without that language it would be ridiculous to pretend that we are to give a passable account of Continental literature: and now I am sick of this subject, and if Murray has sent you his chapter on the Prospectus, I think you will be completely master of it.

“I am a little curious” to hear more what you have been doing, and what impressions have been made upon you by the things you have seen and heard. Upon the whole, I hope you will be wearied of London by the end of this month, and will return to us with the good resolution of remaining. I cannot find out, either, whether you are to have any thing to do in the House of Lords, and beg you would tell me as much of all these things as you think proper. For my part, I have no sort of news to repay you with. Brougham is going on diligently with his book. I have good hopes of it now, for he says it will not be ready for publication for two years at least to come.

This vernal weather is so extremely cold, that I cannot afford to sit still any longer. As soon as it grows warm, I engage to write you a more entertaining and more legible letter; on condition, however, that you take an idle morning to send me a large sheetful of London intelligence.

Believe me always, dear Horner,

Very faithfully yours,


George Gordon, Lord Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, a Satire (London : J. Cawrhorn, March 1809)

Such is the force of Wit! but not belong
To me the arrows of satiric song;
The royal vices of our age demand
A keener weapon, and a mightier hand.                             40
Still there are follies, e’en for me to chase,
And yield at least amusement in the race:
Laugh when I laugh, I seek no other fame,
The cry is up, and scribblers are my game:
Speed, Pegasus! ––ye strains of great and small,
Ode! Epic! Elegy! ––have at you all!
I, too, can scrawl, and once upon a time
I poured along the town a flood of rhyme,
A schoolboy freak, unworthy praise or blame;
I printed ––older children do the same.                             50

‘Tis pleasant, sure, to see one’s name in print;
A Book’s a Book, altho’ there’s nothing in’t.
Not that a Title’s sounding charm can save
Or scrawl or scribbler from an equal grave:
This Lamb must own, since his Patrician name
Failed to preserve the spurious Farce from shame.
No matter, George continues still to write,
Tho’ now the name is veiled from public sight.
Moved by the great example I pursue
The self-same road, but make my own review: 60
Not seek great Jeffrey’s, yet like him will be
Self-constituted Judge of Poesy.

A man must serve his time to ev’ry trade
Save Censure, Critics all are ready-made.
Take hackneyed jokes from Miller, got by rote,
With just enough of learning to misquote;
A mind well skilled to find, or forge a fault;
A turn for punning ––call it Attic salt;
To Jeffrey go, be silent and discreet,
His pay is just ten sterling pounds per sheet: 70
Fear not to lie, ’twill seem a ‘sharper’ hit;
Shrink not from blasphemy, ’twill pass for wit;
Care not for feeling ––pass your proper jest,
And stand a Critic, hated yet caressed.

And shall we own such judgment? no ––as soon
Seek roses in December ––ice in June;
Hope constancy in wind, or corn in chaff,
Believe a woman, or an epitaph,
Or any other thing that’s false, before
You trust in Critics who themselves are sore; 80
Or yield one single thought to be misled
By Jeffrey’s heart, or Lamb’s Bœotian head.
To these young tyrants, by themselves misplaced
Combined usurpers on the Throne of Taste;
To these when Authors bend in humble awe
And hail their voice as Truth, their word as Law;
While these are Censors, ‘twould be sin to spare;
While such are Critics, why should I forbear?
But yet so near all modern worthies run,
‘Tis doubtful whom to seek, or whom to shun; 90
Nor know we when to spare, or where to strike,
Our Bards and Censors are so much alike.

[pp. 4-7.]


Health to immortal Jeffrey! once, in name,
England could boast a judge almost the same;
In soul so like, so merciful, yet just,
Some think that Satan has resigned his trust,
And given the Spirit to the world again,
To sentence Letters, as he sentenced men.
With hand less mighty, but with heart as black,
With voice as willing to decree the rack;
Bred in the Courts betimes, though all that law
As yet hath taught him is to find a flaw,
Since well instructed in the patriot school
To rail at party, though a party tool,
Who knows? if chance his patrons should restore
Back to the sway they forfeited before,
His scribbling toils some recompense may meet,
And raise this Daniel to the Judgment-Seat.
Let Jeffrey’s shade indulge the pious hope,
And greeting thus, present him with a rope:
“Heir to my virtues! man of equal mind! 450
Skilled to condemn as to traduce mankind,
This cord receive! for thee reserved with care,
To wield in judgment, and at length to wear.”

Health to great Jeffrey! Heaven preserve his life,
To flourish on the fertile shores of Fife,
And guard it sacred in its future wars,
Since authors sometimes seek the field of Mars!
Can none remember that eventful day,
That ever-glorious, almost fatal fray,
When Little’s leadless pistol met his eye, 460
And Bow-street Myrmidons stood laughing by?
Oh, day disastrous! on her firm-set rock,
Dunedin’s castle felt a secret shock;
Dark rolled the sympathetic waves of Forth,
Low groaned the startled whirlwinds of the north;
Tweed ruffled half his waves to form a tear,
The other half pursued his calm career;
Arthur’s steep summit nodded to its base,
The surly Tolbooth scarcely kept her place.
The Tolbooth felt ––for marble sometimes can, 470

On such occasions, feel as much as man––
The Tolbooth felt defrauded of his charms,
If Jeffrey died, except within her arms:
Nay last, not least, on that portentous morn,
The sixteenth story, where himself was born,
His patrimonial garret, fell to ground,
And pale Edina shuddered at the sound:
Strewed were the streets around with milk-white reams,
Flowed all the Canongate with inky streams;
This of his candour seemed the sable dew, 480

That of his valour showed the bloodless hue;
And all with justice deemed the two combined
The mingled emblems of his mighty mind.
But Caledonia’s goddess hovered o’er
The field, and saved him from the wrath of Moore;
From either pistol snatched the vengeful lead,
And straight restored it to her favourite’s head;
That head, with greater than magnetic power,
Caught it, as Danae caught the golden shower,
And, though the thickening dross will scarce refine, 490
Augments its ore, and is itself a mine.
“My son,” she cried, “ne’er thirst for gore again,
Resign the pistol and resume the pen;
O’er politics and poesy preside,
Boast of thy country, and Britannia’s guide!
For long as Albion’s heedless sons submit,
Or Scottish taste decides on English wit,
So long shall last thine unmolested reign,
Nor any dare to take thy name in vain.
Behold, a chosen band shall aid thy plan, 500

And own thee chieftain of the critic clan.
First in the oat-fed phalanx shall be seen
The travelled Thane, Athenian Aberdeen.
Herbert shall wield Thor’s hammer, and sometimes
In gratitude, thou’lt praise his rugged rhymes.
Smug Sydney too thy bitter page shall seek,
And classic Hallam, much renowned for Greek;
Scott may perchance his name and influence lend,
And paltry Pillans shall traduce his friend;
While gay Thalia’s luckless votary, Lamb 510
Damned like the Devil –– Devil-like will damn.
Known be thy name! unbounded be thy sway!
Thy Holland’s banquets shall each toil repay!
While grateful Britain yields the praise she owes
To Holland’s hirelings and to Learning’s foes.
Yet mark one caution ere thy next Review
Spread its light wings of Saffron and of Blue,
Beware lest blundering Brougham destroy the sale,
Turn Beef to Bannocks, Cauliflowers to Kail.”
Thus having said, the kilted Goddess kist 520
Her son, and vanished in a Scottish mist.

Illustrious Holland! hard would be his lot,
His hirelings mentioned, and himself forgot!
Holland, with Henry Petty at his back,
The whipper-in and huntsman of the pack.
Blest be the banquets spread at Holland House,
Where Scotchmen feed, and Critics may carouse!
Long, long beneath that hospitable roof
Shall Grub-street dine, while duns are kept aloof.
See honest Hallam lay aside his fork, 530
Resume his pen, review his Lordship’s work,
And, grateful for the dainties on his plate,
Declare his landlord can at least translate!
Dunedin! view thy children with delight,
They write for food––and feed because they write:
And lest, when heated with the unusual grape,
Some glowing thoughts should to the press escape,
And tinge with red the female reader’s cheek,
My lady skims the cream of each critique;
Breathes o’er the page her purity of soul, 540
Reforms each error, and refines the whole.

pp. 34-44.

Holland House

AFTER their return from the Continent in the late 1790s and a parliamentary inquiry in to the minor scandal of their marriage, Henry Richard Fox, third Baron Holland, and his wife Elizabeth (née Vassal), Lady Holland, moved into the property just outside London that became Holland House. From then until Fox’s death in 1840, the house was a social and political focus for Foxite or liberal Whiggism: ‘the last debate was discussed in one corner, and the last comedy of Scribe in another’ while Wilkie gazed with modest admiration on Reynolds’ Baretti; while Mackintosh turned over Thomas Aquinas to verify a quotation; while Talleyrand related his conversations with Barras at the Luxembourg or his ride with Lannes over the field of Austerlitz’. Under Lady Holland’s sometime imperious orchestration, every meal was an opportunity for wit and debate. Edinburgh contributor and ideologue, John Allen, resided there as the Hollands’ physician and major domo and Sydney Smith and James Mackintosh were regulars while living in London, as was the Italian exile Ugo Foscolo, who also wrote for the Edinburgh. Holland also enjoyed the power of patronage conferred upon him as a birthright, and used it to help launch a number of subsequently successful careers – amongst them Horner, Brougham, and Macaulay, all of them central to the Edinburgh enterprise.