chapter  I
17 Pages

The End

Jeremy Bentham, citizen of the world, honorary citizen of the French Republic; international figure who invented the word ‘international’, and whose fame (as Hazlitt observed) grew in direct proportion to the distance from his house in Westminster; born in London 15 February 1748, the son and grandson of a City attorney; died in London 6 June 1832, surrounded by 70,000 sheets of manuscript on the theory of law and all conceivably related subjects. Such, in telegraphic form, are a few details of a man destined by his father to be a supremely successful practitioner of the law but who instead dreamed at an early age that he might be the founder of a sect of people called utilitarians, and who devoted his life to the criticism and reform of the law and other established institutions. Sects need sacred objects, so let us start at the end with Bentham’s physical transformation into a relic. Three days after his death, on the evening of 9 June 1832, friends, disciples, the faithful utilitarians, gathered together with medical students and leading doctors in the Webb Street school of anatomy. In the centre of the small circular room, lit only by the skylight, was Bentham in his nightshirt, lying on the dissecting table. Outside, appropriate supernatural commentary, a thunderstorm. The play of lightning flickered on the dead face of the Master, enlivening its expression of placid dignity. Over the corpse the final oration was delivered by Bentham’s doctor, Southwood Smith. Southwood Smith was a regular lecturer at the school, but he was also a prominent utilitarian who had participated in the founding of the Benthamite journal, the Westminster Review, in which he wrote regularly and in particular on the sanitary question. For him providing the greatest happiness of the greatest number consisted most centrally in providing adequate facilities for the disposal of the sewage of the people of London. Whether this is regarded as mildly absurd or as centrally important, or both, it was representative of the kind of activity in which the proper utilitarian should be engaged. At this time he should also be engaged in editing the works of the Master, converting the piles of illegible manuscript into texts for the sect; and in fact Southwood Smith edited some of Bentham’s most philosophical works, the essays on Ontology, Logic, and Language.