Bentham Project

Wood-engraving by William James Linton (1812–98)

Bentham portrait

Actual size. Click on image for enlargement.

A new portrait of Bentham has been found—a small circular wood-engraving by William James Linton, wood- engraver, political reformer, printer, and poet. There appears to be no evidence that Linton and Bentham were personally acquainted, but the two men may well have met. Autobiographical and biographical sources reveal that Linton certainly knew many people close to Bentham such as Francis Burdett, Richard Carlile, Francis Place, John Roebuck, and Thomas Southwood Smith, and that he visited John Bowring at Queens Square Place (Bentham’s home). Bowring may, as he had done with other artists in the past, have encouraged Linton to make this likeness.

The portrait has yet to be traced to any text that Linton himself wrote. However it appears on publications written by Linton’s friend and sometime collaborator George Jacob Holyoake (1817–1906), the free-thinker, publicist, bookseller, publisher, and a leader in the development of the co-operative movement. Holyoake and Linton were associated in various printing activities, although they quarrelled irredeemably in 1851. The first appearance of the portrait found so far is in an edition of The Reasoner, a journal started by Holyoake in June 1836, and the portrait of Bentham appeared in No. 100 of The Reasoner on 26 April 1848, above an article on ‘The Polity and Resources of Freethinking’. Holyoake, like Linton, knew many of Bentham’s friends, including John Stuart Mill, and he records in his work, Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life, an anecdote about Bentham from Francis Place. No direct link is made between Bentham and the works of Holyoake in which the wood-engraving appears, but in December 1846 Holyoake announced the formation of the Society of Theological Utilitarianism, which met first in December 1846, and Holyoake obviously knew of and was making reference in this title to Bentham and Utilitarianism. News of Society of Theological Utilitarianism’s weekly meetings was appended to The Reasoner in a section called the ‘Utilitarian Record’, and the Society continued to exist until mid-1848.

Other publications by Holyoake, which included the portrait of Bentham on the front cover, so far traced are: The Cabinet of Reason: A Library of Freethought, Politics, and Culture, 2 vols., London, 1852; The Child’s Ladder of Knowledge, London, 1864; Life and Last Days of Robert Owen, 6th ed., London, 1866; Paley Refuted in his own Words, 6th ed., London, 1866; Public Speaking and Debate, London, 1866; and Self-Help by the People. The History of Co-operation in Rochdale, 6th and 7th eds., London, 1872