The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Volume 4 (1788-93)
Jeremy Bentham, edited by Alexander Taylor Milne | May 2017
Format: 234 x 156mm
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About the book
The first five volumes of the Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham contain over 1,300 letters written both to and from Bentham over a 50-year period, beginning in 1752 (aged three) with his earliest surviving letter to his grandmother, and ending in 1797 with correspondence concerning his attempts to set up a national scheme for the provision of poor relief. The early letters deal with Bentham’s education at Oxford University, where he was sent at the age of 12 and graduated at the age of 16, and his legal training before being admitted to the bar at the age of 21. He soon afterwards turned his back on the practice of the law and, allying himself with the more radical and sceptical figures of the continental Enlightenment, embarked on a career of law reform.
Against the background of the debates on the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789, to which he made significantcontributions, Bentham worked first on producing a complete penal code, and then on his panopticon prison scheme. Despite developing a host of original and ground-breaking ideas, contained in a mass of manuscripts, he published little during these years, and remained, at the close of this period, a relatively obscure individual. Nevertheless, these volumes reveal how the foundations were laid for the remarkable rise of Benthamite utilitarianism in the early nineteenth century.
Bentham’s educational ideas were the inspiration for the founding of UCL. The vast majority of Bentham’s papers, consisting of around 60,000 folios, are held in UCL Library.
In 1789 Bentham published An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, which remains his most famous work, but which had little impact at the time, followed in 1791 by The Panopticon: or, The Inspection-House, in which he proposed the building of a circular penitentiary house. Bentham’s correspondence unfolds against the backdrop of the increasingly violent French Revolution, and shows his initial sympathy for France turning into hostility. On a personal level, in 1791 his brother returned from Russia, and in 1792 he inherited his father’s house in Queen’s Square Place, Westminster together with a significant property portfolio.
About the editors
Alexander Taylor Milne (1906–94), scholar and historian, was Secretary and Librarian of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.
Professor J.H. Burns (1921–2012), historian, Reader in the History of Political Thought 1961–6 and Professor in the History of Political Thought 1966–86 in the Department of History, University College London, was in 1961 appointed as the first General Editor of the authoritative edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, a post he held until 1978.