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THE SPIRITS OF THE AGE.-NO. I.
Jeremy Bentham. Mr. Bentham is one of those persons who verify the old adage, that a prophet has no honour, except out of his own country." His reputation lies at the circumference, and the lights of his understanding are reflected, with increasing lustre, on the other side of the globe. His name is little known in England, better in Europe, best of all in the plains of Chili and the mines of Mexico. He has offered Constitutions for the New World, and legislated for future times. The people of Westminster, where he lives, know little of such a person ; but the Siberian savage has received cold comfort from his lunar aspect, and may say to him with Caliban, “ I know thee and thy dog and thy bush”--the tawny Indian may hold out the hand of fellowship to him across the Great Pacific. We believe that the Empress Catherine corresponded with him; and we know that the Emperor Alexander called upon him, and presented him with his miniature in a gold snuffbox, which the philosopher, to his eternal honour, returned. Mr. Hobhouse is a greater man at the Hustings, Lord Rolle at PlymouthDock; but Mr. Bentham would carry it hollow, on the score of popularity, at Paris or Pegu. The reason is, that our author's influence is purely intellectual. He has devoted his life to the pursuit of abstract and general truths, and to those studies,
—that waft a thought from Indus to the Pole,"--and has never mixed himself up
with intrigues or party-politics. He once indeed stuck up a hand-bill to say that he (Jeremy Bentham) being of sound mind, was of opinion that Sir Samuel Romilly was the most proper person to represent Westminster, but this was the whim of the moment. Otherwise, his reasonings, if true at all, are true everywhere alike: his speculations concern humanity at large, and are not confined to the hundred, or bills of mortality. It is in moral as in physical magnitude. The little is seen only near: the great appears in its proper dimensions only from a more commanding point of view, and gains strength with time, and elevation from distance !
Mr. Bentham is very much among philosophers what La Fontaine was among poets--in general habits and in all but his professional pursuits, he is a mere child. He has lived for the last forty years in a house in Westminster overlooking the Park, like an anchoret in his cell, reducing law to a system, and the mind of man to a machine. He hardly ever goes out, and sees very little
company. The favoured few, who have the privilege of the entrée, are always admitted one by one. He does not like to have witnesses to his conversation. He talks a great deal, and listens to nothing but facts. When any one calls upon him, he invites them to take a turn round his garden with him (Mr. Bentham is an economist of his time, and sets apart this portion of it to air and exercise)—and there you may see the lively old man, his mind still buoyant with thought and with the prospect of futurity, in eager conversation with some Opposition Member, some expatriated Patriot, or Transatlantic Adventurer, urging the extinction of Close Boroughs, or planning a code of laws for some lone island in the watery waste," his walk almost amounting to a run, his tongue keeping pace with it in shrill, cluttering accents, negligent of his person, his dress, and his manner, intent only on his grand theme of UTILITY—or pausing perhaps for want of breath, and with lacklustre eye, to point out to the stranger a stone in the wall at the end of his garden, (over-arched by two beautiful cotton-trees) Inscribed to the Prince of Poets, which marks the house where Milton formerly lived. To shew how little the refinements of taste or fancy enter into our anthor's system, he proposed at one time to grub up these beautiful trees, to convert the garden where he had breathed the air of Truth and Heaven for near half-a-century, into a paltry Chreistomathic School, and to make Milton's house (the cradle of Paradise Lost) a thoroughfare, like a three-stalled stable, for all the rabble of Westminster to pass backwards and forwards to it with their cloven hoofs. Let us not, however, be getting on too fast-Milton himself taught a school !—There is something not altogether dissimilar between Mr. Bentham's appearance, and the portraits of Milton—the same silvery tone, a few dishevelled hairs, a peevish, yet puritanical expression, an irritable temperament corrected by_babit and discipline. Or in modern times, he is something between Franklin and Charles Fox, with the comfortable double-chin, and sleek thriving look of the one, and the quivering lip, the restless eye, and animated acuteness of the other. His eye is quick and lively, but it glances not from object to object, but from thought to thought. He is evidently a man occupied with some train of fine and inward association. He regards the people about bim no more than the flies of a summer. He meditates the coming age. He hears and sees only what suits his purpose, some foregone conclusion;" and looks out for facts and passing occurrences only to put them into his logical machinery and grind them into the dust and powder of some subtle theory, as the miller looks out for grist to his mill! Add to this physiognomical sketch the minor points of costume, the open shirt-collar, the single-breasted coat, the old-fashioned halfboots and ribbed stockings; and you will find in Mr. Bentham's general appearance, a singular mixture of boyish simplicity and of the venerableness of age.--In a word, our celebrated jurist presents a striking illustration of the difference between the philosophical and the regal look ; that is, between the merely abstracted and the merely personal. There is a lack-a-daisical bonhommie about his whole aspect, none of the fierceness of pride or power; an unconscious neglect of his own person, instead of a stately assumption of superiority; a goodhumoured, placid intelligence, not a lynx-eyed watchfulness, as if it wished to make others its prey, or was afraid they might turn and rend him; he is a beneficent spirit, prying into the universe, not lording it over it; a thoughtful spectator of the scenes of life, or ruminator on the fate of mankind, not a painted pageant, a stupid idol set up on its pedestal of pride for men to fall down and worship with idiot fear and wonder at the thing themselves have made, and which, without that fear and wonder, would itself be nothing!
Mr. Bentham, perhaps, over-rates the importance of his own theories. He has been heard to say (without any appearance of pride or affectation) that " he should like to live the remaining years of his life, a year at a time at the end of the next six or eight centuries, to see the effect which his writings would by that time have upon the world.” Alas! his name will hardly live so long! Nor do we think, in point of fact, that Mr. Bentham has given any new or decided impulse to the human mind. He cannot be looked upon in the light of a discoverer in legislation or morals. He has not struck out any great leading principle or parent-truth, from which a number of others might be deduced ; nor has he enriched the common and established stock of intelligence with original observations, like pearls thrown into wine. One truth discovered is immortal, and entitles its author to be so: for, like a new substance in nature, it cannot be destroyed. But Mr. Bentham's forte is arrangement; and the form of truth, though not its essence, varies with time and circumstance. He has methodised, collated, and condensed all the materials prepared to his hand on the subjects of which he treats, in a masterly and scientific manner : but we should find a difficulty in adducing from his different works (however elaborate or closely reasoned) any new element of thought, or even a new fact or illustration. His writings are, therefore, chiefly valuable as books of reference, as bringing down the account of intellectual inquiry to the present period, and disposing the results in a compendious, connected, and tangible shape; but books of reference are chiefly serviceable for facilitating the acquisition of knowledge, and are constantly liable to be superseded and grow out of fashion with its progress, as the scaffolding is thrown down according as the building is completed. Mr. Bentham is not the first writer, by a great many, who has assumed the principle of UTILITY as the foundation of just laws, and of all moral and political reasoning:-his merit is, that he has applied this principle more closely and literally, that he has brought all the objections and arguments, more distinctly labelled and ticketed, under this head, and made a more constant and explicit reference to it at every step of his progress, than any other writer. Perhaps the weak side of his conclusions also is, that he has carried this single view of bis subject too far, and not made sufficient allowance for the varieties of human nature, and the caprices and irregularities of the human will. “He has not allowed for the wind." It is not that you can be said to see his favourite doctrine of Utility glittering every where through his system, like a vein of rich, shining ore, that is not the nature of the material,--but it might be plausibly objected that he had struck the whole mass of fancy, prejudice, passion, sense, and whim, with his petrific, leaden mace, that he had "bound volatile Hermes," and reduced the theory and practice of human life to a caput mortuum of reason and dull, plodding, technical calculation. The gentleman is himself a capital logician; and he has been led by this circumstance to consider man as a logical animal. We fear this view of the matter will hardly hold water. If we attend to the moral man, the constitution of his mind will scarcely be found to be built up of pure reason and a regard to consequences : if we consider the criminal man (with whom the legislator has chiefly to do), it will be found to be still less so.
Every pleasure, says Mr. Bentham, is equally a good, and is to be taken into the account as such in a moral estimate, whether it be the pleasure of sense or of conscience, whether it arise from the exercise of virtue or the perpetration of a crime. We are afraid the human mind does not readily come into this doctrine, this ultima ratio philosophorum, taken according to the letter. Our moral sentiments are made up of sympathies and antipathies, of sense and imagination, of understanding and prejudice. The soul, by reason of its weakness, is an aggregating and an exclusive principle; it clings obstinately to some things, and violently rejects others. And it must do so, in a great measure, or it would act contrary to its own nature. It needs helps and stages in its progress, and all appliances and means to boot,” which can raise it to a partial conformity to truth and good (the utmost it is capable of), and bring it into a tolerable harmony with the universe. By aiming at too much, by dismissing collateral aids, by exterding itself to the farthest verge of the remote and possible, it loses its elasticity and vigour, its impulse and its direction. The moralist can no more do without the intermediate use of rules and principles, without the 'vantage-ground of habit, without the levers of the understanding, than the mechanist can discard the use of wheels and pulleys, and perform every thing by simple motion. If the mind of man were competent to comprehend the whole of truth and good, and act upon it at once, and independently of all other considerations, Mr. Bentham's plan would be a feasible one, and the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, would be the best possible ground to place morality upon. But it is not so. In ascertaining the rules of moral conduct, we must have regard not merely to the nature of the object, but to the capacity of the agent, and to his fitness for apprehending or attaining it. Pleasure is that which is so in itself: good is that which approves itself as such on reflection, or the idea of which is a source of satisfaction. All pleasure is not therefore, morally speaking, equally a good; for all pleasure does not equally bear reflecting on. There are some tastes that are sweet in the mouth and bitter in the belly; and there is a similar contradiction and anomaly in the mind and heart of man. Again, what will become of the Posthæc meminisse juvabit of the poet, if a principle of fluctuation and reaction is not inberent in the very constitution of our nature, or if all moral truth is a mere literal truism. We are not, then, so much to inquire what certain things are abstractedly or in themselves, as how they affect the mind, and to approve or condemn them accordingly. The same object seen near strikes us more powerfully than at a distance: things thrown into masses give a greater blow to the imagination than when scattered and divided into their component parts.
A number of mole-hills do not make a mountain, though a mountain is actually made up of atoms : so moral truth must present itself under a certain aspect and from a certain point of view, in order to produce its full and proper effect upon the mind. The laws of the affections are as necessary as those of optics. A calculation of consequences is no more equivalent to a sentiment, than a seriatim enumeration of particles touches the fancy like the sight of the Alps or Andes. , To give an instance or two of what we mean. Those who on pure cosmopolite principles, or on the ground of abstract humanity, affect an extraordinary regard for the Turks and Tartars, have been accused of neglecting their duties to their friends and next-door neighbours. Well, then, what is the state of the question here? One human being is, no doubt, as much worth in himself, independently of the circumstances of time or place, as another ; but he is not of so much value to us and our affections. Could our imagination take
wing, with our speculative faculties, to the other side of the globe, or to the ends of the universe, could our eyes behold whatever our reason teaches us to be possible, could our hands reach as far as our thoughts or wishes, we might then busy ourselves to advantage with the tot. tentots, or hold intimate converse with the inhabitants of the Moon ; but being as we are, our feelings evaporate in so large a space, we must draw the circle of our affections and duties somewhat closer, the heart hovers and fixes nearer home. It is true, the bands of private, or of local and natural affection, are often, nay in general, too tightly strained, so as frequently to do harm instead of good : but the present question is, whether we can, with safety and effect, be wholly emancipated from them? Whether we should shake them off at pleasure and without mercy, as the only bar to the triumph of truth and justice? Or whether benevolence, constructed upon a logical scale, would not be merely nominal,--whether duty, raised to too lofty a pitch of refinement, might not sink into callous indifference or hollow selfishness ?—Again, is it not to exact too high a strain from humanity, to ask us to qualify the degree of abhorrence we feel against a murderer, by taking into our cool consideration, the pleasure he may have in committing the deed, and in the prospect of gratify, ing his avarice or his revenge? We are hardly so formed as to sympathise at the same moment with the assassin and his victim.. The degree of pleasure the former may feel, instead of extenuating, aggravates his guilt, and shews the depth of his malignity. Now the mind revolts against this by mere natural antipathy, if it is itself well-disposed; or the slow process of reason would afford but a feeble resista ance to violence and wrong. The will, which is necessary to give consistency and promptness to our good intentions, cannot extend so much candour and courtesy to the antagonist principle of evil: virtue, to be sincere and practical, cannot be divested entirely of the blindness and impetuosity of passion! It has been made a plea (half jest, half earnest) for the horrors of war, that they promote trade and manufactures--it has been said as a set-off for the atrocities practised upon the negro-slaves in the West-Indies, that without their blood and sweat, so many millions of people could not have sugar to sweeten their tea —fires and murders have been argued to be beneficial, as they serve to fill the newspapers, and for a subject to talk of:- this is a sort of sophistry, that it might be difficult to disprove on the bare scheme of contingent Utility, but on the ground that we have stated, it must pass for a mere irony. What the proportion between the good and the evil may be in any of the supposed cases, may be a question to the understanding : but to the imagination and the heart, that is, to the natural feelings of mankind, it admits of none!
Mr. Bentham, in adjusting the provisions of a penal code, lays too little stress on the co-operation of the natural prejudices of mankind, and the habitual feelings of that class of persons, for whom they are more particularly intended. Legislators (we mean writers on legisla.. tion) are philosophers, and governed by their reason : criminals, for whose control laws are made, are a set of desperadoes, governed only by their passions. What wonder that so little progress has been made towards a mutual understanding between the two parties! They are quite a different species, and speak a different language, and are sadly at