« PreviousContinue »
a loss for a common interpreter between them. Perhaps the Ordinary of Newgate bids as fair for this office as any one. What should Mr. Bentham, sitting at ease in his arm-chair, composing his mind before he begins to write by a prelude on the organ, and looking out at a beautiful prospect when he is at a loss for an idea, know of the principles of action of rogues, outlaws, and vagabonds? No more than Montaigne of the motions of his cat! If sanguine and tender-hearted philanthropists have set on foot an inquiry into the barbarity and the defects of penal laws, the practical improvements have been mostly suggested by reformed cut-throats, turnkeys, and thicf-takers. What even can the Honourable House, that when the Speaker has pronounced the well-known, wished-for sounds, " That this House do now adjourn," retires, after voting a royal crusade or a loan of millions, to lie on down and feed on plate in spacious palaces, know of what passes in the hearts of wretches in garrets and night-cellars, petty pilferers and marauders who cut throats and pick pockets with their own hands? The thing is impossible. The laws of the country are, therefore, ineffectual and abortive, because they are made by the rich for the poor, by the wise for the ignorant, by the respectable and exalted in station for the very scum and refuse of the community. If Newgate would resolve itself into a Committee of the whole Press-yard, with Jack Ketch at its head, aided by confidential persons from the countyprisons or the Hulks, and would make a clear breast, some data might be found out to proceed upon ; but as it is, the criminal mind of the country is a book sealed, no one has been able to penetrate to the inside! Mr. Bentham, in his attempts to revise and amend our criminal jurisprudence, proceeds entirely on his favourite principle of Utility. Convince highwaymen and housebreakers that it will be for their interest to reform; and they will reform and live honest lives ; according to Mr. Bentham. He says “ All men act from calculation, even madmen reason.' And in our opinion, he might as well carry this maxim to Bedlam, or St. Luke's, and apply it to the inhabitants, as think to coerce or overawe the inmates of a gaol, or those whose practices make them candidates for this distinction, by the mere dry, detailed convictions of the understanding. Criminals are not to be influenced by reason ; for it is of the very essence of crime to disregard consequences to itself and others. You may as well preach philosophy to a drunken man or to the dead, as to those who are under the insti. gation of any ruling passion. A man is a drunkard, and you tell him he ought to be sober; he is debauched, and you ask him to reform; he is idle, and you recommend industry to him as his wisest course; he gambles, and you remind him that he may be ruined ; by this foible he has lost his character, and you advise him to get into some reputable service or lucrative situation ; vice becomes a habit with him, and
you request him to rouse himself and shake it off; he is starving, and you warn him that if he breaks the law, he will be banged. None of this reasoning reaches the mark it aims at. The culprit, who violates and suffers the vengeance of the laws, is not the dupe of ignorance, but the slave of passion, the victim of habit or necessity. To argue with strong passion, with inveterate habit, with desperate circumstances, is to talk to the winds. Clownish ignorance may indeed be dispelled, and taught better : but it is seldom that a criminal is not aware of the consequences
of his act, or has not made up his mind to the alternative. They are in general too knowing by half. You tell a person of this stamp what is his interest; he says he does not care about his interest, or the world and he differ on that particular ; but there is one point in which he must agree with them, namely, what they think of his conduct, and this is the only hold you have of him. A man may be callous and indifferent to.what happens to himself, but he is never indifferent to public opinion, or proof against open scorn and infamy. Shame, not fear, is the sheet-anchor of the law. He who is not afraid of being pointed at as a thief, will not mind a month's hard labour. He who is prepared to take the life of another, is already reckless of his own. But every one makes a sorry figure in the pillory; and the being launched from the New Drop lowers a man in his own opinion. The lawless and violent spirit, that is hurried by headstrong self-will to break the laws, does not like to have the ground of pride and obstinacy struck from under his feet. This is what gives the swells of the metropolis such a dread of the treadmill—it makes them ridiculous. It must be confessed, that this very circumstance renders the reform of criminals nearly hopeless. It is the apprehension of being stigmatised by public opinion, the fear of what will be thought and said of them, that deters men from the violation of the laws, while their character remains unimpeached ; but honour once lost, all is lost. The man can never be himself again ! A citizen is like a soldier, a part of a machine; he submits to certain hardships, privations, and dangers, not for his own ease, pleasure, profit, or even conscience, but—for shame. What is it that keeps the machine together in either case? Not punishment or discipline, but sympathy. The soldier mounts the breach or stands in the trenches, the peasant hedges and ditches, the mechanic plies his ceaseless task, because the one will not be called a coward, the other a rogue : but let the one turn deserter and the other vagabond, and there is an end of him. The grinding law of necessity, which is no other than a name, a breath, loses its force, he is no longer sustained by the good opinion of others, and he drops out of his place, a useless clog! Mr. Bentham takes a culprit, and puts him into what he calls a panopticon, that is, a sort of circular prison, with open cells, like a glass beehive. He sits in the middle, and sees all he does. He gives him work to do, and lectures him if he does not do it. He takes liquor from him, and society, and liberty; but he feeds and clothes him and keeps him out of mischief, and when he has convinced him by force and reason together, that this life is for his good, turns him out upon the world, a reformed man, and as confident of the success of his handy-work, as the shoemaker of that which he has just taken off the last, or the Parisian barber in Sterne of the buckle of his wig. “Dip it in the ocean," said the perruquier, “and it will stand !" But we doubt the durability of our projector's patchwork. Will our convert to the great principle of Utility work when he is from under Mr. Bentham's eye, because he was forced to work when under it? Will he keep sober, because he has been kept from liquor so long? Will he not return to loose company, because he has had the pleasure of sitting vis-à-vis with a philosopher of late? Will he not steal, now that his hands are untied ? Will he not take the road, now that it is free to him ? Will he not call his benefactor all the names he can set his tongue to, the moment his back is turned? All this is more than to be feared. The charm of criminal life, like that of savage life, consists in liberty, in hardship, in danger, and in the contempt of death, in one word, in extraordinary excitement; and he who has tasted of it, will no more return to regular habits of life, than a man will take to water after drinking brandy, or than a wild beast will give over hunting its prey. Miracles never cease, to sure; but they are not to be had wholesale, or to order. Mr. Owen, who is another of these proprietors and patentees of reform, has lately got an American savage with him, whom he carries about in great triumph and complacency as the antithesis to his New View of Society, and as winding up his reasoning to what it mainly wanted, an epigrammatic point. Does the benevolent visionary of the Lanark Cottonmills really think this natural man will act as a foil to his artificial man? Does he for a moment imagine, that his Address to the higher and middle classes, with all its advantages of fiction, makes any thing like so interesting a romance as Hunter's Captivity among the North American Indians ? Has he any thing to shew, in all the apparatus of New Lanark and its desolate monotony, to excite the thrill of imagination like the blankets made of wreaths of snow, under which the wild-wood rovers bury themselves for weeks in winter? Or the skin of a leopard which our bardy adventurer slew, and which served him for great coat and bedding? Or the rattle-snake that he found by his side as a bedfellow? Or his rolling himself into a ball to escape from him? Or his suddenly placing himself against a tree to avoid being trampled to death by the herd of wild buffaloes, that came rushing on like the sound of thunder? Or his account of the huge spiders that prey on bluebottles and gilded flies in green pathless forests? Or of the great Pacific Ocean, that the natives look upon as the gulf that parts time from eternity, and that is to waft them to the spirits of their fathers ? After all this, Mr. Hunter must find Mr. Owen and his parallelograms trite and flat, and will take an opportunity to escape from them. . Mr. Bentham's method of reasoning, though comprehensive and exact, labours under the defect of most systems—it is too topical. It includes every thing, but it includes every thing alike. It is rather like an inventory than a valuation of different arguments. Every possible suggestion finds a place, so that the mind is distracted as much as enlightened by this perplexing accuracy. The exceptions seem as important as the rule. By attending to the minute, we overlook the great; and in summing up an account, it will not do merely to insist on the number of items without considering their amount. Our author's page presents a very nicely dove-tailed mosaic pavement of legal common-places. We slip and slide over its even surface without being arrested any where. Or his view of the human mind resembles a map, rather than a picture : the outline, the disposition is correct, but it wants colouring and relief. There is a technicality of manner, which renders his writings of more value to the professional inquirer than to the general reader.Again, his style is unpopular, not to say unintelligible. He writes a language of his own that darkens knowledge. His works have been translated into French—they ought to be translated into English. People wonder that Mr. Bentham has not been prosecuted for the boldness and severity of some of his invectives. He might wrap up High Treason in one of his inextricable periods, and it would never find its way into Westminster Hall. He is a kind of Manuscript author-he writes a cypher-hand, which the vulgar do not pry into. The construction of his sentences is a curious framework with pegs and hooks to hang his thoughts upon for his own use and guidance, but quite out of the reach of any body else. It is a barbarous philosophical jargon with all the repetitions, parentheses, formalities, uncouth nomenclature and verbiage of law-Latin ; and what makes it worse, it is not mere verbiage, but has a great deal of acuteness and meaning in it, which you would be glad to pick out if you could. In short, Mr. Bentham writes as if he had but a single sentence to express his whole view of a subject in, and as if, should he omit a single objection, circumstance, or step of the argument, it would be lost to the world for ever, like an estate by a single flaw in the title-deeds. This is overrating the importance of our own discoveries, and mistaking the nature and object of language altogether. Mr. Bentham has acquired this disability—it is not natural to him. His admirable little work On Usury, published forty years ago, is clear, easy, and spirited. But Mr. Bentham has shut himself
since then“ in nook monastic,” conversing only with followers of his own, or with “men of Ind,” and has endeavoured to overlay his natural humour, sense, spirit, and style, with the dust and cobwebs of an obscure solitude. The best of it is, he thinks his present mode of ex. pressing himself perfect, and that, whatever may be objected to his law or logic, no one can find the least fault with the purity, simplicity, and perspicuity of his style.
Mr. Bentham, in private life, is an amiable and exemplary character. He is a little romantic or so; and has dissipated part of a handsome fortune in practical speculations. He lends an ear to plausible projectors, and if he cannot prove them to be wrong in their premises or their conclusions, thinks himself bound in reason to stake his money on the venture. Strict logicians are licensed visionaries. Mr. Bentham is balf-brother to the late Mr. Speaker Abbott-Proh pudor! He was educated at Eton, and still takes our novices to task about a passage in Homer, or a metre in Virgil. He was afterwards at the University, and he has described the scruples of an ingenuous youthful mind about subscribing the articles, in a passage in his Church of Englandism, which smacks of truth and honour both, and does one good to read it in an age when “to be honest (or not to laugh at the very idea of honesty) is to be one man picked out of ten thousand !" Mr. Bentham relieves his mind sometimes, after the fatigue of study, by playing on a noble organ, and has a relish for Hogarth's prints. He turns wooden utensils in a lathe for exercise, and fancies he can turn men in the same manner. He has no great fondness for poetry, and can hardly extract a moral out of Shakspeare. His house is warmed and lighted with steam. He is one of those who prefer the artificial to the natural in most things, and think the mind of man omnipotent. He has a great contempt for out-of-door prospects, for green fields and trees, and is for referring every thing to Utility. There is a little narrowness in this, for if all the sources of satisfaction are taken away, what is to become of Utility itself? It is indeed the great fault of this able and extraordinary man, that he has concentrated his faculties and feelings too entirely on one subject and pursuit, and has not " looked enough abroad into universality."
It is well for man that his mental amusements are frequently calculated for restoring his intellectual faculties when they are wearied with exertion; and not a little singular that this renovation should be sometimes effected by the exercise of those functions which have been most recently in use. The mind, perhaps, never really tires; it is only the corporeal organs, through which impressions are received, that suffer fatigue, and require intervals of rest. Suppose we are exhausted ever so much by thinking on an abstruse subject for a long time together: let us lay it by and commence building castles in the air, we at once forget our exhaustion, lucid forms come before us, a fairy region opens to our view glittering with unrivalled splendours, bright suns scatter with their golden rays the lassitude that oppressed us, we make for ourselves a little heaven and enjoy its glories,—all nature and art, the worlds of truth and fiction, lay their wealth before us, and the mind recovers itself in the enjoyment of its own air-woven paradise, and finds relaxation from what appears to be almost the cause of its suffering. I am fond of castle-building ; and who is not? It is delightful to lay one's head on the pillow at night, and rear these airy edifices, which, though flimsy fabrics, it must be granted, amuse and restore the mind at the time we are at work upon them. Those who cannot thus indulge, may be very safely put down for dull unimaginative beings, having no buoyancy, mere ponderous clods—"leaden souls that love the ground.” The castle-builder's is a region
of calm and serene air
Which men call earth. He may visit the “sphery chime,” command time, and subdue space. He may surmount physical impossibility, and with inexhaustible ardour follow his object over every impediment. Neither dungeons nor bars, situation nor climate, can rob him of his recreation.-Castle-building, to be brief, is an enjoyment less liable to be disturbed by external appliances than any other. It is essentially a thing of mind, an intellectual banquet. On retiring to rest when sleep flies from us, during a morning walk, or in an after-dinner chair, it is delightful to give place to this beguiler of mental ennui. The subject will necessarily always prove an agreeable one. Last night, after a series of complicated operations, and begging a question or two, I cut an excellent canal, from the Nicaragua lake into the Pacific ocean, communicating with the gulph of Nicoya. I calculated all probable obstacles, and soon overcame them. I entered into a treaty with the local government. I took levels, built my locks, and finally, in an hour or two, rendered the navigation a matter of small difficulty for vessels of six or seven hundred tons. I drew for money to carry on my work upon the sums allotted and expended for Northern expeditions, which I again collected into masses for my purpose, and found that I was possessed of ample funds; that Captain Parry need labour no more among the Polar ice, that our merchants might ship goods to Panama via the gulph of Florida, and receive their returns in little more than the short space of time required for a Jamaica voyage, and that the East India Company might trade