« ZurückWeiter »
which enabled him entirely to abandon his profession, and devote himself to the preparation of those works on Law and Government which have celebrated his name in the Four Quarters of the Globe. During the truce of Amiens, he again visited Paris, accompanied by Sir Samuel Romilly, where he found himself famous. M. Dumont was then publishing his works in French. Of his “ Traites de Legislation Civile et Penale,” in 3 vols., about 4,000 copies were sold in Paris. At this time, there happened to be three. vacancies in the French Institute, one of which was reserved for Bonaparte. Bentham was chosen to fill one of the vacancies. From elective affinity, no less than through the agency of Romilly, he soon after became intimate with the young men, known as "the Edinburgh Reviewers," Brougham, Jeffrey, Smith, Horner, Mackintosh, and their associates, and from that time was the Mentor of that galaxy of talent on the subject of Law Reform.
When Bentham was admitted to the bar, he found the English law, its principles and its practice, entrenched behind the interests of powerful classes, and embedded in the prejudices of all. Though called the perfection of reason, to his penctrating eye it was the offspring of a barbarous age, and, though a noble production for the times that gave it birth, had obtruded into the light of an infinitely milder and more liberal civilization the harsh features which stamped its origin. To him it was the patchwork of fifteen centuries—a chaos of good and evil—an edifice exhibiting the architecture of the ancient Briton, the Gaul, the Goth, the Dane, the Saxon, and the Norman, all jumbled together, and to which, in order to render it tenantable, modern hands had made numerous additions and improvements, till the whole had become a huge, shapeless, and bewildering pile. He saw that it contained masses of material to aid in the erection of a new edifice, adapted to the enlarged wants and cultivated tastes of the present age. And he entered upon the elucidation of his plans for a judicial
and the pro
structure worthy of the noon of the nineteenth century. He was the first man who sat down to the task of exposing the defects of the English law. Heretofore, its students and ministers had been content to sift its principles from a chaotic mass of statutes and decisions, and collect and arrange the perplexing details of its form of procedure. Commencing at the bottom, he worked up through all its ramifications, bringing everything to the test of expediency, and inquiring whether the parts were bomogeneous with the whole, and whether the whole was suited to the wants of existing society, motion of human well-being. Probably not intending, when he started, to do more than improve the system by amending it, he soon aimed at its complete reconstruction, branching out into an exhausting discussion of the puvipies on which all human laws should be based, nor stopping till he had surveyed the nature of Government in its widest relations.
The test-principle of his system may be explained briefly thus : The only proper end of the social union is, the attainment of the maximum of the aggregate of happiness; and the attainment of this maximum of the aggregate of happiness is by the attainment of the maximum of individual happiness. The standard for determining whether a law is right or wrong, is its conduciveness to the maximum of the aggregate of happiness, by conducing to the maximum of individual happiness. This was known in his day, and in ours, as "the greatest-happiness principle,” or “the principle of felicity"_which latter term he much preferred to that by which it is riore commonly known, “ the doctrine of utility.” This was the keystone of Bentham's system. With this principle in his hand, he traversed the entire field of legislation, dividing it into two great partsinternal law, and international law. Internal law included the legislation which concerns a single State or community ; international, that which regulates the intercourse of different States with each other. His chief attention was devoted to preparing a code of internal law. under the Greek
name of Pannomion, (the whole law.) This he divided into four parts—the constitutional, the civil, the penal, and the administrative. The constitutional defined the supreme authority, and the mode of executing its will. The civil defined the rights of persons and of property, and was termed the “right-conferring code.” The penal defined offenses and their punishments, and was termed “the wrong-repressing
The administrative defined the mode of executing the whole body of the laws, and was termed “the code of procedure."
Some of these codes he run out into details. Others he left unfinished. They all bore the stamp of great research, learning, and symmetry, and were supported by vigorous reasoning, and elucidated by a comprehensive genius. Many a codifier of our day has been indebted, directly or indirectly, to these labors of Jeremy Bentham, to an extent of which he was perhaps not aware.
His system struck at the very root of the English law. Of course, such a “wild enthusiast," such a “reckless innovator,” was laughed at, misrepresented, and abused. Not a single tile or crumbling pillar of “ the perfection of reason” must be touched. The rubbish that blocked up the avenues leading to it, the dust which choked its passages, must not be removed. Venerable for its age, hallowed as the legacy of our ancestors, the work of wise men and dead men, it must be worshiped at a distance and let alone. All classes deified it, and denounced such as would sneeze at its consecrated dust. The king as he placed the golden round on his anointed head, and the noble as he gazed on his stars and ribbons—the fat bishop as he pocketed his tithes, and the lean dissenter as he paid them—the judge in his scarlet robes, and the barrister in his wig of horsehair—the merchant as he paid his onerous duties to the government, and the yeoman as he liquidated the ruinous rents of his landlord—the clodhopper as he took his shilling for twelve hours of exhausting toil, and the culprit as he hung on a cross-tree for killing the hare which poached on his beans—all, high-born and low-born, patrician and plebeian, rich and poor, wise and foolish, were ready to make oath that the common law of England was the perfection of reason, and to swear at Jeremy Bentham for doubting it. If Bentham had done nothing more than dispel this delusion, he would deserve the thanks of the millions in both hemispheres who submit to the sway
of the common law; and this he did most effectually. Bentham brought to his work reasoning faculties which did not so much probe subjects to the bottom as begin there, and work upwards to their surfacea patience which no amount of drudgery could weary—a taste whose light reading was Bacon and Beccaria—a memory retentive as tablets of brass—a boldness which shrunk from looking no institution in the face, and questioning its pretensions to utility and its claims to homagean honesty which never averted the eye from conclusions legitimately born of sound premises a conscience which followed truth wherever it led. Lord Brougham, who knew him intimately, has happily said : “ In him were blended, to a degree perhaps unequaled in any other philosopher, the love and appreciation of general principles, with the avidity for minute details; the power of embracing and following out general views, with the capacity for pursuing each one of numberless particular facts." He was an adept in numerous modern languages, as French, Italian, Spanish, and German, and he extended his linguistical knowledge into the Swedish, Russian, and other northern tongues. These acquisitions facilitated his study of the history of all countries and times, with whose philosophy, legislation and jurisprudence he was acquainted beyond most
His numerous writings all bore some relation to his Felicity” principle, and the topics discussed were almost as multifarious as human exigency and action. Including his larger pamphlets, they must number some fifty volumes. They chiefly relate to Government, law, and jurisprudence ; but he also wrote extensively on morals, politics, and ecolesiastical establishments. Nor did science wholly escape his searching pen, for he treated of chemistry and anatomy. He wrote against Blackstone's Commentaries, and attacked Burke's plan for economical reform. He wrote on prison discipline and penal colonies, and illustrated the anti-Christian tendency of oaths. He advocated free schools, and denounced church establishments. He attacked rotten boroughs, and drafted plans for work-houses. He vindicated free trade, and showed the impolicy of the usury laws. He prepared a constitutional code to be used by any State, and drew up a reform bill for the House of Commons. He wrote separate volumes or pamphlets on bankruptcy, poor laws, primogenituro, escheats, taxation, jails, Scotch reform, the French judiciary, the criminal code of Spain, juries, evidence, rewards and punishments, oaths, parliamentary law, English reform, education, Church-ofEnglandism, &c., &c., &c. He wrote for or offered codes to France, Spain, Greece, Russia, and the South American States ---sent a letter to each Governor of the United States, proposing to prepare for them an entire code of laws—was intimate personally or by correspondence with Howard, Lafayette, Wilberforce, the Emperor Alexander, Napoleon, Brissot, Mirabeau, Neckar, Benezet, Franklin, Jefferson, Bolivar, Jean Baptiste Say, Toussaint L'Ouverture, and in fact with most of the men of his times, who were celebrated in any part of the world for their services in the cause of liberty, humanity and reform.
Of course no man, unless endowed with all the wisdom of the ancients and the moderns, could write so much on such a variety of subjects, without committing to paper a good deal of nonsense. Yet he wrote no page but contains some profound thoughts, whilst many of his volumes are replete with wisdom.
And if any one mortal man could have written codes for all the nations on earth, that man was Jeremy Benthain.
His defects were partly the result of his peculiar mind, and partly of those idiosyncrasies which germinate in all speculators