A Blupete Biography Page

Bentham's Life, Part 1 to the Life & Works of
Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham was born a London attorney's son; he was educated at Westminster School and at the age of twelve was sent off to Oxford (Queen's College). From 1763, he studied law at Lincoln's Inn and was called to the bar in 1772.

The story is1 that Jeremy Bentham was obliged to seek a date to meet with the Master in Chancery. Presumably Bentham got what he was looking for, or not (likely not); but, and the point is, that Bentham came away from one of his first court appearances with the view that it took three times the trouble and three times the money that it should: the law in Bentham's view was in dire need of revision and he set out, in his life's work, to reform it.2

During 1776, Bentham brought out his first major work, A Fragment on Government.3 It was about this time, too, that Bentham was to become a friend with a powerful lord, Lord Shelburne (1737-1805). Apparently, through the auspices of Lord Shelburne, Bentham was able to take time, to travel and to write.

A number of years were to pass before Jeremy Bentham came to the attention of the juridic thinkers of the time (it was to be 1808 before Bentham was to meet James Mill). Bentham was thought to be more European in his views than English, but in time "a knot of able thinkers gathered round him."4 These included James Mill (the father of John Stuart Mill) and David Ricardo. The 'Benthamites' were to gradually gain ascendancy in political matters. Bentham, himself, in time, was to go on and be the founder of University College, at London.5

"He [Bentham] 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 a machine. ... 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 him no more than the flies of summer. He meditates the coming age. He hears and sees only what suits his purpose, or some 'foregone conclusion'; and looks out for facts and passing occurrences in order 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!" (William Hazlitt.)6
Hazlitt was to describe Jeremy Bentham as a person who had "an unconscious neglect of his own person," "good-humoured, placid intelligence," one who "is a beneficent spirit, prying into the universe, ... a thoughtful spectator of the scenes of life, or ruminator on the fate of mankind ..."
"Mr. Bentham relieves his mind sometimes, after the fatigue of study, by playing on a fine old 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."7



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Peter Landry

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