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Lot 362
BENTHAM, JEREMY (1748-1832, writer on jurisprudence and ethics, founder of Utilitarianism)
Sold for £3,000 (US$ 4,692) inc. premium

Lot Details
BENTHAM, JEREMY (1748-1832, writer on jurisprudence and ethics, founder of Utilitarianism)
AUTOGRAPH DRAFT OF A LETTER UNSIGNED, to Sir Francis Burdett (1770-1844), politician and reformer, expressing his disappointment [one of the greatest in his life] at the failure of the adoption of his scheme to build a Panopticon prison [at Millbank in London]; he states in general that it 'is from want of constant and universal inspection or what comes to the same thing...and immediate inspectability that all disorders in prisons have their rise: and yet the blindest obstinacy such is the effect of the sinister interest of the ruling one alluded to in my last the subruling few persist in keeping the condition of prisoners free from inspection'; discusses his idea of management by contract ('...beyond hope...for contract excludes patronage, and the delights of patronage are the summum bene which our matchless constitution has for its prime end in view...'); describes a faint hope that he retains ('...There had been some schemes in agitation for the formation of a Joint Stock Company to execute a building on the Panopticon plan and management on the Contract plan for some great prison, in the hope of its serving as a model for others...'); and says he hopes ('for without either hope or fear man acts not') for the setting up of a prison on the Panoptican plan and management in the United States; he then suggests that they meet about a possible speech by Burdett 'for the benefit of a hundred millions of human creatures' which will not be an 'old bore' but rather on 'a spick and span subject' that will be of interest to him, perhaps for dinner or after dinner and explains that since [Sir Samuel] Romilly's death he has never gone out to dine ('...Were it to a man that in general does not dine so well as I do I should without hesitation or option say to him you must come to me at dinner time. But on the present occasion the man I have to do with being a man who can dine/feed himself as much better than I can feed him as he pleases, what I say is come to dinner or after dinner whichsoever happens to be more agreeable to you...'), suggesting that if he has 'idiosyncratic wants or tastes' he should inform him or bring with him what is needful, 4 pages, octavo, the last partly cross-written, Q[ueen's] S[quare] P[lace], 4 March 1826

Footnotes

  • BENTHAM ON THE PANOPTICON. Bentham's great scheme for a penitentiary in which an observer could observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners knowing they were being watched, combined with contract management as opposed to trust, was first developed in 1786-1787 while he was visiting his brother Samuel (then working in Russia) and led to his publication of Panopticon, or the Inspection-House in 1791. In the same year his idea to build such a prison in London, and for him to be both the contractor and manager of it, was taken up by the Prime Minister, William Pitt. But by 1812, the Government, unable to overcome the obstacles, abandoned all plans to build the Panopticon prison. A year later Bentham was awarded £23,000 in compensation, which enabled him to buy his country retreat called Ford Abbey. He did succeed in establishing the first and largest panopticon outside New Delhi which is still in use today. Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish invoked the design as the archetypal instrument of repressive surveillance used in all hierarchical structures, not only prisons but also the army, the school, the hospital and the factory. Many modern prisons are built on a 'podular' design influenced by the Panopticon original.

    In response to a petition from the Justices of the Peace of Westminster, Burdett had been nominated to prepare a Bill for the foundation of a new prison at Tothill Fields. In a letter of 25 February 1826 Bentham recommended that Burdett consider the panopticon plan. Burdett was M.P. for Westminster and was known as 'Westminster's Pride and England's Glory'.
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