A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Bentham, Jeremy

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Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832). -- Writer on jurisprudence and politics, b. in London, s. of a prosperous attorney, ed. at Westminster and Oxford, was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn, but disliking the law, he made little or no effort to practise, but devoted himself to physical science and the theory of jurisprudence. In 1776 he pub. anonymously his Fragment on Government, an able criticism of Blackstone's Commentaries, which brought him under the notice of Lord Shelburne, and in 1780 his Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation. Other works were Panopticon, in which he suggested improvements on prison discipline, Discourse on Civil and Penal Legislation (1802), Punishments and Rewards (1811), Parliamentary Reform Catechism (1817), and A Treatise on Judicial Evidence. By the death of his f. he inherited a competency on which he was able to live in frugal elegance, not unmixed with eccentricity. B. is the first and perhaps the greatest of the "philosophical radicals," and his fundamental principle is utilitarianism or "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," a phrase of which he is generally, though erroneously, regarded as the author. The effect of his writings on legislation and the administration of the law has been almost incalculable. He left his body to be dissected; and his skeleton, clothed in his usual attire, is preserved in University College, London.