Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 04.djvu/273

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Bentham
Bentham
269

he read that tale, especially the description of the election by competition to the throne of Crete. 'That romance may be refrarded as the foundation of my whole character: the starting-point from whence my career of life commenced,' His father and mother sought to keep from him all amusing books; but his reading was discursive, including grave and gay. Among the books which he read were Burnet s 'Theory of the Earth,' Cave's 'Lives of the Apostle's,' Stow's 'Chronicles,' Rapin's 'History,' 'Gil Bias,' Plutarch's 'Lives,' Mandeville's 'Fable of the Bees,' and 'Clarissa Harlowe.' In 1755 he was sent to Westminster School. Sensitive, delicate, of dwarfish stature, and with no aptitude or liking for boys' games, he was out of place at a public school. He made, however, progress in Greek and Latin, and acquired a reputation for proficiency in Latin verse. On 28 June 1760 he was admitted at Queen's College, Oxford. He has described the reluctance with which he signed the Thirty-nine Articles; he and some who shared his doubts were induced to sign by one of the fellows who reproved their presumption in showing hesitation. The impression made upon him was painful and lasting. From Oxford Bentham carried away few pleasant recollections; he found little in the studies or amusements of the university to interest him, and his references to it in after years were tipped with acrimony. 'Mendacity and insincerity — in these I found the effects — the sure and only sure effects of an English university education' (Church of Englandism, xxi). An indifferent Latin ode written by him on the death of George II and the accession of George III was pronounced wonderful as the composition of a boy of thirteen years of age ; and Dr. Johnson was pleased to say 'it is a very pretty performance of a young man.' Bentham's own account of it in later years was unfavourable : 'it was a mediocre performance on a trumpery subject, written by a miserable child.' In 1763, at the age of sixteen, Bentham took his degree of B.A., and in the same year he began to eat his terms at Lincoln's Inn. In 1704 he and his father made a short visit to France. In 1765 we have a glimpse of the future jurist, in a pea-green coat and green silk breeches, 'bitterly tight,' making a walk from Oxford to Farringdon. In 1766 he took his master's degree, and in 1767 he left Oxford. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn, and became a member of that society in 1817.

Much to the disappointment of his father and of his friends who knew his talents, he did not succeed in his profession, and he did not even care to do so. He never spoke in court; except to say a few formal words. The first brief he got was from a friend of his father, Mr. Chamberlain Clarke. It was in a suit in etiuity on which 50l. depended. The advice which he gave was that the suit would be better put an end to, and the money which would be wasted in the contest saved. His own account of his brief professional career is this : 'On my being called to the bar I found a cause or two at nurse for me. My first thought was how to put them to death, and the endeavours were not, I believe, altogether without success. Not long after a case was brought to me for my opinion. I ransacked all the codes. My opinion was right according to the codes, but it was wrong according to a manuscript unseen by me, and inaccessible to me; a manuscript containing the report of I know not what opinion, said to have been delivered before I was born, and locked up, as usual, for the purpose of being kept back or produced according as occasion served.' Bentham did not take measures to insure success in the law. He read and thought about matters which had no bearing upon the service of his jealous mistress. He bought phials, and dabbled in chemistry, a science to which he was drawn by his friend Dr. Fordyce, and in 1783 he translated an essay by Bergman on the usefulness of chemistry. He studied physical science instead of conveyancing, and he began to pursue those speculations on politics and jurisprudence which became the occupation of his life. The extracts which Dr. Bowring gives from his common-place book in 1773-6 relate to such subjects as vulgar errors — political: punishment of — origin of the vindictive principle : Digest of the law premature before Locke and Helvetius: 'Fictions of law:' 'Terms falsely supposed to be understood.' His reflections show that his mind was then pursuing the trains of thought which in later life he followed up. Under the head of ' Education ' he writes : ' Inspire a general habit of applauding or condemning actions according to their general utility.' ' Barristers,' it is observed in one note, ' are so called (a man of spleen might say) from barring against reforms the extremes of the law.' 'It is as impossible for a lawyer to wish men out of litigation, as for a physician to wish them in health.'

Bentham assisted his friend John Lind, a dergrman who was London agent for the king of Poland, in preparing a work on the colonies ; but his first published compositions were two letters to the 'Gazeteer' newspaper in defence of Lord Mansfield, who was then the god of his idolatry. He also trans-