Editing Bentham’s Manuscripts on Punishment

face of a prisoner

Bentham’s writings on punishment have a complex textual record. One class of records is Bentham manuscripts. About a thousand Bentham folios concerning punishment are kept at the University College London. Whether these folios contain text concerning prisoners’ communication with family and friends cannot be ascertained from currently published scholarship. A second class of records is publications for which Bentham himself prepared the manuscripts for print. Publications of this sort concerning punishment include A View of the Hard Labour Bill (1778), Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1780), and Panopticon: or, the Inspection-House (1787). These publications do not contain any material directly concerning prisoners’ communication with family and friends. A third class of records is publications under Bentham’s name by editors working from Bentham’s manuscripts and from other publications made under Bentham’s name. Bentham generally neither supervised these publications nor approved their final form. Smith’s The Rationale of Punishment and Dumont’s Théorie des Peines et des Récompenses belong to this class.

In the 1770s, Bentham wrote extensively on punishment, but never finalized for publication much of his work. Bentham began systematic study of punishment by 1772.^ In a letter written in January, 1777, Bentham noted the potential attention his forthcoming work on punishment might attract.^ In another letter, dated April/May, 1778, Bentham stated:

For about a year and a half I have been employ’d principally in writing a Theory of Punishment which I hope to (be able to) send to the press in the course of two or three months. It will form a middle sized Volume in 4to {quarto}.^

A month earlier, Bentham had interrupted work on his book to write and publish a short pamphlet reviewing William Eden’s proposed penitentiary law.^ Bentham did not fulfill his plans to publish a volume on punishment in the summer of 1778. Instead, about that time Bentham began working on a related project, his Plan of a Penal Code.^ Bentham had originally intended his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, which he had printed in 1780, to be an introduction to this larger work. But Bentham never brought any more of his writings on punishment from the 1770s to publication.

Prior to the publication of Théorie des Peines et des Récompenses, Étienne Dumont had aleady established himself as a popularizer of Bentham’s ideas. Dumont, an ex-pastor from Geneva, was wealthy enough that he did not have to work for money. He served the city of Geneva as a statesman and a diplomat. He was a close friend of Samuel Romilly, an important English legislator and penal reformer. Dumont was also a devoted friend to Honoré Mirabeau, who played an important role in deliberations about the government of the new French Republic. Dumont actually wrote some of the important speeches that Mirabeau delivered to the French National Assembly.^ In mid-1792, Bentham, frustrated with his attempts to bring his work to the attention of the French National Assembly, turned a mass of his manuscripts over to Dumont.^

Dumont created from Bentham’s manuscripts the book Traités de Législation Civile et Pénale (Treatises on Civil and Penal Legislation). Published in Paris in 1802, this book carried the recommendation of Talleyrand, an eminent French statesman and diplomat. The book quickly sold three thousand copies and was formally presented to the French legislature. Bentham, not a prominent intellectual figure before Dumont’s book, achieved major acclaim through it. By 1830, Traités de Législation Civile et Pénale had gone through three French editions, its sales had exceeded 50,000 copies in Europe, and it had been translated into Russian, Spanish, Portugese, and Italian.^ ^ Dumont’s skills as a writer and his political connections unquestionably contributed to the success of Traités de Législation Civile et Pénale.

In 1811, Dumont published in London his second work from Bentham’s manuscripts, Théorie des Peines et des Récompenses (Theory of Punishments and Rewards). As he had done with his earlier Bentham book, Dumont transformed Bentham’s manuscripts significantly:

Ces manuscripts, quoique beaucoup plus volumineux que l’ouvrage qui je donne au public, étaient fort incomplets. Ils m’offraient souvent, sur le meme sujet, différents essays dont il fallait prendre la substance pour les réunir en un seul. Je n’avais, pour me diriger dans quelques chapitres, que des notes marginales. …J’en ai pris tout ce qui convenait à ma manière générale d’envisager le sujet, en le dégageant de toute controverse.^

(These manuscripts though much more voluminous than the work I have presented to the public, are very incomplete. They offered to me often different essays upon the same subject, of which it was necessary to take the substance and unite them into one. In some chapters I had nothing but marginal notes to direct me. … I have taken all that suited my general method of treating the subject, by separating it from all controversy.)^

Avoiding controversy was not Bentham’s own practice. Bentham applied to widely accepted conventions and laws utilitarian reasoning. Bentham’s self-confidence in the objectivity of his reasoning made him unafraid to make statements that many of his contemporaries considered to be highly controversial.

Despite his own important transformations of Bentham’s manuscripts, Dumont explicitly asserted his fidelity to Bentham. In his preface to Théorie des Peines et des Récompenses, Dumont declared:

J’ai usé librement des droits d’éediteur. Selon la nature du texte et l’occasion, je traduis or je commente, j’abrège ou je supplée; mais … cette cooperation de ma part, n’ayant pour object que des details, ne doit pas trop diminuer la confiance des lecteurs. Ce n’est point mon ouvrage que je leur présente, c’est, aussi fidèlement que la nature de la chose le permet, celui de M. Bentham.^

(I have freely used the rights of an Editor – according to the nature of the text and the occasion. I have translated, commented, abridged, or supplied, but…this co-operation on my part has had reference to the details only, and ought not to diminish the confidence of the readers; it is not my work that I present to them, it is, as faithfully as the nature of things will permit, the work of Mr. Bentham.)^

Dumont selected one particular consequence to judge the effects of his editing on Bentham’s ideas:

Ces additions, changements, m’a-t-on dit, auraient dû porter quelque marquee distinctive: mais ce genre de fidélité, quoique desirable, était impossible. Il ne faut qu’imaginer ce qu’est un travail sur un premier jut, sur des manuscrits non achevés, non revus, quelquefois sur des fragments ou de simples notes, pour comprendre qu’il exige une liberté continuelle, une espèce d’infusion imperceptible, si je puis parlerainsi, dont il n’est pas meme possible au rédacteur de se souvenir. Mais qu’importe: on peut juger que l’auteur n’a pas trouvé ses idées défigurées ou falsifiées, puisqu’il a continue à me confier ses papiers.

Cependant je dois declarer qu’il a refuse toute communication de mon travail, et qu’en aucune manière it ne veut en être responsible.^

( It has been said, that these additions, these changes, should bear some distinctive mark; but though this species of fidelity is desirable, it is impossible. It is only necessary to imagine what is the labour of finishing a first sketch, of completing unfinished and unreviewed manuscripts, sometimes consisting of fragments and simple notes, in order to comprehend, that it required a continued freedom, a species of imperceptible infusion, if I may so speak, which it is scarcely possible for the individual himself to remember. This is, however, of no importance. It may be believed that the author has not found his ideas disfigured or falsified, since he has continued to entrust me with his papers.

I must however declare, that he has altogether refused to share my labour, and that he will not, in any manner, be responsible for it.)^

An alternative interpretation of Bentham’s behavior is that Bentham considered the benefits of Dumont’s editions for popularizing his ideas to be greater than the costs of the distortions of them that Dumont’s editions produced. Bentham’s disclaiming of responsibility for Dumont’s editions makes sense within such a calculation. In any case, Dumont was highly highly successful in popularizing Bentham’s writings on punishment.^ By 1830, Théorie des Peines et des Récompenses had already been through three French-language editions (1811, 1818, 1823), a Portuguese edition (in Traducção das obras politicas do sabio jurisconsulto Jeremias Bentham, Lisbon, 1822) and a Spanish edition (Teoría de las penas y de las recompenses, Paris, 1826).

The relationship of The Rationale of Punishment to Bentham’s manuscripts and Dumont’s volume has not been well documented. A book with a title page declaring “The Rationale of Punishment By Jeremy Bentham” was published in London in English in 1830. “Rationale of Punishment” and “Jeremy Bentham” on the title page had similar typographic emphasis. The editor’s anonymous preface stated:

In preparing the Rationale of Punishment for its appearance before the English public, the Editor has taken the second volume, published by M. Dumont, as the ground-work of his labours, but having availed himself, wherever he could, of the original manuscripts, his will in many instances not be found a literal translation of M. Dumont’s work.^

At Bentham’s death in 1832, John Bowring, Bentham’s trusted friend and literary executor, received a large collection of Bentham’s manuscripts. Bowring produced from 1838 to 1843 The Works of Jeremy Bentham in eleven volumes. Bowring’s first volume included The Rationale of Punishment as part of a work entitled Principles of Penal Law. Bowring subsequently explained:

In 1825, the Rationale of Reward was published in English. It was fundamentally a translation from Dumont’s French edition, with some additions from the author’s {Bentham’s} MSS. The Rationale of Punishment was, some years later (1830), edited in English by the same gentleman.*

* Mr Richard Smith, of the Stamps and Taxes. He likewise prepared for the press, from the original MSS, the following works published in the collected edition: — {list of 13 works, including Principles of Penal Law}^

Smith was one of Bentham’s young disciples. There is no evidence that Bentham participated in Smith’s editing of his work.^ To what extent is The Rationale of Punishment, like The Rationale of Reward, “fundamentally a translation from Dumont’s French edition”? To what extent is it “from the original MSS”?

Texts in The Rationale of Punishment concerning communication with prisoners and prison conditions are directly from Bentham’s manuscripts. Study of the Bentham manuscript folios in the University College London collection has established that The Rationale of Punishment includes much verbatim text from Bentham manuscripts. Close analysis of Théorie des Peines et des Récompenses and The Rationale of Punishment suggests that the latter’s specific texts concerning communication with prisoners and prison conditions are direct from Bentham manuscripts.

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